Looking Ahead…I Think..Is There an Opportunity…….

I was recently chatting with some friends about career directions and a few thoughts came to mind :-)  I’m a consultant in the world of IT and have been in the IT space for a long time.  Consulting is a fairly new space for me, but over the next few years, I would like to head into a slower paced path.   We do have a comfortable lifestyle and would like to maintain that if possible, of course :-)  Anyway….

Maybe it’s just the way I think (I’m very business driven), but each time I try a new hobby, I look at it as a possible career path and whether or not some sort of future might be embedded in there somewhere.  I’ve done more than a few things and each time I hit some sort of a roadblock.  I started to look closer at this and here are a few things that I’ve come up with along these lines.  Don’t go away – this is a photo article 🙂

1.  Enough Money to Live on if I Make the Switch.

This is ties in another piece I’m going to chat about next.  This, to me, is the biggest unknown.  The big question is “If I do this, can I make a living at it”.  Of course, along with this, is also another underlying issue – “If this is a passion, will the money come with it? “  You know, when you look at all the hobbies I’ve tried and tested waters in, photography, is really the only avenue that I saw where I kept a constant interest.  I feel I’m pretty good for the things I do and I have done a fair number of paid gigs, but my first venture there wasn’t one that could give me anything near what it was going to take to make a living.  As a hobby, I made just enough to add to my photo gear, but a living?  Not a chance.  I sometimes wonder, if that saying about if you are passionate enough about something, the money will follow is really all that true.  Yes, there are a few out there who have been successful, but more than likely many have failed.  To me, passion is one thing – but cash is king 🙂

2.  That “Crossover Time”

To me, turning a hobby into a business or looking at it in that fashion, anyway, is a good way to test the waters. For most, I would imagine that a hobby starts out being exactly that.  A hobby.  Something that you do in your spare time that brings you enjoyment.  Some hobbies take a bit of time to develop skills, but there comes a point when you might get good enough or someone says something that twigs you to take a more serious look at the business side of  things.  Some make a decision right away to keep a hobby as a hobby.  Others do look at it harder and take a run at it.  Some are driven enough to take it all the way, some don’t.  When I went at it via free lancing, I also owned a camera store.  I also took photos because I love taking pictures.  I was missing the business knowledge.  Life in general happened and a passionate hobby had to go.  I had to chase a different rainbow. This was back in the 35mm days and now I’m in the digital space and looking at it again.  This time, yes, it’s still a hobby – as a business, I’m looking at it very methodically and with a different mindset.  I’m now 35 years or older with much more business knowledge and experience in other areas.  Money is less of an issue, but it’s still an issue.  However, it’s not what you think.  Time is a bigger issue.  Getting time is the issue.  Maybe, I’m simply not passionate enough yet, to drive it to the business level.

3.  Understanding the Market

In starting any business understanding the market is a very vital piece of knowledge that is a key to “making it”.  I’m still looking at this and still have a long way to go.  In the photography space, has this ever changed!!!  Back in the 35mm days, one had limited ways to get your name out there.  One had to not only be good, you had to literally “pound the streets” to get work.  Basically, that part of it still hasn’t changed.  The “street” though, to me is much bigger space – in today’s world, we now have the internet.  Didn’t have that back in day :-)  You also didn’t have the variety of gear out there that we have now.  Cameras are now literally everywhere and if anything, there are more photos than ever being taken.  That means one has to stand out more than ever if you are going to get work.  Advertising now means you need to know all the avenues for getting your name out there.  Is it going to happen overnight?  No likely.  Social media is out there and needs to be exploited as another means of getting your name out there. 

The bigger question here – what market niche are you going to known for?  I believe the technology term today is “branding”.  Like anything else, one needs to know what you want to get known for.  Over and above this – if you are going to establish yourself in this space, who else is also there.  Your competition in other words.  Another question – is there enough potential business there to make a living at it?  Just because you are good in one space, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to make you money.  In any business, it does take time but at the same time (no pun intended), you have to take the time to understand all facets of the business.  Understanding the market and understanding the “back end” or the business side too.  Taking photos for money is one thing – making it pay enough to pay the bills is a totally different story.

