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If You’re In This For The Money, Keep Your Day Job {Quitting Your Day Job Series}

By Chris Nachtwey on October 29th 2014

This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well. To see the rest of the articles in the series, click here.

If You’re In This For The Money Keep Your Day Job

Photography is my passion more than it is my job. Yes, it’s my full-time job, but hitting the shutter release is my passion. If you told me that I would not book one more client and had to go get a day job again, I would still love photography with all my heart. I have a burning desire to create, be it for paying clients or just myself with my iPhone. Chasing light and capturing life in front of me makes me tick. My whole life is photography; from creating images to writing about photography, this is what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


I could throw all kinds of numbers out there, such as the average cost of a wedding, how much the average couple spends on wedding photography, and a ton of other numbers you can find all over the Internet. To me, all of that is rubbish. Sure, you need to know those numbers to price yourself to a certain extent, but all that means nothing if you’re not passionate about being a photographer.


What I hate seeing is people leaving their jobs to be a full-time photographer for just the money vs. following their passion. This profession is not for the faint of heart. It’s difficult, it’s a constant hustle, it’s long lonely days in your home office editing, writing countless emails, dealing with taxes, it’s months without a single inquiry…it’s hard, plain and simple. Without a passion for it all, you will probably burn out.

It seems like every year, I hear more and more people say they want to be a professional photographer. Thanks to digital cameras, everyone seems to think they are a professional, and to an extent, I was no different. I started with a simple Nikon D40 and kit lens, like so many before and after myself. But I’m one of the few that actually made the jump to be a full-time photographer. I made the jump because I had a passion that I was not allowed to follow with all my heart when I had my day job. I don’t even like to think about money anymore. Money drove me in the corporate world. I was always working harder, hoping to get a raise or promotion, and then one day, I woke up. I didn’t care about the money anymore, I wanted to live my life my way, and I wanted to create all the time. So I did.


I’m here to give you a gentle reminder that if you’re thinking about leaving your job because you think there is all this money to be made as a photographer, do yourself a favor and keep your day job. The competition is stiff out here as a full-time photographer. Some months are great and others are, well, tough. It’s my passion for creating that gets me out of bed. It’s my passion to meet new people, and my passion to capture the lives of people I have never meet before though my photography that keeps me going. Never the money.


If you have a burning passion for photography, and honestly, deep down in your heart want the lifestyle of being self-employed, go ahead and leave your day job. But do yourself a favor and don’t get into this game if all you care about is the money. It’s there for the taking, but the amount of work you need to put in, especially at first, is crazy. You must have the passion for photography, or you’ll probably find yourself back at a 9-to-5 job sooner than you think.

Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!

Are you going to Photo Plus Expo? A group of us writers will be there this week! We’ll be sharing with you videos and writing up some articles on some of the new products we see there. You can follow me as I document my first time at PPE on my personal Twitter and Instagram accounts, and be sure to follow SLRLounge’s  Twitter and Instagram to get some live feeds from the show. If you are going to the tradeshow/convention, please be sure to let us know! We’d love to meet up with you.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Stefan Simonsen

    IMO People quit their job because they think they have to work less for more money. But it’s the other way round…

    Facebook friends who are liking every picture and decorate them with nice comments do the rest. The big question everyone should ask: Would these people really pay for the pictures?

    You can’t buy food with clicks…

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    • Matt Owen

      I do ask that question every time someone tells me I should be charging. The answer is usually a variation of “Well, I’m not looking for pictures right now, sooo…”

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  2. Pentafoto Tm

    Seems to me you’re one of those guys who made it, he somehow makes a living out of photography, and he is insecure and scared about loosing business because of all these kids that start photography with a D3100 and a facebook page.

    Looking at these two pictures that there are in the article, you should be afraid. The first one is about average, the framing is a bit wrong but the light saves it, the second one looks completely amateurish.
    No offense, I respect you for the dedication but there is a big world out there with a lot of talented people. I hope these pictures are not the best you can do.

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    • Donald Stefanko

      Sounds an aweful lot like someone who has to cut others down to make themselves feel better. This gentlemen’s skill level is not up for debate nor relevant in the context of this article. Chris makes some great points and has written an on point article in my opinion (which is relevant within this context).

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    • Stan Rogers

      Little tip: you don’t make a living (especially as a wedding/event photographer) on the back of the best you can do; you make it on the average (that would be the mode, not the mean or median), and you have to be able to make that better-than-average average under whatever conditions present themselves, no excuses allowed (short of dying, at which point it stops mattering, really). There are a metric craptonne of photographers out there who can create great pictures — occasionally, and on their own terms. Most of them would make horrible professionals. (And many of them don’t want to hogtie themselves by becoming professionals. I include fine art photographers who actually make a living at the craft in this category; they don’t have to deal with clients, just accept monetary applause from patrons.)

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Hi Pentafoto TM
      Sorry you feel this way. I have by no means “made it” I still struggle to book clients like many of us. I’m not worried one bit about losing business to new photographers nor am I insecure. I started just like many people with a entry level camera and kit lens as I stated in the article. I’m writing to help people not hurt or discourage them. I do making a living with my photography and took the leap to being full-time for myself and like to share my experiences with all of you to help.

      In terms of your opinion of images in this article. I care about capturing my clients wedding days in my style and providing a great experience for them from start to finish. Last time I checked all my clients have been completely satisfied with their wedding day images and have helped me grow my business. Your opinion was honestly not needed. It’s people like you that scare away the beginners not myself.

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    • Stefan Simonsen

      Chris, as a long year professional photographer / photo journalist I still really appreciate feedback from other photographers – and there’s a little truth in Pentafoto’s words.

      BUT I don’t like people who critique people anonymously. I can’t see any pictures or a portfolio link of Pentafoto so I would give a sh*t to it unless I see a proof that he/she can do better ;-)

      The more important thing is what your clients say and if they recommend you to other people that are willing to give money for what you do. And to be honest they make their decisions not only by looking at your photos…

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  3. Jeff Lopez


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