Be Careful What You Wish For – It Might Come True

It’s a dream for lots of photography enthusiasts . Go pro!  Earn your living doing what you love the most! Who wouldn’t want to turn their images into money? What’s not to like?

I’d be the last to rain on anyone’s parade. I had a long and quite successful career in photography, I had some great times, met many wonderful famous people and many more wonderful and not famous people and went to myriad exotic places.

But I started out as a pro. I had no prior interest in photography so I only ever knew it as a living. As I gained knowledge and experience, I saw more and better opportunities on my expanding photographic horizon and I went for them, as is my nature. So I never went from amateur to professional.

All this means I am badly qualified to know the exact thoughts of someone contemplating the jump from amateur to pro as a photographer.

In another field, though, I do have experience of am to pro and if, as I suspect, there are parallels, the Chinese saying – the title of this blog – should be borne in  mind. Bear with me on this.

I’ve played guitar since I was a kid. I taught myself and played in a little band when I was 15 or so. We played for a few friends and thoroughly enjoyable it was.  I had to give it up when I left school and took on my press photography apprenticeship because I could never know when I’d have an evening off work. I carried on playing over the years to myself and family, for the pleasure of it. My pleasure, at least.

When I gave up photography as my day job, I moved to rural France and while there I met a guy who was interested in starting up a gigging band doing pop covers. I was a blues player myself but my era pop is mostly blues based anyway so I was really excited. A new career as a musician! It was a lifelong ambition, to play for other people. I’d never wanted to be a pop star, just to play and learn and be heard.

The other three guys in the band were experienced musicians, all had been involved in music for years at a pro and semi-pro level. It was difficult for me because they had a short-hand for music, they knew all the likely chord changes in songs they needed to learn and how to busk what they didn’t. Their experience meant they had confidence in their playing. They played hard and loud. If they made a mistake it didn’t throw them. Once would pull a face at the other and he’d pull a face back and it was all part of the joy of music making. For them

It was different for me. I didn’t have the experience and therefore the confidence. If I made a mistake, it threw me. I lost my place. I’d have to listen to them to see where we were in the song. It made my playing tentative. I’d play quietly and take a back seat in case I f****ed up. For a lead guitar player, these are not prime attributes.

It made a gig not a pleasure but a trial. One evening I was driving the 35 miles to a gig on a wet and windy night on a hairpin bendy mountain road in France. When I arrived at the gig, in a bar in a village, there were about a dozen people there. They were standing at the bar talking and drinking noisily. I was late and flustered. The others were set up, I plugged in and tuned as quickly as I could.

Our first song was ‘God Gave Rock and Roll To You’. I hate that song, a musician’s letter of self-admiration as indulgent and tacky as ‘My Way’, about the only song of which Sid Vicious recorded the best version. In this first song I missed the chord change which would lead me to my solo. Ignoring the frantic head nodding in my direction from the rest of the band, I did the only thing I could and came in late. On the 3rd chord of the chorus. I was now two bars behind the others and playing off a wrong chord.

As I fumbled my way over the fretboard of my Strat, I glanced towards the audience, who were still at the bar, still chatting noisily. It wasn’t a complete disaster because it looked like no-one had noticed my little faux-pas That was because no-one was listening, of course.

And then things started to look up. A woman left the bar and was walking over to us. A song request, I expect. No, she was on the way to the loo and put her glass of beer down on my precious amp as she passed. At that moment, a blinding revelation came to me. I was a musician, a working musician! After all those years of  dreaming! No, not that revelation.

The revelation that I was in a bar scuzzy bar 35 miles from home on a filthy night playing music I didn’t like to people who didn’t want to listen. After the weary drive home I dragged guitar and amp through the rain into the house in the early hours, booted up my computer and emailed the band saying I had played my last gig.

I have never again wanted to compromise my  love of guitar by playing one for a living. It’s a different thing

What has this to do with photography? If it isn’t already apparent, substitute camera and photography  for guitar and music. The parallels aren’t direct and if you are serious about a career as a photographer they won’t put you off.

But those Chinese aren’t daft, are they?





