Becoming a Professional Photographer at 45


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Jul 7, 2013
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I have loved taking photos for most of my adult life but never got serious about improving my skills past the basics. Now I am in my 40s and I am getting tired of the rat race. I am thinking about getting into photography as a second career. So I was hoping some of the professionals out there would help me with this decision.

I know all of the typical advice about following your dreams no matter how old you are. What I want to know is what are some of the challenges of getting into this business at my age. I have been told to find a mentor and/or work as an assistant to improve my technical, artistic, and interpersonal skills. But are there professional photographers out there who would take on an older apprentice like me? And how much more difficult would it be to find clients at my age?

Thanks in advance to everyone.
Age shouldn't be a problem when finding clients - heck being a more mature person chances are several market segments might actually respond better to you than to younger talent.

As for getting into the market, its hard, really hard as its very over saturated compared to what it was in the past. That said it CAN still be done if you've got the will and the drive. What you need to do first is work out at what stage you are at:

1) Learning stage where you're still building up your basic and more intermediate skill sets

2) moving beyond the beginners point and confident in your abilities (even if only within some select situations).

From what you say it sounds a little like you are in group1. I'd say that you're best options are:

1) Go to college/school/night courses - boost your education; however remember that whilst photography is important if you want to be your own boss you'll also want to pick up some business studies on how to run a company

2) Find a mentor - they need not be a professional, just a skilled photographer with the time and willingness to teach; note this might be free or might be paid (free you might find down the local camera club).

3) Make use of books and the internet - read up and learn - ask questions and learn (as you are doing right now). Remember ALWAYS that no matter if its paper or the internet you have to cross reference; take multiple viewpoints and start to learn who to listen to not just what the people are saying.

4) Put together what you have and approach local companies with the aim of being an intern/apprentice - this depends on what you can do now and kind of balances on that level between furthering your own abilities and your desire to enter the working market.

You might find it very helpful to read through the forums here; put your work up and have some critique given - its free and you can get a lot of good insight into things. It will also help you get a measure of your skill and can help toward building up a good portfolio to present to local businesses to get that intern/assistant/second shooter position.

There is a joke you should hear! What is the difference between a Professional Photographer, and a Large Pepperoni Pizza?............................................................................................... a Pizza can actually feed a family of four! ;)

If you read the threads here... you will see that a lot of people (majority?) have aspirations to go pro... and many have! You are not the first, and won't be the last.

Good luck!
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Are you talking about just changing careers or running your own business? Running your own business is the ultimate rat race. It's the hardest thing I've done and the hardest thing most people do. Anyone who runs a successful business will probably tell you the same thing. If you want to coast, stick with the factory or office. I've done both. I love my business and would never change it. But I've only begun to bust my butt.
Do you currently work for someone else? Get paid holidays/vacations, paid health insurance, weekends off, etc?
As a pro photographer you will basically need to be self-employed.

What kind of photography do you want to do? Retail? Commercial? Editorial? Stock? Assignment?

All essentially require you to be self employed. Commercial pays the best, then Retail, with Editorial/Stock/Assignment bringing up the rear.
The Chicago Sun Time recently fired their entire Photography department, a editorial photography trend that started several years ago. 'Chicago Sun-Times' Fires Its Photographers : The Two-Way : NPR

Note the following are about the business of photography, because doing business and marketing is how you make money as a pro photographer.
Mediocre photographers that have excellent business skills usually make a lot more money than talented photographers that have poor business skills.
Profitable Photography in Digital Age: Strategies for Success
The ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography:
Photography Business Secrets: The Savvy Photographer's Guide to Sales, Marketing, and More
Commercial Photography Handbook: Business Techniques for Professional Digital Photographers
Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition
How to Start a Home-Based Photography Business, 5th (Home-Based Business Series)
How to Create a Successful Photography Business
The Business of Studio Photography: How to Start and Run a Successful Photography Studio
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I'm afraid to say that regardless of age there is also rat race in professional photography. Around ever corner you will find someone else who is willing to back stab, cut your throat and basically do whatever they can to get ahead. Most are amateurs that feel because they have a camera they should use it to make money with it.

As KmH has mentioned, if you are currently working and have all the benefits of related to it, why would you throw it all away to be a starving artist?
I'm afraid to say that regardless of age there is also rat race in professional photography. Around ever corner you will find someone else who is willing to back stab, cut your throat and basically do whatever they can to get ahead. Most are amateurs that feel because they have a camera they should use it to make money with it.

As KmH has mentioned, if you are currently working and have all the benefits of related to it, why would you throw it all away to be a starving artist?

^This! Imagemaker46 IS a professional photographer, Full time! He knows this better than most....
Thanks for all the replies. I figured it would be extremely difficult to make a living in this field. What I meant by the "rat race" was that I spend three hours each day stuck in traffic to sit at a desk doing a job that I find meaningless and boring. Yes, I make pretty good money and the benefits are okay. It seems pretty dumb to give that up for something that would almost certainly not provide the same financial benefit. But I also feel like I am wasting my life doing something I hate. Now that my kids are almost out of the house I want to do something I enjoy, even if it pays less.
It seems to me that you're wanting to become a creative professional because you feel it will give more flexibility and with greater opportunity for creative expression. This is the impression that many highschool art students have when making career decisions. Everyone knows that being a fine artist is a dead end, so a lot of these kids go into fields like photography and graphic design - people who don't really understand either career, fine art or commercial art, push these kids into these careers with the best intentions - 'you like to draw and stuff? well, there's a whole field that uses those skills.'

