Are Photographers Unhappy?

- - Working

Just in time for the holidays a Time Magazine story (here) submitted on Photo Rank (here) ranks jobs according to happiness and photography comes out on the bottom between bartender and welder with 20.8 % saying they’re “very happy.”

Are you effing kidding me?

Not only does this study claim photographers are not happy it also reveals that most of the other unhappy occupations are all unskilled laborers. I find this very hard to believe and my only explaination is that the survey was somehow flawed and included people who don’t make a living as a photographer. I certainly can believe that you’re unhappy if you don’t make a living doing your job.

My only other thought on this is that photographers lie about their occupation. A waitress trying to become an actor would probably claim to be a waitress if a surveyor asked but a bartender trying to become a photographer would probably claim to be a photographer. Maybe that’s why they’re so close to each other.

There Are 58 Comments On This Article.

  1. Excuse my language, but I think that survey is absolute bollocks. I can’t talk on behalf of anyone but myself, but I work as a Picture Editor and a photographer for a living, and I can say hand to heart, that I love my ‘gaddamnjob!!’. The same can’t be said about the 1000s of people you see drudging their way to work on the tubes in London.

  2. I hear a lot of complaints among my collegues (in Milano, Italy) but it’s mostly about not getting enough jobs.
    Every photographer I know that’s not struggling because they’re not making enough money, is very happy about taking pictures for a living.
    And even the “struggling” crew wouldn’t think of doing another job for as long as they’re not forced to do so.

  3. I love my job too, but I imagine that the majority of photographers are not editorial, architectural, or ad photographers. I’d bet the majority is made up of wedding photographers and consumer portrait photographers. Imagine photographing senior portraits for 20 years (o.k. somebody may enjoy that).

    If the article broke the happiness indicator down by types of photographers it would have been even more interesting to me. The different types of photography can be so different, that to me, they are different professions that use similar tools. It’d be like an architect designing one-off buildings that are exactly as the architect envisions, as opposed to an architect designing hundreds of McMansions a year with ever so slight changes for Toll Brothers. I’d bet there’s a big difference in happiness between the two types of architects. One’s doing what they want, and the other is doing what they have to do to make a living.

  4. Bingo, Kevin. I’m in the consumer portrait field, and am very happy, but I’m doing it on my terms. (And not making as much money as I’d like, but getting there!) That said, there seem to be plenty of photographers doing portraits and weddings that are dealing with very difficult to please clients who want the world for the price of a Sears portrait.

    That’s a recipe to make just about anyone miserable. But if you approach it the way I do… set your terms, then it can be a great way to work, be deeply satisfying creatively, and have better control over your own time.

    Especially, if you have mom duties, and need to be home when the kids get off the bus!!

  5. Kevin is correct. I’ve been a welder for the past 7 years, but not a pipe welder, a high end welder/fabricater of race car parts. I’ve traveled, worked for big race teams, and earned a reputation that allowed me to be my own “creative director”.

    Now that I am moving in the direction of photography as a career, I want to put myself in the same place. So when people ask if you can do weddings, school portraits, and general lowend photo work (although I don’t think all wedding stuff is lowend) I ALWAYS say NO. Or if I do anything low end, I don’t tell anyone and I don’t put my name on it.

    There is a upper and lower end of every profession. I’m sure if you surveyed Brad Pitt he would say he is very happy with his job, but if you surveyed a struggling actor, they might not be so happy.

    Same goes for photography.

  6. I love my job but during the past couple of years have found it increasingly difficult to put food on the table for my family due to people wanting more and more for less and less money. That’s the part that makes me unhappy.

    I can’t think of any other job where I’d be so willing to try and ride this out I love it so much.

    I do feel very sad and guilty the times I can’t provide though. Still I’m trying to stick to my guns, not changing what I do and going commercial just for the money.

  7. The Time grid goes from most happy to least happy – but the percentages only relate to people ‘saying’ they’re very happy (not whether they’re pretty happy, quite happy or downright miserable) – which is not the same thing at all.

  8. Perhaps they talked to a photographer right after being presented a work-for-hire (without the benefits) contract. after doing a good job. Could it be that the photographer noticed that there hasn’t been a cost of living increase in 20 years in the editorial world?

    I loved working as a bartender and I love being a photographer even more. I know a lot of very talented photographers that would love to make a living offering their service to APE and his/her brethren.

    The lawyers and accountants at the publications make the job harder for us and APE.

