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How I Became a "Professional": Will All that Free Work Ever Pay Off?

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Thread started 22 Mar 2005 (Tuesday) 16:39   
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DwightMcCann
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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 websiteexternal link 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 websiteexternal link 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, websiteexternal link 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 daughterexternal link.

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. :)

Post #1, Mar 22, 2005 16:39:33


Dwight McCann
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Belmondo
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Interesting story, and very likely uplifting to some, especially our younger members.

On the other hand, if I have to wait 37 years before I achieve a measurable level of success, I will be exactly 100 years old. I sure hope they're making cameras a lot lighter then.

Congratulations.


Tom

Post #2, Mar 22, 2005 16:44:46


I'm not short. I'm concentrated awesome!

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DwightMcCann
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so, what are we talking about?
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Tom, I've had a lot of success, just not making money from photography, prior to this. Now it is quite likely that I will be flown back to Nashville to shoot some country singers/groups within the next year as well as shooting such groups as they "pass through", hopefully for pay ... although I'll do the first one for free, er, Pro Bono, just to keep my Karma properly aligned.

Post #3, Mar 22, 2005 18:19:56


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dewmuw
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Wow what a great story. Congratulations. Now if I wait 37 years for success I'll be 72 - but I'm hoping to be retired and living in the lap of luxury by then! :)

Post #4, Mar 23, 2005 09:39:25


Damian, 30D & G3 and stuff I've no idea how to use (so C&C always welcome)
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DwightMcCann
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Damian ... I have the same hope, that in 37 years I will be retired, finally, and living in the lap of luxury!

Post #5, Mar 23, 2005 11:32:52


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pradeep1
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You seem to be in the lap of luxury. Wife, healthy child, good job, paying hobby. :)

Post #6, Mar 25, 2005 10:42:19


Please view my portfolioexternal link.

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DwightMcCann
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Pradeep, I suppose so, but I guess luxury might be not needing the day job, eh? I am shooting Credence Clearwater Revisited at the casino tonight.

Post #7, Mar 25, 2005 19:13:51


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kawter2
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WOW your daughter is BEAUTIFULL!!!!


cool story too!

Post #8, Mar 25, 2005 19:23:17 as a reply to DwightMcCann's post 9 minutes earlier.



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liza
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Dwight,

You're living my dream! Loved your story. Thank you for sharing.

Post #9, Mar 25, 2005 22:46:17



Elizabeth
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DwightMcCann
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Kawter, thank you ... she is also an excellent model when she wants to be and absolutely refuses to model when she doesn't!

Liza, can't tell you how many times I was frustrated and bummed. And it is hard to keep in mind that often, if you give your stuff away for free it will be valued accordingly. You have to give it away to those who you believe will value it and just simply not to those who don't ... and telling the difference up front can be hard! :)

Post #10, Mar 26, 2005 09:24:19


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Fer
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Thanks for sharing... So do I have hope?... I wrote some images banks to start selling my images and no response yet :(

I'm really in love with photography and I'm still learning, even though I took some classes in college. So I just wish I could earn some money with it ;)

Any tips?

Post #11, Mar 26, 2005 09:54:20 as a reply to DwightMcCann's post 30 minutes earlier.


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DwightMcCann
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Fer, my images got better and better as I submitted them for critique on the net and then worked very hard to do all the things that were suggested ... and then took more lumps when I tried to take a shortcut or do it the easy way. And, of course, you have to shoot things people are willing to pay for ... so, yes, you have hope, but hoping isn't going to do much for you! And don't give up your day job.

Post #12, Mar 27, 2005 15:15:43


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NILOLIGIST
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Great story to share. Your daughter is beautiful.

Thank you for sharing.

Frederique

Post #13, Jan 12, 2006 22:05:34


Canon 1D Mark II, 24-70 f/2.8L, 17-40 f/4L, 70-200 f/2.8L. 580EX, 4 - Alien Bees, Gitzo Tripod, Bogen Monopod.

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Spphotos
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Nice story. But wow , 37 years to make money from it ? Im 15 and been doing Photography for about 2 years and im making a nice amount of money already.

Post #14, Jan 12, 2006 22:30:08


Check out my blog!external link
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DwightMcCann
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Frederique ... thank you ... I am blessed.

SP, I have gotten that response several times! :-) I'm not talking about $100 a week here ... I will gross about $25-30K from my photography side business in 2005 (I haven't gotten it entered into spreadsheets yet so I don't know exactly.) I already have a fulltime job that probably requires more time than your schoolwork, as well as a family and household duties. So, yes it was a long time. No, I'm not supporting myself with it. So, if you are supporting your family from your photography (which is very nice ... I looked at your website) then my hat is off to you, fifteen years old or not. If on the other hand you are living off your folks, didn't pay for all your own equipment from money earned from photography and don't have regularly consistent business that you can rely on, then I'm not sure what your point is! Don't mean to pick on you, but I could take your comment to mean, "Why did it take you so long, LOSER!" I didn't, and even if that's what you meant it really doesn't hurt my feelings, but you should understand that this is a big deal to me, and I would prefer that you understand that sometimes success is a long hard road ... and then I want you to be happy for me. :-)

Post #15, Jan 13, 2006 00:01:39


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