The Triumphs and Trials of an Entrepreneur Turned Photographer
In the Spring of 2005 I was a Sr. Student Program Advisor for the University of New Mexico in charge of covering Valencia County for our program.
One afternoon, I was standing in the conference room at the Youth Development, Inc. (YDI) offices in Los Lunas, NM, when I was asked by a visiting community partner how much I was going to charge her to shoot the upcoming Fame and Shame Awards - a red carpet gala for youth like the Academy Awards but instead of handing out Oscar's, they gave out "Shame-ies", a shameful award of sorts given to youth actor-imitators who cast tobacco use in a positive light. The Shame-ie was truly a yucky sight to behold: a popcorn box adorned with cigarette butts flowing like golden kernels from the top!
For a second I was sort of frozen without a word to say......nobody had ever offered to pay me to use my camera to do work for them. Before the pause got awkward, I coolly replied that I would have to check my Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to see how much I charged for 4.5 hours of event photography, even though one didn't exist. And just like that, I landed my first paid assignment! Eleven years later and with a couple of hundred of events under my belt, I have never forgotten how special and serendipitous it was to enter the world of "professional" photography quite that way.
Back in those days, I spent countless hours patrolling the Albuquerque West Mesa and the fence-line of the Petroglyph National Monument with my light duty but capable Nikon N80 35mm film camera, looking for anything artistic and compelling. What I found in the yet undeveloped mesa lands really inspired me to look for beauty in the desert - in the dried out river beds, in the contour lines of the mesa eclipsing the volcanoes in the background, and even animal remains that are now permanently part of my archive, proof that life crawled around searching for its way.
But somewhere between the 100-200th roll of film, people began looking at my work and thought that I was doing a pretty good job doing something and paid jobs began creeping their way into my life, lifestyle, and eventually even my DNA. Personal projects (which I still have dozens of folders basically untouched) slowly began being replaced with gigs and more gigs. At first and for quite some time it didn't really phase me as I was just appreciative to be doing something I loved AND was getting paid to do it - what an amazing thing! So the more that I was loving getting paid to do photography, the more my professional work as an advisor at the University of New Mexico began to suffer, virtual opposite mirrors of one another.
For about 4 years, I had just enough photography work to distract me from my day job but not enough to make the leap to doing it full-time. It was a painful reality when I knew I was destined for something else but struggling with the impatience of asking God to move his hand already. And although I couldn't have made the eventual decision without my wife's unwavering support, no amount of rationalization and prayer eased the anxiety. The pressure was mounting too because I felt that it was only a matter of time before I was going to buckle beneath the weight of both careers and I was going to be forced to choose.
Then in a weird twist of fate in the fall of 2011, the federal government's budget got held up in Congress and my program at the University of New Mexico was affected. We were actually given papers that said we were going to be laid off - even if it was temporary - until the President and Congress passed a budget bill, but I didn't see that. All I saw was, "Here's your chance buddy". I could now justify beginning anew to the University, to my spouse, to God, and yes, even myself.
Have their been enormous missteps along the way? Heck yeah! Misappropriating money, overestimating revenues, underestimating expenses, and generally just being CLUELESS!
Here are the "Top 10", in no particular order:
On the flip side, here are my Top 10 highlights from self-employment as a photographer since 2011:
For 2015, we are looking at augmenting our photography income through expansion into other market needs. A couple of these may include aerial photography via quad-copter or drones as well as the more likely possibility that we are going to adopt a purely wireless workflow which will allow us to give our clients real-time access to their images for promotion and social media usage. This will be especially useful for conferences, galas, weddings, and other areas of corporate work.
Blog updates on these topics will follow as they begin taking shape.