Why Did You Want to Become a Photographer?

That was one of the questions posed to me during an interview this past weekend. A young woman had asked to interview me for a college paper she was writing. The call and the questions started out somewhat clinical, most likely another task or paper that she needed to check off her list. She proceeded through the usual list of questions: “Did you go to photography school?” “What type of photography are you interested in?” So on and so forth.

I could hear her typing my answers and I paused to let her catch up. But then she asked a question that really struck me on many levels. “Did you get into photography because it was cheaper?” I asked her what she meant by that – did she mean the tools of the trade were cheaper? When she responded “yes”, I told her that was somewhat of a misnomer and that the first cameras I bought (mechanical ones) I had used for 10 years. I added that now, because of the exponential impact of technology on my profession, my cameras and the software I need on the post end, have to be upgraded at least every two or three years, and that was only part of the investment required in the “tools of the trade.”

As she typed my response, I felt myself getting a bit anxious and I started speaking rapidly. I told her that even if that were true – meaning that I got into the photographic profession because it was cheaper – that would have been the absolute worst reason for me or anyone else, to choose photography as a profession. I went on to say that you need to be passionate about some aspect of photography that makes you want to do it more than anything, if you want to have a chance of sustaining yourself financially in this profession. Pursue photography because it brings you joy and that if you are getting into it because the entry level costs were “cheaper” you’ll simply be competing with thousands or tens of thousands of button pushers.

I went on to tell her that I became a photographer as a means to an end. I had been studying architecture in college and after two years left school to travel. I traveled the world for a year and came back knowing that I wanted to pursue a lifestyle that would incorporate travel but more importantly fill my endless curiosity of people and cultures and exploration. I wanted to become a storyteller, and became a photographer as a means to that end.

As the interview progressed I noticed the typing started to diminish as I told her that I have never separated my business from my pleasure and that they have always been tied together throughout my life. Simply put – my business is my pleasure. I talked about my frustrations starting out as one of a handful of women in a man’s world and for the most part a man’s profession – at least in the early days. I talked about the endless stream of rejections and the “wins” that seemed to pop into my life when I needed them most, rescuing me in the knick of time, just when I was thinking of quitting and moving into another career. I told her that unless she really wanted to do photography, she wouldn’t survive in this profession. I talked about my mentors when I was her age and how grateful I am that I had those people in my life. I relayed a couple of anecdotes about things my mentors had said to me and how those words had been pivotal moments in my life and that when things got tough, I drew upon those words of wisdom to get me through the day.

Then there was a very loud audible sigh, followed by a long period of silence and my mind raced through the various things that I had said to her. Was I too harsh? Did I paint too bleak of picture? Or worse yet – did I make it sound too easy and that all she had to do was “just do it”. I felt this overwhelming sense of responsibility that maybe I said something that was going to dictate the rest of her life and I kind of panicked in that moment of silence. And then she said “thank you so much for talking to me today, I started out just wanting to write my paper, and I’m going to have a great paper, but you have no idea how much talking to you has helped me.” She went on to tell me that she had been struggling with a decision that she was trying to make between going to law school and going to film school. I told her that she needed to make that decision all by herself and that it wasn’t a decision that anyone else could make for her – not I – not her parents – not anyone else. I told her to dig down deep into herself for the answer, beyond the influence of others, the dogma of the day and all the noise. And most importantly to remember that it was her life and that she got to choose how to live it and that she had every right to change her mind along the way.

Quite honestly, it has been one of those “onion” months for me, with layers of setbacks and second-guessing myself. I got off the phone feeling good about paying forward what I have learned along my way and in that moment, I realized that this might be my “purpose” at this point in my life. The day had turned into one of those sweet “strawberry days”. She didn’t know it, but she had helped me as much as she said I had helped her. It’s those conversations and those little moments that keep me going, and come to my rescue, just in the knick of time.

I would love to hear from you all – why did you want to become a photographer?  Something you say or write just may help someone and paying it forward is the best feeling in the world.

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4 thoughts on “Why Did You Want to Become a Photographer?

  1. JT February 7, 2012 / 12:13 am

    I liked it. I was good at it, too. I didn’t, in college, plan to be a photographer. I got a job as an administrative assistant. I lasted three months and quit to shoot for a small newspaper at something like $15 per assignment. I liked the access it gave me. I liked that I didn’t have a boss. [btw, I’m your age, been doing photography for about the same amount of time though a bit less successfully… though like you i’ve managed to raise children and educate them…]

    It’s not easy, photography. And it’s only recently that I’ve come to accept the fact that I owe myself some measure of congratulations for persevering. But I couldn’t have done anything else, at least I couldn’t have done it and liked it.

