I am fortunate to be in a position where I can lose money on my photography year after year (and I do) but I feel guilty about spending the amount of time and effort on it when I could do something that contributes more directly to the well being of my family. I am very good at business. I have an MBA. I've had three successful careers. I've owned businesses. Nothing I've tried has been remotely this hard to make money at.
I think about this a lot.
I have four basic goals. One is to make something beautiful and unique. Two is to have others see and enjoy what I make. Three is to leave those who I encounter while doing this better off from their interaction with me. Fourth is to make a little money for all of the effort that I put in.
There is a set of trade-offs there. If I decided to prioritize making money over making art, I could shoot wedding, senior portraits and boudoir. I know lots of photographers who do those things well and love doing it but that would suck all of the joy out of it for me. I’ve been told that there is a much bigger market for landscapes, conventionally lit nudes, and commercial photography than for the types of photographs I create but I don’t think that I would make art that is as unique and moving (at least to me) if I did that.
If I prioritized making money over doing right by those who I work with, I could try to convince models that they’d make a lot of money if they just paid to have my beautiful images in their portfolio. I’ve seen people seeming to make a reasonable amount of money with that approach but I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
There is a balance between making art, making money, and having people see and enjoy my work. Doing gallery shows and art fairs, submitting to magazines, posting to Facebook, and marketing all take time that I could use to shoot and edit.
So, I have a Patreon account which I promoted a bit with no success. I sell, but not at the levels that I would like. I bend over backwards to treat my models right and try to give back to them by shooting things that they are interested in in addition to the things that I want to shoot, making prints, submitting to magazines that they want to be published in, etc.
To those who say that I could spend more time on everything; marketing, promotion, and art, doing so would have a trade-off too. I need some balance in life. I have a wife, a family, and other interests. If my only goal was to make a living as a photographer sacrificing those might be a reasonable approach, but even if I did nothing but photography success would not be guaranteed. There are many talented artists, not just photographers, but musicians, painters, sculptors, and more who devote years to their craft without achieving commercial success.
The balancing act that I do would be much easier for me if it were easier to make money as a photographer. Alas, it is not likely to change any time soon.