Photography by Victoria: why do you do what you do?

A little different direction this morning – a “get real” if you will……I, Tory, figured either you can commiserate with me or snap me out of it. So here it goes…. 🙂

Someone posted this inspirational TED TALKS link on one of my Facebook groups the other day. As I do with most TED TALKS videos I sat there nodding my head in agreement and I haven’t really been able to stop thinking about it since. The main theme of the talk was “People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it” – ok well some people buy what you do….but it entered me back into the deep dark hole of thought that is “are people hiring me because they took a spin on the yellow pages wheel and I was the lucky one that they landed on out of the 50,000 other photographers in Los Angeles OR are they actually hiring me because they like what I do and in turn WHY I do it?!

A little background, in my photography career I have gone from film, to digital and then about 2 years ago I switched back to film. In truth I had become a little jaded, i had let the “ease” of the instant gratification of digital camera take over the artist in me. I had become so obsessed with trying to get some look in post-processing that I had gotten kinda lazy on the actual picture taking….so the switch back to film for me was a rekindle of the artist…the ‘know the rules but break them’ kinda of artist. It brought fun back into the equation, and I fell in love all over again. I did that for me and assumed everyone would come along for the ride. I feel like my “voice” changed…it got louder in my head and I took a step closer to finding out who I was & want to be as a photographer. Not just a portrait photographer but someone who made art.

With this change came what I did not expect, which is resistance…not all but some, unhappy people, complaints. Some thing that literally make my heart so happy to do that I would do it for free if my kids did not need to eat or have shelter led me to unhappy clients because it is different. Clients that did not see what I saw, or what my photographer friends saw for that matter (hey, gotta get opinions when you’re in the trenches!!). I realize you cannot be something to everyone, that it is not about quantity or accolades. But truth be told, it’s REALLY hard to hear negative things over and over when you’ve poured your heart into something. And my spirit broke a little, my light has been dimmed so to speak. So that brings me back to my thought, do you do it for the clients OR do you do it for yourself and hope they like it? And for that matter how do move past the negative and not let it effect you…..AND more importantly how do you make sure you are truly attracting clients whom “get you” before the fact.

I don’t have an answer and I am not even sure this will make sense to everyone, I could be the only one……but this is the internal monologue in my head…..what I am going through at the moment as an artist, as a photographer, as a business person…..for now I hold on to what I love, to my passion, to the so called imperfect shots that make my heart go pitter pat and hold my breath with each gallery I post hoping they “get me”.

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Thanks for listening.


  • Oh – I am sooooooooooo going through this – your work is so incredibly beautiful! But I think it is easy sometimes to feel the need to make your art align with what everyone else is doing – to make it look the same – because the “same Look” is what seems to be getting all the work – or the reviews – or whatever. I say do what you do for you – then you will only attract the clients who genuinely love what you do – your work is way too beautiful to change – it is inspiring, and stirs my soul thats for sure!

  • wendy says:

    You are NOT the only one. I love your work and beg you not to change anything to please some potential client or make a sale. Be yourself and believe in yourself. I believe in you.

  • Jessica says:

    Do what you do for you otherwise you won’t love it anymore. I decided to try my hand in the “business” of photography a year and a half ago after 17 years of training myself and being a hobbyist. I still haven’t made any money because I can’t bring myself to charge “customers”. My first client was my best friend of 28 years. I took family portraits which I loved. She loved. And the husband wanted the bushes greener. It was November. We just had a big freeze. I didn’t even own photoshop because that is not what a photograph is for me. I conceded and “greened” up his bushes. And I hated it. I hated having the “customer” tell me how to do my art. So I have 2 part time jobs and take photographs for willing participants for free and maybe one day, they will pay me because they appreciate my vision.

    • Min Mohd says:

      “I hated having the “customer” tell me how to do my art”.

      Wow, I feel you. I too hope that one day they will pay me for the artist I am. But until then, I will keep on doing it the way I want it.

      p/s keep on shining Tory, your art is BEAUTIFUL!!

  • You are not alone! I am going through this same exact thing! Since going through some life changing events I have noticed my pictures and style of editing has changed. All the pictures of my kids have a different look to them now than the ones of my clients. I want to slowly change how I edit with all my sessions but I am so afraid my clients won’t be happy. I just feel my style is evolving but I am forced to stay the same in order to not upset anyone:( I don’t know how to allow myself to be free to create the way I want to create but keep everyone happy at the same time.

