Having just achieved that major milestone of 400 Podcast episodes, a lot of people have asked me to reflect on my journey and how I go to this point in my life. The end of a year is always a good time to reflect on what got us to where we are, so I thought this would be a good time to do this, as we set our sites firmly on the future.
Use this audio player if you’d prefer to listen:
There’s not a lot of photography related information for the first part of this, but I do want to give you a bit of information on my early years, because they were an important aspect in shaping who I am today. Although not totally relevant, I’ve been asked enough times to talk more about this, so here we go…
I was born obviously in England, in a small town called Long Eaton, between Nottingham and Derby. I spent a lot of time in the local park and countryside as a kid, getting filthy in the woods, and swimming in the canal etc. I left high school at 16, as we do in England, and this was in 1983, in the middle of Thatcher’s Britain.
Unemployment was at record highs, and there were strikes and riots happening all over the country. No-one that I can recall from School went to university. I myself was a terrible student. I was more interested in showing off in front of my friends than studying, but there seemed little point anyway, with no jobs waiting for us, and I hadn’t yet learned the worth of an education and making your own future.
My first job was a training scheme working as a mechanic, for which I earned a whopping £25 a week, which is about $40. This was for a 40 hour week, so about a dollar an hour. I moved on to a slightly better job fitting burglar alarms and after doing that for a while, I went self employed, on the advice of the owner of the company, with the promise of higher pay. It was a three man company. Two partners and me, and they split the partnership and I went to work for one of the partners.
It wasn’t until I went self-employed that I realized that this was just a way of letting me go without any severance. Pretty much as soon as I was no longer an employee, the contracts dried up, and I had to start thinking of my next job, and learned an important lesson in trust and business, although it wouldn’t be the last time I’d fall foul like this.
I didn’t resent the old boss at all. I didn’t want a hand-out. It was one man trying to feed his family, and although I should have been smarter, the lesson I learned was worth more than any pittance of severance pay that he could have offered. I’d probably not have taken it anyway, however entitled I might have been.
I learned a lot of things as a result of my own naivety, and my parents left me to make my own mistakes. I was still only 17, but I didn’t really talk with my parents about stuff like this. They had been divorced for a few years and although I still saw my Dad regularly, neither of them ever tried to steer me in any direction. Their philosophy was to let me make my own mistakes, and then I’d have no one to blame but myself when things went wrong.
I didn’t want a factory job, but with nothing else available, I took a job at the Leavers Lace factory where my Mum worked doing accounts. At least there was a chance of making a trade out of this job though. I quickly moved into a position where I would apprentice as a Leavers Lace engineer, or a Twist-hand, as they’re known. As I learned the trade my salary increased to a point where I was earning more than all of my friends.
At the end of the day though, it was still a factory job, and once you learned how to run the big old lace machines, it wasn’t very challenging. Despite being a terrible student at school, I found myself wanting to use my brain. I had started to look into going to classes to learn German, when I walked into the factory canteen one Monday morning and saw an ad in the local paper for a job in Japan, making lace.
Life Changing Move
I went for the interview, and within a week I landed in Tokyo, and was whisked off to Fukushima, where I worked doing the same job, making lace, on 100 year old Nottingham lace machines, for a further four years. Now though, I was in a position to learn Japanese, which I thought was pretty cool. I did the job, and in the evenings spent hours each day studying Japanese. I learned a lot of vocabulary and grammar in the first year, and then started to study reading and writing, taking another two years to learn all 2,000 or so daily use Kanji characters.
After almost four years though, the contract was not extended, and as the other five Englishman that I’d spent the last few years working with left for home, I moved to Sendai, and put my savings towards putting myself through college. Moving to Japan had changed my life. I finally understood the worth of studying.
College was great. I was finally able to give the old grey matter a workout. I spent a couple of years learning multimedia, including computer science, computer graphics and even Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. This gave me a great base, and having learned Japanese, and now having a good foundation in computer skills, I was snapped up by a new company being formed in Tokyo when I graduated.
It was at this point that I found out that I’d been lied to again. When I joined the college the guy that was recruiting foreign students, mainly Korean and Chinese students, had told me that I’d qualify for a visa to work in Japan when I graduated, but this wasn’t true. It was only a 2 year college course, and although if it had been a 2 year university course I would have qualified, college doesn’t mean zip in Japan, so I had to go back to England.
