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Pursuing photography as an artist: passion vs. survival

From hobbyists to amateurs, photography garners a lot of interest from all ages. There is a fascination with capturing a version of the world around you, presenting a slice of the rich visuals in your way. Some get sucked into the art entirely and become full-time professionals, while others continue it as a side income. No matter what, it is immensely gratifying to create pictures and share them with the world as a medium of expression.

Photography Photographer model studio camera
Creating pictures is a satisfying experience.

Most people who start it as a hobby continue doing it for the rest of their lives. It's an addictive art form and skill! For some people, it is even meditative- a weekend stress-buster. You get to exercise your creative side at its full potential, from selecting frames, composing the different elements in the frame, and altering angles, direction, lighting style, and exposure. It is also a way of connecting with the local community and representing your tribe. Not only do your finished images give you a sense of achievement, but showcasing them may also draw some income in the form of client work. That way, it feeds back to the expensive gear, making it a sustainable interest.

Woman photographer India Mumbai photography street
Solo photo walks are somewhat meditative.

It's all fun and games until you want to profit from it.

Is photography as sustainable as it seems? How successful is this field for venturing into small business and a full-time profession? Do people make a living out of their photography skills?

The challenges of pursuing it as a full-time income are manifold. I surveyed a group of passionate photographers in India about how satisfied they are with photography as a source of income. A staggering 71% of respondents said they were dissatisfied, and none of the photographers recommended that beginners rely on it as their only income source. About 85% indicated that they find it somewhat difficult to find clients.

Model photographer outdoor portrait working photography Mumbai India
Finding the right clients is challenging.

Getting repeat clients is an indication of growth as a small business. The survey revealed that 43% of them do get repeat clients. Even though social media have become more of a business promotion platform, most photographers (70%) still get clients through word of mouth and referrals in India. However, the percentage of calls and inquiries that turn into actual projects is 0-30 % for two-thirds of the respondents.

Many believe photography only means taking pictures, editing them, and sharing them with clients. But this is not the only way successful photographers make money. Exploring alternate sources of income related to photography, such as conducting workshops, online classes, stock photography, selling prints, publishing in magazines, blogging, selling presets, renting out gear, brand collaborations, selling products online, exhibitions, as well as earning through royalties are multiple ways to maximize income. At this point, it sounds more like a small business than a freelancer job.

Food photography cookbook photographer illustration
Contributing to publications is an overlooked income through photography.

So how do we turn it into a living?

It would be best if you went all in when converting your passion into a business.

Time management and work delegation are essential for running a successful business out of your photography skills. Having a team helps a long way and prevents you from losing direction.

Though photography has flexible hours, work hours can be highly unpredictable. Scheduling becomes a challenge if you want to achieve work-life balance and want to spend time with your family or on personal projects. Taking time off and recharging your creative juices is essential to get fresh ideas. To achieve that, you must plan your weeks and weekends. Setting boundaries and clear expectations for your clients ahead of time beat any confusion and eleventh-hour panic attacks.

Finding repeat clients is another essential strategy in drawing a sustainable income in photography. Building client relationships is a skill that can be learned over time. Honesty and sincerity never go unnoticed. Some photographers in your area might offer similar quality of photography, but how many of them can your target client trust? Authenticity and clear communication help in building trust. Recognizing your target client is a topic for another time, but that plays a significant role in repeat clients. If you are not finding work in your area, you may have been targeting your work to the wrong clientele the whole time!

Turning your passion into a profession can suck the charm out of it.

Continue doing personal projects on the weekends and challenge yourself to remain excited about it, like your initial days when you first held a camera. Finding a local photographers' community to practice and the network keeps the passion alive. Inspiring and teaching enthusiastic learners can also be extremely rewarding as a mentor.

Street photography Mumbai India community club vada pav vendor
A photography community helps to get regular practice.

So, if you ask me whether you should convert your passion into a profession, my answer is a yes!

But, consider the challenges and prepare well so it remains sustainable. It is a lot of effort in this relationship with your camera. But like all other meaningful relationships in your lives, it never fails to give you that inner peace and joy. You still smile when you hold the camera in your hands and when you compose a beautiful frame peeping through the viewfinder. When you take pride in your work, your heart skips a beat every time you share your work with the world, even after decades of following your passion. The goal is to be valued for it.

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