To me, there are two sides to the business side.  The first, is knowing all about the accounting side of things and the second is using technology to present yourself to the world.  The accounting side, if you’ve never done this, determines just how much money you make and also determines whether or not you can make a living from it.  It’s always a nice feeling to get paid for doing something, but you also need to get enough times to pay the bills. Make sense.  For many entering into this, I think this side of it is something that doesn’t always seem to be understood, it’s just something the creeps up, and then we find out we can’t sustain it.  Next thing you know – back to being a hobby and back to “regular work’.  To me – no such thing as a leap of faith.  When I got into real estate/revenue properties, everything, and I mean everything was planned out.  Except the recession.  Well – I knew the bubble would break and it did, but its also set me back 3 years now and I still don’t have enough capital to keep going.  I didn’t lose, but I’m not moving forward either. 

The other side, and this is something one misses, is that it’s not about taking the pictures.  When we see those pros out there, we look at them in awe and say “must be nice being able to spend time taking photos and getting paid for it” .  Have you asked a pro about this?  You should.  I have :-)  More than a few, in fact. They spend a surprisingly small amount of time actually taking photos.   When I was free lancing that was something that I also found.  I had to do a lot my own printing back then, and for a day’s shoot, there was always a lot of lab time processing photos.  And then there’s the accounting side of things.  We have to track income and expenses. With this also comes “being an entity” – a business name, business cards, letter head, etc.  There is tons of info out there on this. 

In today’s world, we have software which is our new “darkroom”.  As I advance more and more into this space, that’s one of the things I’m actually trying to avoid :-)  Back in the days of 35mm, one of the very key things I learned the hard way, was getting the shot right the first time.  In some ways, it was simpler.  You had a set film speed and just your shutter and aperture settings to deal with.  In Digital, we the ability to change the ISO on every shot if we need to.  Another variable to deal with.  Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom appear to be the norm.  BUT, this is something that has twigged me since I started to get serious about digital.  In reality, if you get that shot right, just much post processing do you really need to do anyway?

Certain niches, I could see – low light work like concerts, fashion shows, interior shots, certain types of landscapes.  But portrait work, especially studio, kid shots, etc.  I don’t see that being so necessary, per se.  You have a controlled situation.  In outdoor work – well maybe.  But still, if you are doing stuff right on the camera end, the final shot shouldn’t require that much work.  For me, most of my stuff at this point has been simple cropping.  Event shoots like fashion shows – HUGE post processing.  BUT there, I didn’t have the right lens – might have been able to reduce the post work.  Compared to last year – a lot less work though – I had better gear.  Which is the next piece.

4.  Equipment

I’ve left this to last as it’s a little subjective :-)  I personally took the long route when I jumped back in a few years ago.  Compared to when I first started in 35mm, I pretty well needed a DLSR back then.  I’ve read more than few articles about needing the DSLR technology when you start to hit serious amateur/semi-pro/pro level, and there is a HUGE advantage to having one in some respects.  Technology has brought image quality a long way.  When you look at cameras in general, it’s amazing the quality one can get out of even a pointy shooty.  I started with a Fuji X10, which was touted back then as being a camera that could easily be a back up camera to a DSLR, and it most definitely can, believe me. but when I looked at it, I saw it as a unit that gave me that wonderful combination of  manual, vs portability. 

It’s only been in the last year, where I started to look harder at the DLSR’s.  The route I took was an expensive one, comparatively speaking as I bought equipment progressively since the X10.  The X10 is a more advanced camera and I got it mostly to “dip my toe in” and find out about digital.  I then started to get other cameras to get a feel for functionality, exposure capability, etc.  I bought way too many travel cameras but don’t regret that move a bit.  One area that really enjoy is the world without flash – available light photography, and in that area, I have not only the X10, but the Panasonic LX7 and more recently, the Fuji XF1.  The XF1 is basically an X10 in a smaller package.  All 3 of these work great in low light, plus they are super portable.  I typically will take the XF1 and a travel camera in my daypack and when I’m out and about.