That didn’t turn out to be a bad thing though. I was able to renovate the old house that I’d bought when I was 19 and most importantly I was able to be with my Dad when he died of cancer. Within a few months of arriving back in England in April 1997 he was diagnosed with stomach cancer that had spread to his spine. He died six months later, but I spend his last night at the side of his hospital bed, which would never have happened if I’d still been in Japan.
I got a job supporting the Japanese translation team at an AS400 software company in Birmingham, which I did for two years, while almost daily refusing contracts for work in the London area. I’d signed up with a bunch of recruiting agencies when I first arrived back in England, and got calls literally almost daily. Continuing the education theme, I studied for and passed then six Microsoft exams to obtain an MSCE or Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer qualification, which I was really proud of at the time, and it was making me more enticing to various companies.
I didn’t want to move to London, and so had refused them all, until one day I received a call from a UK R&D center for a Florida company called Citrix Systems, and for some reason, the job just felt right. I went for the interview, got the job, and worked for them as a contractor for a year, but I was commuting and working four days each week from Monday to Thursday, staying in a bed and breakfast and then going home to Nottingham for the weekend.
Although I was enjoying the work, the commute started to become a bit tedious, so I was ready to start looking for work closer to home when the director called me into his office and asked me if I was interested in working in Tokyo on a new R&D team they were starting. I just asked where I needed to sign. I worked in the UK for a few more months as we sorted out my visa, and then returned to Japan, to Tokyo in August 2000.
The city was a lot different to Fukushima in the countryside, and even Sendai, which is the largest city in Tohoku, the north-eastern part of Japan, but I got used to it, and my wife and I settled down in an apartment in Meguro for the next ten years. I continued to enjoy the work, but during those ten years photography became an increasingly important part of my life.
Stepping back in time again now, I had my first exposure to photography on holidays with my friend Jim and his parents. Jim’s dad, also Jim (actually Robert, but we called him Jim), had an old Russian Zenit camera, and would sometimes allow me to look through the viewfinder and release the shutter as he photographed the landscapes in Cornwall. These memories were from holidays when I was 10 and 11, so back in 1978, 79.
I’d actually played with an old Polaroid years before, that my Dad brought home, but then promptly sold when he realized how expensive the film was. This recollection was way too faint to be able to claim that I’d been “into” photography since I was a kid though. After the occasional frame with my friend’s Dad’s Zenit, I bought a crappy 110 film camera when I was about 15, and enjoyed capturing holiday snaps with that too, but didn’t really start to seriously consider what I was doing photographically until I was in my early twenties.
I had started hiking in the Peak District in Derbyshire and took with me literally a plastic 35mm film camera with a plastic lens, but I really started to think about my subjects and framing from this time. For the next few years though, my successes were more happy accidents, but I was starting to develop my eye from around this time.
Shortly after this, I moved to Japan the first time in 1991, when I was 24, and the totally different culture and beautiful countryside of northern Japan screamed out to be photographed. I bought my first SLR camera in the first year in Fukushima, and started hiking in the nearby mountains.
My brother had given me a book on photography for Christmas, I think it was the Christmas that I came to Japan, and I went through that book with a fine-toothed comb while staying in the hotel that was my home for the first six months in Fukushima. I learned a lot of good basics, and also read that serious photographers used slide film, and having given FujiChrome Velvia a try early on I was hooked on the quality. I also found the necessity to get the exposure just right a stimulating challenge and this is probably why “ideal” exposure and exposing to the right has been such a large part of my photography to the present.
After I’d been in Japan for just over a year, in 1992 I made a trip to Mount Fuji and climbed through the night with two friends then froze our asses off as we waited for the sun to rise. When it did, there was a wave of warmth as welcomed as the beauty of that sunrise–both of which are still very fond memories. It’s hard to believe thinking back that this was almost 22 years ago now.
One Camera and Three Lenses for 10 Years!
