Do it because you love it

After being a fine arts photographer for over 30 years I think I’ve learned a few things and one of them is this quote:

“Do what you love and the money will follow.” – Marsha Sinetar

…is bullshit.

Am I being harsh? Probably, but I wouldn’t tell you anything I wouldn’t (and often do) tell my own kids. Life can be harsh and there isn’t enough time to follow really bad advice. No offense Confucius but your advice isn’t much better.

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” -Confucius.

I’ve been following my passion, my bliss, my photographic muse for over 30 years and I can tell you that success, financial or otherwise is fleeting and probably more of a mirage than a reality. Sure I’ve sold prints, I’ve had gallery shows, my work has been in magazines and my images have graced the covers of books; by todays standards I’m a success.

To summarize… I’ve done what I’ve loved, I’ve experienced success and the money has NOT followed. If I added up all the money I’ve spent on photography and balanced it against all the money I’ve earned – well I’m pretty sure I know which one would be larger.

Why do I continue to be a photographer of toys and other subjects? Because its fun; because it feels good; because it enriches my life in ways that I can’t explain but I know are there; because life is too short to fixate on money and the ‘stuff’ it can buy. In short, because I love it.

I’ve never reached the heights of success that many of my contemporaries have and that’s ok with me. I’ve seen first hand what happens when you find monetary success from your passion… it changes everything! As soon as you attach money to your passion, it no longer becomes your passion, it becomes your job. You’re suddenly put in a position of having to produce at a certain level, in a certain way to keep your customers happy and the money coming in. You don’t take chances anymore because you can’t. Your customers want to buy ‘the same, but different’ which can be a difficult task for many. With financial success you suddenly find yourself in a box of your own making with no way out. For me that’s too high of a price to pay.

If you have dreams of making money off of your toy photography I hope you won’t be discouraged by this post and that you will continue to create and share your work. I want you to take toy photographs because they make you smile; because it’s a fun hobby, because it’s a great way to tell stories, because it satisfies your inner creative drive, because you meet interesting people. I hope you will continue to take toy photographs for any number of reasons, but don’t take them because you want to make money. There are easier and much more profitable ways to make money to support that toy habit than trying to sell your photography.

Be a toy photographer because its fun… because you love it. 🙂

I will leave you with one last quote from Mike Rowe, host of the TV show Dirty Jobs.

“Never follow your passion, but always bring it with you.”

~ xxSJC

Why are you a toy photographer? 



  1. Shelly, thank you for this excellent article! I agree with most of it. I say most because I do believe there are too many folks that think if a job is fun then they aren’t working. I have experienced this in the professional field of engineering. I worked as a mechanical designer and CAD Technician for many years and worked in many different environments and focuses. I found the engineering side of things was quite drab and boring 90% of the time. Most engineers time was spent writing specification manuals and other sleepy tasks. I realized that as a designer I was doing everything the engineers wish they could do. Being stuck in a field that you cannot stand just to make it to the weekend break, and get a nice paycheck is not a very happy way to live. I finally decided to leave this rat race before I started depending on it more. I took a leap of faith and did something rather stupid. I started a non-profit with my brother to put on a Utah UFO Fest and it was nonstop work for the first year with no pay… in the mean time I strove to provide for my wife and our five kiddos with a small side business of making flutes. It has been difficult but like you said – I don’t necessarily do it for the money. It is mostly for my sanity and to be able to have more control over my 9-5. That is where my happiness lies. Can you make it doing what you love? Yes! But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t mundane things that you can’t stand – that you have to put up with to accomplish it. Do what you love and what you hate and the money will follow. This is a more realistic quote.

    • Joe thanks for your excellent comment. This post is specifically aimed at those who want to make money from photography. Not for anyone who wants to pursue a life of self-employment in another field. Although I must say as someone who has been self employed for almost as long as I’ve been a photographer I think Im an ‘expert’ there too. Being self employed means working 24/7 not 9/5. Basically you do whatever you can to put food on the table and a roof over your head. But I think you know that already. I watched my husband take something he loved doing and start making money from it. Now what we make is a product not art, and our patrons are our customers. Money changed everything. But that is another story, best left for another day.

      I wish you all the best with your not-for-profit (a better word since at some point you will make money). There is a great joy in being in control of your own time, even if the pay sucks, the hours are long and the future not always as bright as you would like.