I had a chance to get a Nikon 1 J1 with two lenses at a phenomenal price and that got me into the world of interchangeable lenses.  I wanted to explore this as a “step up” for more serious work.  This resulted in me getting the Panasonic GX1 with two lenses a few months later.  The objective here, was to upscale image quality and get much more serious.  Both of these units have larger sensors and for certain shots, the image quality difference was astounding.  Was there a drawback to these?  Yes – battery power was the kicker.  Not so much the J1 as it really don’t use it that much, but the GX1, I used for event shoots.  I have a couple of batteries for this one (also for the J1 though), The flash on the GX1 is surprisingly good but certain event shoots required me to swap out batteries.  I did just enough of these and had chats w/pros at these events.  The one glaring fact about battery power – the DSLR’s had better capability.  Image quality?  No question it was as good and better than my GX1 and is Micro Four Thirds, but it’s not APS-C either.

To me, it was inevitable that I would ultimately get a DSLR anyway. The bigger question was which one.  Do I just jump in or simply get something entry level? 

In looking at this closer, my situation was a little different to most.  I already had a bunch of gear so this was going to more of an experiment to see just how serious I wanted to get.  I decided on the Nikon D3200 – this was one of the best and also the most current technology.  I could have got last years model and one step up for about the same price but decide against it.  DSLR’s introduce a new level of complexity with the extra controls, so I wanted to go slow and easy here.  Was this a good move?  For me, yes.  I used it for about 4 months with the kit lens (18-55 mm) to get a feel for what I could do.  I got the call to do the fashion show again, so I went out and got a flash (SB400) and it worked out great!!  I had the GX1 there as a back up and I did use it, but with the longer zoom and that’s when I got thinking about the bigger zoom.  Having one might not be such a dumb idea after all.  I didn’t get it immediately though.  I actually got a bigger flash first.  This is one area that I don’t do a lot in, but an area that I wanted to explore.  Right behind that, I had a chance to get a 50mm f1.8 for cheap.  Manual focus but with APS-C, that gave me an entry level portrait lens, another area that I do a lot in.  Another area I’ve been doing a lot in, has been plants.  I got the Micro Nikkor 40mm f2.8 lens and that opened a whole new world for me.  Just a few weeks ago, I got the bigger zoom.  A 55-200mm.  In playing with it a bit – I should have got this sooner.

Now the bigger question – is this enough?  Maybe, but my thoughts are toward another body as a minimum.  The other question – APS-C or full frame 35?  It will likely be something in APS-C – most likely the D7100.  That’s yet to come. 

5.  The Future

There are a lot of unknowns yet for me.  I definitely need to take more photos, to begin with.  Business side is taken care of for accounting.  Business entity?  Well, I still have to do some research here – actually a lot of research.  To find something that I”m going to enjoy AND make some cash at.  Everything I’ve done so far isn’t really going to make me a living per se, or at least not on the surface.  There are couple of things I’m experimenting with, and no I’m not going to say yet :-) 

The bottom line here. I think we all have these thoughts of doing something else full time and a few take the leap.  Many more take the leap and fail, but in reality, is it failing or just another lesson learned?  I’ve tried a lot of things in my time and decided against taking a full time run at it.  Did a fail?  I don’t think so – I learned something.  Along the way, I learned enough to be more analytical about something that I want to do.  I experimented and played.   In a lot of different things.  Even in the world of home renovation, I’ve gotten pretty independent and been able to manage a lot of own maintenance.  I’m not hoping in photography, I’m in a very serious planning mode.  Each lesson in “something” can be advantageous in another area.



About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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