Photography as a retirement vocation.

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by jonk, May 20, 2007.

  1. I'm reaching the age where planning a stimulating retirement is important.
    Photography as a retirement vocation/art practice (as opposed to hobby) appeals
    to me. Besides taking pictures, I'm reading extensively in composition,
    photographic biographies, web sites, etc. There is no intent to use this
    activity for retirement income.

    Does anyone have a related experience? What have you done to keep the
    creativity and interest alive over the long term? How much external support is
  2. Jon, the first thing to ask yourself is whether you have the personality/perseverance to promote your services and images. If so, expect to spend most of your total energies on the business side of this vocation. Conversely, if due to your nature, or the desire for retirement to be more about creativity, than stressing about making sales, then you need to lineup someone to charge of that end of things. If you have a business relationship with gallery(s), stock agency, publishers, artist representative or the like, you might find their commissions a bargain.

    Next consider a professional organization or special interest group that is in-tune with your photographic pursuits, and then take full advantage of all their offerings. Forums, contests, seminars, annual symposiums, etc. etc. A quick look at your photos posted here at PN suggests an interest in travel or cultural images. Off the top I can?t think of travel ORG/SIG, but they must be out there. A parallel example would be, for nature or landscape photographers, the North American Nature Photography (NANPA). See:

    Finally consider attending Pro/Career Workshops or Training Camps. Not only about learning or refining photographic skills, but making new friends and learning from other kindred spirits. Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP) is just one example:

    Good Luck and Never Give Up!
  3. So much of what I've learned has come from the quotes of some of the greats:
    "...To be a photographer, one must photograph. No amount of book learning, no checklist of seminars attended, can substitute for the simple act of making pictures. Experience is the best teacher of all. And for that, there are no guarantees that one will become an artist. Only the journey matters..." Harry Callahan
  4. Here's a somewhat related experience...I'm retired, a full time care giver, and living on Social Security. Prior to my wife's diagnosis, my primary activities other than work were hiking, archaeology, museum volunteer, and exploring (New Mexico). In a short while, all that went by the boards. Now living in Maine, I've turned to photography as an activity that can be done locally, and at just about any time of any day (translated: whenever I have a free block of time). Long story/ short: photography has become a passion. I see the world differently--the patterns, the light and tones, the beautiful, the absurd, etc. I used to look straight ahead, but now it's left right, up and down, constantly alert for a likely subject. If I miss an opportunity, I go back another day. A camera is always in the car, and often by my side as I walk. I have a list of subjects I photographed last winter but with unacceptable outcomes, so I'll be back next winter (how's that for passion and dedication--looking forward a full year). In a few years I've traveled from SLR to rangefinder to TLR to SLR medium format, and from color to almost exclusively black and white. I have no formal training, so I quickly found and joined a camera club, which is only a partially satisfying experience, so I'm pretty much on my own, subscribing to a couple of good photography magazines, searching the net for information and tutorials, etc. And it can be expensive (subjective, of course), though I swear if it's a choice between film or food, Ilford FP4 wins every time. The result? money earned (not my aim), but two of my photos were accepted for juried shows, and in June my local library is hosting a solo exhibit. Not bad, not bad at all. As for maintaining interest, I must admit it wanes every once in a while, but then a great magazine comes in, and I look at all the wonderful works, and I am re inspired. Sometimes, even one good frame on a roll will send me off on a quest. Well, Jon, I suppose I could write on and on, but I'm getting weak--I haven't eaten in days.
  5. Vincent, my experience almost eerily parallels your own, except for living in Massachusetts. There is, however, one difference that you might find helpful: as a result of having my work seen in local shows and galleries, I've managed to generate enough sales to pay for at least some of the film. In addition, I've been using my large flatbed scanner to do giclee prints of artwork for fellow members of our local art guild. That helps to pay for some of the paper.

    Starting with 35mm and MF, I've expanded to LF and P&S digital, finding the latter a lot of fun at minimal expense.

    As you've found, it's important to maintain momentum through finding fresh approaches, new subjects and the stimulation of being exposed to what others are doing in the field. And, as was observed by Callahan, make as many pictures as possible -- after you've eaten!
  6. After I retired, I walked into my front yard and noticed that the oak tree had variegated leaves. For twelve years I had walked past that oak and never noticed.

