The Photographer’s Life Should Start with Family

It used to be said that the divorce rate for National Geographic photographers, with their frequent travels, was close to 100 percent.

I’m not sure if that was ever true, but I’ve read and heard plenty of sources that confirm the divorce rate for professional photographers is significantly higher than the national average.

I’ve also noticed that quite a few of our most famous photographers have never married or had children.

Balancing Work with Family

None of this should come as a surprise, considering how many photographers not only travel, but also work weekends or unpredictable hours for their jobs. And the most well-known photographers are often the most prolific, with the most demanding schedules.

I’m not married and don’t have kids — yet. But I do find it sad that so many photographers seem unable to balance career with family life.

When I come across photographers that are successfully striking this balance, I sometimes ask them how they do it.

While their strategies differ, the one constant I’ve found is that they put their families first. Their life starts with family, and everything else grows from that foundation.

Five Tips for Striking a Balance

Based on what I’ve learned from these conversations, here are five ideas for balancing your photography career with personal relationships:

  1. Set aside at least an hour a day and one full day per week for family. I’m talking about uninterrupted time — no stepping away to do some Photoshop work on Saturday. If it was that important, you could have gotten it done on Friday. Sometimes we work on weekends simply because we aren’t disciplined enough with our work schedules during the week.
  2. Keep in contact while traveling. With improved cell phone reception and Internet access, there is no excuse for not keeping in touch with the people in your life. Take your mind off the work for a few minutes to call or text.
  3. Travel with the important people in your life as often as you can. One photographer I know is required to travel frequently for his job. However, he makes a point never to be gone more than two weeks at a time. And when school’s out, he takes his whole family along on assignments.
  4. Find a photography niche that keeps you closer to home — or to the ones you love. Two of my photographer friends are stay-at-home dads while their wives work corporate jobs; they find time to work in the afternoon or late in the evening. Two other couples run husband-and-wife photo businesses and travel during the winter months by RV.
  5. Be there (and be engaged) on big occasions. Sorry, but there’s no excuse for skipping birthday parties, parent-teacher conferences, anniversaries, graduations, holidays and other red-letter days. This is a no brainer.

Finally, tell your family you love them and that you appreciate their understanding — and do it often.

17 Responses to “The Photographer’s Life Should Start with Family”

  1. When we were courting and I said my dream was to be a travel photographer, my soon-to-be-wife realized she didn't want to be a single parent, especially if she was married. We didn't have kids, and I'm on the road about 6-10 weeks a year. We stay in touch constantly when I am. Here's a blog entry she wrote with advice for being married to a photographer:

  2. What a load of patronising and inaccurate guff. Offering advice to photographers on their personal lives online is tantamount to critiquing a photography without seeing it.

    First of all where's the statistical evidence that photographers are more likely to have family troubles than any other profession?

    Even if the evidence were there, there's a huge difference between correlation and causation. If it were true that the divorce rate of NatGeo togs was 100% that still doesn't mean that the job was to blame. The type of personality focused and dedicated enough to rise to that level, in any sphere, is quite likely not going to be the type who will put others first and they'd have family issues no matter what job they did.

  3. This goes for every profession and you are right that finding that balance is critical.

  4. Some great points outlined and I think they apply to every industry out there.

    Far too often people throw themselves into their jobs and forget about keeping things at home happy as well. It is a constant balancing act, but it is crucial for happiness.

    Thank you for sharing!

  5. It took me a while to realize that family does indeed come first. I thought that when my 2 boys were younger that I would have time to catch up with them later. Not being an ass, just that I needed to work really hard to support them, or so I thought. Skip forward a few years and I realize that the time I get to spend with them far outweighs ANY assignment! Cherish your family and the time that you have with them.
    I lost my father in law 2 years ago and it has devistated both my wife and kids.
    There will always be other jobs, will there always be another family.....?

    And Barney, why are you so pissed dude, get outside and enjoy life while it is still there....., whatever?

  6. Y'know what? This just does it for me for these blog posts. What a load of content-free c**p. There is so much going on in the imaging world that you guys are ignoring, because it's so much easier to write opinion pieces that require no research. This is supposed to be about the business of photography. I'm struggling to see anything that has to do with it. Get informed or don't post!

  7. Mark, this blog has always offered one thing: the advice and viewpoints of photographers from a first-person perspective, on the topics they want to write about. It doesn't chase the latest photography news. It's not PDN and never has been. There's an archive of almost 1,000 posts here, and the content has been consistent in the range of topics it covers. If you're not interested in the content of the last 1,000 stories, you probably won't be interested in the next 1,000 either.

  8. Great post!

    Family should always come first before anything else. Besides, what's the use of all your salary if you don't have family anymore to spend it with.

  9. I lost a lot of kids soccer games to Saturday weddings, and part made up for it by being at home with the kids during the week.
    I don't do weddings any more, and my wife and kids are a lot happier that they have my attention weekends.
    Those who howled, try and remember that you're meant to be well-rounded human beings, and that includes your nearest and dearest.
    It's not ALL about the art, or the money.

  10. Nice post.

    From personal experience, it is not "photography" that creates the separation from family, but how we photographers place it at the top of our "to do" list and forget about family.

    I was told by fined and former Western Kentucky University professor Dave LaBelle to keep in mind the 4 Fs: Faith, Family, Friends, and (f)otography. Yor photography should not be more important than any of them.

    I ended up divorced because chasing news was more important than my wife.

  11. "fined" is supposed to be friend.

  12. Is there any fact or actual research in this post?

  13. I think this is a very worthwhile and relevant post. It IS about the business of photography - or any creative business, for that matter. We tend to forget, when we're doing work we love, that it is still work - not life. Everyone needs balance, and as Richard says, it's important to put family first, to give yourself a chance to step away from the work. It's also important to have time to re-generate and get re-inspired.

  14. It is like everything in life.
    Results improve dramatically as things get done using one's brain. Photographer, politician, CEOs...
    Cheers, folks

  15. Really nice article you wrote here!

  16. While this is very true, it's also not fair for people to expect that you will not follow your dream. If they are not willing to support it, than that person is not for you. If you chose a family over photography, that's your beef. But I choose my fiance and I, and that's it. I told her I am not having children until I establish myself in what I want to do and she felt the same way. We are a couple, but we are individuals as well, and we should be treated that way. We all have obligations and commitments, but we all have a right to do what we love and do it well, and being a documentary photographer I have no shame in saying that. We live honest lives and choose the creative job over the dull jobs of "drone" society... we should not be slammed for that, but rather embraced as unique and bold.

  17. Having just read this, and with the understanding that it can be true of any business OR hobby, I found this to be well thought out and written. Not everyone is a pro; some of us make just enough to cover costs and have other jobs to make up the difference for right now-and while one's spouse should be supportive you can only be gone so long before it affects your relationship.

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