"When you marry your mistress, you create a job vacancy."
Should you drop everything to pursue your creative dream? Should you just keep it on the side and play it safe? These are two sides of a question most photographers ponder — maybe less so with the recession — but it's right up there.
Whatever your take on it, there's an ever-growing pool of good photographers out there. Some have decided that the best way in is to cannonball, while many of us would rather dip our toes. [Bonus: if you were blown away by how clumsy that metaphor was, I humbly direct you to this.]
Here's a personal example of diving vs. dipping:
For a straight-up portrait shoot (and this would have to be for a pretty good friend), I would charge about $200. That gets them a one-hour shoot and, say, ten cleaned-up images. It's a lot of schlepping, a sizable amount of post, and the whole process is riven with performance-related stress.
It's also usually a lot of fun, and I very rarely want to maim the client — hey, he is a good friend, right? If I'm really lucky and the planets align, I might end up with a portfolio shot and, who knows, maybe another word-of-mouth gig.
On the other hand...
I make roughly that, five times a week at my "day job" — just for showing up and not stealing all the Post-It notes. It's rewarding work that is creative and fun; and I'm very good at it. Sometimes I can even sneak in a blog entry at lunch :)
Same $200. Buys the same tripod. The difference is that I can count on one but not the other; even if I devoted myself to the "dream job" 24/7.
Quitting my 9-to-5 and diving into photography would make me utterly dependent on the success of that endeavor, while fairly ensuring I could not return to my old gig if things got tough. There's no do-overs in most careers — at least none that give you your seniority and dental plan back.
Which is not to say you should wear a leg-iron your whole life, even if it's velvet-lined.
Take Zack Arias, working what I have to believe was a dead-end job at Kinkos... because his budding photo career took a jog into an alley and got whacked with a lead pipe. Did he give up his dream? Not even close. He shook it off, tied up his shoes, and ran right back out there; succeeding in a way he probably never dreamed possible. Was he scared? I'm guessing yes; but as Matt Damon says in Rounders...
"You can't lose what you don't put in the middle... but you can't win much, either."
You don't have to work for a living... you can live for a living. If you've got the drive, and you've done honest homework which indicates that you should take the plunge, do it! Who am I to stop you? There's nothing that says you have to do the sure thing your whole life... other than your parents, of course.
But I'm generally the guy on the dock, asking how the water is.
Call me scared, but when you have a wife and two kids in the middle of a recession, you're gambling with more than one person's lifestyle when you roll the entrepreneurial dice.
And it's not like I'm clawing my eyes out in the morning, contemplating my job. If you've got a decent source of income, which allows you solid time with your family and friends, with a few hours here and there to feed your creative side, there's nothing wrong with playing it safe. Some of the most creative people I know, like Sam Javanrouh at topleftpixel, have solid day jobs, and still manage to bring it every day as a photographer.
So, what am I trying to say? Do what's right for you, and your family. Go for it. Stay with it. Just do it. But above all, keep working at it. Because that is the true crime. Not regretting what you could have been had you rolled the dice, but regretting what you could have been had you done the work.
[If you want to read a much better, much bigger version of what I'm trying to say, go here. It's a long read, and if you lose interest after two minutes, it's probably not your bag. I'll see you at the lake.]