Landscape Photography and Passion Based Business (Podcast 411)

Landscape Photography and Passion Based Business (Podcast 411)

To celebrate the release of my new Craft & Vision eBook Striking Landscapes, today I sat down with my friend David duChemin, to talk about landscape photography, and as I thought might be the case, we went on to discuss running a business based on your passion for the work. We also touched on shooting with mirror-less cameras, avoiding going on location with unnecessary preconceptions, and developing a style along the way.

This was a totally ad-lib conversation, so there is no manuscript for this episode.

You can catch up with David at or check out David’s incredible Craft & Vision video Podcast at too.

Visit the Craft & Vision web site to pick up your copy of my new eBook Striking Landscapes.

Here’s a copy of my blog announcement…

Striking Landscapes Now on Sale!

I’m thrilled and proud to announce that my third Craft & Vision eBook Striking Landscapes has just been released!

I’ve poured just about everything I know about landscape photography into this book, and with the Craft & Vision team’s usual design/layout flair, it’s shaped up to be a beautiful 80 page photography resource.

Here’s what the folks at Craft & Vision say about Striking Landscapes…

This technically-rich PDF eBook is full of the techniques every photographer should consider honing when looking to make photographs they’re proud of. Martin Bailey shares his insights on both the foundational and the more advanced skills necessary to create great landscape photography.

Striking Landscapes – Techniques for Photographers in Beautiful Places – is packed with the kind of nitty gritty technical detail that we’re proud to publish. Readers will learn about the essential techniques, skills, and gear required. This eBook is 80 pages deep and it’s as beautiful as it is helpful.

Save Until March 17

Craft & Vision are renowned for bringing us incredible photography education at no-brainer prices, but you can save a further $1.50 and pick up your copy for just CAD $6.50 if you buy before March 17 at 11:59 PM (PST) using the discount code STRIKING6.

Here are a few sample pages…













Show Notes

Get my new eBook Striking Landscapes here:

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My Journey – Just Getting Started (Podcast 402)

My Journey – Just Getting Started (Podcast 402)

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.

Lessons Learned

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 Cocoon Building

The Cocoon Building

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.

The Photography

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.

Mount Fuji Torii Hug

Mount Fuji Torii Hug

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.

Mount Fuji at Dawn

Mount Fuji at Dawn

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.

The Pink Flamingo's Stare

The Pink Flamingo’s Stare

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.

Manhattan Skyline

Manhattan Skyline

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.

Force Commitment

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.

No Complaints

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.

Martin in Landmannalaugur

Martin in Landmannalaugur

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.

Show Notes

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Jack of All Trades, Master of Some (Podcast 396)

Jack of All Trades, Master of Some (Podcast 396)

I touched on this in another Podcast episode a few months ago, but today I wanted to take a little more time to reflect on how I’m finding it necessary to be a bit of a Jack of All Trades! Of course, to succeed, we need to master (or at least strive to master) some areas of our work, but more and more I’m feeling like we need a very wide range of skills to succeed today. This topic also feeds nicely into a discussion on the sustainability of doing work that you love, so let’s jump into this.

It’s been a bit of a crazy six months for me. My Iceland tour turned out to be a wonderful photography break in the middle of a very technical period that kept me way too busy, and fighting for time to work on other things that are more important, but all relied on me completing the ground work I was doing, so it’s been a bit of a viscous circle.

At the start of the summer I made a conscious decision to update my Web site, and bring all of the various domains I’ve created over the years into one place. I’m not quite there yet, but most of the ground work is now done, and it’s just a case of making time now to do the final changes in the coming weeks.

Invest Time to Save Time

There are a few reasons for the changes, but the biggest reasons are that I needed to reduce the time necessary to maintain my sites, and I also needed to implement a solid eCommerce back-end in my main site. Not having this was one of the reasons I had multiple sites, so both issues needed to be solved before I could move forward.

It’s ironic that I’ve spent a so much time each week for the last six months doing web site related work, so that I don’t have to spend so much time doing web related work, but sometimes we have to invest time initially to save more time later. I’ll go into a little detail on what I’ve been doing because I know some of you are interested in this stuff, and then we’ll move on to my general thinking about all of this.