  9. It’s just a numbers game. For every successful photographer getting paid to do shoots they like, there’s probably 10 “pro-am” photographers trying to figure out why they can’t turn a profit. I imagine there’s a listing of them in every city:

    http://sacramento.craigslist.org/search/crs?query=photography

    How happy can you be offering “professional heashot[sic] retouching,” “Creative Photography At Affrdable[sic] Prices!!!!”, and “Professional Portraits at Shopping Mall Prices.”

  10. Personally I feel blessed to be a working editorial/news photographer. This is the coolest job that I can think of. Every day I get to go places, meet interesting people, learn things, have adventures, find the hidden in plain sight and the patrons for my art actually pay me pretty well to do it. How can you beat that?

  11. Unhappy Photographer

    I think most of the survey was taken in NYC and a good portion of them were photojournalists and documentary photographers.

  12. It comes down to clients. The less professional and visually literate the client the more unhappy the photog. Here in NYC, the good outweighs the bad. For every professional and creative client that knows the value of photography there are two non-communicative superficial check bouncing narcissists who wouldn’t know a good image if it was handed to them on a silver platter by Frankie Three Sticks himself. It is also disheartening when major book publishers hire $9 an hour kids to be photo editors/submissions reviewers. When 21 year old dumbasses with MTV art history educations are reviewing (and rejecting) heartfelt submissions by Magnum guys, you know the system is sick. (Did I mention that a fee is charged to review submissions?) That being said, even in such disequilibrium, when things are good, they are very good, which takes the edge off of dealing with the narcissistic/poseur/facile/illiterate/image thieves. All in all, I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my life and as such am happy, if not occasionally frustrated. This is why I liked Bitter Photographer. I could be vicariously bitter through his/her blog, instead of boring my wife to death with my own bitter rants.

  13. My fiancée is an accountant. We both work a lot, and we both make decent money. But it’s readily apparent that I draw fulfillment and enjoyment from my job … while being an accountant is just a job.

    But yeah, I think you have to remember what the median photographer’s job looks like. Isn’t the median salary something ridiculous, like $18,000? These are not people who get to answer glowing e-mails from creative directors in the morning. These are people who have to tell the kid it’s time for Santa’s lunch break.

  14. Let me throw this into the mix:

    Artists are often self actualized by their work; especially younger artists who have yet to learn to be reasonably self defined. Manual laborers build their lives around friends and family; emotionally a much better choice.

    The photo profession is tough and getting tougher but ultimately what makes being an artist so brutal is that we are constantly beating up our egos unhappy about where we are in our careers, why our gallery show didn’t get a good right-up, why our client didn’t appreciate the lighting in that last shot, or why they cropped out all the emotion from the frame, etc., etc.

    Add to that the types of personalities (often borderline) that take on this crazy profession. While they have the emotional and artistic insights that set them apart from the crowd it often comes at a price. I had one of the saddest days of my year last month when I heard that a onetime assistant of mine from 10 years ago took a header off the Golden Gate bridge last month. Damn what a heart break: what did she have to be sad about? Only she knows. She was one of the most talented women I knew. http://www.debramcclinton.com/

    Anyway … my point is that in the big picture most of us will say we would never consider doing anything else, but ask photographers most days if they’re happy and I’m not surprised to read that only 20% said, “yes”.

  15. Maybe they interviewed a bunch of old stock photographers. Seems to me that they like to grumble a lot about how good things used to be and how the industry is in shambles.

    Chalk one more up for a happy photog here.

  16. No matter the money good or bad, I’m just happy to make a living doing what I love. I’d only mark myself as unhappy if I had to do a ‘normal’ job.

    Because ‘professional photographer’ is such a loosely defined term and encompasses so many different genres of photography I’d imagine those that took the time to even answer a poll such as this would be more on the unhappy side, frustrated may be a better term or even unfulfilled.

  17. I used to be a doctor. Shifting my career towards news/editorial photography has no doubt been the best decision of my life.

  18. todd huffman

    Ha! I consider being a commercial photographer a privilege! I’m just biding my time until I have to get a “real Job” in a cube somewhere. ;)

    I do find a lot of photographers like to complain, but since they are self employed perhaps its best to spring into action!

  19. Michael T. Murphy

    > it also reveals that most of the other unhappy occupations are all unskilled laborers.

    Well, I think that is the key! The bulk of photography is becoming a form of unskilled labor performed for minimum wage.

    Look at the use of images by volume. Photography is a low end commodity served up by legions of folks giving it away, just for the supposed cache of being a photographer.

    Everybody wants to be in a band so they can get chicks. Everybody wants to be a photographer so they can get chicks to take off their clothes.

    But the band winds up being a low end lounge act playing cheezy covers out at the Holiday Inn by the freeway, playing for the door on a Tuesday night.

