I remember when we were first starting out in our career as photographers. We were 20 and 23 years old at the time. I’d just graduated from university and was working at a secondary school full time. Sam had just finished a graphic design course and was working part time as a delivery driver. We were both still living at home with our parents, working from Sam’s bedroom in the evenings and on our days off. I constantly worried about being taken seriously. Looking too young to be running my own business and feeling too young perhaps.
I was worried that people would assume we were no good because we were younger than our peers or because we were still living at home. I worried because building our new business meant having to maintain a full time job so we could afford to sustain a business too. We had to work to subsidise our business costs and afford new equipment. When you’re new to the industry all you seem to see is established photographers declaring how important it is to have years of experience and to be a full time photographer. All I seemed to notice was how important it was to have a studio or to have XYZ. All those things that it felt like we didn’t have.
It’s a battle
I know that for us, it felt like a continuous battle. At the time it seemed like the only way to be taken seriously was to declare to the world that you were a full time photographer. Whatever that means. No longer one of the “weekend warriors” that the old blokes chatted about.
In retrospect we were in such a rush. In a rush to leave our mundane day jobs behind and pursue our passion. We were in a rush to be able to say to potential clients “Yes, this is our full time job”. In a rush to rub shoulders (literally and metaphorically) with other photographers who’d work we’d long admired. We were in such a rush to prove ourselves in the early days that the bigger picture never came into it.
We blogged like we knew what we were talking about. Jumped feet first into projects that benefited everyone but us. We enthusiastically gave “expert” advice with a whole year’s experience under our belts. When we look back now, we cringe massively at everything we thought we knew and how certain we were about everything we were doing. We didn’t have any idea what being a full time photographer really meant. How could we, when our biggest expense was investing in a new lens? There were no mortgages or real bills to pay. Nothing and no one relying on us to succeed. And if it all went wrong we still had a warm bed at home. We were never going to starve.
Being self employed
We did eventually quit our day jobs and we were far from silly about it. We’d made plans and done the maths a million times- but even so, we’d never even really considered what it meant to be self employed. We hadn’t considered how much more difficult “adulting” can be as a self employed person. How it could affect your ability to get a mortgage or credit. How many more hoops you’d need to jump through to rent a house or take out a loan for example.
The rush to live the dream as it was then very much clouded the long term goals. Thankfully, we were fortunate enough to have our own flat by the time we gave up our day jobs, but had we not, I do seriously worry that things may have panned out very differently for us. Would we have ever stood a chance of getting on the housing ladder?
So if I could go back and give our younger, newer to photography selves a bit of advice, it would be this.
Slow down. Don’t be in such a rush. If people are judging you based on your age or where you live or how many weddings you’ve photographed, rather than the work you’re actually delivering, then those people are not your clients. Not everyone will be your client and that’s fine.
Slow down. Don’t be in such a rush. It may seem really important and like a really huge step to be able to say that you’re a full time photographer (and it is!) but titles and labels aren’t half as important as you think. We have all been there. Financially preparing yourself for your future and being able to support your business long term should always be your priority. Stick with that job and save like crazy.
Slow down. Don’t be in such a rush. The years will zoom by faster than you could ever believe and they will be so much happier if you are prepared for them.
Slow down. Don’t be in such a rush.