I've made a living at it for about 15 yrs now, 12 full time. I actually enjoy my own photography even more now that I have had to pretty much work for others during this time. Almost all the stuff I shoot winds up being handled by designers, editors etc. On 50% of it or more, I have little control over the final product....this causes no end of aggravation at times, but it's best to just move on. I also don't get a credit line with my job....everything I shoot is owned by my employer. It doesn't bother me. I get paid--they own all the equipment, the facility. I'm on salary, have benefits. If I travel, I get paid food/ lodging, get a car or van from motor pool etc. So, that's the trade---it's a j-o-b.
I'll never get rich in this position--BUT--I do shoot film. I work in darkrooms, do wet lab processing and I feel pretty confident things will remain this way for some time as the agency is film based and the collections hold over 1.5 million negs. It's not like the state is going to throw away all the old negatives or prints...and the records standards --the statutes--are film based. I figure this job security...but it's also tedious and at times mind numbingly boring. Last year, I had to copy a photo collection and it took me months to do so. I wore out a shutter on an MP4 and wound up making a last ditch push of shooting for about 3 weeks straight. Every day, I did at least 2-3 deeptank runs and wound up shooting close to 400 sheets in that month alone. Just on copywork. It drove me nuts...yet, I did a good job. I wanted to leave a record for the poor guy in this job when I move on....so he/she wouldn't be cursing some lazyass, unmotivated slacker who figured it was GIGO....
The thing is--we get approached by folks looking for jobs--but very few of them are interested in doing the routine tasks. For me, when I started 12 yrs ago, I just needed a job and was very happy to get one working in a studio & darkroom instead of eeking out a living working min wage in labs and assisting. I made more money working at first as part time, than I had in the past 2 yrs prior working full time and trying to freelance. Instead of looking at spending all day tray processing proofs or doing copywork as boring, grunt work, I took whatever I knew about sensitometry and tone placement and applied it to trying to make better dupes & copy negs. After a year or so, I got really good at it. Then I moved into doing tabletop shooting, alot of events work (I had majored in p-journalism, never thought I'd be working in a place like this, but the irony is that I'm still shooting film....). The more I did this stuff, the better & more confident I got. Even if it was doing the same thing all week much like a catalog, the repetition was good practice in camera handling, lighting, processing etc. Now, I shoot on average maybe 200+ 4x5s a month, and don't even really have to think about it...I make a couple of thousand or more prints a year, and it's like second nature. When I get off work, and go back to my own darkroom and print my own negs--all this has made me appreciate my own photos, and enjoy them more....I feel like just having to do this stuff every day, 40+ hrs a week, has made me better all around.
The downside for me is that all I do pretty much is photography...it's become that way. I do some form of it almost every waking minute of the day, and maybe half of it is enjoyable, the rest is a j-o-b. I can't foresee myself doing anything else though, so I pretty much go with the flow... a few years ago, I hit sorta a burnout point in a way--mostly from having to deal with workplace politics and the way digital imaging was impacting our mission as they say. But the reality of it was that I enjoyed enough of the job to try to rationalize the good out of it and to keep at it. Yes, I do shoot digital now as well--out of neccessity. I don't enjoy it--but like some of these other things, I didn't enjoy them much when I first "had to" do them.
Back around 1986 or so, I interned as an assistant in a catalog studio that did work for the furniture market. I hated it--I was studying p-journ, I never dreamed I would be making a living shooting furniture using view cameras. Yet, this is part of what I do now. I also worked in an offset printing shop, and wound up doing minor pre-press work & running a stat camera. The irony of this, was that there was a time when I had to shoot film pos & negs for a silknscreening we did in-house before we went to film output. So, that boring job I took at the print shop, because I needed the money actually came in handy... whether I've liked a job or not, I've always seemed to learn something that's helped me out later on.
my opinions only/not my employers.