Just like the OP, photography was a hobby that was overtaking the passion that I had in my "real" job (sound designer/mixer). One day I got laid off and I found myself at a crossroads. Do I try to find another sound job, or do I try something new (i.e. photography)? This was not easy for me since I was 33, married with 3 kids, home owner, bills, etc. I couldn't bear the thought of starting over and re-inventing myself with all my responsibilities but, in the end, that's what ended up happening.
I have been in the photo industry for over a year now. Some things I have learned that I would like to share with you:
- DON'T WRAP YOUR IDENTITY IN YOUR JOB.
This is a common mistake with most men in general. It will only lead you to feeling lost and confused (I know it did me). Instead, wrap your identity in being a good father/husband/etc., things that really matter. I found that this helped me manage my expectations and helped me looking for jobs with a more even keel.
- IT IS TOUGH. BE PASSIONATE.
The road to photographer is a tough one. Your passion will help you see through the low times and get your through all the nitty gritty aspects associated (emails/ meetings/ promotion/site updates/ etc). I find that I do about 80% promotion and 20% actual photography. You will need to embrace the business aspect of your art. For me, I had to learn it since it does not come natural for me.
- DON'T BE AFRAID. BE CONFIDENT.
This is linked the the point above. Cold call/email people constantly. Follow up on your leads to be consistent. Build relationships and forge new ones. Be prepared for rejection but always be optimistic. Your attitude goes a long way and if people can sense that you are beat down in a phone call/email, they may not want to hire you. Be yourself and you may find some great results. If you don't, shrug it off and move on.
- HUMBLE YOURSELF. BECOME AN ASSISTANT!
This was the best thing I ever did for my career. My network grew exponentially and this position got me in front of photographers, art directors, talent, etc. It allows you to learn a myriad of techniques without having all the pressure on you. You're also able to play with premium gear (cameras/lenses/lighting/etc) without having to pay for it. Did I mention that it can also be fun?
The word "assistant" sometimes has a negative connotation attached to it, especially when you have been in a position where one of your main job functions is to manage other assistants, but realize that everyone has to start somewhere and that's usually at the bottom. Just be humble and carry a great attitude. If you don't wrap your identity in the job (see Point 1), then it will makes this stage in your career much easier.
Call/email your favorite photographer and/or studio to see if they need any assistants. Most legitimate photographers/studios know that they will have to pay for this service. Your initial rate may be low but, with more experience, you can dictate a higher rate. Work hard, have a great attitude, and you will get consistent work. You may have to branch into a different side of photography to find assistant work. For example I'm a fashion photographer, but I find most of my assist work in product photography. Because of this, I have also discovered that I like shooting product as well. Also, be honest with them about your experience. Most photographers are willing to take on assistants that they can mentor and mold versus a perceived know-it-all.
I am still on the journey but my photo client base has grown because of these steps. Because of my responsibilities, I just can't jump into being photographer. I have to have a more measured approach and I find that this method allows me to pursue my dream without putting too much of a strain on the family. Just keep your eyes fixed on your goal and fight for it. If you can assist while keeping your job, then do that! Eventually your demand will grow and you can transition into full time work. Best of luck to you!!!