      Thanks again for your great comment!

    • I thought that was the post called “Do art and do it for the rest of your life”?

      As I’ve said before this blog is my “Why?” With every post I add to the depth of my thought process, my creative process and pretty much everything that makes me tick creatively. All of this can’t be contained in one static “Why?” post.


  2. Ryan gomez

    Such a great article. I can relate to this very much. Toy photography is my stress reliever. There is no money in figure photography only an abundance of self fulfillment and enrichment. I am proud and happy to have discovered toy photography and have met good people in social medias such as yourself and the rest of the OG’s in Instagram where I started and continue to grow as an artists. Thank you Shelly for this great read and I hope this find its way to new and aspiring artists, may they stay the course and love what they do.

    • Thanks so much Ryan of your kind words. Toy photography is my outlet as well. Although i’m not sure its for stress or just general insanity. 😀

      Boy you said it! There is no money in toy photography, not even general photography. Excellent photography is in abundance wherever you look, no matter how good you are, your audience will be limited at best.

      Regarding every thing else in your comment…I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks so much Ryan for adding your voice to the conversation! 🙂

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful post. When I was a magazine editor, a job that I loved about two-thirds of the time, I still dreamed of becoming a novelist full-time. Then I was laid off a year after my debut novel did quite well, and for a moment that dream seemed attainable, but a couple of bad choices that I made for the money have left me as disillusioned as the photographers who’ve made similar choices. I also discovered that I’m not cut out for the corporate world, which restricts how far I can go in my field.

    • Lyn, thank you for sharing your experience. Its good to see that the creative process is similar even though our vehicles might be different.

      I for one know Im not cut out for the corporate world. I’ve been self employed for too long to be able to make the jump into such a restrictive environment.

      Thank you for joining the conversation my friend!


  4. Ann Van Breemen

    I do Lego photography for the sheer fun of it and the challenge of telling a different story with every image. I’ve only been doing it for a few months but I love it. Making money from it? Nuh. Would be nice but it never actually crossed my mind. It makes me smile and sometimes I even make other people smile. That’s my pay off and it’s priceless.

    • Ann, first i want to welcome to the fun world of legography! You have stumbled across a rather addictive hobby – but you already know that! 🙂

      I can only agree that the best pay off is with a successful photo that can make people smile (or even think)! It doesn’t get much better than that!

      Thank you for joining the conversation!


      • Ann Van Breemen

        Thank you for the welcome Shelly and yes I have discovered how addictive it is. I was only going to have a couple of figures to star in my photos but, hey, we all know that was never going to happen. There’s a million stories in my head to be told and probably nearly that many minifigures in my wardrobe waiting to tell them!! Thank you for your posts. I find them very interesting and fun and sometimes I even learn someting. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

  5. fubiken/Stefan.K

    Thank you for this post cos’ this is why I do Toyphotography, to have fun
    I work as a warehouse worker and it is boring as Sithspit to be honest but it brings money.
    Creating these photos is fun, it is my escape from the boring work. That and capture macro makes me feel good. I’m not that good in other forms of photography so I don’t see a way to make money plus there is sooo many others already. So I capture for myself 🙂
    And thanks for mention Mike Rowe, loved his show “Diry work”

    • Stefan,

      We can create a boring jobs club! My ‘day’ job is a book keeper. I can give you a run for your money on boring. Want to help me with my filing? lol!!

      I love to hear that capturing photos makes you feel good. Honestly thats what keeps me coming back. It brings a clarity to my thought process and it physically makes me feel better – about everything. We are not so very different my friend. 🙂

      Yes I love Mike Rowe and I loved the video I linked to! Mike shared a lesson I hope my owe kids will learn before they begin in the work force.

      Thanks for your comment my friend!


  6. I can only agree with you and disagree with the two quotes. I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to study what I love so I could have a job that don’t really look like one. I’m sure it seems to many people like a fairy tale and that I have some kind of dream job, but it quickly turned out that it’s not. Living from something that is fun also means a lot of pressure that are not bearable in the long term. As a consequence I lost the passion I had had for more than 10 years.

    I really doubt there is any opportunity for me to make any serious money with toy photography, but even if there was, I wouldn’t do the same mistake again and make it a living.

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