This is my story.
How I failed and succeeded as a Photographer & graphic designer.
But first, a little about you…
Are you a photographer and/or a designer?
So am I.
Do you have a passion for success & photography?
So do I.
Have you ever succeeded at anything?
So have I.
Have you ever failed at anything?
Me too. More than once.
My name: Chris Parker
What’s your name? Introduce yourself in the comments below. Don’t be shy. I want to get to know you and your story.
I asked the above questions because we’ve all failed and succeeded at something. Yes? Yes.
Some of us are already successfull at being a “pro” photographer. Some of us are still struggling to full-fill our dreams.
I hope my story is an inspiration for YOUR growth and success as a photographer, regardless of where you are on your photographic journey. Oh, and a bonus awaits you for anyone that reads my whole story…
Once upon a time, on a warm sunny day (I remember it well), I was born; circa. 1971
Location; Planet Earth – Hollywood, CA to be more precise – destined to be a star. Now, I bring that up because my parents say I’m from Earth… but, some think otherwise – mostly my kids.
I’ll spare you the details of the next 13 awkward years of my life…
…so, we’ll fast forward through time, and I’ll take you on a fun-filled journey from 1984 – 2015 and you’ll not only discover more about my photographic journey, but also how I can help you achieve your creative vision…
My parents bought me my first camera; a Kodak Disc Camera, 1984. Not sure why. Never wanted one. But, hey, I was taking a once-in-a-lifetime hike into the Grand Canyon. 10 miles in, 2 days – 3 nights camping and then 10 miles back out. Oh, the things we can do when we’re young.
The photos from that trip were awful! I blame the camera.
Fast forward to 1988. My sister decides to become a model.
“How much are they charging you for these head-shots I ask”? “Wow, I say, those photos are horrible and you’re shelling out $150 per shoot? I can do better than that!”. Although I had ZERO formal training and no camera.
But, my motivation was to earn an EASY $150 for a 1 hour shoot.
So, my photographic journey began.
For months I dreamt about earning $150 per hour. Which was way more than the $3.35 an hour I was currently earning at the local grocery store.
“Crap, I have to buy some film too. Cool, what do you recommend for shooting models?, I ask the sales guy. O.k., give me 5 rolls.”
“That’ll be $75 (something like that – too long ago to remember the exact price – but it was a lot of money to me), please”, the clerk says politely.
Me; “Ummm, I don’t have enough for that. Just give me 2 rolls of that stuff over there…”
Off I went to make $150 per hour!
“Yo, sis! Let’s go shoot some pics for our portfolios.” “O.k.”, she says.
So, I wait. And wait.
Finally, the day has arrived that I can put together my portfolio and start earning some real money!
The clerk; “That’ll be $28 for processing and prints”. At this point, I’m thinking I’ve already spent too much on this endeavor and need to recoup my expenses as quickly as possible.
No worries I thought.
Soon, I’ll be making $150 per hour and can afford to buy that Saleen Mustang I had my eyes on.
I pay and quickly open the envelop to review my work.
Oh, by-the-way, I bought the “cheap” film (instead of what the sales person recommended) because I was to “cheap” for the good stuff, you know, the stuff pro’s used and had better dynamic range.
Back to my first failure as a photographer…
“Say what? Under-Exposed? Dynamic Range? What does all that mean?”, I anxiously reply.
I could tell he just wanted to say – “You idiot, you’re not going to make $150 per hour until you read some books, learn how to use your camera, master light and spend thousands on film for trial-and-error”. But, he didn’t. He politely “educated me” on what my next step was for better results.
Ugh! I ain’t got time for this. I’ve already spent over a thousand dollars (that took me months and months to save) and needed to start making $150 per hour, today.
And, I couldn’t afford any books either. Not at $29 or more per book. Besides, I’ve already spent
I go home with my tail between my legs. Only to see the new photos my sister just paid $150 for. Which were a million times better than mine – shhh, don’t tell anyone.
