I have this dream...that all I have to do is work.
Wait a minute. I didn't say that right.
My dream is specifically about my job now—The Online Photographer and all its auxiliary projects—and it's that all I have to do is write.
It's a good dream, not a bad one. No phone calls, customer service, comment moderation, computer glitches, product wrangling, link building, email answering, or any of the 1,001 other tasks that now fill up my day...all I have to do is write the posts.
Ahhh, luxury. That would be really nice. Because that's the part I really enjoy.
But then I realized...it's exactly the same way for photographers. And probably also for all small, independent, sole-proprietorship businesspeople. Whatever it is you like best about your job, you actually get to spend very little time doing.
It's not like everything else I do is a chore. I enjoy a lot of it. Even the complaints, because TOP readers are generally so reasonable and generous...even in complaint mode, their hearts are in the right place. (For the record, almost every single post I write that's more than four paragraphs long gets complaints from somebody, somewhere. You can't please all the people all the time.)
As a photographer, I probably spent the most time actually working when I was a student. Then, it was most of my work. I could take pictures every day and spend hours at it if I wanted to. (I ended up spending most of my time in the darkroom, because I enjoyed crafting prints more than taking pictures.) Then I became a photography teacher, and I still had a lot of time to take pictures—but I didn't realize how good I had it. Then I became a professional photographer, hoping to spend more time taking pictures...but (many of you know what's coming next) as a professional I got to spend even less time taking pictures. I've noticed estimates over the years from many people from many places...most run from between 5% to a high of 30%. That's the percentage of the time you actually get to take pictures if you're a professional photographer. It's more like the former than the latter. Maybe a National Geographic photographer gets to photograph 30% of the time, I don't know. We could ask Jim Richardson. But a small-time jobber professional gets to actually shoot 10% of the time or less, I'd say.
So, those of you who earn a living in other ways and never seem to have enough time for photography? Don't worry, you're not alone. Professionals don't get to spend much more time shooting than you do. A little more, maybe. But not a lot.
Maybe it's the dream of everyone who likes what they do...to only work, and never have to worry about all the rest.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Steve Snyder: "I forgot where I read it, but there was a time and motion study that wanted to find out how many hours employees actually do real work at a job and I think the number was around of 30% of total hours at the office. The rest is administrative, meetings, surfing the web, training, etc.
"Don't feel bad. When I was self employed, I would be lucky to work 2–3 hours a day actually doing work. The rest was answering emails, paperwork, meetings.
"Sometimes I think 30% is too high!
Steve D: "It's this observation that has kept me from accepting payment/assignments for my photos. I learned from years of vintage motorcycle restoration (my first real love) that once you accept payment to do a task, you're no longer doing it purely for yourself, and many of the choices are now dictated by someone else. Maybe it's just me, but it's a dynamic I can't endure.
"A sign in a restoration shop I used to work for: Labor $75/hr. If you want to watch, $150/hr. If you want to ask questions, $300/hr."
Jim: "I would say this is pretty accurate. I've been a newspaper shooter almost 40 years, and although the time I actually spend shooting has declined dramatically over the years (thanks to increasing responsibility and having to do more with fewer people), there was always a lot of time spent doing everything except shooting photos."
Maggie Osterberg: "One of my favorite quotes from Robert Fripp captures this exactly: 'The business of the amateur musician is music. The business of the professional musician is business.'"
Gordon: "As a working photographer I roughly agree with your figures. But I never forget that the worst part of my job is still better than the best part for most. So I'll be OK."
Mike replies: A great way to think about it. Thanks, Gordon.
Kenneth Tanaka: "True story: Several years ago a (then) rising star of the art photo world came to talk with a small group at the museum here [The Art Institute of Chicago —Ed.]. After dinner he remembered he had promised to review some student portfolios after the event (10 p.m.!) and asked me how to get to the school's studios. I offered to guide him. The 15–20 minute walk in the crisp winter night air seemed to be a welcome respite for him, and he chatted candidly about himself. He confessed to being a basically shy person. Although his new fame had its rewards it came with a high price in lack personal and shutter time. He was now on the high-art circuit and was obligated to make endless personal appearances at talks, fairs, symposiums, etc. as part of his deal with his gallery agents. "I just want to take the damn pictures!", I remember him saying so clearly to me as we walked through that cold winter night.
"This fellow's star has since risen even higher. He's now approaching the pantheon of contemporary art-photo super-stardom. Presumably he's at, or near, the point at which he'll be able to control the forces that now control him.
"Moral: Be careful what you wish for and be prepared to achieve it."