A Letter to Photographers: Have You Taken Yourself Hostage?

Dear Photographer Friend,

I hope this letter does not hold true for you. But, the blog comments pouring in (like on the Double Dog Dare post) and emails to me here at Fearless and Framed lead me to believe that there are a lot of photographers that feel this way… just like I did at one time.

If you’re anything like me, before your photography business began, you found joy in being a click-happy bystander in the world around you. Your mind was clear with each click. In a way, that auto button was a beautiful thing. You’d breathe out photos that were the very breath of what you truly saw with your eyes and felt in your bones. You shot everything. Your photos were meaningful, even if only to you, and were reflections of your thoughts, life, and soul in every way.

You know how (present day) when you see a terrible photo in your newsfeed, like a lifestyle newborn photo where the photographer totally shot up baby’s nose? The photographer over edited and the skin is a horrid shade of grey? (Ok, any funky photo, you know what I mean). And the mom posts, “OMG look at our newborn photos of baby Jane! I love them!” and all her friends are like, “OMG how cute!”

And you’re staring at the screen thinking, “are these people blind? That is a cute baby, but a horrible photo.” Let me remind you, you once had the vision of that mom and her friends too. Back then, you didn’t see technical rules. You only saw the beauty of a prideful, head-over-heals-in-love mom sharing a photo.

Before you were a photographer, even photographs of random objects were a detail in the greatest novel you call life. Even that (present self thinking) “what was I thinking when I shot that?” cherished photo of a loved one was art in your eyes. You didn’t see flaws yet. You documented every detail and milestone of your life (and your children) without hesitation. You saw your photos without judgement. Photography meant pure joy.


Then, you saw photographer photos on the internet.

You wondered why your photos didn’t look like those ones. You started studying.

You started to beat yourself up about how your photos looked. Lack of confidence kicked in.

Your child never smiled or did what you asked. You needed to learn how to pose them.

You thought your house was messy, dark, and not good enough for photos. You shopped for cute props & back drops.

You wondered why your colors weren’t as vibrant as the photos that caught your eye online and entered the world of Photoshop.

Then, you were convinced: your camera totally sucked and you needed to upgrade…. and get a 1.4 prime lens.

The questions, thoughts, and curiosity filled your mind until one day you made the decision to seriously, dedicatedly learn. You clicked on those eye-candy internet photos and learned about the photographer who created them. Her (or his) life seemed amazing doing something so fun for a living. You were awe-stricken and inspired by what you saw, so naturally, you wanted to learn how to shoot like that.

So you worked your tail off to master the technicalities and got yourself off the auto button. The more you learned, the more other photographers’ photos you saw in your newsfeed became dangling business carrots. Then, one of your friends gave you a compliment on how amazing you are with your camera.

So, the seed was planted: “I can do this too. I already have the camera, I can make some money doing this.”

You likely promised yourself, “I’ll just charge a little for now and then raise my prices when I grow and get better.”

And that camera upgrade would be a killer write off. Win!


And that is when the disconnect began, my friend.

If you’re anything like me, you’re business journey began as a photographer inspired clone producing photos like the ones you were seeing. Not copying, but using photos you fell in love with as your primary shooting inspiration. No, I’m not putting your photos down (you guys know me better than that). What I’m saying is this:

You lost the art of drawing inspiration from within. Observation started to dissipate and you began to formulate the process.

I am guilty of sitting in the parking lot before a shoot browsing Pinterest for inspiration. I’d try to remember a few new poses that caught my eye, look for good light, and try to obtain a perfect expression (whether it be laughter, a smile, a gaze, serious face, whatever). It was total routine. I wasn’t being inspired by the scene or subject. I was mentally referencing what I had learned or seen online as inspiration for my shooting. I wasn’t thinking on my feet. In fact, I kind of felt in a panic to be honest. I wasn’t sure I was in the right place or that I could do this. Sound familiar?

What I didn’t know is that I was getting further from my own, true vision, and potential: my fingerprint. Yes, it was you taking the photos. It was you setting up the scene, doing the planning, and all of the very hard work that goes into it. So the photo is rightfully yours. Your art.