    Photography is something you do when you just can’t imagine doing anything else. People who go into photography because it’s “cool” don’t last long; I have a long list of former assistants doing something else, and a shorter list of assistants who have gone on to decent careers.

    And you’ll note that while photogs can make a decent living, they’re not living in the neighborhoods with the big houses and the fancy cars. (yes, they’re are exceptions, but few)

    I still like it. Mostly. Yet at this semi-advance age and stage in my career I’m still looking for the next job. That never changes.

    Not a career for the faint of heart.

  2. visualrecord June 24, 2012 / 1:44 am

    I got into photography because I like a good challenge. I may have limited success because I am not a technician, nor do I desire to know all the technicalities of Photoshop. I like the challenge of getting the interesting composition and of the capturing the best light, in camera. Constantly being on the lookout for beauty and being able to share it with an appreciative audience is my reward.

    I love talking with photographers, being with and experiencing other good photographer\’s work. Photographers are some of the most upbeat, alive, friendly people I meet on my journey around North America living full-time in our beautiful 5th wheel RV. Photographers are always on the lookout for discovering beauty and interesting subject matter that many other people overlook. They never tire of sharing their experiences and trying to help others to enjoy it as well.

    We go where we want and stay as long as we are enjoying our surroundings. This is only dictated by how good the weather happens to be. I\’m retired from my other life and try to avoid schedules and cold windy conditions.

    I\’ve found that audiences appreciative my work so my challenge now is to develop a business plan to be able to find the market willing to pay to own my work. First order of the day is to develop a useful, efficient, attractive and easy to use web site. Second would be to select the top images and my third would be to market these images using all the best virtual tools available.

    Do you recommend consulting with an agent to get advice on the best way to figure out my niche? Maybe talk with photo gallery managers or owners? I ask these questions because a great photographer once wrote that you must detach yourself from your top photos because your audience/buyers only get to experience your imagery two dimensionally, not in the three dimensions experienced while getting to the location. They don\’t know that you got up hours before the warm sun lit the scene, trudged through the rugged terrain and enjoyed the early morning serenade of the local song birds or sounds of the rushing water. To me that is the major part of my joy of capturing quality imagery.

    My main goal is to subsidize my passion of photography through sustained sales and to be able to get some of the gear that will help me take it to the next level. Thus avoiding too much outgo and not being able to justify spending more on gas and needed equipment to get the next great shots.

  3. Margaret Slaughter August 24, 2012 / 11:47 pm

    I am also doing a paper in college. I never really thought being a photographer is cheaper. Matter of fact I have always expected it to be expensive. I know it doesn’t have to be sometimes. But that never mattered to me. If I ever become lucky enough to work beside someone,… uh that would be life changing. Even if it was to get them coffee, just to learn and watch. I could learn so much. To me photography is story telling but at the same time I like when it give you a emotion. When I have a camera up to my face it is the same as when I am walking around. All I ever see are shots and beauty. I love photography. I am becoming a photographer because it brings me joy. I can’t see a hardship or a trial that I would go through that would make me ever stop. Knowing me I would take a picture of it. My only problem is the begining. How to start? Where to go when you finally figure out what you want to do with your life? Do you look in the paper? I know to make a portfolio. What do you put in it? Wedding photos only for wedding interviews? Nature photos for nature interviews or everything wonderful so they know you have a wide variety and your talented. I just really wanted to say thankyou because all of you settled more into me that this is what I should do. My heart is in it and it is truly my joy in life. It let me know I am doing the right thing by persuing photography. Thankyou so much for paying it forward. There really has never been another job that I really wanted. I just don’t know where to start or even find a internship. thankyou again
    Margaret

  4. Nancy Young December 26, 2012 / 7:47 am

    I do agree with you, the point is in your great passion about photography. If you are really passionate about it, you have a chance to achieve success in this lucrative area. And any cheap “tools of the trade” and other things will never make you to go through this difficult way of a photographer with lots of efforts, work on yourself, endless practice and other stuff. It’s a very interesting post, thank you! I want to share a story with you too: http://photodoto.com/how-to-become-a-photographer-the-natural-way/ it’s an article on how to become a photographer based on the real life.

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