Tag Archives: career

Becoming a freelancer

My latest endeavor, as the title of this post would suggest, is becoming or developing myself as a freelance photographer.  A little background before I get into the guts.

I first became interested in photography in high school and took both a basic photography (film) course as well as a black and white darkroom.  These two learning opportunities had a certain element of purity to them in that I was pursuing the art out of an interest in the medium.  I had not yet thought or considered trying to earn money.  I continued taking photos through high school and remember getting my first digital camera, a Sony cybershot, 3.2 megapixles with a 32 megabyte memory card, woohoo!

Fast forward to college.  I had graduated to a digital SLR, a Nikon D200.  This camera was amazing when it was released.  I immediately found an online stock photography website where I could upload images and start earning some income.  Shooting these general, stock images wasn’t very exciting but it did generate (a little) income.  It was fun to get creative, searching for subjects that weren’t widely represented in the database.  I had hoped by focusing on these subjects I might get better exposure and earn better income.  Now, with over 25 million photos in their database, my insignificant portfolio hardly even qualifies as a % of what they offer.  Either way, I still manage to get a check 1-2 times a year in the mail.  How much could I earn if I got my portfolio up to 2000+ images?

As I continued honing my abilities I had some great opportunities to work as a second photographer at weddings.  This led to me getting a gig as the sole photographer on a wedding, shooting, editing, and delivering a finished product by my own prowess.  This was a great experience and bolstered my confidence in attempting other gigs.  I eventually got an opportunity through a friend to do some product photography for a website he was creating.  This was my biggest professional job to date and I traveled to shoot on-location for a business on the coast of Maine.  Arranging and shooting food was a really fun project, especially eating what was left after the shoot!

This point in my professional photography experience was a pivotal moment.  I was no longer taking photos out of pleasure or love of creating beautiful images.  Instead I was looking for opportunities to earn money.  I had lost the love of the art form.  It was a sad day.  I eventually sold off my gear and decided to take a break, telling myself, ‘photography should be about more then just money.’

Jump to the present.  I am now in Los Angeles trying to get my life in order, searching for career paths that suit my personality, passions, and values.  While getting all of those facets to align is a challenge, I don’t think it’s impossible.  I’m finding myself coming back to photography.  I never really thought that a career in photography would simply fall into my lap – you have to put in a serious amount of effort and time to be able to make a living with this art form.  It is especially difficult to expect to make a living as a freelance photographer.

Some of the major barriers to entering the industry as I see it are, a saturated market, ‘everyone’ being a photographer (thanks to digital), networking/connection development, and typical career paths to the position of photographer.  Lets explore a few of these.

The saturated market – It is clear to me that a LOT of people in Los Angeles are talented photographers.  In fact, I think a lot of talented artists live here or have moved here in general.  This is partly due to the high demand for artists and creative types in the film/television industry.  It’s a double edged sword – high demand and lots of people offering the skill in demand.  It is clear that to have a shot in this saturated market, individuals need to stand out, we need to develop our ‘brand’.  What is my brand?  I’m working on this one.

Next, everyone is a photographer.  Literally, everyone has a camera with them all day, it’s called a smart phone.  I’m not saying that everyone who HAS a camera IS a photographer.  Digital has definitely made entering the industry much easy for some folks who previously wouldn’t have wanted to invest the money in developing REAL film to see the results of their ability.  I remember having to spend money not only on film but on materials to develop and print photos.  All of a sudden it’s nothing to fire off 1000 shutter clicks at an event, sort through them and come away with 20-30 decent final photos.  This is a beautiful thing, especially if you know a thing or two about composition,  giving you no excuses to stop shooting.  This is ultimately is a good thing for any photographer with even a basic understanding of the art.

Typical career paths to be a professional photographer are like most film industry paths out here.  You start at the bottom.  While it can be demoralizing to get coffee for people, clean up after others, and be reduced to a role of physical labour, perhaps it’s a good way to learn.  I would venture a guess that most talented and successful photographers have been there done that.  Starting at the bottom could give us an appreciation for the amount of work and time that goes into rising to the position of photographer.

And finally, networking/communication within the photography community.  This, as I see it, is the most important, especially when it comes to working as a freelancer.  Literally every job lead or actual job I have had so far is through friends and word-of-mouth.  It’s amazing how far chatting up the right people will go.  You literally have to be ‘working’ 24/7, offering/talking about your services to find these opportunities.  My experience so far is that one job will lead to the next.  This has lead me to the realization that being a freelancer is about correlating your work and life into one continuous social experience.  Going to a friend’s birthday?  Nope, your meeting potential clients. Having drinks with a few friends?  Nope, you’re looking for job openings.  I obviously don’t mean this in a literally sense – your friends might get sick of your presence if you are constantly soliciting them for work.  However, you do need to be persistent and constantly looking/seeking opportunity.  It’s a numbers game like dating.  Of course, not everyone is going to want a date but, the more people you communicate with the more potential partners you will find.

