Forget about the profession of being a photographer. First be a photographer and maybe the profession will come after. Don’t be in a rush to pay your rent with your camera. Jimi Hendrix didn’t decide on the career of professional musician before he learned to play guitar. No, he loved music and created something beautiful and that THEN became a profession. Larry Towell, for instance, was not a “professional” photographer until he was already a “famous” photographer. Make the pictures you feel compelled to make and perhaps that will lead to a career. But if you try to make the career first, you will just make shitty pictures that you don’t care about.

— Christopher Anderson


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  1. no doubt, I completely agree

  2. I would hope to think that all the digi moms and week end wanna be’s would read this and take it to heart. But alas, they can’t even seem to read their camera manuals before they get started…

    • Cameras have manuals? Good one, enough that it was worth a good chuckle.

  3. Very good sound advice. You gotta love what you do before you can do it for a living.

  4. There’s no substitute for passion.

  5. I’ve been shooting weddings full-time for 7 years. Prior to that I worked in advertising. I always loved photography and fell into weddings. Sounds cliche but..that’s how it happened. I only NOW 7 years later really consider what I am doing to be my best work and good enough to consider “professional” although the issue with 99.999% of photographers is that we need to use that term to market and make money. It’s a double edged sword.
    Chris’ words though..are spot on. What’s funny is that now that I am making the images I want and feel are truly “mine” I find it harder to sell because the norm in wedding land is not what I show.

    Well..I’m sticking to what I do best now though and that’s all we can do as artists.

  6. Amen! This applies to pretty much any creative profession (I’m a novelist). I think I should have this tattooed on my arm.


  7. Sound advice! You may not become a millionaire by doing what you love, but your heart will thank you for giving it what it needs!

  8. As a writer who depends on income from working in her sister’s photography business, I’d say that’s about right, however I’d also say we have both honed our craft enough by now to be due for a better financial break!

  9. If you read the book “Just Kids” by Patti Smith about her and Robert Mapplethorpe’s beginnings in NYC , you will see the kind of sacrifice an artist needs to make for their art. People who get into the photography to have it be their profession, just to make money, are not embracing it as an art form. That is when we start to get imagery that is empty feeling, executed without the photgrapher giving a piece of themself.

    • Well said! I’ll have to read that book. Mapplethorpe was also a master printer.

  10. I’m an author and my husband is a photographer. I’ve learned that doing what you love always shows. If you hate doing weddings but do it for the money, it shows through in your photography. If you hate writing a certain genre, but do it because that’s what’s selling, it will show through in your writing.

    Always do what you love and make it the best it can be. The rest will follow.

  11. Become a pro photographer! What could be easier? Have you noticed how low the barriers to entry are? Anybody with a camera and a business card IS a pro photographer if they say they are. In tough economic times people who enjoy photography dream of how easy it is to make money with their camera and have fun at the same time. What they don’t realize is that hundreds of other people just like them are thinking the same thing. You want to make it past the competition? Only passion for the craft is gonna power the grit and perseverance you need to become an awesome photographer. When the economy turns around and there are more jobs with a steady paycheck, many wannabe photographers are happy to leave the profession to those who hung in there and got really good.

    • Well put Andrea.

    • Exactly. You’re only truly a “professional” photographer when you derive your main income from photography. Only then does it become your “profession”. With digital lowering the barrier to entry, like you say, anyone can easily start out and try to make some money with their cameras. So the competition at the entry level has become much larger and much much fiercer. The end result is that, contrary to the general perception, digital has in fact made it much harder to become a professional photographer. It’s never been so easy to start, but it’s never been so hard to make it to the finish.

  12. I do not call myself a professional, I have business cards and a website…I am sure to tell people that I am passionate about my photography, it is a very much a hobby for me. I do make a small amount of money off of it. Not enough to live off of, but enough to pay for my photography habit. I would love to become a professional photographer, I love the prospect of capturing those images that people will cherish for a lifetime. Though, I do a lot of stuff for free….because I just love to shoot.

    • If your work is good enough, charge for it, accordingly!

  13. Perfect advice.

  14. The barrier may be low for someone to call them self a professional but the proof is in the print, (was going to say pudding).

    If photographs don’t stand up to the scrutiny of portfolio reviews then more time is needed to develop a high level of creativity. It takes time in the genre of photography to create your own personal style.

    Being a professional is not about how many times you have used the shutter button, it is about knowledge, ethics, and vision. One needs to be able to Put together quotes, bids, pricing, and practice goo business management skills. Then they need to market, advertise, and communicate who they are, and behave like a professional.

  15. No doubt, this will go viral on facebook, but how many will actually “get it”?!

  16. Absolutely wonderful advise… :-)

    • A simple and ientlilgent point, well made. Thanks!

  17. “I would hope to think that all the digi moms and week end wanna be’s would read this and take it to heart. But alas, they can’t even seem to read their camera manuals before they get started…”

    I think generalizations are dangerous. To coin a phrase like “digi mom” is just plain stupid. I am a Mom. I am also very passionate about photography. I bought my first DSLR a year ago and have shot images nearly every day in order to fill the visceral pull that I feel to create on a day to day basis.

    Photography fuels me, and while I can think of thousands of images in my head, these do not always perfectly translate into the final product as I am still learning, and breathing in all that I can on this journey. I read about photography daily….inhale every book, article, and bit of advice I can get.

    I just finished working on a logo today and will launch my site in the coming weeks, and yeah, I’ll call myself professional because my clients will get the best that I can give them.

    They’ll either like my work, or they’ll hate it. If they don’t like it, then they weren’t my clients to begin with.

