Today’s guest post is by Nick Franklin, a photographer and student from Huntsville, Alabama. Follow him on Twitter.
Risk and reward is the mantra of business. How many risks and rewards does a person have to take to be a professional photographer in this market? What are you willing to lose for chasing a dream? If you haven’t looked at these questions yet, you will. No one can provide you the answers, and no one can make choices for you. What they can do, is tell you what they did, and maybe you can glean experience from them. I’d like to share my own with you here.
As an amateur-professional I faced a hard decision early on with where I would take my photography, and what I would lose doing so. Art college is a heavily debated topic in the field, some say it’s almost necessary, others say you’re better served in business school. I weighed the pros and the cons. Being surrounded in a artistic zone could be hugely beneficial in developing a vision, but could also burn me out soon. And, above all, was the cost. My choice schools, somewhere like the Savannah College of Art & Design or Brooks Institute were hugely more expensive than some of the top business schools available to me. Combine that with a looming recession, and my choice was practically made for me. I would not pursue any academic credential in photography. I took instead a more common path, a business major, and secured myself a job through college. I don’t regret this decision now, as the market has not recovered, and I was able to devote what time I had for photography to its best use. I shot what I wanted, and learned a lot photographing things I never thought I would. Making images became a retreat from the norm, and only increased my desire to make them.
My improvement over two years only opened more doors to me however, and with that came more decisions. Clients began to pop up, and I had to decide whether I wanted to forgo those unique shooting excursions to make side money and begin the trying process of building a business. I chose the latter, and it turned out to be considerably harder than I had expected. Balancing shooting, editing, and managing some level of brand on a limited schedule was quickly running my love of photography into the ground.
It wasn’t long until I would drop everything I had on my plate. I left my job, took a semester off from college and stopped taking clients. What on earth could create such a sudden about face? A chance of a lifetime I thought. A photographer who I respected greatly, to the point of modeling my own hopes of success on, was accepting internships. I applied, was accepted, invested over a thousand dollars to relocate myself and for the first time pursued photography full time with no hesitations. My hopes going in were that this was at least a foot in the door of a major studio, or a life adventure I would never forget.
I got much more of the latter than the former. Personal differences led me to leave the studio less than two weeks into my internships. In such a short time my expectations were crushed, and I was left broken. The risk I took had not paid off. It had cost me not only monetary value, but pride and a place beside someone I respected. I found rock bottom.
I didn’t pick up a camera for nearly three months. I was able to resettle myself at home, though not able to make up the lost time from school, and found myself another job. I spent that time thinking about why I took the risk originally, and what I learned from it. I learned that despite how much we get consumed with the mood and meaning of imagery, behind the camera and in front of the lens are real people with real problems. That the things we let go to pursue a dream are the very things that made it in the beginning. In some ways this failure taught me more than success would.
It’s a personal decision in the end how much you are willing to risk for this lucrative career. It’s the things you don’t think about that hurt the most, things like family and friends, or the impression you have a hero. Measure these things very carefully, but go boldly with what you decide. There can be no reward without risk, and sometimes the rewards aren’t always evident.