I'm Jeff - a portrait photographer out of San Diego, California.
I don't want this article to be a soapbox/pedestal to boast about where I came from or my accomplishments. This is about you, not me.
But I will include a little about myself to build credibility. You're more likely to trust what someone says if they can show you that they've experienced it or back up their claims.
Currently (2021), I average about 200 portrait sessions and 25 events per year (no weddings). My work has been featured in magazines in both America and Mexico. I have also supported political figures with both photos and videos and featured locally.
With that being said, I started as a nobody. No one knew who I was. I also moved from the east coast to the west in the middle of my photography journey.
I will say, while I have had some success and I continue to grow on a daily basis - it wasn't easy. There continue to be times of struggle - in various aspects of the business.
But, as you'll learn throughout this article, nothing worth anything is easy. Success is hard work - regardless of the type.
Now that you know a little about me - let's move on to you.
I can assume why you asked your original question, but, to be clear, what is your reason for getting into photography?
You can answer this question very quickly if it's for personal enjoyment fulfillment. You would be doing it only for yourself. You may not even share your work. It's literally for you, and you only.
The answer to that is simple, yes. If you're only doing it for you - and nothing more.
But, if you're doing it for any other reason, that's when the answer gets a little foggy.
This is what I assumed the question was regarding. Whether getting into photography was worth it for the money or, at the least, some type of fame on social media (which usually leads to money too).
That's the direction we're going to take this article. Whether getting into photography is worth your time and effort from a business or financial perspective.
Before we dive straight into that - let's talk about the different types of photography (these matter a lot more than you may think).
You can't ask if photography is worth it if you don't break down photography as a whole. There are so many types and niches - and of those types, some perform much better than others from a business perspective.
I suggest aligning a niche's demand with the type of photography you're interested in taking.
The types of photography that are thriving (and will continue to) include:
The types of photography that may decline in demand (we will go over the reasons why here in a minute), and the most difficult to thrive in:
This is just scraping the surface. Let's talk about why portraits, landscapes, and other forms of photography may be on a decline in terms of demand.
Headshots and Family portraits (special occasion/holiday) aren't going to decrease in demand.
It's the "just because" sessions that are going to decline.
With cell phones getting more advanced, you'll find people are entirely ok with the results that their cell phone gives them. Why would they pay professional rates when they can take it for free on their phone (this is where a business has to offer more than a camera phone can do).
You also have to realize that professional cameras are getting less and less expensive every year, and editing software is getting easier and easier to use.
The images below were taken on a Samsung Note 20 Ultra
The vast majority won't take advantage of this - but we have seen examples of this first hand. It's even popping up in real estate photography - where the agent is purchasing a relatively inexpensive camera and taking their photos (even though this isn't productive at all, and they aren't saving money).
Persuading these 'type' of people into purchasing your service is extremely difficult and almost impossible at times. They have their mind made up - and you aren't going to change it.
If/when you run into this - don't let it get you down. Also, don't let it make you think that your work isn't worthy. These people are trying to save a buck - and often than not - they'll reach out to you again because you are the photographer, and they didn't realize the time and effort it takes to learn and execute it properly.
I don't think there's an occupation on the planet that's 'great' for all personalities. You have to compromise a little bit here and there (on either side of the business - employee or employer).
But, it's fair to say that certain personalities thrive in certain types of photography, while that same personality may be the wrong fit for another.
Let's break this down into two personality types, introvert and extrovert.
Extroverts are outgoing and bubbly types. They're (for the most part) very confident in their skills and perform very well around others. We aren't going to touch on the negatives of this personality - we're just going to talk about the benefits of this type to standard forms of photography.
The types of photography they usually thrive in include:
Anything that involves people and receiving recognition and appreciation for their work.
Let's talk about introverts.
Introverts are the opposite of extroverts. Most introverts like to work alone (or with a small team) and would rather be 'behind the scenes and rarely like to be in the spotlight.