    Stop generalizing and trying to intimidate people who would otherwise be too afraid to venture out and try something new. Are you afraid a digi mom or weekend wannabe just might outshine you??

    • Why is commercial photography so important, Stephanie?
      That passion you have for photography , is it not sufficient to just enjoy the endeavor on it’s own? Why the rush to business?

      Right now there are photographers with decades of experience struggling to make a living. Many have solutions and answers to problems and questions a newb isn’t even aware of yet, and may not be for decades themselves.

      In many cities a waiter or waitress will net more income than a working photographer – and she’ll have more time to pursue her passion, without the overhead of the business.

      Passion and magical thinking does not necessarily produce a return on investment – especially in an oversupplied market like photography (or music, or acting, or sports…).

      • You sound like a real wet blanket.

  18. I am driven by my own behavior which would include neurosis, obsession, andirritation with the limitations of my eye. Failing sight and hearing make me crotchedty
    So, best next thing is to see the humor in anything serious, but my hopes and they are private.
    My vision is one of my inspiration. Maybe it will rub off on others as it has been.

    I am becoming less tolerant, butalways happy to claim good photography. That means you Willy!

    Love, Britain

  19. Bob, you really do yourself no favors by insinuating that I become a waitress rather than pursue what I love to do.

    If I wanted to become a waitress (been there, done that btw!) I’d be the best DAMN waitress there ever was…..and if I think about my business the way you obviously approach things then I’d never get anywhere.

    Do what you LOVE, and LOVE what you do, and keep striving to be the best you can be. I don’t give a rat’s ass what other photographer’s do with years of experience and how they still don’t know about this or that. Good for them…..that is them and I am ME.

    I’ve got what it takes and so does every single person that has a dream to create their own signature and keep on keeping on. Why don’t you spend more time encouraging the young minds and artists of today rather than trying to push them down?

    Love your sense of humor Britain…..the world needs more people like you!!

    • Where did I insinuate that you become a waitress?
      I posted but one example. There may be thousands of other examples. Thousands of other choices. But a person who doesn’t have an open creative mind, may miss some of these choices.

      What I posted are the facts. If you can’t deal with honest feedback now, how are you going to deal with the realities of the market today? The market isn’t here to encourage young minds and artists, or to put them down. This is a business. Photographers create and license commercial images (and some fine art) to companies for business reasons. If you want encouragement, a hobby may be a better place to look.

      You didn’t answer the question (btw) :
      Why is commercial photography so important, Stephanie?
      Why the rush to business?

      If you really love photography why does it have to be your profession?

  20. In every job description I can think of that is in demand, passion is part of the requirement. Doctors, lawyers, financiers, teachers, musicians, engineers and scientists will ask ask for the same passion being asked for here.

    Blaming over supply or asking for more passion is just retarded from a business point of view. The solutions to over supply are to raise the standards and open up the system to new entrants challenging old orthodoxies with diversity. Magnum do not seem to be doing this and instead, appear to be imposing their own tired ideology on the industry besotted by its glorious and admittedly magnificient heritage (usually by selling expensive books showcasing their archive to make money for their current members struggling to survive: Next up, the Magnum Contacts book).

    Old and tired business models existing on the past are very conservative and their regressive ways of doing things are hindering the healthily diverse development of a wonderful medium. In this modern world, the love of photography is shared by more people than ever before (as measured by camera ownership). How much in a world of plenty is the 15 image editorial photostory with a couple of sentences worth when you can buy a whole ecosystem for 99 cents on your iPad? How many times can we see a slide show with good audio being passed off as “multimedia” in an age when you can fight an entire war on an iPad for $5?

    Change or die as they say in business. There is no shortage of passion out there amongst photographers. and probably too much of it. What the industry needs to do is change the way that they do things and it is hard to see how a collective can do that effectively without a hell of a lot of internal friction.

  21. I LOVE honest feedback, in fact I THRIVE on honesty….that is what my photography is all about. Bring it on……

    I just have a problem with people who seem to think they know the outcome of another person’s ventures or even worse, would even care to comment on why I would like to make money from something I love…..why NOT??

    I have loved photography all my life….I am the girl who sends you photo’s when you everyone else forgot to bring their camera, or couldn’t be bothered to take it out of their bag. I shoot for the LOVE of it, AND I am often asked to take photographs for people. They like my style, and they like how I relate to people.

    I am in no way, shape or form interested in “commercial” photography in the sense of “studio” photography or anything “manipulated” or that requires any type of advance set-up. I CAPTURE what is happening, in the here and now, in hope’s that people will see the beauty that they possess in all their imperfections.

    I AM, however interested in being compensated for the time and effort I put into shooting for these people, and so why shouldn’t I be?? I am in demand, and so why not capitalize on it, even if this is not my primary reason for doing so? I have been given a great gift in relating to people from all backgrounds, and the rare ability to connect to people on a deep level. Not something everyone can do, regardless of their “technical ability” or photographic experience.

    I want to shoot, and likewise I am sought after to do so…..and so I will, all the while reaping the benefits for what I LOVE to do.

    I appreciate your question, and maybe I interpreted the tone of your message incorrectly…..who knows? All I know is that I don’t know why I have bothered to use up energy that could otherwise be put into making my mark on the world…..and OHHHH, will it be GRAND!!! Thanks for your insights… is comments like yours that make me realize my true potential….so for that I thank you!!

    Best wishes!

    • More power to you. Ignore those who say you shouldn’t try. Sounds like sour grapes to me.

  22. […] Christopher Anderson, Magnum Photographer, via Ideas Tap, via A Photo Editor This entry was posted in Photojournalism and tagged Just Do It, Photography, Profession. Bookmark […]

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