Considering the pace at which we go through camera bodies and lenses as the resolution of digital increases, my second SLR camera that I bought back then, an EOS 1oo, was my only camera for 10 years. I owned three lenses too. A 24mm f/2.8 prime lens, and a 35-135mm and a 100-300mm zoom. The 24mm was a great lens for the price, but the two zooms were absolute crap. I was happy enough with them though, until digital showed me their flaws.
Probably one of my favorite photos from these early years is this one (below), shot an hour or so after sunrise, as we started our decent from the summit of Mount Fuji. I’d been learning composition and lighting and knew enough by this point to frame the shot in a pretty pleasing way, and I placed the sun behind the bar of the Torii, which is a Shinto Gate, to stop the flare and so was starting to understand techniques and think about how I made my images. I was obviously drawn to the shot by this western couple hugging as they enjoyed the sunrise.
I had a couple of dry years while attending the college in Sendai. Not only could I not afford to buy film or get it processed, I was working in a bar for a while, and then as an English Conversation teacher for the last 18 months of college to help pay my tuition fees. I was at college all day and at the school until after nine every night, and worked Saturdays too, and Sunday’s become my only day to do household chores and have a bit of a rest, so photography was forced to the back burner.
I took my camera back to England too, but was too busy working and trying to build a life to really do much photography during those three years as well. I bought my first digital camera, a Canon PowerShot S10, during a business trip to Florida just before I came back to Japan in 2000. That was a piece of crap too, but it was enough to get me started in digital, and got me thinking about buying my first Digital SLR, which was the incredibly expensive at the time, EOS D30.
This was only 3 megapixel camera, but it really pulled me back into photography with a vengeance. It was from this time that I started to make the effort to get up at ridiculous hours and drive through the night for a dawn shoot. I started to spend weekends out doing photography, and one of my earliest favorites with the D30 was this photo of Mount Fuji at dawn. By this time I was really appreciating how light effects the scene, and how adding an additional element like the fisherman in the boat to the left of this image, can really help to build their appeal.
The cameras started to change faster, with resolution doubling every few years, and with that the flaws in even the early L lenses started to show. I remember an early argument with my wife about buying new lenses. When I bought the D30, I thought that I would only need to replace the body, because I already had three lenses that had been fine for the previous 10 years to that point. I soon found that the quality just wasn’t up to scratch though, and started down the slippery L lens slope, and then as resolution increased, even had to start replacing them.
Luckily for me, I was in a good job, and was able to buy a few key items, and as the quality of my images increased, sharing images on the Internet started to become much easier and more accessible. Towards the end of 2003, I felt as though it was time to start and build a Web presence, so 10 years ago now, was when I registered and started to build Martin Bailey Photography, with the current domain name.
I built in the ability to sell prints, and started to make the occasional sale, which was incredibly confidence building. Then, almost two years after that, a friend from the UK sent me a short email that would change my life. He introduced me to Podcasts.
As soon as I heard Brooks Jensen’s LensWork Podcast and Chris Marquardt’s Tips From the Top Floor podcast, I knew that this was something that I needed to start. Before the end of the week I had built a back-end to register and maintain my Podcast entries in a database, and build a feed for iTunes, and a Podcasts page for people to download the media files directly.
I recorded Episode #1 The Pink Flamingo’s Stare and released it shortly before another business trip to Florida. The response blew me away. It was a time when Podcasts were new, and people were hungry for them. Most of all, I produced the third Photography related Podcast available, so people picked up on it quickly. There was still no way to see just how many people were downloading the episodes, but the amount of email of support that I received blew me away.
Honestly though, I can’t listen to that original episode. The audio quality and production make me cringe, but it was a start. It turned out to be not just the start of a new Podcast, but the start of my road to a more enriched and fulfilling photographic life. I won’t go into detail here, but in the Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH digital magazine, Issue #5, I wrote about The Mental Checklist.
Although my goal with the Podcast was to help others based on my own photography related experiences, I started to find myself running through a mental checklist as I worked, and started to prevent mistakes in my photography and improve my composition etc. just by thinking through each step, as though I was preparing to record the next episode of the Podcast. There’s a huge lesson to be learned here, as we can all do this, and this is what my article in PHOTOGRAPH was all about, so do grab a copy if you are interested in hearing more.