Generally, I quite enjoy working with Web related technologies, and so over the years, have not found it difficult to invest time in setting up various Web sites for various reasons. The problem with doing this though, is that they all need to be maintained. A lot of the stuff I pieced together had to be heavily customized to meet my requirements, and this means that whenever an update for a base component came out, I had to spend multiple days migrating all of my customizations over to the new version. Sometimes I’d fall behind, and I’d just finish this work and another update would be released, and I’d have to do it all again!

The more sites you build of course, the worse this problem becomes. Trying to overcome this, a few years ago I started using WordPress and themes that I bought to create the Web sites, because WordPress is well maintained, and with the aid of the community of developers that create various plugins for it, WordPress can be customized quite a lot without the need to jump into the code.

One of the most frustrating things that I found with WordPress is that some of the coolest themes were not created to conform to WordPress standards, and I ended up jumping back in and having to customize the hell out of them to achieve what I wanted. I tried to avoid this when I bought the current theme called Rhapsody, which I switched to just before I left for Namibia in May.

The creators of the theme seemed pretty professional and have a great line-up of themes, but a component of the theme broke with the release of WordPress 3.6, and I’ve been waiting for an update for more than three months now. I actually figured out that the incompatibility was with a plugin that they bundled with the theme, so I bought a new copy of that plugin from the original developers and so I was able to update WordPress anyway, but it’s annoying that ignitethemes can’t get their acts together and release timely updates.

Of course, this leads to two issues that I’d like to quickly mention before we move on, but firstly, as you see, you can end up relying on third parties that are often not fully invested in their products, which can be frustrating, so looking for a professional theme that is well supported is an important step that I thought I’d cracked, but it turns out I haven’t.

The other part of this is that as you customize a WordPress based Web site, you can come across all kinds of incompatibilities and third party issues that most of the people developing WordPress plugins or extension have no control over. This is another reason that I’ve had so many problems this summer.

WooCommerce is the Bees Knees (Mostly!)

I decided to go with an eCommerce back-end called WooCommerce, developed by a largish company called WooThemes, that seem to do a reasonable job of their support and they’re pretty professional which makes a nice change. WooCommerce itself is basically free, and is very powerful straight out of the box, but WooThemes charge for their themes and various plugins for WooCommerce.

To enable me to take payment in multiple currencies I needed another third party plugin called WPML which stands for WordPress Multi-Lingual. Setting all of this up took over a month, but I got it all working and then setup a store with some fine art prints for sale, and that all works nice and smoothly now.

What I hadn’t anticipated is that WPML really slows the Web site down, so I had to also setup a new caching plugin and tie that into a cloud based CDN or Content Delivery Network, which took another week or so as I ran into more problems. Then, just as I thought I’d got it all working, WPML released an update that broke part of my Japanese Yen payment workflow, right as we were receiving a lot of payments for my 2014 Winter Wonderland tours!

Once again, I was painfully reminded painfully of the importance of compatibility between plugins, and despite promising to work on the draft of my third Craft &Vision ebook, I had spend an extra three weeks working with WooCommerce, WPML and even PayPal to fix a critical issue. After a lot of back and forth with all three companies we now know what needs to be fixed, and I knew enough about the problem to implement a workaround to keep things moving until the fix materializes.

Ever the Craftsman

Although there was a lot of stress towards the end of getting all of this implemented, I do feel pretty satisfied that I was able to handle all of these issues, and get to the point that I’d been working hard to get to. I enjoy being able to turn my hand to various jobs. I have always enjoyed making things, both physically and digitally now as well.

I think this is partly why I enjoy making my own gallery wraps, although this is after all pretty much laid out for us. But just the act of printing out the canvas, then laminating it, then selecting the bars, putting it all together, and now also stapling the canvas to the back of the stretcher bars. I just find this sort of thing fulfilling.

This of course is one of the main reasons that I enjoy printing so much too. I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy it when I wake up to find a print order has come in, and spend the first part of my day creating that print, then trimming it down to size, as I sometimes print on roll paper larger than the actual size of the print required. When I hold up that finished print it just feels so good, especially when I think that it’s going to be sent off to someone somewhere in the world who will get it framed and give it a home on their wall. This is quite a humbling yet exciting experience.

Trimming Prints

Trimming Prints

Thinking about it, the fact that I often print smaller sheet sized prints on larger roll paper led to the the creation of my Photoshop Fine Art Border Scripts that I not only enjoyed making, but having made them available to buy with my new WooCommerce back-end, have now become another source of income. Hopefully you can see the pattern evolving here.

