I certainly didn’t get into this racket for the money, and while I haven’t been in it very long, I’ve had time to look at the kinds of success that photographers have enjoyed. They seem to exist along a spectrum. At one end, there’s truly beautiful work and post-mortem recognition. At the other, there’s immense wealth with photographs that leave most scratching their heads (read: Peter Lik). Money helps. It’s good to know that I can afford rent and the occasional night out, but I’m not looking for millions down the line.
Money distracts more than anything, When profit drives creation, we get computers and phones that are more or less designed to start breaking down by the time the next model rolls around. Money’ll always keep you going to the next thing before the current thing has had time to breathe. At least, that’s what I’ve seen.
When money isn’t an issue, that is to say not a motivating factor, there’s room to do whatever. What you create isn’t immediately tied to a dollar value, so it can live or die of its own merit. Perhaps the inadvertent good thing with photography is that money isn’t really a motivating factor because there usually isn’t a whole lot of it.
I got into this because there isn’t really anything I’d rather be doing, save for maybe being an astronaut. You really can’t beat the view, though it’s not very good for street photography. I also got into this knowing I’d have a slim profit margin or break even, though most of what I make is going into student loan payments.
That’s not to say I don’t want to be successful. I do, but it’s important to divorce financial gain from it. I go out and make photos for the sake of making photos, and if I find that I can sell them somewhere, I will largely because I need the money, need in a survival sense. For now, I’m making what I need. Eventually, maybe I’ll make some more.
I don’t yet know what success is or what it entails, but by looking at the paradigms that exist, I can determine the paradigm I want to create for myself, though I’m not focused on it beyond the confines of this post. My focus is on making images, and hopefully making some kind of living out of that.
For those looking to get into this, unless you’ve got deep pockets already, the financial prospects aren’t the most promising. That’s not to say you can’t make huge amounts. There are some who have built a fortune, and they’ve got strong business acumen, which is something you’ll need if you want to make this work beyond the bare minimum.