The types of photography that introverts usually thrive in include:
These are fields of photography that don't require a large team and can usually be done alone. Landscape photography is considered the number one field of photography for introverts. It can be the extreme of all that exists because you can be completely alone, in the wilderness, taking beautiful landscape photos.
Let's talk about the possibility of mixing personalities with the wrong type of photography
Believe it or not - I lean a bit towards the extreme side of an introvert. It has taken me a long time to realize I'd rather be alone at home editing photos, composites, or writing articles and emails for you all!
I'll never really be the life of the party, center of attention, or the one to talk to you if I don't know you.
So how have I been a portrait photographer for so long, and made it work for me? The simple answer - my wife is there for me.
In some of our stylized shoots (Day of the Dead, Halloween, Easter, etc.), she is always there to help with my social anxiety issues. Earlier this year, we had 14 Easter bookings on the same day (20 minutes sessions for 5 hours straight)... I couldn't have done that without her.
Regular family sessions are different - they are more relaxed, and I can manage them independently.
But, seeing as I have my wife to support me, what if you don't have someone to help you in the same way (assuming you have the same issue)...
Honestly, I don't have an answer for you. I always recommend to beginners who reach out with this question (with the same personality) - try it out. If it doesn't jive with you in the first 5-10 sessions - move onto something else.
It would be pointless to put your time and effort (building relationships is vast) into something that won't ultimately lead to anything you enjoy.
I then recommend they try Real Estate photography (assuming they know the fundamentals of photography).
If you're an extrovert - I don't recommend real estate photography.
Yes, real estate photography is a huge moneymaker.
But, seeing as someone with an extrovert personality enjoys human interaction, recognition, and just being around people in general...
You won't find that in Real Estate photography (for the most part).
What tends to happen is, since you're great with people, you land a lot of work. But the work itself isn't anything that pleases you - you don't get much recognition for it (if any at all)... and you end up doing it just for the money.
This can lead to you ultimately hating what you do - and in some cases, photography altogether.
I know of two fellow photographers that fell into this trap. You have to love what you do... regardless of the money.
I know that section was lengthy - but I hope it made sense.
You want to align your personality with a type that falls under it. The last thing you want is to be either overwhelmed with a shoot (or anxious) - or underwhelmed with one (bored).
Photography is worth it when you love it - so become successful doing what you love. Following this will ensure that.
Now, let's look at whether photography is worth it from a pure business perspective (regardless of type).
As with any business, there has to be either a demand for what you're offering, or you're an authority figure advising those needing a service but who don't know exactly what to purchase.
The same can be applied to photography. You can offer a service that's in demand, and with enough hard work and outreach - you can make it worth it.
That's a lot easier said than done... so I'm going to break down what to expect (and possibly do) when it comes to making money in the field of photography.
As with any business, there is a grind - and that grind is pretty brutal at the beginning. Unfortunately, this only solidifies that most photographers quit and liquidate their photography businesses within the first two years.
This is only magnified in the portrait space - seeing as the average portrait (family or single) - does not solve a problem.
The majority of anything that anyone purchases solve some type of problem - and portraits aren't needed to do anything when you think about it. While other forms like real estate, product, and commercial all solve the problem of not having them help sell something.
Your first year will test you. You will have ups and downs. You'll probably think you aren't good enough and that you aren't sure if what you're doing is worth it...
This is entirely normal. Your duty during this time is to stay grindin' and make connections. We've all been through it.
Certain types/niches of photography can be incredibly lucrative over time.
As with any local business - word of mouth plays a huge role in your continued success.
After some time (about two years, on average) - you'll start to get an influx of clients. If you've played your cards right thus far, this influx could be substantial.
So much so that you have to increase your rates to keep your clientele at a manageable number. You do this over several years, and you're looking at significant money.
