This isn't a post about the esoteric need for photography in our post modern western world. It is far more simple than that.
So for those that don't know I went full time as a photographer in October last year, and since then ( and before to some extent ) I have had conversations with other photographers about photography and the age old question of how much to charge as a photographer, and why not to do work for free etc etc.
And it got me thinking; have a lot of photographers forgotten why they take photos?
I was watching a video by Kevin Mullins recently ( if you don't know Kevin he is a wedding photographer who shoots with Fujifilm cameras; so is a bit of an idol in my eyes ), and he made the point that very few people who become photographers for a living leave school planning to get into photography. I certainly don't remember my Careers Advisor giving me any information on that career path. For most people it is either a passion for photography that develops ( pardon the pun ) through their lives, that they see an opportunity to use to earn a living, or is something that they 'fall' into ( e.g. the age old scenario of shooting a friends wedding and then getting paid for it ) that they find they really enjoy doing and can earn a few dollars at the same time.
I fall into a bit of both camps when it comes to my photographic career; I discovered that I loved to shoot photos of landscapes and other non-people related subjects, and then got the chance to shoot weddings ( which I also discovered I love to do ) and earn some money in the process to pay for my 'gear habit'. And that was like the holy grail: doing something I enjoy and getting paid for it.
But the bottom line to me is that you have to enjoy photography to earn money as a photographer. It needs passion and drive to keep taking better and better photos, and I can't imagine doing the job if you didn't have that drive. People often ask me ( normally at weddings ) if I enjoy doing wedding photography ( and let me assure you there are plenty of photographers who don't ), and my answer is always the same; "You couldn't do wedding photography if you weren't enjoying it, because it is hard work ".
I, like a lot of photographers, could earn better money for less hours and less physical and mental effort working in another field other than photography.
So if the reason that people get into photography is about the enjoyment / passion for producing images, why does money become the topic that dare not be talked about amongst photographers, and why when it is talked about in oblique terms does it cause so much anger and vitriol amongst 'professional' photographers.
I don't have the answers to those questions, but here is my thoughts on money in photography, some of which I have stated on this blog before.
I love to take photos, I rarely leave home without a camera ( and not just the phone based variety ), and I will always be looking for photos to shoot. I do this because I enjoy it and not because I think there might be a dollar in it. I have 1200+ photos in my personal portfolio ( www.flickr.com/photos/ajecaldwell/ ) of which only a small number have ever generated an income.
I will happily shoot photos for worthy causes and not care about the money side of it. Aside from all the gear I have bought to allow me to function as a professional photographer ( which is more than paid for by the money making gigs I shoot ) the only thing it costs me to shoot some photos is my time. And whilst my time is valuable to me if I can spend it doing something I enjoy, even if I am not being paid for it, then that is not a loss in my eyes. And every photo session I shoot is a learning experience, either on the technical or artistic side of my shooting process, or from the story's you hear about peoples lives as you spend a few minutes or hours trying to get photos that capture them as people. I have learnt a lot about life from the people that I have photographed, and in the modern world you don't often get the chance to just sit and chat to people about themselves or there views on things.
So when people tell me I am "devaluing" photography for shooting for free or charging less that they do: I don't care, I am 'up valuing' my enjoyment of life. When people say I didn't charge enough for a gig and the going rate is $xxx, I will charge what I need to survive.
It might sound cheesy but the "profit" I get from my photography is when a person says to me; "that photo was amazing, I love it" or "that is exactly what I wanted" , or something similar. It doesn't come from my bank balance.
That is why I take photos.