I wanted to earn that $150 per hour. Determined, I hop into my 1984 (3 door, hatchback), 4 banger Mustang – since I couldn’t afford (yet) the brand-new Saleen version… you know, the one with the high performance 5.0L V8 engine, Pioneer sound system, and chrome wheels… sigh… I’m gonna get that car, so I head over to the local library to read up on how to be a “photographer”.
The rest is history. Kind-of. Have some more failures to share first, before I reveal my secret to success…
I failed many more times over the course of the next TEN years. Yes, I failed for 10 STRAIGHT years. No joke. In
I never made that $150 per hour in my first year, or my second, or my 10th year. Oh, and that Saleen Mustang, more on that in a minute…
Instead, I hopped around from 1 portrait studio to the next. Some went out of business within a couple of years. Others were a “chain” and paid minimum wage. But, each year I was determined to be a pro photographer.
Around 1991 I was hired by Walmart to be part of their traveling unit. At the time, not all Walmarts had an in-house portrait studio. Especially those in smaller towns. I was assigned 6 different states. Each week I’d spend time in one and travel to the next for another week.
During the next year I photographed thousands of kids. Shooting kids allowed me to be, well, me. Goofy. And it was a blast!
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I used the ‘ole 84 beater Mustang as my traveling companion. Had to remove the front seat to fit all the equipment!
That Saleen Mustang was still out of reach and not practical for the current job. Sad face.
Walmart was my best paying photo gig and it only lasted a year. For the next 9 years, I never earned anywhere near what I earned with Walmart. Go figure.
It wasn’t until 2001 when I had my first major breakthrough. Thanks to the internet and a little site called “the Knot”.
Around 1998 I burnt out on shooting portraits and started working in camera stores as a sales clerk – funny how life sometimes takes you back to where you started.
Although, I never did work in the store where I purchased my first camera. It was still ironic… Now I’m looking over the counter teaching others why their photos didn’t turn out the way they wanted. Sigh.
But, it really didn’t pay the bills either. Just more failures up to this point.
O.k., sorry if all my failures are getting you down. But, we’re almost to the good part! Read on…
Fast forward to 2000; I got a gig shooting “real estate” photos. What a blast. NOT!
Not long after, this camera came out for taking 360 degree photos. Realtors paid triple for this type of work. Sign. me. up!
So, now I’m shooting homes inside and out. And earning about what I did from ’91-92. And still not making $150 per hour! Nor do I have that Saleen Mustang. Dang it!
But, my passion for photography was burning brighter than ever before. I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.
Quick sidetrack; around 2000, I met the woman of my dreams and we got married in 2001. Which will be relevant to this story very soon.
Back to the story…
One of the guys I’m working with (around 2000 – yep I had several jobs – camera store and real estate photog), at the local camera store, is telling me about this guy he knows that shoots weddings. He gets around 2K per wedding. Say what? It’s like 1988 all over again.
But this time I love photography more than anything else and have a burning passion to be a pro photographer. Not to just earn $150 an hour.
Yet, I’m still thinking to myself, kinda like in ‘88; “I can do it, and better”. Of course I can. Now I have 11+ years of experience.
Flashback to 1995; my first wedding shoot (and what I thought would be my last). It wasn’t really a paid gig. Was attending a friends wedding and the hired photographers camera died.
Yep, he only brought 1 camera.
I was shooting for fun and was asked if I could help out and finish shooting for the day. Sure, why not.
It was a horrible experience.
Didn’t enjoy it.
Filed under: “never doing it again”.
…Back to the present; “I failed at it once, and hated it. But, I’m willing to give it another go”. But how. I have zero wedding photos and can’t create a portfolio from nothing.
It was suggested, I work for/with another wedding photographer and learn from them. With experience comes a portfolio.
Sounded simple enough.
At the time, there weren’t that many photographers seeking apprentices. After weeks of searching, I found a large portrait studio (with 7 or 8 locations) that were hiring wedding photographers. No experience required.
Here’s a chance at my first real success to becoming a pro photographer. But wait, it wasn’t quite that easy.
So, in 2001 I contacted the “Studio” to learn how to be a pro wedding photographer – for them.
Hired. Now onto the next two phases…
Step 1; purchase my first medium format camera and 2 lenses.
