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Author Topic: Career change opportunity  (Read 9178 times)
Dan Sroka
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« on: August 18, 2003, 11:30:20 AM »
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So the very fact that you are asking the question may indicate you do not have the motivation or confidence.

I disagree with this statement, quite strongly. I was told that many times while I tried to figure out the course of my life, and thank god I never listened. Lack of doubt is not a predetermining factor for artistist ability or eventual success.

There is a myth that artists are born, not made. That they are fueled by some mysterious inner fire (which if you have to ask about, you can't afford). Yet I think this myth is a bunch of hooey. A lot of it is actually from marketing, for most of the 20th century's great artists were in fact amazing marketers (Picasso, Adams, Steiglitz/O'Keefe, etc.). Yes, some artists are born, but many others are made. Some artists look like artists (wear black, live in the Village, hold 3 day jobs to buy paint), and others don't (live in suburbia, have a studio in the garage next to the SUV, and wear Gap). Avoid the stereotypes, and just try to figure out your own path.

Now to your questions. Would you turn a hobby to a profession? I have. I think Hank describes the situation well. Be prepared to loose a hobby. But you may just gain a wonderful new career.

How would I go about it? First, don't fret about equipment. Make sure you have what you need to succeed, but don't blow your safety net on gadgets. That said, don't be afraid to spend money on the consumables of this art: film, ink cartridges, paper, etc. It took me months and months to get over my fear of wasting paper and ink, and realize that I needed to print if I was going to get better.

Then, scope out some time (a year, or two), and focus on jumpstarting your photographic brain. Don't try to show it, or get in galleries, or sell it to publishers during that time -- just get comfortable with the camera, your eye, and your style. You want to learn how you work: when your peak times of the day are, how long you can work before burning out, how much down time you need between projects. This was a big lesson for me. When I first started, I couldn't get going for 6 months... everything I did I hated, and I just procrastinated. But then, suddenly, it all clicked and I worked like crazy for the next 6 months. I've now learned that this is my pattern, so I don't fret if I find myself not shooting for a day, a week, a month -- I learned that it'll come back.

Hope this helps a little.
Dan
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Jack R
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« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2003, 09:53:27 PM »
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Joe,
My interests are first and foremost fine art landscapes. Is it possible for anyone to make a living just doing fine art?

On the practical side I find commercial photography the most appealing of the others you listed, but since we are talking about a hypothetical career move I'd like to discuss everything from a fine art standpoint. If I'm nuts please tell me so.

Incidently I have no formal training in photography, just been doing it for a long time- since dad built a darkroom in the basement when I was 7.

Hank,
I'm well aware of the importance of record keeping and the tax mans wrath ; ) having owned a succesful business in the past. Of course back then I had an accountant- if I'm going to go it alone perhaps the wife will need to take a few accounting courses! LOL

Jack
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Jack R
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« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2003, 09:18:01 AM »
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Tony,
I come from a world of pleasing customers- that wouldn't be a difficult transition for me.

Commissions from what kind of work? Gallery?

Is your feeling that stock is a good thing or a bad thing for a new pro to consider? I personally would prefer to stay away from stock- my method of working is not condusive to producing the large volumes of good work that I would think sucessful stock would require.

Thanks for your feedback!
Jack
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Joe Hardesty
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« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2003, 11:18:13 AM »
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Jack, (you meant Joe) I assume you meant "2003 Photographers Market" : )...
That'll teach me to respond to message before my coffee. LOL

Yes, it is, in fact, the 2003 Photographer's Market
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TonyGamble
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« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2003, 02:25:36 AM »
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Jack,

<<I come from a world of pleasing customers- that wouldn't be a difficult transition for me.>>

Well that is probably the hardest hurdle already jumped.

<<Commissions from what kind of work? Gallery? >>

I live in the UK where (a) very few people buy photographs to hang on a wall and (b) precious few more buy paintings.

My wife is a painter and regularly has paintings in galleries and exhibitions. She sells a few. Some of her pals sell more. But even the more sucessful ones say that they make most of their money by being commissioned by members of the public who see their work and would like something specially painted for their home.

Yes, there are a few painters who will hold a gallery show every couple of years and totally sell out. But they are in a small minority.

My experience over here is that galleries do not commission. They hang what you present them with and take their percentage.

I have also not made the plunge to money making photographer from enthusiastic amateur. I will. And when I do I will treat the gallery and exhibition as a taster of what I can do - and expect to make the money from being asked to do it.


<<Is your feeling that stock is a good thing or a bad thing for a new pro to consider? I personally would prefer to stay away from stock- my method of working is not condusive to producing the large volumes of good work that I would think sucessful stock would require.>>

If you have an existing portfolio of saleable images I can see no harm in seeing if a stock library wanted to handle some of them. But my understanding of the stock library system is that it is not staffed by lots of inventive people saying, say, go and take us a sequence of shots of youngsters eating ice-cream and we'll use them. I've always thought that the staff are nothing more than filters who accept/reject what they think will sell when you offer it to them.

But others may have a different view on this.

Any help?

