This article is an excerpt from my Fall 2008 Newsletter.
The idea for this article is a direct result of reading an article written by Doug Menuez entitled On Chaos, Fear, Survival and Luck: Longevity is the Answer which was published on the Editorial Photographers’ website (www.editorialphoto.com). In the article Doug discusses the dilemma of getting paid to do what you love – or for the photographer this would mean getting paid to shoot what you love to shoot. The main question he asks himself is “how can I build a satisfying and challenging creative life in photography over the long-term?” My purpose here is not to paraphrase his article, but to discuss my own path to creating satisfying work and getting paid for it.
As freelance photographers we all struggle with what we want to shoot and assignments that we have to shoot to make ends meet. If we shoot too many boring assignments it takes a toll, both in terms of creativity and motivation. Doug’s article was just one more reminder of lessons I learned earlier this year and how those lessons figure into the future of my career. To explain I’ll have to back up here and give you some background so this all makes sense. When I got into photography as a kid, way back when I was 14, I loved shooting sports. Photographing sports was challenging (especially in the manual focus days) and their was never any lack of action. Years later when I started climbing mountains and rock climbing around the world it seemed like a natural fit to bring along the camera. It was through those adventures that I became passionate about photography again and decided to make a go of it as an adventure photographer. Since climbing as a sport was one of my great passions, photographing that sport in all of it’s forms (ice and rock climbing as well as mountaineering) was a natural progression. Over the last twelve years I have branched out and shot other outdoor sports as well – in fact, I have shot just about every outdoor sport their is which fits with the “extreme” sport motif visible on my website. And since these sports and the outdoors in general were always my passion it wasn’t hard to pursue this type of work. Photographing adventure sports and adventures in general was always very satisfying for me both creatively and professionally. In this light, the question of how I could build a satisfying and creatively challenging career was a non-issue. I was lucky enough to be already doing it. And even more to the point, I was creating images that stirred my creative juices and pretty much concentrated on producing the type of images I wanted to create even to the detriment of my wallet. I could have made way more money shooting weddings or family portraits or whatnot but I realized early on that wasn’t why I became a photographer. And that is the central question one has to ask is “are you being true to yourself?” Or in photo speak, “Are your images true to your inner vision and creative spark?”
Around year ten of my career, I found myself in a conundrum that still continues. When I started out as a pro photographer I had big dreams and big goals. In the first ten years of my career I achieved almost all of those goals. Hence, I got to a place where I was asking myself “ok, where do we go from here?” At the same time I started working with a broader range of clients that needed more than just adventure sports images. This broadened my horizons a bit and tapped into another passion of mine (I have many) which is photography and art in general. I started shooting a lot of portraits – and still do. I also started to shoot a lot of non-adventure images which was a fun distraction and no doubt helped sharpen my skills as a photographer but after a few years of not concentrating solely on adventure images the “where do I go from here?” question loomed even larger. And that is why earlier this year, while covering the 2008 Patagonia Expedition Race I had a “eureka” moment. Of course discussing it now and writing about it in this newsletter the answer to my question seems so obvious. Basically, in the midst of one of the most adventurous and exciting assignments so far in my career, I realized that what gets me excited, what really makes my soul sing is a good adventure – and in terms of my professional career, creating stellar images of that adventure. And the fact that adventure images are what I produce and I can make a living producing is just icing on the cake. The problem comes in when I start to think bigger and get greedy. I want it all. I want to experience and record grand adventures but I also want to experiment with other genres of photography and have a long and rewarding career. And there is nothing to say that I can’t widen my horizons to include other genres of photography as long as they motivate and inspire my work, it is more just a matter of patience. Like the Queen song says, “I want it all, and I want it now!” Perhaps it is the ambition in me asking these questions rather than the creative side. Patience is a virtue I am still learning. Even so, don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the very successful career I have already had and I look forward to the next ten years as a photographer (knock on wood).
In the end this article is more of a musing to get the synapses firing so both I and you, the reader, can ponder where it is we want to take our work and to find out exactly what our passions are. This is another reason Doug’s article struck me right between the eyes because he hits at the heart of what makes us tick as artists. And he really nails it in terms of how to “be true to yourself” by saying no to jobs that don’t fit into your plan, letting go of the fear of financial and creative failure and lastly breaking free of categories and being categorized by your clients. The tricky part to all of this is how to remain a pro and make enough money to continue to produce the type of work that gets your creative juices amped up. As I have said, in that respect I am lucky because to a large degree I am already doing just that and as I said in the opening editorial of this newsletter business is better than ever. In these tough economic times nothing is certain but by thinking about my career in the long term I hope to do better than just weather the current storm. So in the end the answer to my question, “where do I go from here?” is to keep on shooting adventure images and expand my photography into other genres that are in keeping with my passions.