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If you're a photographer in 2023, read this

I don't know if it's just me and the critical thinking skills that I sorely lack, but I regularly forget that the work people are posting on Instagram isn't necessarily the entirety of their work or makes up their whole income. Disclaimer: this post is in no way meant to deflate or discourage you, quite the opposite. Please stick with me.


Let me back up a bit.


I fell down a pretty bad hole recently, what with the Cost of Living crisis, the general fucked economy and how on earth I was going to actually make a living from photography. I know I'm not alone in this; this fear is rife among photographers & self employed people right now, but for the sake of this blog I'm going to focus on photographers.


The fear gripped me extremely tightly, in hindsight probably brought on by a personal matter, and sheer blind panic set in. Full transparency, I am not and haven't been earning anywhere near enough from photography to support myself over the last 2 years. But I genuinely thought I could with enough time and hard work.

I started to think about my life. My partner and I have a life to live. We want to be homeowners. We want to go through reciprocal IVF and have a baby. These things cost lots of money, money we don't have and money that I am in no way contributing towards currently. I know I'm young but both of these goals take time and I'm suddenly feeling this pressing urgency of the clock ticking.


These questions played over and over in my head:

How much longer can I do this for no money?


How much longer can I deprive my personal life & future because I refuse to make money elsewhere?


What cost will solely pursuing and persevering with art & photography for no financial gain have on my life?


A bit about my brain; I'm a chronic over-thinker. I can think and think until I've gone through the whole process of something and failed in my head, so I don't even start. I'm also a queen pedestal-putter-upper which I'm learning to dismantle slowly. I take people and things at face value because I assume people are wholly honest and upfront and transparent like I try to be. But sometimes they aren't, and that's completely fair; privacy and what you choose to share with the world is your prerogative, it is your right. I'm not trying to shit on that at all.


I don't know if it's just me that feels this way, but I feel an undercurrent of shame regarding quitting photography within our community, or getting income elsewhere to support it. Like it's a self belief thing rather than a 'I need money to live' thing. Your love for art should see you through. Work harder, work for free, make sure your portfolio is plentiful and clients and money will come.

Especially with Instagram, everything and everyone tells you to niche down, do one thing and do it really well and consistently and you'll get loads of business. I now feel that this is a dangerous ethos to spread. While I do agree that it's important to have a clear and consistent portfolio for a specific genre, this whole niching down thing has unknowingly warped my perception of success and actually stopped me from creating a successful and thriving work life. Let me explain.


Since being public around my fears of financials and direction (both creative and life), I have had the most wonderful and eye opening conversations with other photographers. One of many being this wonderful post from Elizabeth Brown. Here's what really made the penny drop for me:


"Making the money and making good Instagram content are RARELY the same thing. I shoot lots of pretty things…but I also shoot dental surgeries, medical research facilities, local councils and a whole load of other stuff which never makes it to ‘the grid’. And I know for a fact that MOST photographers do that.😉 Even my RAF jobs sit on a spectrum of “photogenic-ness”."


This directly contradicts 'finding a niche and sticking to it'. This is actively diversifying, being open to shooting any and all things, having multiple different portfolios OFF of Instagram and approaching a breadth of varying businesses. Why aren't more people talking about this? Why aren't the big hitters and the mentors suggesting this to struggling photographers, especially beginners or those with little experience? I'm not saying anyone needs to post this work to their grid but just talking about it on stories or letting people know that it's ok to not limit yourself to JUST the beautiful work. It's ok to seek income from elsewhere to fund the pretty & creative stuff. It takes the pressure off the finances and can support you to live the life you want, support your families, do what matters. I'm of the opinion that we should be talking more about this and normalising it, rather than protecting our egos or creating the illusion that we are surviving solely off one strain of our art.


I have felt immense shame about not being able to support myself & my partner through my art. I have felt like a failure, like there is something wrong with me, like I should be able to make this work. I am not saying it can't be done. I just feel their is an unrealistic representation of what this actually looks like. So what if I need to get a part time job at Lush? So what if I need to shoot corporate work to make rent? This is not selling out or devaluing yourself as an artist. This is making sure you can fucking live.


You are no less of an artist if you only make art sometimes.


You are no less of an artist if you have a non-creative part time job.


You are no less of an artist if you have a non-creative full time job.


You are no less of an artist if you want to support your family in other ways.


You are no less of an artist if you capture 'boring' things to make money.


You are no less of an artist if you decide financial stability is more important than dying by your art.


I love being an artist. I love my creative freedom. I love creating art, I cant live without it. I also cant live without being a mother. I cant live without having a home that is truly ours. These two sides of me have been in major conflict because I couldn't see how they could both exist, and for an emotional soul like me, that's been very distressing.


With all that said, here's my personal plan going forward.

1. I'm going to focus on weddings and elopements and try and get more bookings with that (to what success I'm unsure of).

2. Simultaneously, I'm going to work on creating passive income; presets, guides, online workshops, helpful resources for creatives (photographers, you can do this too, India Earl has a brilliant talk on this).

3. I'm going to create branding portfolios to send directly to businesses I'd love to work with, and basic, clean portfolios for more commercial work.

4. Alongside all of that, I'm still going to be creating for me when I can.

5. If nothing improves financially, I'm going to get a part time job.


And just like that the weight has been lifted. I can see things clearly now and I can finally make a plan that feels good. The migraines and tears can hopefully take a backseat. There are so many things I can do to make money, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. It doesn't have to be ALL ART or nothing. I can do so much whilst still doing what I love. My mindset has totally shifted and I pray and hope that it has for you too.


You are not alone, it's so hard to navigate this world sometimes especially in our industry. I hope this helped and gave you permission to ditch any internal shame you had going on about this. Here's to more honest and open conversations about how to actually exist in this world as a creative, because how else on god's green earth are we meant to know?


Big fucking love!!!!

Em x

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