Tony
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Jack R
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« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2003, 07:49:44 PM »
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Dave, I actually already left and have had a wonderful summer off. I took the money and ran! It's been great, I haven't done anything "productive" all summer. Now the question is how do I regain my income four and a half years from now ; ) - one thought is to pursue someething I'm passionate about like photography.

Dan, an excellent metaphor.

Jack
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Edward
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« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2003, 01:47:23 PM »
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> Is it possible for anyone to make a living just doing fine art?

Even Ansel Adams did everything from shooting interiors of bars to commercial advertising work. Perhaps others can be more specific about the chance of making a living directly from fine art - the story is usually that you pay the bills and learn the craft doing commerical work, trying to make it as good as you can.

One question no one has raised - how much do you need to meet those family obligations? Is it a realist amount to make from the kind of photography you want to do? This may be where the driven artist comes in. There are folks who make 20-30K doing their art and who are wonderfully happy, trading material success for satisfaction. OTOH, your family responsibilities may not allow that. You might think about changing your lifestyle right now, if necessary, to match what you will likely earn from landscape photography. Could be that your nest egg will last 20 years that way and you will not need to anything more than break even.:-)
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Jack R
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« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2003, 09:28:56 PM »
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Hypothetical situation- All input greatly appreciated.

You've been shooting for the last 20 years (not as a pro).
You've become extremely well versed in Digital photography techniques.
You enjoy the outdoors, and in particular landscape photography.
If your typical you have another 25 years of work before you retire.

Your burned out in your current career and one day you are offered a "severence" that will last you 5+ years allowing you to enjoy your current lifestyle and beyond without any time constraint other than family.

Questions:

Would you turn your longtime hobby into a career?

If so how would you go about it?

Is 5 years of going it alone enough time to build a strong career in photography?

I know this is a very vague quandry, but thats how I feel right now being in this situation. I don't expect someone to give me the answer that works for me, I just value the input and the perspective of others.

Thanks,
Jack
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Joe Hardesty
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« Reply #8 on: August 18, 2003, 06:53:09 AM »
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Hi Jack,

To be quite frank, people who have the passion to succeed in a given art form, rarely need to ask the question "should I?", "can I?", and "how long will it take?". The do it because they know down deep it is what they have to do.

So the very fact that you are asking the question may indicate you do not have the motivation or confidence. Or perhaps you are just seeking validation or confirmation, which obviously none of us can offer.

I rather imagine you already know the answers to your questions, so any opinions voiced here will be irrelevant. If 100 people responded "don't do it", it would not matter. If you have the passion and dedication to succeed, you would do it anyway!

Just my 2 cents.
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Jack R
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« Reply #9 on: August 18, 2003, 11:57:49 AM »
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Thanks for the reply's one and all! This is exactly the kind of dialog I was hoping for.

Hank- Great reference story, thanks. Your thoughts are right in line with my feelings.

Joe- I appreciate your candor. I wish I could say that I had something within that would drive me to do this no matter what, but of course I still have a responsibility to my family and must do something that I know I will be able to support them with in the future. In fact, I currently don't feel that strong about any of my ideas I'm considering, but I do know whatever I decide when I decide, I will become successful. Thats just me- it's been my history.

Dan- I agree, I think self doubt is normal (possibly healthy) in any new venture. I also think you hit the head on marketing being a big part of that success. Your experience is very valuable- I'm kind of the same way and in the past have suffered the few months of frustration and that feeling of accomplishing nothing, then suddenly doing a half a years work in a couple weeks time.

You all have helped me get a bit more in touch with my own thoughts. If you have anything to add please do so!

So, what about marketing- what kind of photography has defined your success and how do you market it?

Thanks,
Jack
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Hank
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« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2003, 06:14:09 PM »
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First and foremost, don't overlook the imperative for good business management. Remember the rancher who won the lottery and was asked what he would do with all the money: "Well shucks, I guess I'll keep raising cows till it's all gone."

Some photographers make fine livings on modest income while others are perpetually broke with substantially more income. It all boils down to that boring choice between buying a new 1Ds and putting aside money in case something breaks on your car in three months. How's your record keeping? Taxes will eat you alive if you don't keep tabs on all your expenditures. The list goes on and on. I speak from first hand experience because I'm terrible along these lines. Fortunately for me, my wife is an outstanding book keeper and helps me be very logical about expenditures. Darn it all, anyway.

Hank
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Jack R
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« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2003, 09:56:38 PM »
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Dan,
Checked out your website (excellent btw) and started reading your journal (almost done with year 2000). Our paths are very similar, I'd like to know how it's working out for you after 3 years.

Jack
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ddolde
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« Reply #12 on: August 18, 2003, 10:19:54 PM »
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TonyGamble
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2003, 02:45:12 AM »
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Sorry. Double post.

Tony
London UK
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Joe Hardesty
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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2003, 09:32:47 AM »
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Jack,

I realize that I am in the uncomfortable position of having asked a question, you answered it, but now I do not have a good response for you. That is largely because I don't think I have achieved a level of success that warrants me to give anyone any advice. So I certainly hope michael or some of the others will chime in with more experienced viewpoints. Having said that, let me offer my limited experience.