    A couple of friends on the guest list and 5 bored business people who have nothing better to do wander in, at $5 a pop. The take is a big $25 split 5 ways for 6 hours of slogging gear, sweating, and breaking your back. Not to mention the practice time.

  20. “midnight at the oasis, send your camels to bed…”

    thank you, thank you very much! We are “Sausalito” performing all week…”

    I don’t know, if I wasn’t a photographer my dream would be to play bass in a funk band. I’d wear a tall hat and little glasses and have a beard and smoke a pipe while playing. Works for me.

  21. I agree w/ most of the comments… the survey is pretty dumb, but again so general that of course each sub group feels uncomfortable with its placement on an abstract scale.

    Personally, I’m only unhappy when I get stir-crazy sitting in the office too long or when I shank an assignment I was jazzed about into the deep rough (whether it was me or factors out of my control).

    @15 – terrible news about your former assistant, Bruce. I wish the best to her family.

  22. I’ve been working with filmmakers and photographers all of my life. It seems creative people are happiest when they have a clear direction or assignment to follow that allows them to put their talent to work.

    Visual art is a very collaborative medium and if you create in isolation, frustration arrives quickly.

    According to artist founders Fletcher & July on their “Learning to Love You More” project:

    “Sometimes it is a relief to be told what to do….our most joyful and even profound experiences often come when we are following other people’s instructions.”

  23. I can’t speculate on who they polled for this.

    But a couple of things come to mind. It’s an occupation that is full of highs and lows.

    So a lot of it depends on when you ask a photographer. If the photographer just landed a desired project that’s one thing, but if you catch a photographer whose phone isn’t ringing at present, that’s another. Photography is such a wild roller coaster ride.

    Secondly, it depends on geography. Outside of NYC, and to a lesser extent LA, photographers are expected to own a ton of equipment. According to some report I heard about I can’t remember the name the average photographer’s overhead is about equivalent to a 3 person dental practice (3 dentists).

    Thirdly, the age of respondents would matter. This business is indeed a great one, but it is an extremely stressful business. Even when one is busy it’s highly stressful. And profits are harder to come by. The industry keeps pushing the rewards downward, as we have all noticed, and the demands of the business are greater than ever before. Just the switch to digital capture alone has photographers taking far more steps in completing an assignment than ever before.

    The thing that occurs to me is being unhappy and being fulfilled are ephemeral bedfellows. One can be more of one and less than the other, and vice a versa, all within the same encounter, but one can also be both. Such is love. I mean, did they ask painters, or writers if they were happy? A writer may absolutely love what they do and would choose no other occupation but ask them if they are happy and see what the response. Ask Harlan Ellison if he’s happy.

    Most artists will likely qualify – “It depends.”

    So it depends on how the question is asked. Do you love what you do when you are actually do it, is a far different question than are you happy.

    I think most people who are not photographers, who have not really committed everything that they are and all that they own to this craft have a view that it’s a far more glamourous endeavor than it might be on the surface. And I’ll include buyers of photography in this thought. They might be surprised to find out how intense the stresses are, how much time is spent doing things other than pushing the button, and how great the financial burden, risks and sacrifices are, even for the busy and well known shooter.

    Is it all worth it? That’s a question that would yield a far more useful result. It still might not be conclusive, but it should would be illuminating, if one could get truly honest responses.

  24. Todd Huffman

    I have to agree w/ #24, while it is great to have the freedom to do what you want; I love collaborating with gifted creatives and solving problems.

  25. Bruce @15 – That reminds me of W. Eugene Smith. He seemed to be very unhappy, and had a very hard time when his the way magazines dealt with his photo essays.

    Personally, I’m beyond needing validation from my work to be happy. Am I more enlightened? Doubtful. Maybe I’m just not as dedicated. Or perhaps I’ve been able to separate the photography I do for me, and only for me, from the work I do that has to please others. I get asked frequently if it’s okay to change something, or crop the image in a certain way. My response is always, “do what you want” (as long as I get paid). The photography I do on assignment is only a piece of the whole, and some of it I simply wouldn’t do if I was independently wealthy. I enjoy it, but I’d rather do more personal work.

    The biggest thing about photography for me is being independent, self-employed, and maintaining the lifestyle I envision. As long as I do that, I’m happy.

    Michael @20 – good to see you here. Funny thing about the manual labor is that housekeepers are right at the top. What does that say? Perhaps they see on a daily basis how much of a difference there work makes.

  26. Oops… should say “had a very hard time with the way magazines dealt with his photo essays.”

    One of the perks of the “lifestyle” I mentioned, is I played hockey this morning, and my tired arms and hands are having a tough time with typing. Am I happy, how could I not be?