I came across a problem and had fun creating something to overcome that problem. I enjoy the Web work, so I now have a powerful and flexible eCommerce back-end on my Web site, so I’m able to sell pretty much anything I want without much additional work. The scripts have sold pretty well, thanks of course to some of you, and that helps to keep the roof over my head so that I can continue to do what I love doing.

This is similar to what I’ve mentioned before about my main business model now. I enjoy doing the photography tours and workshops, and working to help people get amazing images in beautiful locations, so I’m gradually building out my tour program. On the tours I get to shoot my own images which I can sell as stock images as well as fine art prints. I also get to illustrate my own ebooks and magazine articles with the prints, and use these images to illustrate blog posts etc.

People then read my articles or blog and see the images and some are inspired enough to join me on one of my tours and workshops. It’s all starting to bind together very nicely in self-perpetuating business cycles.

Do What You Love and Never “Work” Again

That really brings me back to a point that David duChemin and I discussed in our last chat in episode 362 of this Podcast, when we talked about what David had said in one of his books, that there is a difference between a job and our work. Most of us use the phrase “going to work” to mean that we are going to a certain place to do our “job”, and yet a job is really something that we do to earn money to live.

We use the word “work” on the other to mean our photography, or doing some other activity that often brings us satisfaction and pleasure. The difficulty of course, as with any art, is in getting people to pay you for your work. Some, if not many artists, work their entire lives without finding a way to make a living from it, and yet we sometimes call the result their “life’s work”. If we can figure out how to do what we love to do and find satisfying, and get people to pay for it, in whatever size increments, we can realize the artists’ dream of living a life doing what you love.

And that kind of brings me back to the point, in that there have been a few times during this summer where I’ve come across issue that have taken week’s to surmount, and for the first time since I gave up my old job to become a full time photographer, I actually felt stressed. I have a tendency to get little bald patches in the little beard that I grow on my chin when I’m stressed, and for the first time in three years, I found two patches when I trimmed it recently, which was kind of a surprise, but kind of wasn’t really. It had been a rough month or so.

Now though, finally, the issues that I was fighting are behind me for now. I can proceed with the writing of my next Craft & Vision ebook, and launch a new micro-sales product that I’ve been planning for a while soon too. It’s all good stuff, and I’m having fun. Even the troubles I had with the system seem pretty insignificant now that it’s behind me, and I’m looking forward to plugging away at my task list again, advancing step by step.

I guess I should also mention once again, that I still feel very fortunate to have been able to calve out this life for myself that I’m still working hard to make easy, but nevertheless finding very satisfying. From the start I made a conscious decision to not do jobs that I don’t want to do, and not do jobs that I want to do for less money or alternative compensation than I want to do them for.

Ignoring both of these fundamental strategies will lead to dissatisfaction and the work often becomes unsustainable. Basically, if you do stuff you don’t want to do just for the money, you can find it difficult to put your heart and soul into the work, and if you don’t put your heart and soul into the work, it becomes a job. I know I didn’t leave my old day job just to do another job, so I think it’s worth putting some guidelines in place to stop it becoming one.

An important thing to bear in mind here though, as I’ve said before, is that you of course have to do work that pays the bills and turning away job after job without some other form of income is a recipe for disaster too. I was able to build up enough various revenue streams that I am making a living now. My tours, my Craft & Vision ebooks and magazine articles, my prints and other digital products now, and stock image sales are all adding up to keep a room over our heads.

It’s because of this that I’m afforded the luxury of turning work down that doesn’t totally mesh with my strategy. If I had not been able to develop at least part of this business before I left my old day job, I’d have been doing more work that I don’t like as I build my business, but this is exactly what I recommend others do. You have to do something to live, and if that means doing a job that you aren’t fully invested in while you build the business that you would love to do, then there’s no shame in that.

Billions of people around the world do jobs they don’t want to do every day. There are obviously a very, very small percentage of people that actually get to do what they love and make a living at it. As I say, I still have a lot of hard work to go before I will be comfortable and I’d be a liar if I said that there aren’t still time when I get anxious because something doesn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but at the end of the day, I’m confident that I’ll succeed. And I think this confidence is what you need to give you the courage to turn down the jobs that would pay you something, but not enough to make your chosen life and work sustainable.

What does all of this have to do with Photography?

