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Why I don’t want to be a commercial photographer

It’s doesn’t make sense does it? The world is currently being told to follow their dreams, quit their 9to5 jobs and grind to be the best in what you love most. But I couldn’t think of anything worse than turning my passion for photography into a job. Especially given the way I was defining what I want to do with commercial photography.

Work was bearing down on me, I had on average 12 projects to manage, and therefore in excess of 12 stakeholders all contacting me for updates, I would go home worn, exhausted

Ignoring those awful multi level marketing videos making the rounds of the dreamy looking guy driving a Lambo, which goes for two minutes where they spend the entire time telling you they are about to reveal how you can scale for 1 job a month to 10 jobs a month and start living the photographers dream and still have the time to live your life. I roll my eyes at those videos. The logistics alone would be a nightmare, let alone dealing with 10 clients simultaneously all while trying to edit 10,000 plus photos and arranging 10 more jobs for next month; but this isn’t the main reasons I don’t want to make my passion into a job.

Work was bearing down on me, I had on average 12 projects to manage, and therefore in excess of 12 stakeholders all contacting me for updates, I would go home worn out, exhausted, but motivated to get out and photography at that time was my answer. But the harder I worked to get commercial work, the worse my mental state got because it was more effort I needed to output after working a full day of horror.

The truth is, photography was my escape from monotony. It was all about being creative, and making content I liked. When the idea was planted in my mind that I could make money from it, that’s when things went downhill for me.

I was working a full time job, which I hated, and I dreamed that one of my photos would go viral, and that would be my saving grace, so I pushed, and I shared, and I SEO’ed and I networked as hard as I could. But it got harder and harder and hurt me more and more mentally, to the point where I hated sharing photos on social media, and had anxiety attacks wondering why I was failing.

Photography to me was expression. What did that mean? It meant that photography as an endeavor wasn’t one that needed to be a financially orientated.

I’m not saying being a commercial photographer is impossible, it’s just a lot of hard work, and when you have bills to pay, you need to manage your day job while you building your business and for me, commercial photography was defined by me as the escape I needed to save myself from my horrible job. That was my mistake, I defined photography as a way out of my situation, but to get out, I needed to work 3 times as hard and I wasn’t in a position to do that, but beyond that I actually didn’t want to.

Commercial photography to me was a secondary idea. It was something that would be a “nice to have” rather than a want – it was never a dream. Maybe a job here or there for extra income would be nice at best. But the situation at my job was so horrible I was blinded by getting out as quickly as possible. So I was busting my butt at work, and then coming home and busting my butt at home in hope of some luck and I had no respite from either.

Working Hard – By Ed Fetahovic

One day, after things got so bad that I needed to take stress leave from work (due to work pressure and family reasons), I sat down with myself and really thought about what photography was and what I wanted to do and here is what I came up with:

What is photography?

This question wasn’t a philosophical one, it was just me asking myself “all things considered, what do I want photography to be for me?” My answer to this set the precedent on what I did next.

My answer to the question came quick, and it was simple. Photography to me was expression. What did that mean? It meant that photography as an endeavor wasn’t one that needed to be financially orientated so long as I was expressing myself creatively.

The issues I was having at my work were synonymous with the company I was working for, photography wasn’t going to solve that issue in the short term, changing jobs and finding something more reasonable was. When I directed my attention to finding a new job, taking photographs came back ever so naturally to me, it made me feel like taking the pressure off of myself to succeeded saved me mentally and allowed me to focus on my creative interests and output.

the desperate need for fame disappeared and I realized that want was driven by fear of failure.

What is success in photography?

When I realized this, I felt like having a commercial website, and pushing for wedding and event jobs and all of that didn’t meet my definition of expression. But street photography did. Being creative and looking for new and interesting points of view got me excited and motivated and so I took my commercial website down and chilled the f out on Instagram too and went back to enjoying the process rather than focusing on the unrealistic outcomes I wasn’t achieving.

Is commercial photography necessary?

Frankly, for me, no, no it isn’t. I like my profession, and I enjoy working for good companies. What this whole shammozle taught me was to be more strategic when looking for jobs, and keep my wits about me when I’m defining success in any of my endeavors. Those two things alone have helped me improve my mental health, motivation to be a street photographer (but also exercising and caring for myself) and so my moods feel better as do my energy levels too!

Once I defined these things and got a new job (and one that I absolutely love!) the desperate need for fame disappeared and I realized that want was driven by fear of failure. My previous job made me hate myself, and that was spilling over into other parts of my life because it was so difficult to handle. It work hard to find the right job, don’t get me wrong, it didn’t just happen. But the point is commercial photography was never a want, I just forced it to be one because I felt stuck.

Becoming famous (as silly as this sounds) felt like the best and only answer to resolving the financial needs I had to cover to quit my job, so every photo that did poorly on Instagram, or if I didn’t get a commercial job I knew I was suited for, or if my commercial email stayed empty after I put out a well positioned ad about my business, made me feel like I would be stuck in the mental hell hole I found myself in – but all of those things had very little to do with each other. It’s just how I pieced the puzzle together which made things harder for myself.

Success in photography is defined by you, and if being a commercial photographer is dead set what you want, I hope some of the lessons I’ve shared above help you establish a far better path to success than I ever could. I’m glad photography is an artistic and philosophical endeavor for me than a commercial one. It remains an exploration and something I do at my own pace with my own rules and boundaries, rather than clients and the unnecessary pressure that come with building a business.

Whatever comes of my efforts moving forward is a victory, and having that makes me feel super successful. To those looking to become commercially successful, I wish you all the best, and I hope my story and this Harvard Business Review article on success help you with your future!

thanks for reading

~Ed

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