1. Pick up a copy of the "2003 Writer's Market" by Writer's Digest Books. It has a good bit of info on the various types of photography and how/where you might be able to sell. I'm not sure it's an authoritative reference, but it is a good overview.

2. Find some local galleries and get them interested in your work. You may get a lot of rejections, but hopefully you will get some good feedback along the way. Be prepared to encounter some very snooty people--ignore them on your way to finding the good ones. In my experience, many galleries work in small networks (or at least they seem to talk to each other). After initially getting my work in a local gallery, I got calls from 2 out of state galleries wanting to hang my work.

3. If you really feel you have the "right stuff", with a portfolio of 50-100 killer images, consider finding a "Photo Representative". These are people, much like talent managers, who get a percentage to find a market for your work. But they won't take you as a client unless they feel your stuff will sell. The book mentioned above, and perhaps the WWW are the only resources I know of information on this avenue.

4. Try to find local publishers, or anyone locally, who may be willing to pay for your type of photos. For example, farming, nature, conservancy, or tourism agencies/publications may be good outlets.

5. Depending on your location and tourism traffic, you may want to set up your own gallery. While it's more work and overhead, it does give you a direct connection with clients and you don't have to share profits/commissions.

IMHO, your approach will depend on how you feel about the business and marketing end of things, and how much time you want to spend interacting with clients/public versus actual photography. Either way you go, you may find yourself more involved in the business end of things than you would like,

Jack, please keep in mind that these are just my opinions and experiences from my own very limited perspective of the business. In the end, I have always found that sales of fine art/landscape prints and acceptance by galleries has been unpredictable at best. Generally speaking, you are putting your images out there and hoping for the best. The benefit of galleries or a photo representative are that you are extending your reach and the number of people that have an interest in selling your product.

Hope that helps!
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Thanks for the memories!
Jack R
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« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2003, 10:42:27 AM »
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Doh! Meant to address that last post to Joe not myself!
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Dan Sroka
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« Reply #16 on: August 19, 2003, 11:48:11 AM »
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Hank is so right about the importance of business management. I now spend nearly half my time just working on the business of my business: website management, order processing, marketing, backups, etc. Sounds bad, but you have to remember: it's a lot more fun when you do this stuff for yourself.

Sounds like a lot of us are in the same stage. I just started selling my work this year, after over year spent just building up a portfolio and discovering what kind of photographer I professionally wanted to be. It's going slowly, but it is moving.

That year+ of self-discovery: I loved shooting all sorts of things as a hobby, but for a business, I decided to focus myself at the beginning, and develop a product. In my opinion, you need to have a definable product that you can create and market. I don't mean a limited number of photos, but a style and subject matter that you work in. You want people to begin to recognize your work and look forward to it. And you want something that will hold your interest for a couple years at least. (Until you begin another project.)

One thing you need to do it set realistic goals. Don't push yourself to be in 10 galleries or making $10,000 by the end of the year. That will just frustrate you. Start small but practical. Goals like: have a business plan set up. Learn how to frame. Approach 5 galleries. Learn how to market my work. Make any money. Etc. Give yourself a lot of time to go the basic grunt work -- it is amazing how much work this all can take.

Joe's got some good advice. I also recommend a book by Caroll Michels called "How to survive and prosper as an artist". While not about photography per se, she discusses galleries, marketing, PR, presentation, all in a solid non-fluffy way.
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Jack R
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« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2003, 08:08:14 PM »
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LOL! thanks Joe I would definitely save a few spots! Thanks again for the gallery advice. Incidently I was at Borders today and they have the new "2004 Photographers Market" now in stock.

Tx
jack
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Howard Smith
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« Reply #18 on: August 22, 2003, 10:31:42 AM »
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Fifteen years ago I quit my engineering job to study professional photography at Brooks Institute in California.  I thought I wanted to be a photographer because I enjoyed it as a hobby.

The single most important thing I learned at Brooks was I would rather be an engineer.

After another 12 years of engineering, I learned the moral ethics of corporate America were rotting.  So I retired.  Now I am a photographer but without the need to earn a living.  Photography can be fun, and having fun at work is important.  However, "work" might take the fun out of your photography.  You will likely need to photogrtahy when you don't want to, you will likely have to photograph what others want you to photograph.  That's why it would be work and not play.
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steven b epstein
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« Reply #19 on: August 23, 2003, 08:39:05 PM »
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You've taken a big leap!

I find myself in a similar position; early retirement possible in a couple of years, burnt-out and ready for a change.  I have begun to get my feet wet in the "semi-pro" scene - a couple of jobs here and there.

My determination to retire will depend on the security of health insurance, and a regular income.  I am getting some experience while still employed - no 5-year severance - and a crappy economy to take too large a risk on.

It comes down to confidence and ability.  Those who are successful at the business don't have to be the most talented - they have to have the confidence and ability to market and sell what they create.  While I don't look forward to the marketing, I know it will be the most important ingredient for success.

I am very interested in your success.  Good luck and keep us posted.

steven b. epstein  :cool:
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