So, what does all of this have to do with photography? Well, I’m going to add the Going Pro tag to this episode, because I think it has everything to do with setting up a business in photography. To come back to the title, I really believe that to succeed in business these days you have to be a Jack of all Trades, and be the master of some. The areas of mastery are the core competencies; the backbone of your business. Without excelling in these areas you aren’t going to succeed anyway.

But you have to be able to turn your hand to other areas or have the capital to be able to hire someone to do this work for you. I for example hire a tax accountant. He costs me $300 a month, and I pay much more at year end etc on top of that. Why? Because I don’t have a clue how to do that stuff myself. Sure, I’ve learned a lot about accounting and running a business in Japan over the last three years, but I never intended to try to do this myself. Not only because it would be too difficult, but because I don’t want to handle this.

I’m also fortunate that I have such a technical background, and can handle the sort of work I’ve spent a lot of time doing this summer myself. That can be a bane as well as a boon of course. It saves me the money required to hire someone to do it for me, but it takes up time that could have been used in other ways. This hasn’t been a huge problem this year, but as I develop more tours it will become one.

Get Help / Outsource When it Makes Sense

This is partly the reason I attacked the issue this year, but there will come a time over the next few years where I will need to start and hire people more regularly. I don’t think I’m looking at hiring full time very soon, other than my wife who is already on the books, but there will be more long term relationships with people like Michael Rammell who’s kindly helped with the old Podcast episode posting for example. As I continue to grow the business out I’ll definitely need help with tasks that regularly take up my time, and free me to work on other things that only I can do.

I think running a business has become as creative an exercise as being a photographer these days, and I’m having a ball working on mine, and hope that you find it interesting or useful to be kept in the loop like this from time to time.

PHOTOGRAPH Issue 5 Now Available!

Before we finish, I did want to mention that the Craft & Vision magazine PHOTOGRAPH, Issue 5 was released earlier this week and it is beautiful! There are amazing portfolios to look at and a wealth of knowledge from some of the best photographers on the planet in the various articles. I’m humbled to be a part of that, and actually have two columns in year two, so you get a double dose of Martin if you should pick up a copy. You can see some screenshots and more details before you buy on my blog at and I’ll put a link in the show notes if that’s easier for you.

You can buy Issue 5 for just $8 or subscribe for a year at $24, which gets you four issues for the price of three! You might also want to check out all four issues from year one for just $24 too!


Thanks very much for listening today. Remember that you can find me on Google+, Twitter and Facebook etc. and links to everything that I’m up to are at, so do drop by and take a look. I’ll be back next week, with another episode, but in the meantime, you take care, and have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.

Show Notes

Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH Magazine Issue 5 Now Available!

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Going Pro Update – Three Years In! (Podcast 383)

Going Pro Update – Three Years In! (Podcast 383)

It’s just coming up to three years since I incorporated Martin Bailey Photography K.K. so today I update you on how things are going, what adjustments I’ve made to my business model, how things are shaping up, and a little bit about how I see us proceeding over the next few years.

This episode is something that I’ve been thinking of doing for a while now, but choosing to do this today was because of a mail from listener Mark Sippola, who incidentally, I’ll be seeing in Iceland in just a couple of weeks now, for our two week tour and workshop. In Mark’s mail he asks…

“Now that you have been a full time photographer for a few years, I am wondering if you might talk a bit about the reality of going pro compared to how you thought it would be. I.e. prior to taking the plunge, from what photography related tasks did you think your income would be derived,  compared to the reality of the situation.

Did you think that most of your time would be spent creating and selling prints, and then realized that the tours were your bread and butter which allows you to then spend time on making pictures? Did you ever even consider that you would be creating ebooks prior to meeting David DuChemin? I guess I am just wondering if it has turned out the way you imagined it would, how you spend your time attending to the business etc.”

Well, thanks for the mail and the topic suggestion Mark. This is definitely something I’ve been meaning to talk about, so let’s do this. I did a few Going Pro episodes as I set up the business, and there have been a few over the last few years as well, but first, let’s recap on how I got to this point in time, as it’s important to understand where I’m coming from with this stuff.

Although I’ve been doing photography for some thirty years now, I started to get serious about it, buying an SLR camera when I moved to Japan in 1991, which is 22 years ago now. When I look back, a lot of my early work was pretty crappy, although I think I had a reasonably good eye, and was pulling the occasional nice shot out of my assortment of lenses.

