I practiced law for almost 20 years. I always had an interest in photography and had been published a few times, but I never thought it could be my main source of income. I thought it might be something I could do once I had retired.
Then in 2003 my wife received a job offer she could not refuse from a company in New Mexico, and we decided to leave our home in Colorado and head south.
As luck would have it, New Mexico doesn’t have what lawyers call “reciprocity” with Colorado, meaning I would have had to take the New Mexico bar exam to be able to practice law. I had already passed the bar in Minnesota and Colorado, and after so many years of practicing law, I wasn’t exactly excited about going through it a third time.
It looked like a major inconvenience. I decided to turn it into an opportunity.
Retirement was still a long way off—I was 45-years-old—but I decided to jump into photography right then and there.
There’s not a whole lot of overlap between trying cases and taking pictures, but many of the skills I developed as a lawyer, like communicating effectively, acting professionally, and analyzing and solving problems, proved invaluable in my new career.
For example, the first and biggest problem I faced in New Mexico was having exactly zero pictures of the state. So, I decided to approach the problem systematically—as I would a case.
I divided the state into six zones (Northwest, Northeast, Central, and so on). Then, during my first year, I photographed iconic images of churches, events, landscapes, food, etc. in each zone. At the same time, I began approaching publications like New Mexico Magazine and the New Mexico State Vacation Guide about the work I was developing.
I wound up with images of the entire state. Then, my pictures started appearing in local publications all over the state—several times over. I even started being offered photo assignments.
I had enough images for a book—so I submitted a proposal to a publisher from New York. It was accepted within a week. My first book, The Photographer’s Guide to New Mexico, was published soon afterward.
Even though I wasn’t an experienced photographer, using the skills I did have helped me tremendously in becoming successful in my new line of work. But although I learned from my time as lawyer, I’m glad I left it behind. Dealing with legal argument…sitting through interminable committee meetings—this stuff kills your soul.
Travel photography on the other hand, frees me to learn about, explore and photograph whatever location I choose. I meet interesting people, I’m my own boss and I can make money in lots of different ways (selling pictures, writing books and articles, making presentations, or leading workshops).
You have to be persistent and stay focused, but these are skills you probably already have.
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