Never Stop Learning
It’s ironic though, that I thought I was a good enough photographer to try to help others when I started the Podcast in September 2005, but that same Podcast then went on to help me improve my photography. It also goes to show that we never “arrive” as such. I’m still learning every time I pick up my camera, or when I open a new book or ebook on photography.
I talked about some of my other major turning points in August (2013) in Episode #383, so again, I won’t go into too much detail, but things continued to grow, and I found myself doing our first Hokkaido Winter Wonderland Workshop at the end of January in 2008, almost two and a half years after starting the Podcast. I just about broke even if you don’t include all the gear I bought based on what I’d seen the participants bring along with them, but the money was not the important part of this first tour.
Starting is the Most Important Part
One of the most difficult things to do is to actually start something. People spend so much time dreaming of what they want to do, and often spend countless hours even planning how to make it happen, but then fail to take that final step, and actually start the wheels in motion. Needless to say, if you don’t start, you’ll never know if it would have been a success or a failure.
The worst part about that is that because you didn’t actually fail, you move on to the next idea with a faint feeling of success and satisfaction, but because you didn’t actually do anything, you don’t have the confidence to start the next project either. I think it’s vitally important to actually start something, and see how it flies. If it doesn’t fly, at least then you’ll learn what doesn’t work, and hopefully apply that experience to your next idea.
Apart from my tendency to over-trust people sometimes, another thing that I’ve learned over the last ten years is that people are much faster with their mouths than their wallets. When I first started to talk about that first Hokkaido Workshop, I had twelve people that had told me that they would definitely come if I did the planning and made it happen. Even though everyone knew when it was going to happen, I ran that tour with 5 participants.
The same thing happened when I planned the Pixels 2 Pigment workshops in 2012. Those workshops and the tour was a huge success in that I paid for a world tour and met some amazing people as well as getting to meet a lot of business associates and friends in person for the first time, but it cost me a couple of thousand dollars in the end.
Why? Because I didn’t have a booking page ready when I did my Webinar with Photoshelter and X-Rite. We had hundreds of people watching, and I knew that I had to have a registration button ready and actually get a deposit from people as we were live, but one of the venues did not get back to me in time for me to lock in on the schedule.
I knew this was a huge risk, but the dates of the Webinar were set, so we went ahead, and I asked people to sign up for a newsletter, if they were definitely ready to sign up for the tour once I was able to send them a registration link. The Webinar resulted in over a hundred registrations, and by the time we were able to lock in on the dates I had enough people signed up to make the tour relatively profitable.
Remember that each of these people had signed up on the understanding that I only wanted to hear from people that would definitely attend the workshop, but when I send out the final notification and request, only 20% of the list signed up. Of course, I totally appreciate those people coming on board, but 80% of the definite attendees didn’t come. Some of them even emailed terse replies that they could not even remember signing up for the newsletter.
This is how it is. If you want to make something happen, have a sign up button in place from the start. You might get less people actually signing up, but if you ask for money to force the commitment, you reduce the number of tire-kickers considerably.
The last thing that I want you do here though, is think that I’m complaining–far from it. I learned an important lesson early on, and then confirmed what I already knew with the Pixels 2 Pigment sign-up process. At the end of the day though, I am eternally grateful to those first five Hokkaido Workshop participants, and to every person that has joined my subsequent tours. Every person that joined the Pixels 2 Pigment workshops too.
Remember, that every person that attends something like this is trusting you with their hard earned money. Every one of you that is currently listening to or reading this Podcast, is giving me your precious time, and I’m incredibly humbled by the fact that you do that, and I’m always over the moon when I’m able to help or inspire people in any way.
In Japan they have a saying that kindness is not for the sake of the receiver. This is often misunderstood these days, as people think that it means you shouldn’t spoil people by being kind to them, but the original meaning is that being kind to others is for your own sake, not theirs. I’m a firm believer in this philosophy. It always feels good to help others, and although as a business we have to make money with some of our services and products, just the fact that I’m able to help so many people with their photographic lives is compensation enough.
Nothing More Expensive Than Free!
Another thing that I’ve not done often but have learned the hard way recently, is not to try to cut corners financially. Until about two years ago, I used to pay for a Vimeo Plus account, that gave me the ability to upload and display full 1080p HD video. This used to cost me just $49 a year. Then, Google Plus came along and shortly after the ability to record Hangouts on Air, which is basically live video streamed and recorded to YouTube. I’d never been a huge fan of YouTube, but decided make a go of it, and uploaded most of my videos there, after all, it’s free!
