Passion to Profit: How I Turned My Love For Photography Into A Successful Business

(Above) Photos from my first year practicing photography.

(Above) Photos from my first year practicing photography.

Some of my favorite images from 2014

If anyone out there can relate to the title of this post, read on. It takes a lot of commitment and perseverance to turn a passion into a successful business but anything is possible with determination (and a little knowledge about the business world).

Many photographers agree that there is an over-used statement commonly seen in the photography world: "photography is my passion." I can't count how many times I've seen that statement in the "About Me" section of a photography blog or website. I'm not saying anything is wrong with passion. Passion is what drives us to be successful. Though I think it needs to be understood that passion alone is not enough to sustain a successful business. As a business owner, you'll have to overcome many challenges, know how to deal with difficult clients and sometimes it will feel like your passion is being drained by the business.

So how did I turn my "passion" into a career? Well, I think it's only fitting to hear some of my history, as I believe that with any passion, we all start out with a dream but rarely do we know from the start how to achieve it.

For me, it all began with the appreciation for images in magazines. As a young pre-teen, I would cut out scenes from National Geographic, glue them into collages, and hang them on my bedroom walls. In 1998, when I was in the eighth grade, I had my first opportunity to experience first-hand what it would be like to work in the photography industry. My teacher asked that ever-so-popular question: What do you want to be when you grow up? I took quizzes, I pondered over it for some time. Nothing stood out to me in the list of hundreds of choices. Then, I came across the career: Photography. That was it! I just knew it was right for me. I know that's not always how it happens but, for me, that's how simple it was. Not really. There was still years of pursuing other careers, working at jobs I hated, and gaining an education that would ultimately bring me to being jobless.

Back to the opportunity in eighth grade, the question and quiz was soon followed by a job shadow. I spent the day following a photographer for the Portsmouth Press Herald newspaper. There wasn't anything eventful that day for us to shoot, but the experience was nevertheless invaluable. I'll never forget seeing one of the images I took in the newspaper and how that small success attributed to my optimism that one day this really could be my career. I'd like to say that I went with my gut and pursued my "passion" right from the start but photography is one of those jobs that was sometimes deemed nontraditional, or more of a hobby. Sure, I practiced as a hobby and even took a couple classes in school, but I never took photography seriously. I just didn't know how to transition my love of photography from a passion into an avenue for generating income.

It wasn't until I was 38 weeks pregnant with my daughter that I really began to think about seriously learning photography. The business aspect was still a long ways off. I wanted to really learn photography. After all, it had been 15 years since career day in the eighth grade and I really wasn't any further along in my learning. The time was now! And so it began: I started reading books, I bought my camera and a 50mm f/1.8 lens, I watched countless videos, took webinars, but most importantly, I practiced!

I submitted my work in photography-based groups and forums. I was given harsh constructive criticism. Sometimes I was even brought to tears thinking I could never learn photography. It got frustrating, but I kept going. Despite my work being torn apart by other photographers, I listened! Whether or not the criticisms were technically correct, I entertained each and every one of their comments and ultimately failed time and time again until I started to succeed. It wasn't until I was completely (okay, mostly) confident in my abilities that I began to turn my "passion" into a career.

So, what's the mistake I see time and time again with many new photographers that prevents them from succeeding? They desperately want to earn an income, but they aren't quite there yet in their photography. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to really know how to create a great image with great lighting, focus, white balance, composition, etc. I'm not saying every image I (or any professional photographer) create is perfect. In fact, photography is a learning journey that never really ends. If you're not still learning something, you're doing something wrong. Photography is one of those careers where you truly grow by pushing yourself and challenging yourself beyond what you think is possible. Photography never is and never will be a purchase of a "nice camera" or the press of a shutter button. Aside from the photography aspect of the career, the business aspect is equally as important. No matter how good of a photographer you become, knowledge on how to run a business is equally essential. Not only should you ensure your business is legal before earning any kind of profit, but you must have solid contracts, a marketing plan, and keep accurate records of all business expenses and profits. Don't expect to make a profit in your first year. As with most businesses, the first year is the most costly but a certified public accountant should be able to maximize your income tax return.

With that said, turning your passion for photography into a career doesn't happen overnight. For me, it took over 16 years! But it is a very possible and obtainable career if you keeping learning and challenging yourself, learn the business aspect, and (most of all) never give up on a bad day!