Can I really make a living as a photographer?

Photography

Nicole Hill

by

Have you ever looked at one of those inspirational posters—you know, the ones with a photo of a baby goat frolicking up a mountainside above a phrase like “Pursue your potential” or “Find your tribe”—and thought to yourself, “Yes, cool, love it, sounds great, but sorry I’m not actually a goat. I live in reality and need a paycheck.” But here’s the thing: that inspirational poster world and the real world are actually very much the same place. And once you see all the ways that they’re connected, you’ll have such a better time pursuing your potential, finding your tribe, and getting that paycheck.

We’ve talked before about how this is the best time ever to become a photographer, but now I want to dive a little bit deeper into how committing to your craft with the right mindset will help you create a successful career for yourself. Making a living as a photographer starts with having the right mindset because it is your mindset that guides the decisions you make, the connections you foster, and ultimately the photographs you take.

Y’all, when I started taking photographs (before I had even dreamed of it becoming my actual job) I didn’t even have my own camera. I had to convince my best friend to basically perma-loan her camera to me. And as my love for photography continued to grow, so did the obstacles I came up against. I had no experience, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I had absolutely no connections. But I was determined to make a place for myself in the photography world, no matter what it took. And it was hard and uncomfortable (and yes, there were many tears along the way), but I kept pushing. In fact, I’m still pushing. To this very day. And if I can do this, then I know without a doubt in my mind that you can do it, too. 

There are always going to be ups and downs, and days when you want to throw everything into the nearest trashcan. But even on the days when you’re second guessing every decision you’ve made up until that moment you still can’t give up. 

::Insert inspirational goat poster:: 😉

These are the moments where you need to find your motivation and push forward—because it’s not going to be easy all the time. And the difference between someone who is successful in this industry and someone who isn’t often comes down to not giving up. If photography is what you really love and really want to pursue, then you can’t give up—especially in the moments that other people might. When most people would stop contacting potential clients for jobs, you keep reaching out. When most people would assume they know enough about lighting and don’t need to practice anymore, you keep learning and practicing. Even the most dedicated photographer needs to make sure to have the inspiration and motivation to boost themselves up—because it is hard. But remember: if it were easy then everyone would do it.

So, how exactly do you find this inspiration and motivation? Well, we all fell in love with photography for a reason, so whatever it was that first sparked that love within you and pushed you to pursue photography as a career—grab ahold of it again and let it ground you in your passion. Once you have both feet back on the ground, here are a few other things to keep in mind when seeking the inspiration you need:

The bottom is the best place to start

We’ve all got to start somewhere, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the bottom. Let yourself be ok with sucking, be ok with not knowing enough, be ok with having 0 followers on your social media accounts, and be ok with no one booking you. Because this is what the beginning looks like. And as you keep growing and building your portfolio, as you keep advancing and learning and trying new things, there will come a day when you don’t suck anymore and when you’re really freaking good. Put in the work, and don’t be afraid of being vulnerable in the process.

Insta isn’t everything

Social media is a really amazing tool for networking and showing your work, but whatever you do, DO NOT focus all your effort and energy on curating the *perfect* Instagram. I’ve seen so many beginner photographers focusing too much of their time on social media, obsessing over their followers, likes, and comments without realizing that this actually hurts them in the long run. As a photographer, you need to think about what your true purpose is on social media—what are you trying to accomplish with your account? 

For instance, if you compare both of my Instagram accounts, NicoleLHill_ and horizonfound, you’ll see that they have two distinctly different purposes. NicoleLHill_ is meant to get me hired as a photographer while Horizonfound is meant to help connect and empower female photographers while sharing my photography knowledge.

So, if you’re a photographer trying to get work, think about the true purpose behind your social pages. And you should NOT be focusing all your efforts on your Instagram—Instagram is only one small piece of the self-promotion and networking puzzle.

Don’t quit your day job…YET

No one is asking you to put in your two weeks’ notice at work and dive headfirst into the photography world without a portfolio and without any experience. But I am asking you to spend your free time learning, working, shooting, and growing as a photographer. If photography is truly what you love, turn off Netflix, stop scrolling through your phone, and focus on photography. 

You can’t dive into your photography career without direction, so figure out your game plan. Do you want to quit your day job? If so, how can you go about doing that? How many photography jobs a month would you need to shoot in order to make that a reality? How long would it take for you to build up that many clients? One year? Six months? There’s no wrong answer! Just focus on a specific timeline for your personal goals and do everything in your power to set up actionable steps to work toward it. If spending a year pursuing your goals as a side hustle before going full time seems like too long, think about how long your life will seem if you stay in the 9-5 that’s currently crushing your spirits. It’s always worth it to put in the extra work right now. 

Knowledge is POWER

NEVER STOP LEARNING. Every time you learn something new, you become a better photographer. And don’t we always want to do and be better at what we love? Plus, the pursuit of knowledge is an amazing motivator when you come at it from the right mindset. I am always trying new lighting techniques, testing new tools, exploring new locations, and trying new editing techniques because I know that I can still grow as a photographer even though I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. You need to adopt this very same mentality moving forward. 

Take Annie Leibovitz, for example. (If you don’t know who she is, stop everything you’re doing and google her now. I’m dead serious.) She’s one of the most famous and celebrated female photographers from our lifetime. At the height of her career, she was a film photographer shooting covers for the biggest magazines of all time with A-list celebrities. Then—BAM—digital cameras came out. A lot of big-time photographers fought against going digital for a while because they were more comfortable with film, but not Annie. She adapted with the times, she grabbed a digital camera and started using it. She never stopped learning. 

“I’m not nostalgic about cameras, I want the pictures to look real. Whatever camera helps me do that is the camera I’m going to use.” 

HELLO! This is the most famous female photographer in the world and she’s still learning because she wants to take the best pictures she can. So, don’t ever trick yourself into thinking that you don’t need to keep learning and improving, because that is the kind of mindset that will stunt your growth and keep you from really making it.

More than anything else, though, always remind yourself why you fell in the love with photography in the first place. This feeling is the soil in which you will continue to grow your skills and passion as a photographer—and it is where you will ultimately harvest your success.

::Insert motivational gardening poster::

Now, grab ahold of your own hand, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you really can do this—because you can.

AND if you feel like connecting with other female photographers like you, join our Private Facebook Community group where you’ll be welcomed with open arms. It’s a place where you can share your work, find inspiration, and ask for advice from all of our amazing members. Click Here to join!

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meet the photographer

HI! I'M NICOLE HILL

I've spent the last decade of my life traveling the world as a fashion photographer and I created Horizon Found to give you everything I wish I had when I was starting my career. Here you'll find community, inspiration, and education - to help guide you down the path towards building the photography business of your dreams. My dream is to use this platform to help build a supportive environment in the photography industry.

I'M HERE FOR YOU!

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