Become a Photographer Without Giving up the Day Job

Photography: Renata Ramsini

Renata Ramsini’s website describes her in four different ways. She’s an “efficiency-lover,” a “photographer,” a “policy wonk” and a “law student.” That’s not the order in which her life has played out however. Like many photography enthusiasts, when it came time to pick a profession it never occurred to Ramsini to pick up her camera and push for a career in picture-taking. Although she says she’s always loved photography, she didn’t think it was something that could give her a living. For that she turned to a night class at law school and a full-time job in the Ohio Governor’s office. Today, with the administration over but still at school and still active in politics, Ramsini receives a regular stream of commissions from people keen to make use of her photographic talent — and provides an example of the difficulty of maintaining a passion for photography while also building a career outside the world of creative arts.

Photography became a serious hobby for Ramsini about seven years ago, and a “very serious passion” about two years ago. She specializes in street photography and says that she’s always looking to capture intimate moments on the street when no one is looking. Her portfolio shows a broad collection of travel shots and portraits, children and maternity pictures.

Photography: Renata Ramsini

For some time though, there was no photography at all, a situation Ramsini now regrets. Once she had made her decision to take a day job in politics and to study for her career in law at night, Ramsini found that she had no time to indulge in photography. While she was in the Governor’s office, she barely took a picture.

“Working full time and going to law school in the evenings resulted in my not picking up my camera for about two years,” she says. “Once I left the administration, I rediscovered my passion and won’t let that happen again. It brings me too much joy. Once you find something like that, you have to make time for it in your life, just like anything else.”

Politics and Photography Do Mix

If not creating time to shoot was a mistake, it was, at least, an understandable one. Many enthusiasts struggle to find the time to hone their photography skills even without the extra pressure of weekends spent poring over law school textbooks and cramming for exams. While professionals are able to practice, improve and sharpen their skills by shooting every day, enthusiasts have to make do with stolen moments, special trips and occasional shots of the kids doing interesting things.

The solution though, other than to add a few more hours to the day, is to look for places where profession and passion overlap. Automobile engineer Andreas Reinhold was able to do that by taking artistic pictures of cars at the shows he attended. After a magazine editor he’d met at one auto show saw some of his photos, he began receiving commissions to take shots for the publication. His engineering background even made him a useful representative for the magazine at car-related events where he didn’t just photograph the models but could also chat knowledgeably with the manufacturers.

Renata Ramsini didn’t shoot the work she was doing at the heart of her state’s politics, but she does believe that she might have missed a trick. Looking back, she now feels that her joint passions for photography and politics weren’t as incompatible as she once thought.

“At the beginning of the Obama Administration, I read an article in the Washington Post about a new staffer who was documenting her time in the White House by taking photographs of everything (and everyone) around her. I was super jealous!” she says.

“Photographs can tell powerful stories. They can share things with the public that no political speech or slogan ever could.  There isn’t any American who can’t think of a powerful photograph of a political figure (or a situation surrounding one) that evokes some sort of emotion within them,”

Clearly, not every work space is as photogenic as the White House or a Governor’s office and not all professions offer the same opportunities to mix with magazine editors (or shoot pretty objects) as the car industry. But even if you miss your workplace photography opportunities, there are still plenty of chances to combine a passion for photography with a career in a completely different field.

Tips to Mix Work with Pleasure

  1. Shoot Workplace Images

You might not work at the White House, but you can still take pictures of office scenes, shoppers in the mall, and the factory floor. Think of the scenes you see every day as stories and you’ll have something to document. You might need to ask permission but many companies will appreciate the PR.

  1. Carry Your Camera

To take pictures all the time, you’ll need to have your camera with you all the time. That’s easier now than it used to be. British photographer David Bailey famously told the world that he used to carry an instamatic with him wherever he went. Today, even the camera on an iPhone takes good enough shots.

  1. Tell the World

If you want to be asked to shoot more images, tell the world about the stories you’re documenting at work. Build a website, and promote it through social media and photo

Winning Commissions

Renata Ramsini’s more recent development as a photographer has happened through channels that anyone can use — provided they’re willing to put in the time to build them. Over the last year, Ramsini has had a steady stream of clients seek her out to capture special moments in their lives or to take pictures of loved ones. They see her images on 500px then click through to her website.

They might not be buying her prints — a format that’s always a hard sale online — but by showing what she can do in a field for which there’s a demand, she’s able to get paid to continue to do photography even as she prepares for a career in the law and in politics.

Mixing work with an enthusiasm for photography isn’t straightforward. Time is tight but if you can find something photogenic to document at your workplace — and promote yourself as a photographer — you’ll be able to shoot without giving up the day job.

9 comments for this post.

  1. Ryan Said:

    Great story that definitely resonated with me and my life right now. I am in love with photography, have shot weddings and other portrait gigs....but with a young family and a full time engineering job, it's so difficult to find time to just "play and enjoy". My camera often sits in it's bag until I get a paying gig which then "justifies" the effort to block out time in my week to go shoot.

    But I love it too much to stay away for too long.

    Thanks again for the article and Renata --- you have some amazing photos on your website. Nicely done. 🙂


  2. Steve Said:

    I could just cut and paste Ryan's response for myself - just changing full time engineering job to full time lecturing job. And no - sadly I don't get long holidays like teachers! Still, going pro is a long term goal, and each week I try to do something to mprove my photography. Really must get myself a compact camera so I can keep one on me at all times!

  3. Renata Said:

    Thank you so much Ryan!

  4. Erik Said:

    Great post! I love your photos from the link you listed (travel photos are amazing!! As are all the others!). I, too love doing photography (and video) and am hoping to build a steady business while doing a full time job... or to be able to transition completely to photography/video would be awesome!

  5. Adam Said:

    Brilliant blog. It really resonated with me. I am in the same situation right now and am trying to ensure that I shot everyday. It is amazing how quickly you develop when you work like that. I get up half an hour earlier everyday and steal half an hour at the end of each day and that way I can balance work, young family and a desire to make a living from photography. I also try and take different routes to work each day and spend time looking to see if there is any opportunities on different routes. Then I try and plan a shoot in on my way to/home from work.

  6. Renata Said:

    Thank you Erik! Good luck with your transition 🙂

  7. Rick Said:

    I think this is something we all struggle with. I work at a large MRO company and volunteer as a firefighter so I rarely have time. Steve you posted about going PRO. What does going pro mean to you? I am trying to work on marketing and taking my photography to another level. Just not sure what that looks like!

  8. Geni Said:

    Hi Renata
    Thank you for sharing your story, it has inspired me to persevere and never give up. Last year I quit my job to persue a career in photography and after many setbacks I have realised it will take longer than I anticipated to build this business. Fortunately I now have a mornings job 5 days a week, so I have a decent basic income, and I have more time on my hands to devote to my photography business. My working week has gone from +/- 66hrs/week to 25hrs/week for the same salary! I know I have been guided to persue a career in photography.
    I wish you great success and joy in all your endeavours!

  9. Renata Said:

    Thank you Geni! and congratulations! 🙂

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