Ezo Deer in Kushiro Marsh

Ezo Deer in Kushiro Marsh

I had always been into landscape work, since walking in the hills of Derbyshire back in England in my late-teens, early twenties, but with some areas of Japan having such abundant wildlife, I decided to buy my first decent long lens, the 100-400mm, for my first trip to Hokkaido in August 2003, exactly 10 years ago now.

I’d been using a really old 100-300mm lens and having some fun photographing birds in parks etc. so I was already starting to get the bug, but I’d always thought that wildlife photography was a much more elite genre than it turned out to be. This first white L lens brought me the versatility and quality that really opened up a whole new world of photography to me.

I would probably have shot this differently today, but here’s my first wildlife shot with the 100-400mm lens. This is an Ez0 Deer on the edge of the Kushiro Marsh in Hokkaido. Don’t forget to click the images for a larger view.

So, my passions started to evolve, and I found myself more and more heading to areas of natural beauty for wildlife photography. Of course, if there is some drop-dead gorgeous landscapes to be shot, I still enjoy that as much as ever, but whenever possible, I started shoot wildlife, often toggling between the two as lighting conditions dictate.

That’s kind of jumped us along in the summary of my background, but during this time, I’d registered the domain, and had started to work on a gallery, and then I added the forum that the spammers have now destroyed, and then the second big turning point, was starting the Podcast in Sept 2005.

I had gotten a lot from the online photography community and wanted to give back in some way, but of course, there was always the idea that using my images to walk people through techniques and artistic discussions, would result in extra eyes on my work, which is never a bad thing if you are trying to build a name and a brand. That wasn’t necessarily why I started this, but I quickly realized that this is what was happening.

Mine was the third photography Podcast in iTunes, with my friend Chris Marquardt of Tips from the Top Floor and Brooks Jensen’s Lens Work Podcast already podcasting regularly, and they were indeed part of the inspiration for this Podcast.

The listener numbers and community started to grow, and before long there was talk of doing my first Hokkaido Workshop, which happened at the end of January in 2008, almost two and a half years after starting the Podcast. I was joined by five wonderful participants from around the world, many of whom remain good friend’s. The tour ended up costing me a few hundred, but I wasn’t too concerned. It was a start, and I soon realized there was no going back.

First Workshop Group

First Workshop Group

Due to feedback from participants, the Hokkaido Tour grew to include a three day visit to the Snow Monkeys, before going on for a further nine days in Hokkaido, forming what we now affectionately know as the Winter Wonderland Tour. It became a regular yearly tour, now twice each winter actually, and has enabled me to share the beautiful wildlife and landscape of Hokkaido with coming up to a hundred participants now.

I also started to hear from people that needed a photographer in Japan for assignment work, and I found myself using up all of my paid leave from my day-job to do my tours and assignments. The pivot point came when I was asked to help with the photography group on my first voyage to Antarctica. This was around the time I was waiting for my Japanese Nationality application to come through, and we ended up postponing my Antarctica trip until the next year, because it was possible I’d not have a passport right when I was supposed to be down there, but I was not going to have enough paid leave days to do both Antarctica and my Hokkaido tours, as well as the assignment work I was getting.

The decision was already made of course. I’d worked towards going full-time for a number of years, and the amount of time and energy I was devoting to my photography was starting to affect my day job. I found myself shifting tasks onto other managers in my team, so that I didn’t get too busy and have to stay late. I needed my personal time for my now increasingly more demanding photography business, so it was time to cut the cord.

It was exactly three years ago now, in August 2010, when I handed in my notice, and started to put the gears in motion to incorporate Martin Bailey Photography K.K. Every so often people are surprised that I’ve only been in business for three years, but that’s not really the case. I’ve been submitting tax forms and running the business as a sole proprietor for six years now. I’d also built my brand, and was going to hit the ground running. The incorporation was a major jump forward, but not really the start.

Back to Mark’s Questions

Before I jump back in to answer Mark’s questions, I’d like to point out one caveat, and that is that my path has been somewhat unique and probably doesn’t apply to most photographers thinking of taking the plunge to full time. There are certainly lessons to be learned here with regards to building your business as far as you can while still in the comfort of your nice safe day-job, although you should check with your company first, in case doing the sort of thing I did could get you into trouble.