    I asked "what if I took 1 hour to cut the grass instead of hurrying to get it done in 1/2 hour because I might have something more important to do." Cutting the grass is a more pleasant experience now.

    I notice that the birds have intricate feathers. They eat grubs from my lawn. Flowers bloom, seasons change. I never noticed life around me until now.

    For me photography is not about regimenting my life further, but rather taking the time to notice. If I need to learn a certain technique to I'll do what it takes. e.g. read a book ask people join a club. But I don't plan it.
  7. Wow, at last a question I have really direct experience. "Huh?", you ask. Ok, I've been a
    part-time photographer since 1969 and about ten years ago decided to become more
    serious with my photography. In 2004 I looked into an early retirement to pursue
    photography near-fulltime in retirement.

    Well, I retired in December 2005 after taking a retirment workshop to get the financial
    aspects sorted out, and after talking with a number of professional photographers, from
    the long-experienced ones to the recently starting ones. My goal was to get a small,
    personal photography business going, and the questions were the focus and timelines
    which were reasonable to expect.

    Since then I have added the computer system to do almost of my photography in house,
    only film processing the exception, and two new camera systems, a digital system and a
    4x5 system. It's been and will be the best thing I could do even if I never attain the success
    others do, because it's about what I love to do (photography) and learn to do (produce
    images). My advice is be realistic.

    It's easy to underestimate the work and time. I decided to take 2-3 years to get things
    going, and another 2-3 years to begin producing marketable images. After that I have
    several projects started to work on which could have potential for photo essay articles/
    books, Website work for photographers, and just longterm personal interest.

    Sorry for the lengthy response, but it's something I'm working on and even added blogs on
    my Website about my personal experience, thoughts and ideas in photography. Nothing
    fancy, mostly just observations and thinking out loud. It's help sort out the learning and
    growing. And the latter is what I'm really learning, to look and see better and capture
    more and different images.

    I haven't yet gone to workshops, mostly because I'm self-taught (stupidity, mistakes and
    all), and look at a lot of work and words by other photographers to see the variety of
    photography. Mostly I learn by taking one or more of the system 2-3 days per week to
    locations or on trips specifically for photography or photograph as I go.

    I also have several projects and learning exercises I work on routinely to keep the
    photography focused on different aspects of it. To help my focus I created an "office"
    specifically for my photography, where it reinforces what I've learned and with my goal and
    plans. If you want to make it a part of your life in retirement, make it important to know
    it's always there. In short, create a niche for it mentally and physically.

    I've said far too much, because I can't say enough it's something you can do the rest of
    your life. It's just the matter of importance to you to continue to look and see as a
    photographer to produce your work.
  8. Click of my name and read my biography. Been there, done that.
  9. Just to be provocative, is there a moral dilemna posed by retirees on pensions/retirement
    funds (that is, folks who don't rely on income from photography) entering markets where
    full-time professionals (who are supporting families, saving for college, paying a
    mortgage, planning for their own retirements, etc.) may already be struggling to survive
    against the existing competition? Dick Arnold mentions in his Pnet bio that he entered and
    competed well in his local wedding photography market in part by underpricing the
    competition. Most full-time photographers don't value their time or their work highly
    enough as it is, so I find this rather disturbing.
  10. And on the other side, there are the youngsters trying to break into the market.
  11. Had I been twenty I would have competed the same way. You have to price to be competitive in any market. I worked hard at that business and the quality of my work showed it. My business grew because I had happy customers and they told their friends. I never had to open a web site to get business. The American way is to compete. If you are better than me you will do more business than I do. It is this kind of competition that drives our economy. I got in the business by accident but I found a need and filled it. I busted my butt for years raising a family in the Air Force so don't tell me about those hardships. This is a free society. The fittest survive and those who don't find other work. At least I am willing to share my biography in hopes that it might inspire others to try a new profession. I encourage people to step up and try their first wedding. Believe me if you are basically qualified, have a pleasant personality and decent equipment you can find a place. I wouldn't worry about competition from some old man. Being old was a distinct marketing adavantage. The mothers didn't bully me and they trusted me which helped me sell weddings.
  12. To Jon Wilbrecht. Go take some pictures. I learned by taking literally thousands of pictures for a newspaper and in my business. I am still learning. Although I closed my business I am deep into digital. You can see some of my non human work in my gallery. I am still taking a lot of pictures and have bought new equipment recently. Second generation digital. I just fill the frame and take a lot of pictures. Once in a while I get something I can show. I used to fly airplanes for a living and what I learned there holds true with photography. You get better by doing it not by talking about it. I have been retired for ten years and have not lost interest. What keeps me going is every once in a while I get a picture I really like and take great satisfaction in turning it into a large print that I can show.
  13. Hi Dick, I didn't mean to single you out, but the point is that a full-time mid-career
    photographer has one set of financial realities, and a retiree entering the market part-time
    may have another. If one set of people is relying on their business for their entire
    livelihood, and the other is doing it to keep themselves active and perhaps make some
    extra cash, then this has an influence on the market.

