The long road to pro - the arrival? - dradd's photography

13th December, 2018

It's been a while since I put up a blog, not only about my ambition to make photography my full time 'job', but a blog about anything really.

It's not that I've been struggling for content. No, I have a list of blog ideas, it's just that I've been struggling for the time to actually write them. It's been a busy few months.

So out of my list of blog ideas, I thought I'd start with this topic, as its the one that has had the biggest impact on my life.

Let me begin...

The change

As some of you reading this will know, back in October of this year I took redundancy from work. This ended a career spanning 22 years in IT, as a developer, a web developer, and later an IT manager.

To be honest I couldn't have been happier accepting redundancy, as it meant I could finally do what I wanted to do with my life, and that being concentrating on photography, and making it my profession.

At last I could turn professional.

I'd put a lot of thought into this, and with a lot of welcome and much appreciated help from my peers and friends (and of course my wonderful partner), I had a loose business model in place. Of course nobody's going to make their fortune just concentrating on wildlife photography; there's the 'bread and butter' element to it as well, so for this I've gone for Pet Photography and Photography Training.

So finally with the mental room to breath now I had left work, I could get on with it, and to be honest I'm still very much in the learning phase, but more on that later.

Why was I so keen to leave work and happy to take redundancy?

Right back when I decided that what I wanted to do for a living was be a professional photographer, I knew I needed to wait for the time to be right, mainly around mine and my partner's financial situation. I always said I wasn't going to commit financial suicide, so I knew I needed to wait for the moment to be suitable.

This resulted in many, many months of waiting. 'Playing the long game' was what a friend called it. I needed to keep doing my day job until I knew things would be right for me to make the jump.

It wasn't easy. When you have made your mind up that you know what you want to do with your life and yet you have to keep doing the thing you don't want to be doing in order to pay the bills, each day becomes a challenge. Those days spent in the office wishing I was somewhere else started to drag me down. Sitting in meeting after meeting not really caring about what I did came hard, especially when the weather was ideal for being out with a camera at one of my favourite haunts photographing wildlife.

It got to the stage where I could almost hear the sands of time eating away at my life because I was wasting it being stuck in a job I cared little for. The quote from the film 'Fight Club' rang in my ears a lot: "This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time". With this as a given I wanted to be doing something worthwhile with my life, and right now what I was doing wasn't it.

Before I go on, let me be clear about something: where I worked was not a bad place. I worked with some great people, but the company suffered from the dogma of pretty much all companies in the corporate world - poor direction and out of touch leadership. What I dealt with each day was no different to what friends in similar positions in other companies dealt with too. I was no different in the day to day frustrations I had to deal with.

Also it was not for me anymore. Any passion I'd had for the job had left me the day I decided I wanted to be a professional wildlife photographer... that day lying in an inclosure  photographing a fox. 

The photo that started it all? Taken at the British Wildlife Centre back in 2015, it was while photographing this fox (called 'Flo') that it struck me that this was what I wanted to do for a living. What could be better the photographing wildlife and sharing the images with the world?

The photo that started it all? Taken at the British Wildlife Centre back in 2015, it was while photographing this fox (called 'Flo') that it struck me that this was what I wanted to do for a living. What could be better the photographing wildlife and sharing the images with the world?

This meant that each day when I was in the office, I was mearly an empty shell of a person: there in body but not in spirit.

It got worse. The more I effectively lived a lie of going to work and being 'engaged', the more I became emotionally exhausted.

I knew it was really bad when one morning I got into the office and while reading my deluge of (pointless corporate) emails I looked out of the window to clear blue skies and perfect spring morning weather, instantly knowing that if I didn't have to be at work there were any number of locations I could be at photographing wildlife.

I literally wanted to break down and cry. I felt completely crushed by the whole situation.

But each day I put on a fake smile and went to work, being the person I was expected to be. Trying to be the effective manager for my team (this thwarted by ineffective management layers above me!) but this just eroded my soul.

I became snappy and irritable at home, in turn becoming a pain and annoyance to those around me, but I was so far entrenched in this malaise that I couldn't see the results of my actions.