Almost immediately I started to copyright strikes against my The Moon video, a simple but quite beautiful bit of video footage of the moon traversing the frame of the camera over 5 minutes, which I set to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I bought a license for the music from UniqueTracks, and included the license information in the credits of the video as per instructions in the License document.
Unfortunately the robots that listen to the audio in videos don’t read the credits, and I was plagued by these claims from the word go. Although these claims were often dropped quite quickly, this problem came to a head at the beginning of December, when UMG refused to release their claim. At the risk of having to fight this case in a court of law, I countered the claim and caused a bit of a stir with an open letter to YouTube and Google about this issue.
Finally, on the morning of Dec 26 the claim was released, so I went to the video to delete to stop myself from getting another copyright strike, only to find that another robot had already tagged the video. The problem here is that if you have a copyright strike against your YouTube account, you can’t record Hangouts on Air, and I need to be able to do that, so I couldn’t delete the video while it had a strike against it or the strike would remain on my account.
Finally yesterday, I checked my YouTube account and found that this last claim had been released, so I deleted the video while I could. It’s a shame that Google’s business model for YouTube is based on slapping ads on videos that infringe copyright laws, and have no way of protecting honest content creators, but the reason I raise this today, is to make the point, as my wife often says, sometimes “nothing is as expensive as free”.
Although somewhat out of characters, I’d figured that it would be a good idea to save $49 a year by moving to YouTube. After all, every yen that comes into this household is now much harder to earn than it ever was. Ultimately though, if you calculate the amount of time I’ve spend fighting more than 10 copyright claims over the last few years, we’re probably talking well over $4,000 worth of my time, not to mention all the stress this has caused me.
I’m not usually that frugal a person, and I’ve never been afraid of investing a little money here and there to help with my business, but this time I screwed up. I’ve recently just paid $199 to Vimeo for their PRO account, and unless they let the copyright vultures in like YouTube, I’ll be happy to continue to pay this for the foreseeable future.
The Jump to Full Time
Anyway, moving on, so I started my workshops, and I started to attract the occasional sponsor for the Podcast, and print sales started to increase. I started to feel as though there was a possibility of going full time with my photography. Having lived in Japan for 10 years, I’d just taken Japanese citizenship, as I never wanted to have to worry about visas again.
Although I was mostly still happy in my old job, I started to feel confident that I was close enough to making a go of photography full time, if I could use all of my time to forward my business. Plus, I had my first Antarctica tour coming up, and I did not have enough paid leave left to do it after taking time off to run my Japan Winter Wonderland tours and a few photography assignments here and there. The time had come to cut the cord.
I handed in my notice and left my old job towards the end of 2010, and incorporated Martin Bailey Photography K.K. The K.K. is the Japanese Kabushiki Kaisha, more commonly spoken as Kabushikigaisha, which is the same as adding Inc. to the end of a western company name.
Work Hard and Make It Happen!
It’s not been easy, but with a lot of hard work, we’re now in the black, at the start of our fourth fiscal year. Writing for Craft & Vision has been incredibly enabling for me, and I’m eternally grateful to David duChemin and the Craft & Vision team for inviting me on board. It was of course the hard work that I’d put in to creating and putting out content, and proving that I could write and teach that contributed to this happening.
I’ve worked harder over the last three and a half years since making the jump than I have ever done in my life. But it’s been a labor of love. I can’t stress enough how unbelievably liberating it is to steer your own ship on the seas of business. One of the things that was starting to get frustrating in my old job, was not having the power to decide the direction of my team, even as a senior manager.
Now I decide what gets done and what doesn’t. I am of course the one that has to do that work too, but when it’s work you decide needs doing, you put your back into it and get it done, one task as a time. One of the biggest misconceptions that I had though, was that I’d have more time for photography once this was all I had to do. That just isn’t the case. I spent the whole of Christmas day this year preparing my accounts for a boxing day visit to my accountant.
