Last June, I entered the world of freelance, leaving my job to pursue whatever this is. It turned out to be the single decision that has caused me more stress, grief, pain, depression, financial turmoil, and fear, than I had at any other point in my entire life. I know it's cliche to show how damaging something was and then to say "and if I had to do it all over again, I would." Because I definitely wouldn't if those were the only emotions and struggles I experienced in the last year. Fortunately, I have had my successes as well and I'd like to share some highlights. I think it's important to acknowledge failures, examine them, and learn how to do better. I think I might do this too often, and don't pat myself on the back enough. Many people don't congratulate themselves on a job well done. It's important to always strive to be better, but it's also important to realize some of your best work might be happening right now.
The first time I felt accomplished was a year ago this month. My friend Bob Walles invited me to go see Unknown Mortal Orchestra at the Warsaw in Brooklyn. I had never heard of them or the opening bands, but I like a good show and spending time with my friends, so I went with my camera. The opening band was Buscabulla. A great band based in Brooklyn who combines electronic and indie music with their Peurto Rican roots . Very danceable music, very groovy. I snapped a few pictures and when I got home I sent them some of my favorites. They were thrilled and shared some online as well. About a week later they contacted me asking to send another shot their way so it could be used in a Village Voice article about them. Only a month in to freelance and I had a prominent website/paper/news outlet wanting my images. It was only up for a day as it was replaced with a video about them, but I took a screenshot of my picture on the site, credited @SD Conrad, and I gleamed with joy.
Finding regular clients is more difficult than you might imagine. Every time I left a shoot I'd think "welp, that was the last time I'll see these people." But there are few clients I have now that I know will regularly email asking about my availability. Being hard on myself, I thought maybe they were just using me because I was the only photographer they knew. But then I'd learn they actually HAD other photographers come by before me and decided to continue returning to me. I even have other photographers contacting me from time to time to either be camera 2 or act as their camera 1 on a shoot they can't attend. Obviously I wish the clients were more abundant, but I am happy with the clients I have and I am proud to know they are happy with me.
In 2015 I went to a few NYCFC games courtesy of my friend Tim Whitney. While watching these games I wondered how does one get down on the field to photograph? I decided to make it my mission to one day get on the pro field. I didn't know how I would do it, but I was determined to do it. I tried emailing blogs and websites related to covering NYCFC. Press credential applications were closed, so it was doubtful I'd get on the field for that season. Just by chance, I saw an ad listing looking for a photographer to cover amateur soccer. I jumped at the chance and shared with them some pictures I had taken from the stands of an NYCFC game. They were excited about the idea but were unsure if having a photographer for the league was a possibility just yet, they were testing the waters. I went and shot a game anyway and they were excited with the results. A year later and I'm still shooting for them. Within that year, I started showing my shots from amateur games to more blogs and websites and eventually one took me in to work as a photographer. I had expressed interest in covering NYCFC and they were happy to get me my credentials to get down on the field. I haven't been able to shoot every home game, but I have shot a few, including one this weekend when LA Galaxy comes to town. I'm surprised and proud that I had set out on a goal and achieved it in under a year. I have my friends at Gotham Soccer League to thank for that. Without the opportunity to build my portfolio through them, I doubt I'd have the ability to walk on the professional pitch.
Full Time Job
It's true, I no longer rely on strictly freelance work to pay my bills. A few months ago I started photographing jewelry full time for a company in Koreatown, Manhattan. It's funny, the two things I shoot most often require completely different skills. The jump from jewelry to soccer is pretty drastic, but I make it work. I'm still stunned I get paid to photograph every day. It's something I never thought would happen, yet here I am, on my lunch break at work, updating my blog.
Shooting for Me
I always thought of myself as a man with a tool. You don't see a mechanic walking around wrenching things, so you wouldn't see me walking around photographing things. Tell me what needs to be shot and I'll shoot it. As I learned different techniques with shooting and editing I wanted to put those things to practice. Instead of waiting for my next gig to experiment, I tried things out on my own. I'd go for a walk and just start shooting, seeing what I ended up with. I've found myself photographing a lot of urban wildlife and having a great time with it. I was never a huge fan of shooting landscapes, but here I am planning on visiting a friend in Connecticut where we're going to drive to interesting locations and seeing what we come up with. I don't know why I didn't put this way of thinking to practice sooner, my portfolio would be more robust had I been shooting like this for years.
This and more all within 1 year of doing photography full time. I'm excited to see what the rest of this year has in store for me. I hope if you're reading this you are inspired to do what you love. I probably wouldn't recommend doing freelance full time, but you should put yourself out there. Post on instagram, write a blog, share short stories, whatever it is you do. Be proud of yourself, be proud of your work. Reflect on your failures, build on your success.
Maybe one day I'll share my low lights, but for now, I'm allowing myself to be proud.