  27. Kevin – Yeah, I see it as a real double edged sword. The more you are invested emotionally in your work the better it can be but also the more it cuts you down when people don’t love it as-is. One you become thick skinned and step back from your commercial work the quality can suffer. A big part of being professional is to blend the two thus staying happy while performing your “A” game.

  28. Gimme a friggin break. They pulled this outta their collective Time Inc. ass.

    Maybe the photographers they polled were Sears Portrait studio employees and those polaroid guys near the passport office on Hudson Street. The only thing believable in that article was that amusement park attendees are miserable. This is true.

    I’d say Time Magazine poller must rank pretty low too, unless they are getting the Time Inc employee benefits. Time Inc is so cheap, they’re probably sending out unpaid interns to do the dirty work.

    Click on the “personal assistants” category and the bullshit-o-meter goes off the scale. I’ve never met a personal assistant who was genuinely happy. Not a one.

    Let’s just see how low “Time Magazine Freelancer” ranks…

  29. Come to think of it, they probably got the photographer category by polling Time Inc. freelancers.

  30. happy photographer

    let’s see.. i don’t make a ton money. i have a lot of crappy clients that don’t pay well.. i work my arse off. but every morning i wake up doing what i love. i don’t have to answer to anyone but myself and i’m making a nice living. so i think it all has to do with the individual.

  31. sears photographer

    of course we’re unhappy
    this is a terrible time of a year to be a portrait photographer
    gobs of crying kids and stressed parents
    and then to have someone like jill greenberg move in and get praise for shooting crying kids
    bah humbug

  32. I’m happier now more than ever. After listening to all the “happy” shooters extol their joy even though their clients are jerks and they are working their ass off more than ever just to buy a can of Alpo. Man, I got it good! My clients have me send an invoice in before the job even starts shooting to be beat the system, they pay my rates and generally pay on time. Sure I could use more work, who couldn’t? I also don’t need much, my ship is pretty tight. Sure I wish Santa would drop a sleigh full of Profoto’s under the tree and a H3 while he’s at it but I got what I need. The glass is 1/2 full on this end.

  33. it is interesting to see how many of these comments link a photographers happiness to money and the amount of work they have. (yes, i know a few didn’t)

    but making money and being happy are not necessarily connected.

    when i assisted i would laugh all the time at photographers because they were always complaining. the client is so conservative, the account exec. doesn’t have the guts to stand up to the client, the stylist assistant showing up 20 minutes late, the agency doesn’t have their stuff together, they don’t have the money to shoot this layout, the AD wants to fill the frame with the product, the agency just wants numbers, we revised the estimate four times and they are going with another shooter…

    then i began standing behind the camera and felt the pressure that goes with pulling a shoot off… and guess what, i find myself complaining. would i choose something else to pay the bills? never. but jaded i am. besides the pressure, so many jobs have gone to the wind and the shooter down the street that when one hits it’s actually quite a surprise. then there is the constant reaching to be so much more of a photographer, (but that’s an entire other planet.)

    i don’t think anyone would classify me as unhappy, but if asked if i were content i would have to say, no. now, if the poll asked how many photographers would want another job, then i bet the results would be much different.

    (love the blog)

  34. I like fucking

    “Are you effing kidding me?”

    Your website is one of the few that I actually type into my address bar. Everyone else is a lowly bookmark. All praise aside I’m too effing tired to read all the yammer of the previous comments. I did however read #38 Chad Holders comment and knowing myself best if the stylist assistant was late I’d probably break out a 12 pack and convince everyone to play drink while you think until they arrived rather than becoming upset and pissy faced.

    I guess only time will tell. I’ve recently decided to take Photography from Hobby to something I could make a living at. While not quite the Bartender who says he’s a photographer I do let people know that I fully intend on being a Professional Photographer in due time.

    No I will not show you my website. Yet.

    And you can say fucking. I like fucking.

  35. Michael T. Murphy

    @ 28 >> Funny thing about the manual labor is that housekeepers are right at the top. What does that say?

    Thanks Kevin! You know I have been looking for a new career after reading that article. Do you need an assistant? How do I get started? ;>)

    Cheers!

  36. @15 and @30,
    Bruce,
    I’m sorry for your loss. After taking a look at her website, she TRULY had talent and a wonderful vision of life…
    And you are completely right about the yin and yang of developing a tough skin if you want to be a professional and not a “hobbyist”. I’ve been a pro for 23 years and I do my best work with clients who aren’t a hassle, pay on time, aren’t cheap, understand production values, and in general are NICE people.
    With anyone else, it’s “just the cash check” mentality.
    Part of me wants to give my absolute best to EVERY client, but if I did, I would go broke AND be unhappy about my chosen field.
    Hell, I don’t even need a big budget…Just a kind word every now and then and a thank you can go a long ways towards keeping me happy.
    It’s important every now and then to step back and try looking at the big picture since most photographers have tunnel vision being so wrapped up in our lifestyle and “vision/style” quest…

  37. This is silly.

    Who’s happy, who’s not happy?