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Hiking goes on hold for the season

Beads of sweat roll down the side of my beverage, collecting on the New Belgium coaster.  A slight breeze of artificial, cool air hits my left ankle while I sit on leather.  Needless to say, I am not on the PCT.  That corridor of continuous change.  The beautiful and wondrous sanctuary for travelers and those seeking adventure continues to exist in what feels like an alternate reality just to the North-West.  The contrast of Los Angeles, the smog and noise is a polar opposite.  My former company continue exercising an existence of simplicity and utility while this boiling ass-fault (get it…) sprawl is filled with hoards of designer clothed zombies, stumbling in all directions with shopping bags full of excess.

I left the trail for financial reasons.  I began hiking this season, not knowing if I would be able to afford to make the trip all the way to Canada.  Spoiler alert, I ran out of money before making it there.  I’m not upset, nor am I bitter towards those that are continuing on without me.  I am filled with inspiration and awe from my experience.  I only hiked about 800 miles of the 2600+ miles of trail that exists.  If you ever get on the trail, you will learn quickly what I have come to understand intimately; the experience is the journey.  Maybe you don’t have to hike the trail to make this assumption.

My journey ended in one of the most remarkable experiences of selflessness and kindness that I have experienced in my life.  Snooze (Megan) and I finished hiking at Vermillion Valley Resort, an oasis of civilization in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.  From VVR we hitched into the small resort town of Mono Hot Springs where we soaked and enjoyed a night of camping.  The next morning, beautiful cardboard sign in hand, we packed our bags and sat outside the Forest Service campground, thumbing for a ride.  Within an hour of sitting down, a white pickup slowed down and a kind traveler said that if we were still there when he finished eating lunch, he would gladly drive us to Fresno.  We smiled and told him we’d be there.

Within an hour the familiar truck came rolling back towards us and we quickly jumped to our feet to throw our bags in the bed.  Buck was a clean-dressed, friendly guy in his 50’s.  With almost questionable enthusiasm, he said he would be more then happy to drive us to Fresno (2+ hours East).  Upon jumping into the truck we all struck up conversation immediately and knew we were in good company.  Buck had been coming up to Mono Hot Springs since he was a young man to go fishing.  His wife had given him the ok to take a small vacation and relive some of his fishing glory days so he made the love drive up into the mountains.  Although the fishing was questionable, he had a pleasant visit.  Buck asked about the ins and outs of hiking on the JMT/PCT, told us about his adventures hitch hiking across the country as a teenager, and recalled fondly the kindness and open-hearted nature of those on the road.  He said he had such a positive experience traveling when he was younger, that he wanted to give back by helping us on our way.  We liked Buck a lot.

Eventually we rolled into the city of Fresno and arrived in front of a dilapidated building in what seemed to be a sketchy part of town.  This was the Greyhound bus station where we would catch a cheap and uncomfortable bus ride the rest of the way to Los Angeles.  Before we could offer Buck some gas money, he was practically forcing a folded bill into my hand.  We refused for a minute, making quite the scene which eventually compelled me to grab his offering.  We explained that we couldn’t take any money from him, he had already driven out of his way.  Could we give this back and give YOU some gas money we suggested.  Buck wouldn’t have it, saying that our company was payment enough and that we knew we were ‘good people’.  Pay it forward he said.  We tried to get his contact info but he was reluctant saying he didn’t want us to mail him any money back.  We stood there amazed at his generosity and after a brief hug and exchange of smiles, Buck was back on the road.  Opening my hand, I found $40, bus fare for Snooze and I to get to LA.  This is real trail magic folks.

After purchasing our tickets, we walked through a deserted hispanic part of town, searching for food.  The streets were empty and all the businesses closed, a very strange scene for a city.  Eventually we were able to get something to eat and returned to the bus station.  Our ride to LA was what you might expect for a bus – long and cramped.  The WIFI that the poster in the station glorified was next to useless and neither of the 120 volt outlets that were advertised worked consistently.

Getting into downtown at 11pm, we waited on torturous metal benches until my Dad whisked us away to Studio City.  Snooze and I spent the next few days catching up on much needed sleep, watching terrible day-time television, and indulging in restaurant food.  Gotta love ‘real life’.  We both longed for the trail, the simplicity of adhering to the schedule of the sun.  The monotony of walking for hours.  This strange and impermanent existence had become so normal to us, it was unsettling to change it.  But change it we must – Megan had to get back to Connecticut for her Sister’s High School graduation and I needed a job.  We parted ways at LAX, heads still full of fresh memories from our JMT adventure.


 

So that brings us to the present.  I’m here, living with my Dad in LA, looking for a job.  Oh how fun the real world is.  Find a job so I can pay my bills so my credit score isn’t totally fuct (too late).  Get a job so I can make my car payment and student loan payment.  But hopefully the job I find can be more then just a means to an income – hopefully it can be enjoyable.  Do you have a job for me?