Dollars Aren’t The Only Way to Value Yourself

A recurring theme I see in many photography magazines are articles on making the leap from hobbyist to professional photographer. I understand most of us would like to make a few bucks to cover the cost of new equipment or programs, it is a spendy hobby, after all, so at some point or another we all play with the idea of marketing ourselves and/or our images... but I end up feeling a little bit sad when I see how some of these articles are written. They make it all sound so easy; but the fact is not everyone is cut out to go into business. I feel like our society is too quick to equate every skill to a dollar value, and if you don't charge money then it must be because you don't have enough skill to do so. The person with a business card must obviously be the better photographer/artist/name-that-skill, right? Yet we've all seen those photographs on the walls of local businesses that are appallingly dismal because all someone could think of was making money way before they had real photography skills. Then there's the senior portraits that are so unflattering or poorly executed that you just want to cry for the victim... um, client. If you've just started photography, or even if you've enjoyed it for awhile, please go find someone that will be truly honest with you, and show them some of your work. What they say may hurt your feelings, but please do. Contrast that with what you can find on Flickr: some of the most amazing things ever done by someone's mom or grandpa and it's 'just a hobby'. I think more of us need to free our minds from the push to value everything in dollars.  You can enjoy photography as a hobby and it's ok to be 'just' a hobbyist and never feel pressured to break out in a career. It will also help you far more in the long run to concentrate on artistic skills than on doing business. I'll tell you what, when you start worrying about making money with whatever your interests are, that's what it is, worry. Most of us don't need more of that in our lives, and when you take your hobby, the thing you do for fun and a break, and you have to do it to someone else's expectations and demands it changes a vital element of that enjoyment. If you are the type of person that likes those challenges, that's great, but if you're not someone that enjoys strife you are not less of a person, or less skilled as a photographer,  you are just smart enough to know yourself and not ruin what you love by twisting it into yet another sacrifice to Mammon. Understand, I'm not discouraging anyone from following their dream of being a paid photographer (unless they seriously need some more skills and understanding of the principles of design). I do think those magazine articles fill a need because they are usually pretty honest about how hard a job it really is and what it really takes to be a professional photographer. Those articles often give people who honestly have that drive a good starting place to build their future. They also give the rest of us a renewed respect for the designers of the photos and films we see in the media, and the amount of forethought that goes into even the smallest elements of those designs. Personally I love the 'behind the scenes' shots because that is when you realize how many lights and reflectors are involved in deceptively simple looking photographs, as well as the hours of photoshop work. Far from thinking that photographers  are some of the most overpaid professionals ever as some (not photography) magazines claim, the more you become aware of all the work  those individuals and teams do outside of that 8-16 hours that they're on their feet being polite and professional in sometimes very unfavorable conditions, the higher your respect for their skill level and work ethic rises. But you don't have to be a paid photographer to be a good photographer. Respect yourself outside of the dollar signs. The best value is your ability to bring joy to others, as well as yourself.