I practiced law for almost 20 years before becoming a full-time travel photographer, but I first got interested in photography as a hobby in the mid-90s.
I lived in Denver, Colorado, so I had plenty of opportunities to photograph world-class landscapes. I took the next step in 1999 when I began sending out my work to travel publications. I met with some success and started to sell some photos.
The money was very welcome, sure, but it also led me to believe that I could really do something with the hobby I loved. I started to develop a plan to become a full-time photographer when I retired from practicing law…maybe around the age of 65 or so.
In 2003, when I was still 45, my wife received a job offer she just couldn’t refuse—and it meant we would be moving to New Mexico. Unfortunately, New Mexico has no reciprocity with Colorado, meaning I would have to take a bar exam to practice in our new State. I had already passed two bar exams (in Minnesota, where I attended law school, and Colorado), so I decided to make the jump to full time photography way ahead of schedule.
Today, I’m a full-time photographer. Most of what I do is travel photography, which means I photograph a variety of subjects. While on the road, both near and far, I photograph travel-related subjects like architecture, food, landscapes, people, and events.
A Handy Income Stream
Once in a while I attend an art fair and sell fine art prints, but this is for fun and to meet people. I also take stock images, which I sell through stock photo agencies online. It’s another handy income stream. (If you’ve never heard of stock photography…and how lucrative it can be for beginners…get a full explanation here.)
Although I have spent my entire (eight years) photography career in New Mexico, right now I am looking at the possibility of living abroad. It will give me the chance to broaden my collection of stock images, which in turn will mean more money. Because all of my submissions are now done electronically, I could live anywhere with an Internet connection and still market my work.
There is definitely more money in law than photography, but I easily cover my expenses every year (and then some) while traveling. I’ve already been to places like Paris, France, Southern Spain, Morocco, Puerto Rico, and South America. My favorite, though, has to be Patagonia. The wild landscapes make for some breath-taking photographs, but that’s not all I love about it. I enjoy Patagonia’s simple, down-to-earth lifestyle, where people are soft spoken but direct, what you see is what you get, and there are no Starbucks (that I know of, anyway).
Because it’s something I love it hardly seems like work—but I still put in the hours. When I’m on the road I get up before the birds to photograph at first light. Once the light gets harsh I turn to photograph interiors (churches, hotels, indoor markets, and so on). During the middle of the day I spend some time in the hotel downloading and reviewing images, writing notes (which I can use for caption information later), cleaning my gear, answering emails, and taking a nap (especially in the summer when the days are long).
Late afternoon I head back out to photograph at last light, and stay through twilight to photograph when the skies turn cobalt blue. I miss a lot of regular meals and eat a lot of energy bars. Still, I get a lot of satisfaction from my work—especially when I pick up a magazine and see one of my pictures on the cover…
This winter I’m planning on heading up to Colorado for snow shoeing and photographing snow-covered landscapes. Early next year I’m heading to perhaps Puerto Rico or Holland to photograph tulips.
When I think back about my life before I took the plunge into full-time photography, I feel a certain relief knowing that I do not have to fight over little things to make a living. The job I have now isn’t for everyone, but my advice to those thinking about getting involved would be to practice photography for a while to make sure it is something you really are going to stick with before investing a lot of time and money on it. File a few submissions to travel publications and get some feedback.
Fortunately, there are no secrets to photographic success: combine persistence, patience, practice, and a little luck…and viola. Anyone who can combine these elements can have success as a photographer. The first step? Get out and shoot something.
Editor’s note: If you’d like to learn more about ways you can pay for your life or travels overseas, sign up for Fund Your Life Overseas, a free e-letter from International Living. Sign up here and we’ll send you a free report: Fund Your New Life Overseas With These 4 Portable Careers.