    The issue of undercutting on price to gain a competitive edge is a serious one throughout
    the industry, in all sorts of specialities. Photographers tend to have a lot of overhead, and
    a slim margin - very few are getting rich. This is because they don't value their work
    enough in the first place, and the undercutters generally do so because they think they
    have to in order to get into their target market, but they typically don't have an
    understanding of their cost of doing business or a real business plan. In other words, they
    undercut to get business without realizing that they will loose money over the long term.
    Again, I'm not saying that this was your experience, Dick, but it is very common and is
    likely to occur in the case of retiring amateur photographers going semi-pro.
  14. Justin, one of the reasons I got weddings was that my competition was so overloaded they couldn't deliver proofs within a reasonable time period. By dint of hard work I delivered proofs and one complimentary enlargement that I did in my darkroom within two weeks and usually within a week. I kept overhead to a minimum by doing my own bookkeepiing and driving myself nuts sorting proofs. If I had two weddings on a weekend I had a lot of work the next week. I also was taking pictures for the local paper, doing PR pictures and parties etc... So I was working, in season, harder than I wanted to for what money I made. However, I closed my business on the plus side and took money out. Having done it I understand your point but business life is not fair. It is what the market will allow. There is a natural competitive selection in a free market that weeds out excess capacity in any endeavor. I actually was turning away business before I disbanded the business. I did strictly film and I understood the medium very well. I had my own studio and darkroom. I started with some investment that I had to recover. My age or family status is not germaine to this discussion. Monte Zucker whom I took a course from once, competed and did weddings until he died. I would conjecture, because he was so successful, he did not need the money in later years. There is a self realization aspect to work that transcends money for a lot of people. I took great satisfaction in my little business and I think I did it well. Things, however, have changed since I closed the business in 2003. I think there is a large influx of less than qualifid beginners who think they can do weddings with their new digital cameras. I cringe when I see the results of some of these efforts. You are correct there is a fine line between success and failure. I don't think geriatric forces move that line much one way or the other and I sincerely believe that a free market as a whole determines success or failure. In my mind it is not an ethical issue. One of the advantages of being old and looking back is remembering how many times I recovered from adversity. I also learned that the only force I can control is my own effort. These new digital entrepreneurs have a right to fail even if they are a negative competitive force. It's a jungle out there. It will shake itself out. I hope you are successful.
  15. jtk


    What is retirement?
  16. "Just to be provocative, is there a moral dilemna posed by retirees on pensions/retirement funds (that is, folks who don't rely on income from photography) entering markets where full-time professionals (who are supporting families, saving for college, paying a mortgage, planning for their own retirements, etc.) may already be struggling to survive against the existing competition?"

    I don't see a moral dilemna. Regardless of the field, if I cannot provide superior service or a better product at a fair market price, I shouldn't be in that particular line of business.

    Walmart, JC Penney, and Sears all provide portrait sessions and prints far cheaper than I wish to. It would be business suicide for me to try to compete with them on price. So I don't. Does that make their businesses morally wrong? I don't believe so.

  17. jtk


    You might want to look into the prices that are considered ethical by your local professional photographer's association.
  18. Jon:
    Do what makes you happy. Some of the best photographer I personally know are not pros. Hey, my 85 yo mom takes art classes and paints all the time entering and sometimes winning local art shows. She has sold a fair amount of original acrylic work for a nice price after exhibiting in local restaurants. My suggestion to you is to have fun with photography!
  19. Justin:
    "Just to be provocative, is there a moral dilemna posed by retirees on pensions/retirement funds (that is, folks who don't rely on income from photography) entering markets where full-time professionals ..."

    What a load of crap. If you can not take the competition, you do not have the right stuff to be a pro.

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