    If you wake up you should be happy.

    Damn compared to 99% of the world most of us live like Greek Gods.

    Sure I work 18 hour days, never stop pushing, never stop thinking about what I need to do, but that doesn’t make me any more important or special than some guy that’s pulling rocks out of a field for $5 a day.

    I’ve heard my whole career about the “good ol’ days” and I have a flash for everyone, these are the good ol’ days.

    We have less prejudice, more openess, more access to every market than ever and we can produce, shoot and display our images in hours instead of days, days instead of weeks.

    I can sit in NY prepro a job for Paris, shoot it and return in 3 days.

    I can send out 50 promos a day just by the click of a button and work virutal, real time, with clients all over the world.

    Of course we run into uninspired clients, that’s what they usually pay us for . . . our inspiration.

    Of course stock photography is dropping to $2 an image, but Stock has been working towards this forever. Then again it’s “Stock” photography.

    Of course editorial doesn’t pay worth a damn. It never really did, except for a few talented and forutnate people, but don’t think for a minute that 99.99999% of the photographers in this world wouldn’t shoot a NY Times Magazine Cover for free, because they will and if I know it, the NY Times knows it.

    My wife and I have partnered in work for 10 years and work a lot of brutal hours.

    Friends and family constantly say “you work too hard, too much”, but I think people that know how to work hard (and enjoy it) are blessed, not cursed.

    This is a hard industry, it always has been and few people can do it long term with success.

    I find that a good thing.

    James Russell

  38. I think the unhappy photographers are the ones just do it for money and not for passion. I don’t make loads of money doing fine art photography, but I am very happy because that’s what I love.

  39. Money is definitely important. See how long you’ll enjoy it if you can’t put a roof over your head. Doing it only for money, on the other hand, makes it just a job.

    For me it requires a balance. I need to make money to continue doing what I love. I need to shoot things that inspire me in order to keep doing what I do. If I don’t have both ingredients, I might as well be doing something else. This career is a lot of work. Here I am working Sunday afternoon, something I would not do for someone else though.

  40. just like beauty, happiness in within the eye of the beholder.

    i have found teachers that hate their jobs + mothers that love being stay at home moms.

    regarding “unskilled workers are the least happy” i would dare to question photo journalists that are Yale or Harvard educated. i would dare to say that many people are educated with backgrounds in fine art and journalism.

    yes photographers may be “unhappy” with the direction the industry is going, but overall “unhappy” is a bit too general of a statement.

    they need to show better statistical analysis on how they formed this survey.
    eh emm lets just say this wasn’t written by a NYtimes editor =)

    people may claim to be “happy in a corporate structure” (i base this on the whole skilled worker comment) where they clock in and out, but that is not the nature of an artist. i find most artists that are able to really “produce images” to be some of the most fulfilled individuals, but they have the most difficult path because they write the future for themselves.

  41. Maybe all the unhappy photographers are Amy Winehouse chasing paps who are doing it for the money – but the money’s not going up, no, no, no.

    There’s a great story on the paparazzi in last weekend’s guardian – my favourite bits are when they see Kalpesh Lathigra’s Leica and say “What the fuck’s that?” and why they call Jude Law Celebrity Dave.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,,2226725,00.html

  42. FRANKLIN D ROOSEVELT

    Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

  43. Let’s see when I was last unhappy as a photographer…

    Well, there was that thunderstormy afternoon back in June 1981. It was in North Carolina, and I was biking around the country. I’d just and just managed to pedal off the road and into a dry spot.

    Whew!

    There I was, shooting away on the front porch of an abandoned store, and the wind switched directions. My trusty old camera got doused. And that put it out of commission until I got to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania.

    They generously spotted me the cost of a train ticket to and from Philadelphia, where I found a guy who did a bang-up job of cleaning and tuning up the camera.

    That guy was at Roth Camera Repair, which is still in business.

  44. We are just very special sort of people, who likes to complain all the time and about pretty much everything :)
    So on the end it looks like we are extremely unhappy with our jobs, even though in reality, it’s not really like that :)

  45. Im both a full time working photographer and a bartender 2 nights a week. I love both my jobs. Both require skills. Both make me good money and both make me very happy.