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Don’t Quit Your Day Job: 6 Photographers Defying Convention

13 min read

What does success mean to you?

Is it money or clients? Is it a degree, an award, or a stamp of approval? Do you feel successful at your most chaotic, rushing from calendar alert to phone call? Or does your success speak more subtly: dinner with the love of your life, story time with your children, weekends with friends?

Most emerging photographers will say that success means “going full time” – finally giving up the day job and giving the finger to cubicle life. And maybe that is success to you. It’s certainly a huge accomplishment!

But what if there’s more to success than swapping one job for another? What if success lies not in the job itself, but in what you make of it?


Some photographers are defying conventional wisdom and keeping their day jobs, choosing to mingle their creative careers with the mundanity of reliable health benefits and regular hours.

And they love it.

So, for just a few minutes, set aside the certainty that the only life for you is the full-time photographer life. Open yourself up to the idea that maybe – just maybe – there’s a weird, wobbly world of mix-and-match opportunities ready to soothe your stresses and amp up your inspiration.

Follow Your Aptitude

“My part-time job as a technology project manager absolutely rocks. A couple days a week, I get to escape from my boss (me!), and spend time with a killer team of fun people! I work a lot, but it gives me balance, energy, and extra money to do things I love. And hey – I paid for that degree in computer technology, so I might as well milk it!”

Life would be a lot easier if we were born wearing labels telling us who we are and where we fit in. But it’s not, and we don’t. So we flail in choppy waters of options and opportunities, seeking a stroke that suits our muscle tone and arm length.

It can feel like drowning. It always feels like work.

And, much like swimming, it’s only when we relax back, take a breath, and allow ourselves to float, that the struggle subsides, and we can finally take in the scenery.


You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Follow your bliss,” which may conjure images of flowing-haired women hiking Wild-style along the Pacific Crest Trail, wearing white stretchy-pants and eating yogurt.

But bliss isn’t a marketing campaign or a brand guideline. Bliss is a finely-tuned blend of desire and aptitude. It’s the thing your very bones are inclined to do. It’s the reason some of us craft mouthwatering gourmet dinners while others are lucky to pour a passable bowl of cereal.

Either you have the skill and the will – or you don’t.

What do you desire? What is your bliss? Your aptitude is likely close behind.


Feelings Are Universal

“I’ve been a veterinary technician for nearly twenty years. Over the years, I’ve shared emotions of all kinds with veterinary clients: hope, fear, joy, anxiety, and loss – the full gamut. I try to bring these feelings to my photography by creating a fun, joyful experience that people will remember every time they look at their pictures.”

The feelings you experience when you’re doing something you love are universal. You feel these feelings every time you live authentically. This is why you feel the same joy whether you’re making photographs, watching your favorite movie, eating an incredible meal, or catching up with your best friend.

This is why you can love all of your children equally. This is why one human body can contain both a successful photographer and a gifted veterinary technician.


With so many way of bringing joy to others, it’s a shame we tend to limit ourselves to only one expression of creativity. As Tolstoy so aptly wrote, “There are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” The same is surely true for creativity.

Photography isn’t your only way of putting beauty into the world. It is one of the many ways you are equipped to make this world a lovelier place.

People Are Weird, Everywhere You Go

“Working as a bartender provides ample exposure to countless personalities. Entitled, sensitive, lonely, amiable, talkative, cranky: I’ve learned to manage them all. This is a handy skill when it comes to photographing people! While most of my clients are agreeable and friendly, a non-compliant toddler or unenthused uncle is always a possibility. Bringing out the best in them while making images is a challenge, and bartending keeps me feeling mentally and emotionally prepared.”

On crisp computer displays and shiny magazine pages, photography makes life look magical. It makes people look magical.


What we see is a highly-polished version of real life. And while we know these photographs are (often) Photoshopped versions of reality, we still expect to find shiny locations, happy people, and magical moments when we ourselves arrive to a shoot.