Fortune Favors the Hard Worker
There is no doubt that a good part of my success so far, comes down to the kindness of people like David and the Craft & Vision team for giving me a chance to write for them, as well as people that have teamed up with me to make some of my international tours possible, and of course to every person that has attended my tours and workshops, or buys a print or product from us. Some people probably consider me lucky for having been presented with these opportunities, and I agree, but I’m a bit believer in the old adage, that fortune favors the hard worker.
Although I’ve ended up shooting less when I’m not actively on tours or workshops, my life is more photography centric than it’s ever been. I’ve just completed my third Craft & Vision ebook that should be released early next year, and I have a few new products in the pipeline that I’m confident will be a hit once I can get them completed.
I’ve stopped trying to get photography assignment work as such. I find the conversations with people that have no idea how to work with photographers or why photography costs money frustrating, and my business model has morphed to the point where it’s no longer necessary to do those assignments to help pay the rent. I teach and tour, and make photography primarily for myself, but that now makes it’s way into my Offset stock library, which has started to pay nicely.
Of course, I use my own images to illustrate not only my tour and workshop pages, but my Craft & Vision ebooks and magazine articles are illustrated with my own photography. Not only am I being paid for the articles and ebooks, because I’m not too shabby a photographer, people that read these articles are now booking on my tours, so it’s all starting to self-perpetuate.
Perseverance is Key
OK, so let’s start to wrap this up, with just a few more things I’d like to cover. Firstly, do remember that this is my journey, and not necessarily going to be the way you might transition into a full time photography career. I made my own opportunities or had the guts to act on opportunities that opened up to me. Your opportunities are going to be different, based on your own location and your specific circles of influence.
I’m a big believer in perseverance as a key to success. I’ve helped countless people to start their own Podcasts for example, all started with excitement and the best intentions, and few lasting more than four or five episodes. If you start a Podcast hoping to increase your audience as I did, make sure you have more than a few week’s of ideas on your list. Podcasting about something you are passionate about will help, because if it becomes a pain to do each week you won’t stick with it.
I mentioned earlier that it’s important to start, and it is. You’ll obviously not get to episode 5 if you don’t do episode 1, but if you stop at episode 5, you’ll be giving yourself a failure experience. Having the confidence to execute and act on your opportunities is vitally important. This is how we get the guts to start stuff.
Have the Courage to Fail Too
Having said that, it can often take even more courage to fail. We all make mistakes, and need to be strong enough to admit to ourselves and others when things don’t go according to plan. Learn from your mistakes. Figure out what you did wrong, then cut the cord and move on. It helps you to do this if you are able to develop multiple revenue streams, then when one doesn’t work out, it’s not going to take you down. If you rely on only one form of work, that reliance can be paralyzing.
My Journey, and I’m Just Getting Started
So, as I said, this is an outline of my journey so far. It’s infinitely more complex than I’ve been able to cover here, but I wanted to touch on some of the key points. This is my journey though, and I wanted to finish by saying that I’m just getting started. I’m just another guy with a camera, just like you, doing my best to make images that mean something to me, and can hopefully cause an emotional reaction in others.
The important thing to note here is that I’m not heading towards a final goal. To me the Journey is the goal. I want to be an eternal student, always striving to improve my craft, and to be a better person. I think the best photography comes from the heart, and we can only make our best photography when we understand what we love to photograph, and put ourselves in a position to make those photographs.
It can be hard to do that sometimes, especially when it might mean spending money to get to a specific location, but that is all part of the journey. You might remember that when I found out that I had that pesky brain tumor in 2011, the first time I cried was when I realized that I’d not yet been to Africa. Antarctica, Africa and Iceland where my three bucket list locations, and had been for many years.
Luckily for me, the tumor wasn’t malignant, and we were able to remove the majority of it with surgery and work on the rest with medication. I’m still taking the medication, and probably will be for life, but this enabled me to continue to work hard and create opportunities. I was only my way home from Antarctica when the tumor started to play up. Since then I’ve been to Antarctica a further three times, and this year I was fortunate enough to visit both Namibia and Iceland.
There’s that word again–Fortunate. We all have a finite number of days on this planet. At the end of 2013, I feel incredibly fortunate to be living my dream, and I hope that some of my experiences help in some small way to give you the courage to live yours.
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