Three Things They Never Tell You About Being a Professional Photographer

For New York–based portrait and commercial photographer Demetrius Fordham, the road to working behind a camera professionally was relatively direct. Straight out of high school, he enrolled in photo school and hasn’t looked back.

Fordham’s ten years in the business have seen him photograph for some pretty big clients including Conde Nast Traveler, W Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Philip Morris International and Steve Madden. He’s also the author of ‘What They Didn’t Teach You in Photo School‘, a photographer’s guidebook published in 2015.

We asked Fordham to share with us some of the lessons his career has taught him that photo school left off the curriculum.


/Demetrius Fordham

1 – It’s 80% office work, 20% shooting.

“Think you’re going to be out there shooting on assignment every day of your life? Not going to happen.

“I, and most working photographers I know, spend most of our time in our offices, working on marketing and promotion, planning and storyboarding our next shoots, managing finances and invoicing, and working on our portfolio. Most of my time is spent running my business, working with current clients and getting new clients. Once you cross over from being a hobbyist to a pro, it becomes just as much about making money (it is your livelihood, after all) as it is about taking good photographs. Which just makes the time you are shooting even sweeter.”

2 – Travelling is not all it’s cracked up to be.

“I’ve shot in South America, all the major wine regions in Italy, India, New Zealand and all throughout Asia.

“Sure, it sounds glamorous—but I’m not sitting by a pool, sipping cocktails, flanked by supermodels.

“The reality is that I’m trying to scout locations, wrangle equipment, and work with clients and difficult subjects in an entirely foreign location, where people don’t speak my language—and to top it all off, I’m jet-lagged.

“Worst case scenario: I was once shooting a jewellery line in India when I was struck down severely with what they call ‘Delhi belly’. I had no choice but to pop that Imodium and keep working! Glamorous? Hardly.”

3 – It’s easy to lose your passion.

“You constantly need to be working on your ‘own thing’. While shooting for clients is great, it’s easy to get burned out and lose track of why you chose this path in the first place.

“Every photographer I interviewed for my book said that continuing to shoot what interests them on the side is what keeps them sane and in the game. If I wasn’t always working on my own passion projects—shooting what inspires me, even if it doesn’t make me money—I might have given up on this a long time ago.”

You can find out more about Demetrius Fordham on his website and on Instagram.

What do you wish you’d known before you got into professional photography? Let us know in the comments below. We’re compiling a list of the ‘wretched realities of professional photography’ for a future feature and would love your input!

Cover image provided by Demetrius Fordham.