Stephen F. Dennstedt
Even today many amateur photographers aspire to a professional career. Maybe you’re one of those amateurs who would like to shoot professionally. Yes—it can still be done even though the marketplace has changed a lot.
In the “Olden Days” the path to professional success usually involved editorial print media like newspapers, magazines, wire services and advertising agencies or freelance work like weddings, events and studio work.
Editorial outlets were great training opportunities for aspiring photographers because they were quasi-Apprenticeship programs: Apprentice, Journeyman and Master. At the other end of the professional spectrum was the independent go-it-alone photographer. In the first case the photographer worked for an established business and in the second case the photographer was the business. Working for an established entity provided a safety net of sorts where working alone was basically working net free. My dream was to open a studio and become a professional Nature photographer: Wildlife and Landscapes.
Orange-winged Amazon Parrot – Northern Amazon River Basin, Ecuador
I should say fantasy because even then it was hard to pay the bills with Nature photography. Only the best of the best could pull it off successfully—but my dream (fantasy) persisted. However things change—in 2011 my professional banking career ended abruptly as did my twenty-five year marriage. For all intents and purposes I was free to pursue my dream and I did. I left the USA in early 2012 and moved to Yucatán, Mexico where I landed the job of Staff Photographer at The Yucatán Times an online news publication. TYT founders Raul and Sylvia Ponce De Leon gave me my first break despite my nonexistent Spanish.
Male Chimango Caracara – El Calafate (Southern Patagonia) Argentina
Later I became fast friends with its current owner José “Pipo” Urioste and his family and though I no longer live in Yucatán, Mexico I still have my TYT Press Credentials and we stay good friends to this day. While working for TYT I became involved with the Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve and Puuc Jaguar Conservation eventually becoming their unofficial “Official” photographer (it’s a long story). I was also selling my photographic work through SoHo Galleries in Mérida, Yucatán and independently at Cafe La Boheme (now Cafe Pistache). I was definitely living the dream (fantasy) so yes it can still be done.
Female Cinereous Harrier – El Calafate (Southern Patagonia) Argentina
This all took place between the years of early 2012 and late 2014—I was living abroad as a full-time American expat, professional photographer and writer. I was shooting and writing for a newspaper and two nonprofit organizations and selling my photographic prints through a brick & mortar gallery, a local cafe and through my online store at Indochine Photography. I proved to myself that I could run with the big dogs and be professionally and financially successful—and I finally put to rest my ex-wife’s chiding that it was only a hobby. Never mock a Creative’s art form because it will ultimately kill their soul. But there is more—
Clifden Castle Ruins – Clifden (County Galway) Ireland
When I left the USA in 2012 to start my new life the original plan called for traveling the world full-time but I got bogged down in Mérida for 2½ years with work—for make no mistake about it doing photography for a living is work. Hard work. I left the USA stone cold broke but my new lifestyle (live simple, live cheap, live free) coupled with my photography and writing got me back on a sound financial footing in relatively short-order. I left Mérida in 2014 to pursue my world travels but stayed active with my photography and writing—I became a freelance photographer with the Boston Globe and wrote articles for Northrup Photography.
San Juan Chamula – Chipas, Mexico
I will soon begin my eighth year of traveling the world full-time with my brother and best friend Joel (a published novelist). We call ourselves the Muppet Brothers (Statler & Waldorf) for obvious reasons: we’re old, grumpy and outspoken. I no longer have to support myself with my art and now take my pictures and write my articles strictly for fun—it takes a lot of the pressure off (though I do accept the occasional commercial assignment and still sell the odd print or two). I’ve proved to myself, my ex-wife and the other naysayers that I could be successful while following my dreams. You can too and that’s my message to you.
Perito Moreno Glacier – Southern Patagonia, Argentina
Don’t let others dissuade you from your dreams and following your heart. But don’t be stupid about it either—the reality is usually different from the fantasy. Often much different. It’s not easy to make a living as a Creative but then it never has been. I’ve been blessed with a certain amount of innate artistic talent which I enhanced with years of learning (I’ve snapped shutters for almost 65 years—I started when I was 7 years old). I was also in the corporate meat grinder for almost 50 years, the last 30 as a banking professional (Branch Vice President) with the largest bank in the USA. My success wasn’t automatic.
Señor Cigar – Trinidad, Cuba
A successful Creative must have both aesthetic talent and business acumen. Many artists go broke because they don’t understand fundamental business skills (sales, marketing and accounting) and many business savvy Creatives go broke because they lack sufficient artistic talent. It takes both. Also, if you’re a freelance Creative understand that 80% of your time will be developing and maintaining your business and only 20% of your time will go towards creating product. That is the reality. Almost eight years in and I have reversed that formula—I now spend 80% creating and only 20% on business development.
Old Gypsy Woman – Sighișoara, Romania
To have that kind of creative freedom requires financial independence—money. I have various revenue streams including: USA Social Security, three modest bank pensions and of course my photography and writing income. My lifestyle allows me to save upwards of 66% to 80% of my monthly income on average depending on where I am in the world. Having lived abroad for almost eight years (simple, cheap and free) I have a robust 5-digit (soon to be 6-digit) savings account that will last me the rest of my life with care. I could not have done this in the USA. Following a dream is important but so is reality. Be smart.
Juan Pablo – Antigua, Guatemala
Joel and I invite you to follow our adventure as it continues. Like I mentioned earlier we’re old (I’m almost 72 and Joel is 69) but we ain’t dead (yet). We each have a website—me at Indochine Photography and Joel at Joel.R.Dennstedt – Author. We also have Facebook pages, both personal and professional. We talk about photography, writing and especially travel (and include the occasional grumpy “Old Man” rant) so if you’re interested give the Muppet Brothers a look-see. Also, visit the highlighted and underlined links I’ve included in this post for further information. Until we meet again—adios amigos.