    • Lisa says:

      I’m right there with you Alexia, but about two months ago I said I didn’t care anymore and I started doing shoots the way I wanted to. I’d love to tell you the clients are flocking to me now. They aren’t. In fact, I’m thinking of getting a part time job to make ends meet and giving up on the business side of things, but I’m holding on to the style that makes me and some of my friends happy. That’s the most important thing to me. I’ve cried many tears…in fact last night I cried so much when I was rejected for a wedding because the client didn’t want to pay and had a friend doing it that my head is killing me today. I’ve cried for what I feel is the end of my dream of having a business where people hired me, loved my work, and helped pay my bills. I’ve cried for not being accepted. I’ve cried and cried and I’m sure I will more. But in the long run I’ll have my photos of my family and some of my friend’s families and at least they will enjoy them, maybe even love them. That’s all I’ve got right now because the rest of it doesn’t make much sense in my head. 😉

  • yan palmer says:

    awww tory. its always darkest before the dawn. thank you so much for opening up and getting real here and sharing what you’re going through. its not an easy step to take. i just want to tell you that i know without a doubt having been IN YOUR HOME for several days that you are full of life and light and art. that your perspective uplifts others. that you are an inspiration. i love you and i admire you, and keep putting up those gorgeous shots that make your heart sing. the right people will find you. xoxoxoxo

  • Lisa says:

    This speaks to me in a way you may never know. Wow. Thank you so much. I am going through this struggle right now. Very much so.

  • Wendy says:

    My advice.. which may not be worth a darn thing.. blog and put on your portfolio ONLY those photos that make your heart sing… that will attract the right people.

  • Maggie says:

    So inspiring, and real, and honest. I’m nodding in agreement with all of the comments here. I’m finding that I have to take the images I want to take and make my vision come to fruition. It’s hard sometimes though to not try to please everyone. But, I will be true to myself, and show what I love. I pray those who come to me love what they see and trust my vision too. Best of luck to all of you. Always be true to yourselves!

  • Abbie says:

    Love, love, love, Tory….I don’t have the answer either, but I love that you posted what’s on your mind. I like Wendy’s advice. 🙂

  • Aileen says:

    Tory, I love your vision. My advice — always, always, always, shoot for yourself with your eyes and your heart or else there is no reason to hire you. The only unique part of your work is YOU. Keep it part of your work. Show what you want to shoot. If clients aren’t coming, shoot personal stuff and keep showing it. Don’t sell out for the benjamins, because you will lose your fire and that part of you that requires that you MUST shoot. And then you’re left with… nothing. As for clients now complaining, just make sure that all you’re showing in your portfolio and on your blog are your film shots. Maybe put together a sample album of various work you’ve done for your clients and make sure they review it and like/love it and know what to expect. Keep bringing YOU to your work. That’s why we love it. xo

    • Barb says:

      I absolutely agree with Aileen! Your clients are hiring YOU; your heart, your vision, and your art. Stay true to yourself. I have felt the exact same feelings you have shared here, and I believe most every artist (no matter what the media) goes through these same emotions/questions. It’s part of the creative process!! We are each gaining more gumption, will, creative spirit each and every time these thoughts arise. As for unhappy clients – ask yourself this: did you feel a connection happen at the time of your session? If not, that could be a big part of why. It’s not going to “click” each and every time, so I feel it’s good to give yourself a pass. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up about it (like we are known to do). Move on. And continue to shine!!! Your photography is beautiful. 🙂

  • Photography, for me, is the truth I struggle to articulate with words.

  • karyn says:

    Thank you for sharing this…I think this is a struggle that a lot of people deal with. But I always think that if you’re doing what you truly love and believe in that it will attract who you want to attract. We may not know who those people are yet, but they are out there. I’m still trying to find out who they are myself :).

  • Lea says:

    Oh man! I can so relate to this!!! In fact, I just wrote my own blog post with a similar vibe and scheduled it to publish tomorrow morning! This is like confirmation. Thank you.

  • Gosh, I know I’m not the expert, but if you don’t go where your heart is, your passion wont be there. We chose photography because we love it, and we don’t want to end up losing the drive that caused us to create. On the other hand, there is nothing more frustrating then people not seeing that or not liking what you do. I think the right clients will come, because you are amazing. It may not always be practical to follow your heart, but then again, I’m a bit of a dreamer.

  • k-k-k-kia says:

    Tory! I love your work! I love the work you share! And I love seeing how you see families! You’re the artist and yo create some wonderful memories for families. Thanks for sharing your work and thanks for sharing how your work makes your heart sing!

  • Angie Realce says:

    I think we have to look at the market today and accept that Blu-Ray and HDTV are visual standards we need to contend with. I think some people aren’t into Blu-Ray (I am one of them) but HDTV is pretty nice! I mentioned this because once we understand what people’s visual expectations are, we can determine if a person (or a couple) will be the right fit or not.

    To answer your initial question, I shoot for the love of it and for the opportunities to make a living doing what I love to do.

  • Bonnie Berry says:

    SO true Tory. I struggle with this all the time. But luckily (or unluckily) I am incapable of doing anything other than what my voice makes me do. Shoot what you love and the rest WILL come.

  • Thank you for posting that TED video link. If you make work that you are passionate about, then people will buy it. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Makes perfect sense to me. Thank you!

  • Staci says:

    I loved reading this. Thank you.

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