Make a Living or Make a Life

In Freelance and Business, Pep Talks, Thoughts & Theory by David4 Comments


The article I linked to yesterday is still rattling around in my brain pan. The thought that keeps coming back to me is this – you can make a living but it’s better to make a life. Menuez nails it and I think his thinking needs to permeate our industry a little more – make us all a little less crazy with the need to compete as we try to make a living and instead we’d settle  down a little more and just be passionate about making a life. If you didn’t read it, scroll down and hit the link in the next post.

On a similar note, Chase Jarvis, always a voice of sanity, has posted a great follow-up to my thoughts about perserverance the other day. Of course, he didn’t write it in response to anything I wrote, but it serves as a follow-up. It brings us back to the beginning of it all – that any marketing effort will ultimately fail if the product isn’t great. Anyone can get people to buy a crappy product or service once. Bringing the clients back time and time again means having a really great product. Chase’s advice on “making it”? Be undeniably good. How do you get there? Click HERE and read Chase’s take on it.

Anyone making a living out of photography faces the challenge of also making a life – maybe it’s a distinction that only works for me but the minute we find ourselves not shooting the stuff we love for the sake of our marketability, I think we’ve crossed the line. The minute our creativity becomes only a means to paying bills and not a means of expression I think it becomes cannibalistic- eats away at itself until the very commodity we rely on is reduced so much it can no longer inspire us and when that happens it’s not long until it no longer inspires our clients. That’s why we keep talking about all this artsy-fartsy pie-in-sky stuff. Because it matters deeply to our souls and eventually even to our capacity to make a living – or a life – from it.

The image above doesn’t have much to do with this post, but there’s a juxtaposition in it that’s pretty close, and it speaks to the integration of what we DO and who we ARE – the doing and the being parts of us that our western world tries so hard to dichotomize. Shot in Nizzamudin Darga, Delhi, India, 2008


  1. Quote from above: “The image above doesn’t have much to do with this post, but there’s a juxtaposition in it that’s pretty close, and it speaks to the integration of what we DO and who we ARE….”

    David, I noticed the dichotomy in the image right away and you really nailed its definition. Great stuff, man…keep ’em coming. 🙂

  2. David,

    Chase is spot on!. If you combine this with an outtake I heard from John Mellencamp on being successful, it is the “secret” to success. Mellencamp answered a question on why people don’t make it in the music bussiness (and it applies to all businesses) with, “People don’t make it because they quit too soon.”

    Same with photographers, do they put in the required time and effort to “make it?” Do they put in the 10,000 hours that Chase says?

    Keep up the great posts, they are inspirational and informative, even if a bit of “tough love” at times.


  3. David,
    I’ve got mixed feelings about this…

    I agree we should shoot what we love, but there is something to be said for learning to love what we shoot. Or as is usually the case for me, loving what I write (I usually combine writing with my photography for publication). When an editor calls or emails with an assignment, I don’t turn it down because it isn’t necessarily something I LOVE. Stretching out of my comfort zone to write or shoot something that it is difficult or painful or just plain hard expands my horizons as an artist, and, (dare I say?) may make me a better person.

    Now I’m not advocating for shooting for cash, whatever comes along, but I do believe it is better to pick up the camera than to not. Being conscience, thoughtful, creative, passionate, requires we love our art, not necessarily our subject. So I guess, in all this, what I’m trying to say is: Shoot because you love to shoot, not because you love your subject.

    -Dave Shaw

  4. Author

    Hi Dave, I think you’re right. I think it’s a both/and thing. I think you need to compromise on the things worth compromising on, but that you need to look at your creative career as a whole and know that you’re shooting what you’re passionate about and not making creative compromises that slowly eat away at you.

    In the end maybe it’s about shooting things uncompromisingly in your own style, and when you start getting pushed into shooting in a style that doesn’t work for you, or in a way that doesn’t work for you, you need to focus on what IS you. Not everyone is – or should be- a wedding photographer.

    To further muddy the waters, I think if you’re shooting something you aren’t passionate about, day in and day out, you won’t be shooting your best work.

    And if shooting the stuff you don’t like has no other value than being a good creative exercise, then that’s good too – I’m just not sure your client will get the most benefit from it 🙂

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