The problem is, a good portion of commercial art, be it photography, graphic design, industrial design, whatever, is not glamorous at all - it's not the creative outlet that people think it is, and, as it turns out - us creative types need more than just skills that benefit from knowing how to 'draw and stuff'. Ask any professional photographer here, and they'll probably tell you that, while a significant source of income, senior portraits aren't exactly the blooming time of creative expression - but is rather pretty mundane work full of canned poses taken in more or less the same sorts of locations.

As a graphic artist I learned pretty quickly that 95% of what you do isn't anything special. Literally yellowpage ads and newspaper classifieds. I started enjoying the challenge of cramming 35 open house listings into 1x6 space spots, with the realtor absolutely refusing to budge on placing their smug photo (they'd actually DROP LISTINGS before their headshot), but it was more of a technical challenge than an artistic one. I wasn't working for Cole Haan, I wasn't doing window displays, I wasn't making packages for some trendy organic edamame at Whole Foods. I was appeasing realtors.

So no, creative careers seem real cool and stuff, but in reality it's just a job like every other. If you want to enjoy photography, do it on the weekends.
I think you've already answered your own question. :)

I'm the same age as you but already self employed & it's early days for me, but long term I just want to get to a stage where photography can bring in a little extra.

There is some good advice here about being 'realistic', but it all depends how much you want it. If I were you, i'd think more long term, do what you need to do to get where you want to be on a part time basis. While you've still got the job security, put some money aside so you have a financial cushion & then when the kids have gone, you can go for it.

How does that quote go again? Better to regret the things you've done, than the things you didn't...

PS: Read 'Choose Yourself' By James Altucher.
It really would be a tough go of it all, and I can understand the frustrations of being stuck in traffic everyday only to get to a job you hate. I have been spending the majority of the past three years scanning old negatives 8-10 hours per day in order to keep building an archive of what I have shot in the past 40 years. I recently discovered that someone I was shooting for had another 10 years of my negs that I thought were lost, so now it's non-stop and boring. I look forward to getting out shooting when the work comes along now, but also know that on top of all the new edits and work, the old stuff is still going to be there. I have about another 6000 negs to scan. It's mindless and I hate doing it.

These days I would be more than happy to drive to a full time job, collect a steady pay cheque, and take a vacation with my family, something I have done twice in 28 years. The grass is never greener on the other side, not anymore. Be happy with what you have, and enjoy photography as a hobby, the freelance stress will kill you.
If you haven't yet developed skills beyond the basics then it seems like that would probably be your starting point; that and learning from sites like ASMP's about what's involved in doing work in photography.

It seems like people usually start out with it as a sideline and maybe (which is a big 'if' these days) it could develop into a way to make a living but I don't know that it's all that realistic; I think it's a big jump to go from another type work to fulltime photography. If you were able to find a job that's more interesting, less of a commute, etc. etc. that could enable you to develop your interest in photography, you might figure out how to have it be a way to enjoy making some extra money and then see where it goes from there.
The beauty about photograph is that age is no barrier. Anyone can learn it quite thoroughly with consistent doses of small practice. Trial and error bring experience. I agree with imagemaker46 about the rat race, it exists in photography just the same as anywhere else. It depends what one defines as the rat race but it's a competitive niche and requires a great deal of self motivation. As the saying goes, I find that the harder you work the luckier you get.
I won't disagree with any of the above posters because they are basically right. But if you really like it you should give it a go. keep your dayjob and learn all you need to learn to be good enough at your photography. while learning the business side, taxes, federal, state, local regs. insurance , contracts, marketing, accounting, and see if your still enjoying yourself. im not that different then you. working desk job as a designer/project manager, making good money. said I didn't think it was for me cause of the money. but then I was laid off and realized I had a few months ahead of me being at home full time where I could devote to learning what I needed to know. and after a few months of digging into all the "boring" side of photography where you will spend 80% of your time I was still enjoying it so I opened the doors a few months later. It takes time and effort into building your name up and it's a lot of work. I enjoyed every bit of it. doing photography related stuff I never thought i'd do. opening myself up to try other photography fields to find where I really fit in and everything in between. I eventually went back to work and had worked for the last year while doing photography on the side till I was laid off again last month (thanks government) so now im back to working from home. pushing my photography business as much as I can. my business has been picking up the last few months and the wife is trying to talk me into just doing this full time because she sees how much happier I am doing this then I ever was behind the desk. If winter time wasn't coming i'd be more tempted to push for it. but who knows, maybe this spring i'll be able to make the leap into full time.

Oh, I am going on 41.
There's a lot of great advice above. It's tough, but since I can see 45 from here, the only way I'm entertaining going full time into photography is when I hit the mega millions lottery and can fly BigMike down for a 3 week private training session which during this time, I get all the things needed to set up shop and get all the new camera gear in and up and running. Come on lottery, you can hit any day now ;)

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