How Badly Do You Want It?

In Freelance and Business, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons by David12 Comments


This one’s for pros, and aspiring pros. But I think it might equally apply to all. Mostly it’s a sermon aimed at me.

By pro I mean someone making a living from photography, no more, no less. There’s the other sense of the word, as in “she’s a real professional” and the implication is that she conducts herself with high standards, and frankly I’ve met plenty o’ pros who are not real professionals, and lots of amateurs who are. I’ve said it before, being a pro means you make money – no more, no less. It is not a badge of merit, it is not a seal of approval. It doesn’t even mean your work is good; that’s a matter of craft and while it’s assumed that you must be good if you’re a professional that logic is a little like saying the food at McDonalds must be excellent on account of the millions of customers. Wal Mart is full of mediocre, and it keeps on selling.

Wow, that was a long caveat, and it has only a little to do with the reason I initially fired up the laptop.

I’m tempted to make this week about business and self promotion, though I don’t suspect it’ll become anything that structured. I keep hearing over and over again how bad it is out there (and it is) and how much we’re all struggling (and many are) but I’m beginning to wonder if focusing on the problem so much is getting in the way of focusing on the solutions.

So let me start the week by saying this. You can do it. If the goal is to make enough money to live debt free and within your means, to do what you love and pay your taxes, then you can do it. If the goal is simply to use photography to make your first million because, hey, how hard can it be to point and shoot?, then you’re in for a shock.

You can do it.

But it’s hard. You knew that was coming right? So the question begged is: How badly do you want it?

Divas won’t make it, they’re too concerned about not getting their hands dirty and spend more time thinking about the destination than the long road to get there. Divas don’t want it badly enough. There are easier ways to gain praise.

The Wannabes won’t make it either. They’re more concerned with being able to say they’re a “professional photographer” than about rounding out their skill set and working their ass off. And the moment they do get their hands dirty and start working their ass off, well they stop being wannabes, don’t they? But while they remain Wannabes they won’t make it.

The Critics won’t make it. They spend more time looking at, and bitching about, the work of others and not enough being honest and hard on their own work. Comparing your work to the work of others is a fool’s errand. Be inspired by others’ work, learn from it, absorb it. But don’t compare yourself to it one way or the other.

I’m not saying divas and wannabes and critics won’t change their stripes. I’m also not saying that once some folks have “made it” they won’t become way too big for their britches.

I’m saying you have to want it so badly you’re willing to actively pursue solid evaluation and critique from talented eyes. Find others who are creating consistently good work and attach yourself to them. Work long hours to over-deliver on your promises to a client. Take a marketing course. Find and monetize other skill sets within your passion for photography. Create multiple income streams. Teach a course. Work for free once in a while because it’s good for the soul and the portfolio to do so. Study and revere the masters but don’t emulate them. Sit down every day and work. Pick up the camera every day and shoot. And when it gets hard, or frustrating, or the phone isn’t ringing – keep at it, push through; the race goes to the passionate and the perseverant.

I’m saying we need to get to work. In easy times it’s easy for the work ethic to slip, for the spending to get loose, and for our craft to get sloppy. This is an opportunity to recalibrate, to fine tune, to put first things first again. But remember this: the pro still shoots for the love of it, would shoot if he never made a penny from it, and does all this so he can shoot more, not less. The pro doesn’t do it for the praise or the kudos or the Rolex – it’ll show in his work. She doesn’t do it prove she can or silence the demons that says she can’t – that too will show in the work. The pro does it for the love of it.

I’m saying, You can do it. I can do it. I may never be – will never be – Steve McCurry or Ansel Adams or Yousef Karsh. Doesn’t matter. I’ll be me. You’ll be you. But one thing’s certain – we’ll have to work at least as hard as those three did to become who they did, to produce the work they did. Knuckle down, folks, take it one piece at a time, but knuckle down. Now’s  a great time for us all to create one of those “what would I do if I could not fail” lists and follow up with a “what will it take, step by difficult step, to get there” lists.

If this gives you a push, or motivates you to do something you’ve been pushing off, put it in the comments. Your ideas and thoughts might inspire others who know they need to get to work but are having a hard time putting it into actionable steps. Here’s mine:

I will finally overhaul my portfolio, and I’ll do it by the end of April.