But if in the end, you didn’t feel that earthquake of passion and love for your photos, ask yourself: why not? If you’re anything like me, it’s because you’ve left your own signature off the photo. You were striving for perfection for clients and left pleasing your own soul at home. If you feel the love for your personal photos and your client photos don’t match, then you know this is true.

When you started to learn about technicalities, you started putting shooting rules in your head that don’t even exist. You didn’t know what it meant to intentionally break rules yet (I love a dreamy out of focus photo, for example). Culling your photos was like a kill-joy when you’d get pissed that the photo wasn’t perfect (which you would have thought you were the greatest photographer ever just a few months earlier).

I believe, if you are anything like me, that your business became about making money – not necessarily to ‘get rich quick’, but to just stay afloat and maybe some day quit your 9-5 to do this full time. Income and a full calendar meant success. Little income and few sessions felt like failure. You had to get those bookings… quick.


Unknowingly, money impacted your photo results.

You were taking on any and all clients to keep your calendar full and income steady. Maybe you said, “I don’t do weddings,” which made you feel in control. But then gallery after gallery, you didn’t feel like you had the ultimate connection with your photos. Maybe this is still how you feel today. You love the photos. They are beautiful, sharp, colors are spot on, clients rave, and everything you’ve been working for is there. But, you feel something is missing. Maybe you know what is missing, but are too afraid to go in that direction or simply don’t know how to take that step.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve kept on trucking, because you’ve gotta bring in the dough to pay those expensive photography bills. It’s kind of like being on a hamster wheel.

And that is how we become our own hostage to the rat race in the photography industry. We accidentally become order takers instead of investing in our own artistry. It happened to me. One more session, one more special, one more whatever and then I could focus on photography my way. The end to the ‘one mores’ never came until I made the decision to focus on me and evolve my skill.

Maybe you are happy with how business is. Awesome! But, if you’re anything like me, you’ve felt like your photography business is running you.

I wrote this letter to photographers with the intention of making you aware of your path. Are you going in the right direction for your heart? I encourage you to find your shooting freedom if you aren’t fully fulfilled already. If you aren’t, only you can start the change.

In 2015, may you find that little bit of fearlessness to be true to you.

Your dreams ARE possible.

Tools to record meaningful pictures for you and your clients

Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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    • It was pretty much the story of my photography life. Once I recognized the path I had taken, I was able to redirect my path to where I wanted to go. I hope this post does that for others 🙂

  • You must have been thinking about ME when you wrote this!! Only my calendar isn’t full and I am struggling to stay afloat. But I know when I browse the web and think I have to shoot like the photographers who are apparently booked solid, I lose a piece of myself. I am 56, not a young woman with a 30 year career ahead of her (although maybe I will). I still have the same dreams as those 30 year career people though, I want to shoot full-time, leave my 32 year career for a new one that makes my heart sing, I want to be profitable, I want to feed my soul. Crazy me, at my age. Your article shed hope on my dark thought. Thank you.

  • This article couldn’t have been more perfect for me to read right now. I have been trying to start a photography business for a year now, but something keeps getting in the way, ME! I fell in love with photography when I was just shooting for me. Documenting my family and life for a little personal blog. Once I decided to start a business I stopped shooting what I wanted to shoot and try to shoot like others were, because I feel that’s what future clients are going to want. I have become so critical of my own work, its almost stopped me in my tracks.

    • It’s unbelievable the power of perception can alter who we are in our core, isn’t it? Especially considering that we can go on without even recognizing the change. I am so happy you shared your thoughts with me and I hope that you follow your every dream, Kelly! xoxo

  • This article was so spot on. While I don’t use photography to feed my family I totally felt until just a very short time ago, obligated to take copy cat photos for anyone who asked. I couldn’t say no and then would panic for days before shooting about how I was going to pull it off. After every time I would go through the photos and only feel relief that they weren’t horrid but rarely joy that they were fabulous. They didn’t make MY heart sigh even if the people I took them for loved them and that’s when I knew I was missing something. I’ve had to learn to say NO until I find my voice. I’m slowly getting there and that’s alright. I’m grateful to have come across gracious photographers like your self that acknowledge this publicly so there are no more Paniciky Pinterst Parkinglot moments !!!!!