Mark asked though, if things have gone according to plan, and in general, yes they have, but there have been a number of realignments, some big, some not so big.

From the start, the tours were going to be a major part of my business. I was already successfully running my Winter Wonderland Tours, and with more time through the year without the day-job, I always intended to introduce more. After only being at home for around 12 days from Sept 5 until the end of the year last year though, I realized that I was not going to be able to leave my wife alone for such long periods of time again.

I did my Pixels 2 Pigment world tour, which was great, no regrets, but then headed down to Antarctica for seven weeks almost straight after that, then did a two week private tour in Japan starting the day after I got home from Antarctica. Each of these projects was incredible, and I would not have changed last year for anything, but it was tough, even though my wife was able to join me for the private tour.

I’ll get back to why this is important in a moment, but for now, let me touch on a few other aspects of my business that Mark asked about.

Fine Art Print Sales

All Fine Art PrintsThe creating and selling of my fine art prints has continued pretty much as I’d expected. Orders will come in sporadically, but this was never going to feed me by itself. It’s almost like a nice side job within the business. I’m generally too busy to print for myself, which is a problem when you love printing as much as I do, so it’s almost like a nice breather when I wake up to find a print order has come in. I never expected to make a killing on print sales, and they’ve stayed pretty much where I thought they would, although a few more sales each month would be nice.

Craft & Vision

Mark also asked if I ever even considered that I would be creating ebooks prior to meeting David DuChemin? The answer to that is absolutely. Writing ebooks was always part of the plan, and to be honest, when David asked me to write my first ebook Making the Print, I had to think for about a three hundredth of a second, if I really wanted to sell ebooks for just $5, but I knew of course that Craft & Vision was going to get my books into the hands of way more readers than I would reach by myself, to it was pretty much a no-brainer.

I had planned to start doing ebooks from the start, and was already studying inDesgin so that I could do my own layout, but being able to write for Craft & Vision was a huge step forward for me, and I’m still very grateful to David and the team for that opportunity and their continued support.

Not Enough Hours in the Day

One thing that did not go according to plan, is the amount of time I thought I’d have once the day-job was out of the way. I had literally been doing two jobs for a number of years, and fully expected that once I didn’t have to haul it into the office every day, I was going to have a lot of time to work on marketing and accounting, strategizing on the future of the business, and also have lots of time to go out shooting personal projects.

I had also planned to put more time into marketing myself as an assignment and commercial photographer, but the truth is, there still aren’t enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done. I get up at 7:30am when there is no reason to get up earlier, and I work through to 7pm in my office studio. The plan was to spend more time with my wife in the evenings, but although I go downstairs and we sit together on the sofa, the reality is that I’m still working until around midnight every day on various projects that I’m into.

If I’m not planning a future tour, I’m working on something like setting up a credit card merchant account, that I just got done recently. Once that is done, there is complicated back-end web site work to be done to enable me to take orders in multiple currencies, which WooCommerce doesn’t support right out of the box. I’ve just finished putting together a page to start taking bookings for my 2014 Iceland Tour, which I’ll touch on later, and that took me most of my Sunday.

I dedicate Monday’s to Podcasting. If I haven’t had time to work on something in advance, I spend a few hours on a Monday morning, often also part of the afternoon writing out my manuscript, then I like to get it recorded and in the pipe before I go down for dinner at 7pm, but this is pretty much a full day’s work each week.

When I’m working on an ebook, I like to put by a few weeks of block time, and I am also now writing two columns for each issue of Craft & Vision’s PHOTOGRAPH magazine, which takes a nice chunk of time when I sit down to write.

I like to stay on top of my accounting, so that when we go and see my accountant once a month, I don’t have to spend too long preparing for that visit, but most months, I find myself a little behind, and usually have to dedicate half a day here and there to catch up.

My wife is our number two employee, and helps with some of the accounting work too, and she’s also a pretty good photography assistant too, but another thing that hasn’t gone quite according to plan is that I’m so busy with all of the other work that I do, that I really haven’t been able to make time to market myself to try and bring in more photography assigning work.

Current Positioning

To bring all of this together now, what I quickly realized is that to do a proper job of running this business, keeping accounts in order, working on the back-office stuff, working on new tours and actually going out to run those tours, and then doing my Craft & Vision writing and fulfilling the occasional fine art print order when they come in, is a full time job and then some.