For instance, if you look at Real Estate photographers, those who've been in the game for more than five years are making well over six figures. Some of those past ten years (doing commercial work) - are making the better part of $500k per year - solo. That's right, only them. No employees or 1099 contractors to worry about.
So, photography can be more than worth it in that aspect - you just have to put the work in to make something like that happen for you.
Time is something we can't get back. Out of everything in this world - time is the one thing you can't buy, steal, or swap for.
With that being said, time is the most valuable thing to a business owner. It's essential to maximize your time every day to make [whatever you want] happen.
We're talking about managing social media, reaching out to potential clients, working on your portfolio, making sure your website is up to snuff, emailing your list (assuming you have one)... etc.
Don't let this discourage you. As time goes on, you will get a flow/rhythm to manage all of this without thinking (or forgetting) about it.
Or, you could hire all of that out. It's up to you. But I would suggest knowing how to do those things effectively before hiring someone to do it. Only you know your business - no one else is going to know.
So, that's a basic overview of what to expect from a photography business perspective. It's not much different from any other business; you're just dealing with clients that want photos - and 90% of the time, the result of your work isn't tangible (like a physical item).
Please take all of this information into account when deciding whether photography is worth it to you or not.
This is something that many new photographers don't take into consideration.
Location drives so many things in a photography business, such as:
These are only three examples, but there are many more I'm sure you can think of.
As you can imagine - you wouldn't ask and receive the same price for a portrait session in Las Angelas as you would in the backwoods of Missouri. It's just not going to happen.
You also have a much better chance of significant success as a portrait photographer in a vacation destination like Key West Florida or the beaches of San Diego. People go there on vacation and want family pictures of them on the beach - they google a family photographer in that city - if you have worked on SEO, boom, there's a potential customer. This can happen all year long in these locations.
Real Estate is booming in Texas right now - it's the place to be for Real Estate Photography (and Utah - but Utah is the place to be for anything creative, really).
You won't find nearly as many homes for sale in the western part of Virginia (for instance) as you would in Texas. This leads to the fact that you would be much more likely to become successful in Texas as a Real Estate Photographer than anywhere else in the country right now.
This would lead to you agreeing that photography would be worth it at that point.
Aside from coastal cities that don't have actual seasons (at least four seasons like most of the country).
Portrait sessions tend to be great through the fall and spring - with lulls in the winter and summer months (significant during any major holiday).
Real estate has a lull during the winter where some claim to not have a single booking for months. Once spring picks back up - so does the housing market.
You could attempt to offer everything to pick up the slack (and never be 'great' at anything) - and either get burnt out or not have a single customer because clients can't trust that you can provide them what they want (because you don't specialize in anything).
Or you could use this downtime to create content on your website (to drive more traffic in the coming months), content for social media, organize everything for the next push... etc.
Do not waste this downtime by doing nothing. This will determine between setting yourself apart from your competition and improving from what you offered the previous year/quarter. If this time isn't used constructively, you'll repeat last year's numbers, or worse, most of the people who know of your business purchased whatever you offered last year...
Offer it again this year - and you'll have fewer clients because of it.
The time of the year is significant. Use the busy month to stack cash - use the slow months to prepare and improve the previous months so you can stack even more money when times pick back up again.
Now you have an excellent overview of what to expect as a photographer.
If you take anything from this article, it should be this: Unless you're very well known already, at first, you may feel like a failure (pretty slow). Your years following will slowly increase until it ultimately spikes, and you have to increase your prices to accommodate the influx.
Ultimately, your love for photography, drive, and willingness to go through the good and the bad will determine whether photography is worth it to you or not.
As for me - I continue to grow and learn month over month, even after being in the game for 7+ years.
It's been more than worth it for me - but I was prepared mentally and financially for it. After reading this article, you should be ready for the journey too.
I hope I have answered your question, Is Photography Worth Getting Into? And I would recommend checking out my other related articles that help beginners like yourself daily.
Until next time, take care of yourself, and keep learning and creating!