There's a lot of talk around depression in men of a certain age, and at the time I was conscious that I was heading down this road, but I kept from admitting it fully. I knew that I had to play this 'long game' until the time was right for me to leave (and things were in a more comfortable place financially allowing me to make the jump). I just had to grin and bear it.

But it hurt. A lot.

Each morning I'd get up knowing full well I was to face another day of doing something I hated, being someone I wasn't in order not to rock the boat and just keep plodding along. My morning mantra became "I really don't want to go in today!", but I did regardless.

For what it's worth, as a joke present for Christmas last year, a good friend brought me this book, and wrote these words inside the cover. Daft as it may sound, this message helped me to keep focussed on my end goal, and helped some of the darker days seem less dark. Sometimes it's the little things that help keep your head above water. 

(For those that aren't familiar with this range of books, they are modern day send ups of the childrens Enid Blyton 'Famous Five' books, where the main characters, who are now all grown up, find themselves in very real modern adult situations. Very amusing to read.)

Anyway, fast forward to September this year, and the opportunity arose through a major department re-structure for me to take redundancy. I leapt at the chance, and as such on the 5th of October I left.

I was over the moon.

So here I am, all 'professional'. My sole form of income is now my photography business and I'm selling prints of my work, building up a decent pet photography portfolio, and getting my name 'out there' in order to get new clients. I love it! I'm learning things too, all the time. It's when you realise that you are your own finance and marketing departments that things start to sink in that this is now your life. It's great also to be able to immerse my life in 'photography', rather than just 'do photography' as and when the time arose or was available.

The Reaction

On the whole the reaction from friends and family has been largely supportive of the jump I have made and I couldn't be happier with their level of support. It goes without saying that I wouldn't be where I am now without the support of my partner, Helen, who has stuck with me through the ups and downs, always helping me to 'focus on the dream'.

But there have been a couple of strange reactions, which have come as a surprise. A very small number of friends & family have been a bit stand-offish with my change in career, and have asked me what I'm going to do with my time/when I'm going to get another/proper job/how I'm going to cope not earning that IT salary.

Strange how some don't understand that setting up and running your own business is a job, even more so than being employed as you need to put in so much more effort.

But as they say, 'haters are going to hate', so I just reflect that while they are doing the morning commute to their place of work in order to spend all day in an office, I'm mostly out somewhere taking photos of wildlife that I can share with the world, living the life I want to live, and that's all that matters now.

What's new?

Strangely, although not wholly unsurprising, being out of a stressful working environment has had some positive benefits to my physical health.

• I'm sleeping better at night, and no longer waking up at some early hour stressing about the day ahead.

• I've stopped putting on weight as I'm more active now that I'm not tied to a desk all day, or snacking on cakes and biscuits in the office.

• The physical aches and pains I had have all but gone:

    • I suffer less from stomach acid and acid indigestion now (no doubt brought on by stress).

    • I suffer less from lower neck and upper back pain (again, brought about by stress as I was always hunched over my keyboard at work, stressed, thereby having my neck and upper back muscles always tensed up).

    • As a migraine sufferer I've not had a single migraine since leaving work (I used to get a bad one every couple of weeks).

• My hearing has become more acute. I couldn't figure out why at first, then I put it down to not having the drone of office air conditioning thrumming away in the background all day.

So what about my mental health?

Well, given there is time to appreciate the simple things more now, and pretty everything I do is done because I want to do it, I'm in a much happier place. I really fell like I'm in control, not having to answer to 'the man' anymore. It's made a real difference to my outlook.

Flyers, business cards and branded clothing... it's looking and feeling very professional now.

Flyers, business cards and branded clothing... it's looking and feeling very professional now.

Next Steps

Time is now spent honing camera skills, trying out different things with the equipment I have, promoting my work and 'getting out there' in order to promote myself and my services.

Some things haven't worked as I thought they would, but that's the beauty of running your own business; the ability to learn and change in order to get things to work as you'd want them to. Not having to justify my actions to anyone but myself is like a breath of fresh air, and I'm enjoying it a lot.

There's still a long road to travel, but at least I am on the road now, and in charge of my direction.

Colour me happy.

I hope you'll come along for the ride and see where this goes.

Thanks for reading.

Keith.

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