8 thoughts on “Be Careful What You Wish For – It Might Come True

  1. kiko

    After reading this, I think yours may be the most reasoned blog on photography online – you have just described most of my life….cheers

  2. David Fredericks

    In the mid-70’s I decided I wanted to make my living from photography. I had all the cameras and equipment and a great darkroom. I also had the technical skills and understanding of photography. I rounded up some jobs taking family portraits. I also sold photos at various craft fairs. Both were disasters. I had the skill but not the talent. I couldn’t get two kids to smile at the same time. I couldn’t get babies to stop crying. I didn’t have the people skills to put clients at ease in front of the camera. Hanging out all day at a craft fair resulted in very few sales. The joy of photography was gone. After many months of this disappointment and not improving, I gave up and went back to taking pictures for myself. At least I could get back to enjoying photography again.

    Today, I spend more time at photography than ever but I never think about selling a picture and I would never accept a shooting gig, even for a friend. I am my own harshest critic and if I can please myself, I am pleased, indeed.

    1. Post author

      What an interesting story – thanks David. You must be a pretty strong willed character in that having invested both mentally and materially so much in a career you really wanted, you could then accept that it wasn’t for you and give it up. I think most people would have soldiered on regardless and finished up unhappy and with a very jaded take on photography.

      As you say, a large part of the skill of professional photography is people handling. That is something that is almost impossible to teach, that some people enjoy and some don’t. I had a business for a while, a picture agency and much as I liked the business, I hated handling the staff. It taught me that I was not a businessman. I had ideas and drive but I just wanted the people around me to get on with their job without my input. It just doesn’t work that way and I had to recognise it.

      Nice to hear that you are enjoying photography as much as ever. It’s a good friend, isn’t it? Gives you a reason to keep up with new technology, to observe the world around you, to be out and about and the joy of making a picture that you love to look at, so many things.

  3. Gary

    Didn’t know you was a musician back then! I am also a guitarist, been playing live unpaid gigs for some years(just for fun) but now I am mainly just doing amateur recordings at home.

    Your post made me think a lot about where I am and what I am going to do right now.

    I’m 25 and I feel like I’m trying to make a full time career out of my hobbies (mainly recording and music production but aside from that I also do architectural and landscape photography for my office needs) but that sounds just like my bad excuse to escape from the reality, much like a 5 yo kid making excuses to get a new toy and trying to forget his responsibilities as a kid.

    Your post made it clear; hobby is hobby and career is career. I could possibly lose my passion and fun in my hobbies if I am trying to make them my full time career.

    Anyway, thanks for the awesome post, greetings from Indonesia!

    1. Post author

      Greeting back to Indonesia! I’d hate to put anyone off pursuing a professional career and – who knows? – it might work wonderfully well for you. I did it for a lifetime and had a great time. You just have to be careful to know that it will be a business and most of it will not be doing what it is you love doing. When I was working as pro, I spent far more time driving to jobs than I ever did taking pictures. I spent hours and hours on the phone booking models, flights, trying to get people to pay their bills and all that stuff. As an amateur now, when I pick up a camera, I can just enjoy it for what it is and there is no client to inform me how useless I am and how I haven’t followed the brief!
      Music, I was really starry eyed and it just wan’t what I thought. I have worked with many, many musicians but they were always highly successful ones. They’d all paid their dues but what I saw was them just turning up at the studio or a gig and all their stuff was there, guitars tuned and ready. When I arrived at the bar in France and was lugging my amp through the rain from the car park, I realised what being a musician mostly is.
      If you love the music and playing live enough, you’d not be fazed by it but it just wan’t going to be for me. At your age, if you could get enough interest on the web you can make music and some money and still enjoy it all since you wouldn’t be lugging amps. Photography wise, it’s harder but dreams do come true!

  4. Clive Wade

    I trained as a photographer and then went to work in the computer industry. I have therefore maintained my amateur love of photography. Having retired, I now have the time to learn to play the guitar but I only play at the occasional sing around at a local pub and I realise that there is no point in thinking of taking it any further – who needs the pressure!
    As always a very interesting blog

    1. Post author

      The pressure is what can spoil things, yes exactly. I notice how often computer, music and photography go together in people, any two of three or sometimes all three. I think it must be something to do with all those things needing ideas combined some technical ability.

      Playing at a singalong at a pub is probably the nicest kind of music – no-one expects too much and everyone is just there to enjoy it.


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