You ARE your ONLY Competition!
The moment is seared into my memory, the morning I strategically placed that note on the boss’ desk. It took me months to screw up the courage to even entertain the thought, countless conversations with Sharon weighing all the pros and cons of my decision. It was a life altering decision I’d come to and not one to be taken lightly. We had two sons that weren’t even in preschool yet, how would we make it? That night I printed out a hundred copies of the note, trying to keep the message and sentiment short, sweet and to the point. Each iteration that came out of the printer just a little tighter, each one leaving less wiggle room for me and the boss. I changed the paper, I switched to the card, not sure who I was trying to convince this was the way to go, the boss or me. Then came that morning, I carefully placed the note on the boss’ desk and went to my desk to wait. A couple of times I thought of taking it back, it was a mistake, the time wasn’t right. I didn’t and when the boss came in, he read the note and went on as if nothing had happened. It was time for me to move on.
It was one of the scarcest things I’d done in my life, at age 22 deciding that I could on my own, make it as a photographer. It was a few months prior to the Gulf War and if we’d a crystal ball, we’d probably never have decided to take the path we did. But there are no crystal balls, there are no sure bets in life. So as we have always done, Sharon & I ventured out on our own, following the path we were creating in a direction we thought was right. We’re still following that path, the journey has been so far one helluva ride!
Has the thought ever crossed your mind, “I could make it in photography.” You had a spouse, friend or parent say something to the effect, “Your photography is so good, you should turn pro!” You’ve won an award, you’ve found some acclaim on the web, the folks at the photo club all look up to you, you pang to always be behind the camera? Everything is pointing and pushing you towards being a professional photographer (a term that no longer has the same credibility). The question is, do you take the leap?
You’ve probably read in some magazine or on some website something to the effect, “It’s too competitive to make it, the times are bad, the web is killing business, folks are giving away their images killing the industry, magazines are dead.” All of that is true, all of that is bullshit! Which is it you ask? Well, as far as I am concerned, both can be true. The difference between the two is YOU!
Unlike your basic 9-5, 40hr a week job, there is NO guaranteed paycheck on Friday in this job. There is absolutely NO security in it. As my good friend Wayne Lynch says, “This is the only profession where you’re looking for a new job every day.” And that’s so true. And with that piece of sound advice and honest observation, I’m here to tell you, you can do it! And YOU is the key to all of this!
Does your 40hr a week job seem like a cranker, you can barely make it through you week? I’m here to tell you, it’s nothing compared to being a photographer. Are you tired of someone dictating your time, your life for 40hr of each week? That’s nothing compared to how you’ll drive yourself, at least if you’re one of the successful ones. No matter how you look at the pros and cons, there are incredibly great pros and tremendously scary cons to sway you either way, to make the job or not. But here’s the thing I think, logic has nothing to do with your success or not! There are no numbers, no personal advice, nothing that can make it happen or not happen except one thing, and that’s inside of you.
The only true answer to whether you should or should not turn “pro” is locked up one place and one place only, in your heart. The same place where the great images are born is where the business succeeds. Successful photographers, those who make it past the seventh inning stretch are those with the passion to push through the hard times and relish the good times. Because I’m here to tell you from first hand experience, you experience plenty of both your entire career. But pushing is everything. Selling a lens to pay the bills, missing a shoot because you just don’t have gas money, that huge check for the use of just one image, that repeat contract bringing in a nice check every year, it all comes and so much more down the road at you. And in the good times and the bad, if you have the passion to be in the business, if you should even be in the business, is answered by what’s always in your hand. A camera!
I am a firm believer that if you want to succeed in wildlife photography, make a living from it, that even in these times you can do it! Where’s my proof? Ever open a magazine, seen some half assed exposed, fuzzy photograph and say to yourself, “I’ve got better.” There’s proof. Look at the guy who’s blog you’ve visited to read this. Totally self made and still in the making process and totally happy, rewarded. Is it for everyone? Not even! Is it easy? Hell no! To repeat myself, if you have a passion for making images, for being behind the camera, in thick or thin, better or worse, because it is a marriage between your vision and reality, then you too can succeed in this industry. I passed along this piece of wisdom I was presented as a great gift when I started out. “You’re only as good as your last photograph.” That means then You are your ONLY competition!