“Sometimes I joke that I relax from the news by photographing weddings, or vice versa! (I’m a senior writer for CNN International.) They’ve each made me better at staying calm when everything goes haywire. They’ve each made me better at deadlines. They’ve each made me better at talking to strangers and connecting with someone quickly.“

But people are weird – no matter where you go. From barrooms to boardrooms, you’ll find belligerence and hippy-happy spirits; broad smiles and severe frowns; wild enthusiasm and cranky caution. You may think the grass is greener over there – but that’s just because someone cranked up the saturation in Photoshop.


So look around. Take in every strange personality. Acknowledge every odd quirk and eccentricity. And accept it: you will find these people no matter where you go, no matter what career you pursue, no matter which fork in the creative road you choose.

Learn all you can from the folks surrounding you today. Everyone you meet has something to teach you.

If You Don’t Care, You Won’t Care

In 2004, psychologist Angela Duckworth began researching her theory that grit is what separates the achievers and the succeeders from, well… everyone else. Valedictorians and CEOs, Eagle Scouts and prima ballerinas, thriving children and healthy couples: all demonstrate grit.

“Grit is a distinct combination of passion, resilience, determination, and focus that allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection, and a lack of visible progress for years, or even decades.” – A Fine Parent


The “passion” portion is key. “I don’t think people can become truly gritty and great at things they don’t love,” Duckworth says.

“I only take work that will pay what I ask. I have a part time job that pays the rest. People might think that I need a part time job. I don’t, really. I could live off of taking every photo job there is. It just allows me to not take work I don’t want to do for less than I charge. I realized I was doing a whole lot of work for projects I didn’t care about and things I didn’t want to do. My part time job prevents that and I find myself doing things I like for the amount of money I want. I actually make more in photography, now, doing less, than I did doing everything.”

When you choose a career path (or paths), choose something that gives back to you. Choose something that stirs your passion and inspires creativity. Choose something that will motivate you beyond the obstacles and challenges you will surely face.

If you’re fulfilled by your work, you’ll have the fuel you need to drive yourself out of the low points.

Who Are You Meant To Be?

“My passion is __________.”

Go ahead – fill in the blank. It’s hard, isn’t it? Not because you can’t think of something, but because you’re probably thinking of so many things. You’re passionate about photography, sure. But you’re also passionate about the people who inspire you, and the causes that drive you, and the hobbies that motivate you.


At the intersection of these passions is the spark of you – all that you’re capable of and equipped for and meant to be. And if you begin weaving these passions into purpose, and allow that purpose to guide your work, you’ll find yourself making decisions that are authentically you. Not decisions based on trends, but decisions born from your deepest desires for your own life.

“I dove straight into weddings and stayed full-time for over a year. I was actually pretty miserable for most of it. Photography became a job…a job that I hated. But now I also have a job working with kids in an loving Montessori setting, teaching Spanish. By having an outlet for my other passions, I genuinely feel so much less stressed. I go into my engagement sessions and weddings feeling refreshed and new. Now, Imani Photo can authentically be what it is meant to be for people of color and the LGBTQ community.”

Who are you meant to be? Who are you meant to impact? Is your work supporting those dreams? What can you do differently, so you feel more fulfilled at the close of each day?

Let’s Try Again

Focus on a goal, and set your standard for success – a standard defined only by you. Maybe your goal is to get good sleep every night for a week. Maybe it’s time to tell your day-job boss, “No, I can’t handle more work,” then quit opening your laptop after you leave the office. Maybe you need to dedicate one hour a day to answering emails for your photography clients. Or perhaps you’re ready to set aside one weekend a month to give back in your community.

Identify a dream you can succeed at, and go succeed.


Sometimes even a small experience of success can spawn more success – much like the research demonstrating that the luckiest people are those who believe they’re lucky. Because when you believe you’re lucky, you don’t give up. You have grit.

Be gritty in your pursuit of success.
Define success on your own terms.
And don’t let anyone tell you that one passion is plenty. We believe in MORE.


Do you have a day job you have no intention of quitting? Tell us why in the comments!

We’re big dreamers here at ShootProof. Come succeed with us!



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