One of the most difficult elements of becoming a full-time photographer is the sense of loneliness it can bring.
It seems counter-intuitive really. After all, if we’re photographing clients and working with new people, then why would we ever feel alone? Well, in that respect, we don’t…but when it comes to running a photography business, that can begin to feel very lonely. This is particularly true if you are a “one-man show”. When you find yourself spending hours and hours per week behind your computer screen to edit, or looking for ways to market your brand, or paying bills, or trying to find new education materials, or making any other business decisions on any of the other numerous tasks we need to complete, it’s easy to feel like we’re making all of the decisions by ourselves with no help. What further escalates this feeling of isolation is when we seek advice from a local pro, or someone we know in the business, and they’re unwilling to share because they now see us as “competition”. It can just feel like we’re sailing on an uncharted ocean in a boat built for one!
Trust me, I’ve been there! There are still times where I feel this way (I am human after all), but it’s times like this that I need to remind myself of a few things. First off, God has never left me alone. In fact, He has promised to never leave me or forsake me (Heb 13:5-6). He has even gone so far as to say that if I acknowledge Him in all ways, He will direct me (Pro 3:6). This has always been the case and there are countless times where His direction is the only reason I was able to press on. Of course there were also times where I did not choose to follow God’s direction for me. None of which ever worked in my favor until I decided to get on board with His plan!
Another important thing to remember is that there are groups and organizations out there that are designed to help you in your business and provide not only education, but real, physical and emotional support! I’ll admit, this part can be intimidating…but my advice is to start small. Look for small, local photography groups. Most areas have at least some sort of club for hobbyists and enthusiasts. For me, it was the Charleston Camera Club. It’s a small group of mainly hobby photographers, but it was nice to find a group of people that had a love and interest in photography just like me. It was a good way to get comfortable networking with other local photographers and to meet many new people that I can now call friends!
It took me a few years to build up the nerve to join our state’s professional organization, the Professional Photographers of West Virginia…and even longer to attend an actual meeting. I knew I needed to start networking with other working professionals, and I knew I needed the education their conferences provided, but I was so intimidated by the word “Professional”. Like most of us, I had the experiences of trying to talk to other local “professionals”. I knew what it was like to be looked down on as the new guy and have comments made about me…did I really want to put myself in the middle of a room full of these people? But I finally made myself get out of my comfort zone to attend a meeting, and you know what I immediately discovered? The people that meet and attend these meetings weren’t the bullies that I had previously dealt with! They were folks just like me, looking to work with other WV photographers, interested in learning and growing, and ready to lend a hand with advice and encouragement to keep going! They know and understand how I feel and can relate to the same issues I deal with on a daily basis! (…and as for the “bullies”, they don’t even attend these meetings because they are too self-absorbed to ever be willing to work or share with anyone else!)
I then decided to attend some of the national professional conferences such as Imaging USA and SYNC. Let me just say, I can in no way say enough good things about SYNC! If it wasn’t for SYNC, this blog would not exist…nor would the numerous friendships I’ve made with photographers from around the country. I have literally never walked into a room of 500 strangers before and walked out feeling like I was just at a big family reunion. That is the best way I can describe SYNC and the atmosphere they encourage. Finally understanding that there are people in your city, your state, the neighboring states and across the country that are not only dealing with the same issues as you, but actually willing to share what has worked for them (what hasn’t worked) and to be someone you can reach out to when in need of encouragement or advice…well, it’s just plain hard to feel lonely when you’re in such good company!
If you’re reading this and can relate to feeling alone in your business, know that you’re not alone! Put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to get involved with the various organizations. They are an invaluable support system! ..and remember, in order to have a group of supportive people, it requires the presence of supportive people. Be one of those people! Get out there, attend, make friendships, and be supportive!
Finally, never forget, you get out what you put in! You can go to a meeting, be a “fly on the wall”, then walk out feeling like it was a waste of time…OR…you can get out of your comfort zone, introduce yourself, meet other people, and then really understand what it’s like to make the most of attending a conference or event. You are not alone!