How to balance a full time day job while aspiring to be a photographer?

By almost any standard, the idea of being a professional photographer sounds like a “dream” job. 

We certainly felt that way, which tugged at us for years until we started down that path ourselves. 

After years of hard work and running a full time wedding & portrait photography business alongside full time day jobs, we can definitively say that “Yes! This is a dream job!”

The truth is – many people aspire to be photographers. Almost anyone can become a photographer. It’s one of the most accessible hobbies – since cameras are such a crucial part of our day-to-day lives thanks to our phones and social media. Taking this passion for photography and converting it into a job where you can make good money takes some hard work and perseverance, but in the end it can pay off in spades!

In this article, we want to share some tips and tricks for balancing a full-time day job with the dream of becoming a professional photographer. 

Know your WHY

While you might love photography, and even a specific type of photography like portraits or weddings, doing it full time as a professional can put a damper on the creative and artistic side of it. For some people, though, being a professional has the opposite effect – and can push you to create your best work. 

An important thing to think about if you’re an aspiring photographer is to take a good hard look at yourself and ask…why do I want to be a photographer?

As full time, professional photographers ourselves…we can come up with a quick shortlist of reasons why it’s so great such as:

  • Flexible schedule
  • Your income is not capped by a salary
  • Unlimited vacation time
  • It feels good to document people and their events
  • You meet some really cool people

On the same hand, we can think of reasons why being a full-time photographer isn’t so fun…

  • Creativity can get strained if you have a lot of work
  • During tough times, there can be a lot of financial burdens
  • Weekend availability may be limited (especially if you shoot weddings or events)
  • The cost of health care in the USA is…rough
  • Photography is a client service job, and some clients can be…not fun to work with

Knowing your WHY is a huge topic of conversation but if we had to sum it up – if you’re an aspiring photographer, don’t let money be your only focus (or you will burn out). Instead, think about the reasons why you love taking photos and what you can bring to the table to keep you interested through thick-and-thin. 

Understand what you need to be a full-time photographer

A full-time day job offers you stability (if nothing else). 

It took years for us to leave our cushy corporate jobs for this reason alone – you get so used to a paycheck every 2 weeks, cheap health benefits, commuting, having co-workers, having limited responsibility, etc. that it can be hard to say “good bye” to a good thing.  

In our lives, we were feeling the “golden handcuff” syndrome – the companies we worked with offered enough compensation and perks that it felt like we couldn’t do anything else. 

Eventually – a switch went off in us, and we decided our lives would be incomplete if we didn’t pursue photography full time…so that’s what we did!

The earlier you can figure out the checklist of things you’ll need to have in place before you leave for your dream photography job, the easier it will be to cut loose. 

A few things we thought about heavily before quitting our day jobs:

  • How will I replace the income I’m earning?
  • How much money does my business need to make?
  • Will I have enough work to do OR will I be sitting around bored?
  • How much money should I have in savings in case things go south?
  • How will this decision impact my life, or the lives of my family & friends?

Of course, you could always just go for it. Marshall, our marketing expert, did just this with his photo business! 

Finding a work/life balance is hard (but not impossible)

At the height of our work weeks, balancing full time day jobs with a full time photography business, we would easily work 80, 90, and 100 hour weeks. 

At our most vulnerable, we can remember late nights breaking down in tears as we edited away at client galleries coming close to their contracted delivery times. 

If it matters to you, the sleepless nights are all worth it when we look back. 

Still, balancing work and life has not always been easy. The only consolation for us is that we actually enjoy the work we are doing, so it feels less like grinding away at a 9-5 job and more like working to support this baby we’ve created. 

To make it work with our friends & families more, a few things we’ve had to do…

  • Schedule time with family & friends in advance (and block it off on a calendar)
  • Network and expand our friend group to people in the industry, with similar schedules
  • Set cut off times for ourselves to stop working

You will need to make some sacrifices

As with most small business owners, sacrifices are often a necessary part of the job. While having a day job does offer some stability and financial security, you will likely have to make some sacrifices in order to help yourself pursue your dream job.

The extent of those sacrifices is completely up to you – and may influence your timeline is going full time as a photographer. 

Some examples we can think of from our own lives include…

  • Missing family get togethers and holidays to work
  • Missing out on once in a lifetime concerts to work
  • Not spending money on fun things while we save for the future

Limit your work hours

Setting hard work hours can be one way to make balancing a full-time day job with the dream of becoming a photographer. 

Create solid workflows for your photography business

When you are short on time and having balance your business with a full time day job, creating workflows that help you get things done faster is one of the keys to your success and long term survival. 

There are so many great things you can implement to save time including…

  • Template common emails you send
  • Add an autoresponder
  • Set up automations and reminders in your CRM
  • Use a scheduler for booking calls and sessions

We discuss workflows for photography businesses in our course. 

Have a defined office space, and stick to it

When you are working on your photography business, you will want to limit your work efforts to an office space (or a space otherwise designated for working if you don’t have a home office). 

When we stopped working throughout our home, and started limiting our work to one room, it made a world of difference on our mental health and work performance. 

It makes it easier to disconnect from work and actually enjoy your leisure at home when you’re not in your office space. And, the added benefit, when you are in there – you’ll probably be more productive. 

Get a good workout routine in place

We’re not going to spend a ton of time on this one (because come on, we all know this). But – speaking from first hand experience, once we integrated consistent workouts into our daily routine, it made our lives much better for it. It also helped us better manage the physical and mental stress that comes from having two jobs – something that’s a challenge no matter what they are. 

If you’re not sure what to do for a workout routine, there are a lot of free programs available online to follow. If you need some extra help, we’ve used Digital Barbell to help get in shape with their pre-built and custom coaching programs. 

Learn how to set boundaries with clients (and others in your life)

Setting boundaries with your clients will help you ensure you’re doing exactly what you plan to for them. In the world of photography, there are many opportunities for clients to ask for more – like more edits on photos, more images, etc. and it’s important to set reasonable expectations before, during, and after your shoot with them. 

In some situations, boundaries become defined when we say “no” – something that isn’t always fun, but often is necessary. 

While having discussions with our clients is vital, just as important is making these expectations clear in a contract outlining the specific services they will receive. 

Outsource time consuming tasks

As your photography business begins to grow, but you’re not quite ready to quit your day job, outsourcing can be an excellent solution to enable continued growth without having to consume all of your free time. 

Some common tasks that photographers outsource include…

  • Photo editing and culling
  • Emails, wedding timelines, and more with a Virtual Assistant
  • Blog writing
  • Website design

If you are looking to outsource some of the time consuming tasks and want high quality results, we offer a selection of services for wedding photographers looking to get their time back. 

In Conclusion

Balancing a full time day job with the dream of being a photographer is not always easy, but can be very rewarding. We hope this article has been able to shed some light on some of the key things you need to think about as you walk this journey towards becoming a pro photographer yourself. 

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