As much as I enjoy the assignment and portraiture work that I do occasionally through the year, I’m not actively seeking that sort of work. If someone is kind enough to contact me, I quote a price based on my required day rate, and if that works for them, I give it 200% and provide a quality product, but I have so much other work to do, I’m not really pushing this.

This I think was one of the major direction changes. My current business model centers around the tours, on which I also get to shoot my own work. That work gives me plenty of fresh imagery to use in my Craft & Vision ebooks and articles, that I write between tours, and that is seen by lots of people, and some of them book themselves onto my tours. You can see that this in itself is turning into a self-perpetuating cycle.

In addition to my Japan winter tours, the plan is to try and do one, at most two tours in the other three quarters of the year. This gives me time to do the writing, marketing and back-office stuff between tours, and as I get the other large tasks that I’ve been doing out of the way, I’m looking forward to getting more time for personal projects too, which may well be in the form of reconnaissance for future tours, which will also feed the self-perpetuation cycle.

Purveyor of Future Memories

Of course, I have to stay on top of my game. Not only do I have to be sharp enough to be able to teach people about photography, both on the tours and via this Podcast, but if I’m not shooting images that people find attractive, I can’t close the loop and the cycle falls apart. No one would sign up for my tours and my ebooks and articles wouldn’t work if my images are crap, so there’s no room for complacency or sloppy work.

You might remember from old episodes though, that my mum used to say to me “if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” That has stayed with me and shaped who I am. I actually had to be taught to do some jobs at the “good enough” level, because I sometimes spend too much time on something that doesn’t need to be perfect. When it comes to my photography and my tours though, I never want to settle for good enough. It’s definitely worth doing, so I’m going to give this my all for as long as I am able to keep doing it.

It’s hard work, but like David duChemin says, there is a big difference between our work and a job. I no longer have a job. I left that three years ago. It’s funny though–I’m working harder than I ever have, and I don’t even have a job!

I love my work though. I love doing the tours. There’s something very special about being in a beautiful place with a group of photographers all passionate about their craft. I’m going to keep it to a manageable number of tours each year though, as I need to leave room for my writing and other work, and because I have to do the tours properly. There’s no room for “good enough” when you are the purveyor of peoples’ future memories.

Will We Be Hiring Staff?

I wanted to touch where I see us moving to in the next few years. Of course, I’ll remain flexible, and if I need to change course, I will, but the current plan is to continue to continue to write while I build out my tour schedule. and finish up those big tasks that I knew I had to get done, such as setting up the credit card merchant account that I talked about in last week’s house-keeping section. There are always going to be new tasks to keep me busy, and I know that some of you are probably wondering why I don’t take on extra staff if I’m this busy.

Well, although things are going well, right now I’m managing. My wife is our second employee, and she works hard on a part time basis. Sure, I’d love to have an extra pair of hands, especially one that can speak English and handle customer questions and take tour bookings while I’m traveling, but taking on permanent staff is a big responsibility. For the time being, I think I’ll be outsourcing tasks, until it makes more sense to have someone on the books.

I started to do this to a degree a few months ago. As you might have noticed, I’m bringing all of my sites under one roof, simplifying things a little. For a while now I’ve wanted to get rid of my old gallery, which had really just become an image repository. The problem is that I didn’t start posting the Podcast episodes with their images to my blog until episode 190, so I have been reliant on the old site to continue to make those images available.

On an episode of TWiP that I was co-hosting, I mentioned that I was about to post this task on Elance a crowd-sourcing site where you can hire people to do all sorts of jobs, and on hearing this, the ever resourceful Michael Rammell who you’ll know from the MBP Community on Google Plus, offered to help with this. I’ll be paying Michael for his time of course, and he’s already steamed through the first sixty episode posts. In the coming months we’ll see the remaining 130 episodes posted, and that will then free me to remove my old gallery completely.

It’s about 65 hours worth of work, so it will take some doing, which is why I very much appreciate Michael’s help. I was lucky with Michael shouting up as he did though, as he’s a smart guy with great technical skills and plenty of ambition. I’m sure there are plenty of horror stories of things going wrong outsourcing tasks like this though, so as I continue to need things doing, I’ll proceed with caution.