Which was required if I wanted to work with that studio. No problem. Sorta.
So, I spent around a thousand dollars (for the second time) – with money I didn’t have.
Step 2: Let the training begin.
6 weeks of training. In-studio and on-location (during real weddings) with a master wedding photographer teaching me the ropes. Easy peasy. I’m a quick learner.
Six weeks are up and I’m ready to sign the contract for my own 35-40 weddings, at $300 a pop.
That’s o.k. I thought. In a couple of years, I’ll have a portfolio and can start charging what I want.
Or I can become a master photographer, at this studio, and shoot 80-100 weddings just like my sensei (plus, he was getting $500 per).
That was the plan. The last thing I was expecting was being…
Apparently I wasn’t good enough for this studio. Sad face. Tears. Rejected.
Next day. Screw you “Mr. studio”.
“I’m determined to be a wedding photographer if it kills me!!! Oh, yes I will.”
But how. I only need a dozen photos and I’ll create a killer wedding album. You know, the old school albums where you have 8×10 prints, one per page, mounted to some “cardboard”. Yep, that’s what I started with.
But, I had to shoot a wedding first. Classified ad placed. “I’ll shoot your wedding for free in exchange for use in my portfolio”. Waited. Phone rang. Booked. Shot. Success. Yup, this is the biggest milestone of my photographic career, up to this point in my life – I just didn’t know it yet.
Wedding album in hand. Booked some more weddings here and there. Oh, and for $800 per and not the $300 I was offered/denied, from – you know who you are “Mr. Studio”. In your face “Mr. Studio”!
Shoot a few more weddings… Bigger, better portfolio.
Then, the snowball effect. There was this thing called the world wide web that I heard about in the news. Never paid much attention to it. Thought it was a joke.
Ha! I can tell my grandkids…
“I was around when the world wide web became main-stream.”
Sure, why not.
Ummm, best freakin’ thing I’ve ever done to launch my photographic career!
Considering, from 1992-1998 I tried snail mail (junk mail some would call it), telemarketing, yellow pages and word of mouth, to try and start my own photographic studio. Failed. Year after Year.
By the end of 2001, I had 48 weddings booked for the following year!! Plus, throughout 2002, I added another 14 weddings! Yep, 62 weddings my first full year as a pro wedding photographer.
When I first started, I had one package for $800. As I booked more (and learned what other photographer were giving their clients), I created additional packages.
On top of that, re-print orders came rolling in. For a few weddings, the re-print orders exceeded the initial package!
Which led me to my next breakthrough. Charge more, shoot less, earn the same or more (in some years I earned more the less I shot).
In total, that first full year, I grossed 3 times more than 1991 and 2000.
I’m now a pro photographer. Happy face.
Some find it hard to believe that I shot over 500 weddings in 14 years. But, remember the Sensei teaching me to be a wedding photographer? Well, he told me that him and a couple of master photographers (at the “Mr. Studio”) were shooting 80-100 weddings EVERY year.
Yep, I’ve shot over 500 weddings. But, what if I told you that’s not even the incredible part?
What I’m about to share with you will blow your mind. Ready?
Those 500 weddings were shot in a foreign country! What?
You see, in 2001 I married the love of my life; Tammy. She’s French Canadian. After 9/11, immigrating to the U.S. ground to a halt. We were told it could take months or years before our application would be looked at.
So, it was easier and faster for me to immigrate to Canada. 95% of the weddings I shot were in Michigan. I’ve also shot in Florida, Kansas, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Arizona and yes, Canada.
2-3 times per week, I’d travel an hour (one-way) to meet up with wedding couples, at a Starbucks in Royal Oak, MI. Then, I’d spend the weekends, in Michigan, to shoot Friday and Saturday – some weekends Sunday too. On top of that, I only worked around 6 months of the year and never more than 30 hours per week – easily eclipsing $150 per hour (before expenses).
Now, that’s what I call passion. There you have it. My secret to success…
PERSISTENCE & DETERMINATION…
NEVER-GIVE-UP on your dreams!