Photo credit: Angela Hopper Lee
Going Pro with Your Passion
Pros and Cons of Becoming a Professional Wedding Photographer
By Hunter McRae Published: February 11, 2015 Updated: February 15, 2016
As a child, I took disposable cameras everywhere, documenting every important moment with family and friends. When I dropped a camera off to be developed, I couldn’t wait to get the pictures back a few days later. It was always a treat to see what I had captured — I kept scrapbooks and boxes with images of every person in my life. Photography was my passion.
When it came time to find a career, my initial priority was financial stability, doing something I loved and cared about. But it never crossed my mind that photography was an option.
I tried marine biology — nope! I tried marketing — nope!
Photo credit: Catherine Moye
It wasn’t until I took my first photojournalism class at UNC-Chapel Hill that I was hooked and never looked back. My professor helped me to see photography as a way to make a difference in the world while doing something that I loved. Somehow, the financial aspect wasn’t as important as it used to be. In fact, studies proved (and these were definitely pointed out to me!) that the odds were against me, especially as a woman. But I knew I was a hard worker, and I felt that I was supposed to follow this path.
Since college, my photography career has led me to adventures around the world for online documentaries, to an esteemed internship in NYC with National Geographic Adventure magazine, to several fabulous newspapers in Colorado and Georgia, and to where I am now: working for myself as a business owner.
The flipside to that? I am ultimately responsible for the happiness of my clients. That’s a big responsibility — especially on somebody’s wedding day!
Photo credit: Andrew Davis
If you’re thinking of going pro with your passion, carefully consider the positives and negatives.
Here are eight aspects of the job that will make you smile every day:
- You get to be creative. Your clients will choose you based on your own personal style of photography, so don’t try to be like anyone else. Trust who you are and your ability to produce great work that others will relate to and connect with.
- You will meet and interact with interesting people that you otherwise may have never come across. Each door that opens leads to another, and your horizons are expanded with each new client.
- You will never be bored and will constantly multi-task. Whether you’re learning how to adapt to and please a new personality type or you’re faced with where to shoot in the rain, expect to face new challenges on a daily basis.
- As an industry professional, you will likely rent or purchase the most up-to-date gear, assuring that your images — best professional and hobbyist — will be the best that they can possibly be. Plus, your gear expenses become a tax write-off.
Photo credit: Stratton Lawrence
- If you enjoy traveling, you can seek out shoots and gigs in far-flung locales. Photography is a very portable profession!
- You will constantly be learning, from adapting to new technologies and styles to improving your own ‘eye.’
- If you are self-employed, you get to choose your own clients. When your business takes off, rather than taking every gig or assignment that comes your way, you will need to be choosey about what you accept so that you save time for editing and free time. Remember, you are interviewing your potential clients as much as they are interviewing you. You also get to choose your own work days. You have the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a potential shoot, depending on your schedule.
- On most days, you’ll be working with happy people. If you’re shooting weddings and portraits, you will be surrounded by people who are in good moods, who want you around and are very appreciative of your talent.
Photo credit: Stratton Lawrence
It’s said that when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. That is true to some degree, but taking pictures is actually a pretty small percentage of what makes my business tick. It’s the business end of things that feels like work.
Here are seven of the little daily struggles that come with being a professional photographer:
- Gear is expensive. You may need to save up for the right equipment or take out a loan that you feel confident your business will be able to pay back.
- It’s a high pressure job. If you’re photographing weddings, you only have one chance to get it right. The weight of the world is on your shoulders and yours alone.
- Post processing takes a lot of time. Most photographers don’t realize this before getting into the business, and what’s worse is that your clients won’t either. You’ll need to educate your anxious clients on why their images aren’t ready immediately. You’ll spend hours upon hours in front of the computer culling, toning and perfecting the images. The longer the shoot, the more images to edit and the more time spent in front of the screen.
Photo credit: Briana Brough
- It can be confusing to figure out taxes and the business end of things. I hire professional bookkeepers for the peace of mind that I’m doing everything correctly, and to allow me more time to do what I’m best at: taking pictures.
- You won’t always be perfect. Once in a while, you’ll disappoint someone or have to deal with a client who isn’t happy. That is never fun and will usually hurt your feelings because you care so much. Be strong, trust that you’ve done the best you can possibly do for your client and work hard to find a solution to restore their faith in your ability.
- Not everything you shoot will be happy. If you’re a photojournalist, you’ll be faced with difficult situations and decisions. You’ll need to document the negative realities of life to educate the world. That can be hard on the soul.
- Your work and vision is no longer just “yours.” A lot of people get into photography because it’s their passion or hobby, but once you become a professional, your job is to satisfy the person paying you. You may have to prioritize your client’s wishes over your own artistic eye.
Photo credit: Ibu
It’s up to you whether you should turn your passion for photography into profit. Hopefully my pros and cons can help you with your decision. Most importantly, even if you go pro, don’t give up hobby photography. Keep shooting and maintain your love for the art!
Photo credit: Alex Newell Taylor
Photos and text © 2015 Hunter McRae. Written for PhotoSecrets. Please do not reproduce.