About 37 years ago my father died. I inherited his Nikon F and two lenses. After the war (in which I was a medic) I moved to San Francisco from the East Coast and took up photography as a hobby. I worked as a civilian for the Sixth U. S. Army Medical Lab at Fort Baker in Sausalito, California. While it was not part of my actual job as a histopathology technician, my boss needed someone who could process some medical photography ... actually just push processing some chromes. In return I was allowed full use of the darkroom, film (including unlimited supplies of 35mm film, developing chemicals, paper, a 4x5 camera and film ... the first of several miracles.) I shot thousands and thousands of frames ... actually had the Nikon F rebuilt twice.
... many years go by ...
First wife had dumped me and I was living with my girlfriend (now my wife) and a several years old Nikon FE and a couple of lenses. I shot occasionally. Girlfriend's cat knocks camera/lens from eight feet to floor from dresser thingie. Girlfriend offers to go havsies with me on new camera. Nikon N70 (fantastic film body for the money!) It has autofocus and several program modes and I go crazy shooting.
... several years go by and I am still shooting with that N70 ...
I start putting "scans" on a website for family and friends to see. I do a couple of Pro Bono (I lived with that phrase for way too long!) websites with photographs. Then my across the street neighbor buys a biker bar. They are nice so I offer to do a Pro Bono website for their bar. I start shooting the bands that come every weekend. I shoot twenty of them for the website. Then I find a band I like and I offer to do a Pro Bono website for that band. After a while, the head guy says I should really be shooting at another bar with better lighting, quality of people and bands. I start shooting bands, Pro Bono, at this better bar. This bar has started to bring in some pretty good country bands/performers (the kind that you see on CMT but not on NBC) and I start shooting them, Pro Bono, supplying the bar with webready images. I start putting the images on my own website because the bar people don't display my images very well. People start looking at them and liking them. The bar manager, who is also the local country radio station program director likes them. He starts a business and wants to use some of my images in a website ... but has no website! I offer to do an "interim", Pro Bono, website for him until he gets a professional website service ... this hasn't happened yet. More and more people see my images and like them. The bar manager/DJ gets work as a voice at the local Chumash Casino Resort. He tells the casino that they should have me shoot their entertainment. They have me come out and shoot three performances [Randy Travis, Dierks Bentley and Clay Walker ... coincidental that they are all country singers], Pro Bono. I have a quadruple coronary bypass. I get well enough to shoot again (it's now been a little over three months since surgery and I am doing GREAT!) and find that they want to hire me. And they want to pay me a fair per event fee. And they want to pay for the first three events. And can I shoot their poker tournament? And can I shoot their professional boxing matches? I am sure I died on the operating table and this is heaven.
I shot the first boxing match. We didn't know what I was allowed to do so I was standing in the aisle rather than at the mat. Tom Casino, the award winning Show Time boxing photographer found out I was shooting for the casino and pulled me into the seat next to him at the ring and chatted with me the whole time we were shooting. He said, "Get a Canon 1D Mark II and L lenses!" (REALLY) By the time of the next boxing card that's just what I had. And Tom made sure I had the place next to him and gave me one tip after another, reviewed my images and generally held my hand.
It appears that I will make $20-40K a year at this "part time hobby business". I am reinvesting all the money into the business as equipment ... see my signature for what I have already bought. I have a good "Day Job" so I don't need the money for the mortgage or my three year old daughter.
I just wanted to share this story for those who may wonder if all their free work could ever pay off for them: Yes, but I am 59 and other than a horrible six weddings shot 30 years ago I have never previously been paid for any photography, so you may have to wait a long time. But, miracles do happen. Or I really am dead.