Now it’s your turn…


  1. It certainly does a give a push and many thanks for it! I’ll join you in that overhaul and if I can suggest an addition to it so that it has purpose for the future as well, i’ll be looking to find out where the cracks in that portfolio are so that I can spend the following weeks/months filling them in.

    Thanks as always for the inspiration. When the going is tough and you’re wondering if it’s meant to be, it’s always good to hear that you aren’t alone in finding it so.

  2. Good timing to read this. Just now beginning some new things and while I will need to make money doing them, I want to do it simply because I love it. You have reminded me to keep doing what I love and see how it works out.

  3. David,

    How refreshing to hear the unvarnished truth. As my friend, Alain Briot, has said, “You are going to work hard in life. Why not work hard at something you love?” And that gets to the bottom of professional photography; it must be something you love to do, in good economic times and bad. Our passion will get us through.

  4. I think I might have needed to read that. I’ve been feeling a little bit discouraged lately. But then I read this, and I remember that I’m still young, and have a lot to learn and a lot to do.
    How badly do I want it? More than anything. This is the life that I want, and I’ll do what it takes to have it.
    Thanks for some hard to hear, but definitely inspiring words.

  5. Well Said! If you ask yourself what is the most important skill to learn to do better at your profession, then work hard to master it, then ask yourself what is the most important skill to learn…well you get the idea. It really does boil down to how badly you want it!

  6. You keep hitting it out of the park, dude.
    Looking forward to seeing your re-worked portfolio.

  7. Yea this has given me a push!
    I’m a filmmaker, and photography is more like an advanced hobby I’m extremely passionate about. I’ve written a short film, and almost finished the screenplay, but I’d been procrastinating for months to finish and actually shoot it! My reasons have been the crazy hours I work as an editor, but actually I can get some time to finish!
    Also with photography, I’ve been told by lots of friends to take photography professionally, but I’ve either been too shy or unsure of my works to actually do that!
    Well, I’m going to make sure I shoot my short film before October; and I’m going to make sure I shoot more photos and make a good portfolio.. and maybe someday.. I’ll be a professional photographer..
    Thank you!

  8. Just finished up my taxes- I realize I could make more by NOT being a professional photographer; but it doesn’t change the fact that I am- I don’t regret the choice of career. I am aware that it becomes a lifestyle rather than a job- I work harder than many around me and that’s what it takes. Period.
    that being said, I’ve had more life experiences and seen places in ways that only true explorers of vision can – Photography probably makes it’s mark on me more than I it- But most good relationships are that way- One lifts the other up without thought of who does the most- It is the results that are magic and the journey is a different story for each of us.
    Want it bad enough? HA! didn’t know I had a choice really……….. 🙂

  9. Portfolio – heh – that’s a start for me. I’ve definitely started to monetize, out of necessity really (I’m “worth it”), but I’ll monetize just enough to get the gig, do the work for someone, and follow up like CRAZY to make sure they’re happy. They don’t have to use me again (though it is appreciated), but I definitely want feedback.

    Chances are, at this stage, if I did a shoot and someone told me my pics were piss-poor. I’d say, okay, give me another chance – let’s get it right this time knowing what’s wrong. And I would make that happen.

    Those are my best shots, and I share them the least. But, I suppose, those are also what my portfolio should be made up of. Not random shit I put on my blog.

  10. At first I thought if I just kept moving, no one could accuse me of standing still. Then I learned from Coach John Wooden of UCLA, not to confuse activity with accomplishment. I have thrown my hat into the ring, and I am throwing the rest of my body right behind it. Give your best shot. I am going to give you mine.

  11. David:

    A very cathartic post. Reminds me that I had that same spark and drive a month ago, as I was starting a brand new project. I hadn’t even shot my first frame before I fell off a 40′ cliff, and have spent the last month in recovery. I felt like a sprinter whose foot got caught in the starters block, just as the gun shot sound to start the race, and goes down face first, tripped up at the very starting line. My office hasn’t seen me in nearly a month, and as I sort through all the stuff on my desk, it’s like, “Now where was I a month ago…?”

    My take; bolstered by your writing, is get up, and get myself moving again as best as I’m able. Dust off the cobwebs and dirt, and proceed forward. New projects and new images beckon, new contacts need to be made, and there are new places to go.

    Now how to deal with not being able to hold a camera due to a broken wrist? I guess the desk job beckons for a few more weeks.




    – Gary.

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