Get a Good Accountant

I also wanted to mention the importance of getting a good accountant. I’ve worked with accountants in the past, and knew that this would be an important part of building a business. The last three years have confirmed this for me. There was a service I used here in Japan to send out a request for a proposal to work with us as our accountant as we set up our new business. I received a number of replies, and selected the person that seemed to best match how I wanted to work, and I have been very happy with him and his team.

We paid $200 per month for the first two and a half years. This was like their starter pack for new companies. As revenue grows, we’ve had to increase this to $300 per month, for the general accounting processing, and then we pay extra at the end of our fiscal year for getting everything ready to submit to the tax office, so all in all they probably cost us around $6,000 per year, but the value they bring to us is much more than that.

I wouldn’t have had a clue about the many tax benefits that we can tap into as a corporation, and I would have fallen into a few traps too, because I wouldn’t have known what I needed to avoid. A good tax accountant is definitely worth investing in, and if you can find someone that will start off relatively cheaply as you build, that’s great. Unless you have had training yourself though, this is something that I definitely advice you outsource from the start. By the way, when I talk about the accounting work I do, I mean recording our transactions and keeping our records in order for this guy to do the real work.

Full Steam Ahead!

So, to wrap up, as I mentioned, things are going pretty much according to plan, with the exception that I’ve chosen not to pursue assignment work as much as I thought I would, and I’m working carefully on the balance of tours and writing, along with the on going back-office tasks and the fine art prints etc.

I’m really not worried about the lack of assignments. It was always going to be hard to really make this work, and if I had wanted to make that the core of my business, I probably would have been too scared to leave my old job. I had already built a great foundations for the tours and workshops, and when you consider that I’d also been writing for this blog and creating the Podcast for a five years by then too, I was also inadvertently building a foundation as a writer and educator.

This reminds me of one last thing that I should mention, and that is building passive income. The ebooks take some time to write, and produce a nice pay check for the first few months after release, but then as the monthly income from each one drops, it becomes a nice source of passive income. You know that the codes I sometimes give you for products, such as Nik Software or B&H also turn into a source of income. These affiliate payments are not a lot, but it all mounts up. I may not even be enough from affiliate revenue to pay our accountant some months, but it’s often close, so that kind of takes care of some of our running costs.

As I said at the start, my business model somewhat unique, as it has evolved as a result of me starting to share my thoughts on photography via the Podcast, and being in a unique position to offer tours in Japan, have certainly helped. My business model is so unique that you might argue that I’m not even a full time photographer, but I’m nothing, if not a photographer. The photography forms the core of this business, and my life. It will always be that way. I’ve just built a business model that doesn’t necessarily mean that I shoot directly for money each week, but it’s proving to be a successful business all the same.

I hope this has been of some help, especially when you consider how resourceful we need to be these days to make a living from photography and it’s now very complex ecosystem.

Iceland 2014

As I mentioned earlier, before we finish, I did want to quickly mention that I have just opened the page to start taking booking for my 2014 Iceland Tour and Workshop, from September 22 to October 3! I’ll be in Iceland from August 24 this year, in just a few weeks, and will be trying very hard to update you about the trip as I travel, but I’ve also just locked in on the 2014 dates, so I’ve opening this up for booking as of yesterday.

I’m teaming up with local expert Tim Vollmer again, and we’ve extended the trip by an extra day, to a 12 day tour, giving us 10 full days of photography. You can now find all tours that are available for booking under the Tours & Workshops menu above.

Show Notes

Music by UniqueTracks


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The Business of Photography – Transitioning to Full Time (Podcast 363)

The Business of Photography – Transitioning to Full Time (Podcast 363)

Today, I’m joined by David duChemin, to discuss the business of photography, particularly with regards to transitioning to full time photographer, and the sort of things that you should think seriously about before taking the plunge, or not, as the case may be.

Topics covered include…

  • It ain’t easy!
  • Work vs job
  • Importance of finding an audience
  • Multiple revenue streams and passive revenue
  • Money is not a dirty word

A number of books were mentioned, which you can buy on Amazon with the following links:

The 4-hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.

Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk.

The Long Tail, Revised and Updated Edition: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, by Chris Anderson.

The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to do About it, by Michael E. Gerber.

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

And of course, although David wouldn’t recommend this himself, if you haven’t read David’s best seller Vision Mongers yet, this is a must.

And to finish, here’s a recent shot of me in the office, by David duChemin.

Martin in Action by David duChemin

Show Notes

Music by UniqueTracks


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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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