A funny thing happened on the way to going pro…

A long time ago in a galaxy far away — way back in 2005 — I made a decision to get serious about my photography and see if I could go pro in the field as my “career 2.0”, either full-time or as part of something other than working high tech.

That’s easy to say. Making it happen? That’s the hard part. but when I sat down to figure out a path between that starting point and making the decision to make it happen, I came up with a long list of things that needed to be done.

But if you think about what the critical path is, it’s simple: until the craft you want to build the business around is good enough, nothing else matters. You can build the worlds best website, you can market the hell out of your work, you can promote and twitter yourself until you’re blue in the face, but if the photography isn’t good enough, it doesn’t matter.

So job one was to become good enough — and that’s been my focus. Every few months I’ve sat myself down and evaluated where I stand and my decision has been that I still have work to do to get where I believe i need to get to be successful.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t made progress; I thought I was a pretty good photographer when I started this (and I guess I was at some level), and along the way I’ve become a much better photographer. Many times I look back at my older images that I thought were pretty good and wince; some are salvageable through what I’ve learned about post-processing — many are being retired and put into storage. the more I learn, the more I study — the more I realize I need to be able to do to be successful at this.

Earlier this year I made a winter trip to Yosemite. That trip was (among other things) a test — to put myself into a situation well outside my comfort zone, to create a list of images that I needed to create and do so under deadline conditions, implement that plan when I get on site and adapt to the conditions and situation to see if I could still accomplish the goals (and to see what else was available when I got there, of course), and then see if  I could reliably create quality images to the plan. It was a conscious attempt “on assignment” under conditions that weren’t fully under my control and see if I could turn out work that I felt met the requirements of the assignment at a quality I was satisfied with — and most importantly in some ways, that the images were “made”, not just taken.

That latter point is crucial in many ways, because being pro isn’t just about being able to produce an image, it’s about being able to produce the images that are needed and produce them when needed and reliably. It’s about making images, not just taking them. Anyone can get lucky and take a publishable shot. you can’t build a business around getting lucky — you have to make your luck, so to speak, and be able to produce reliably.

I felt that I succeeded at pretty much all levels. I was quite happy with the images, and the images were what I envisioned and planned. Feedback on the images was positive. All of the challenges I put in front of myself to “prove” I was ready to go pro were answered. So a back in April, I sat down and started planning what my next steps were going to be.

And a funny thing happened on the way to going pro….

One of the realities you have to understand about running a photography BUSINESS is that it takes time and energy; you have the bureacracy of running a business (paperwork and taxes, business licenses, managing finances, etc, etc…). You have to spend time and and energy soliciting business and supporting your customers, fulfilling requests, billing, managing inventory, marketing and promotion… Businesses aren’t magic. Things don’t happen, you have to make them happen.

The time to do those things has to come from somewhere. Since I have no intention to “give up my day job” any time soon (if for no other reason I’m enjoying what I do for a living. And there’s this thing called a paycheck) where is the time to start the business going to come from?

Yup. The most likely place that time will be sucked from is the time I spend doing photography. Physics wins, folks.

So I made the decision – surprising to myself at the time — that the best way to guarantee my long-term success as a professional photographer was to wait and leave it to a later time. It’s better for my to put my time into continuing to take photos and work on improving my craft (and especially working to widen my portfolio into areas I’m currently not strong at). I worried that my photography might stagnate if I put cycles into marketing instead of shooting — at the least, I’d be complicating my life, and the reality is, I don’t NEED to create an income stream right now, and it just doesn’t seem to make sense to try to force it to happen now.

My life priorities have changed in the last few years. there have been some speed bumps in my life the last few years — health issues, my dad dying, the hysical realities of middle age — but I seem to be beyond that, I feel better and I feel healthier than I’ve been since probably 2003 and except for my weight there aren’t any life complications I have to worry about. I do, however, have to worry about the weight and focus on getting it off, and the things that have happened the last few years has changed my attitude somewhat, and I am trying to live a little more for now and a less for someday — in the last two years I’ve lost two friends to cancer, my dad to his heart problems and I’ve had other friends my age have major cancer or health scares. It’s made me realize that my situation (diagnosed with diabetes almost a year ago but well controlled, and the joy of middle-age — arthritis) isn’t all that bad. But it also reminds me that you can’t always assume for tomorrow, either.

So my priorities are different now. When I redid my blog in July, it was to bring my photography more front and center in the design and make it a better showcase for my images, but I consciously decided not to try to put out a shingle and creating a business around it. that doesn’t mean I won’t license something if it comes along (I need to work on my smugmug site to make that possible), but that’s different. My attitude today is about simplifying my life and enjoying it more, keeping the stress manageable (and cutting stress out where  can), more living in the moment instead of investing for someday. And doing really good photography and continuing to expand my skills instead of marketing and selling it. Letting someday happen and see what it is rather than always pushing to make it be something. Because you never know whether it’ll be there.

I don’t regret the goals I set along the way — and in fact, especially when I was dealing with dad and all of that entailed, my photography was sometimes the thing that kept me centered and sane — but you can’t be afraid to re-evaluate your goals and change them when circumstances change. I still think “going pro” is something I want to do, but later, when I’m thinner and older and ready to step away from silicon valley. But I’m not — it’s way too much fun these days. So while I still want to make this happen, I want to make sure i do it in terms that it the quality of life I’m trying to maintain today as well.

And that means sometimes the answer is a surprising “not now”…..

(and now, the camera is calling…)