I cannot begin to start writing this post without saying thank you for this opportunity to both Brad and Scott. I threw my seat back when I saw the email come in from Brad asking if I could share my story, I think I ran around my basement (my office) holding my head pinching myself asking over and over if this was even real. After reading this post you will understand completely!
Tuesday, March 18th 2014, we were sitting on the edge of the bed having a discussion about time and just how limited it was.
“Babe, I have 3 things going on in my life right now that stretch me in every direction. I have a beautiful family, a blog, and a job that pays the bills. Something has to give and it sure is not going to be the family,” I said to my wife as I put one of three fingers down.
I continued, “I can keep doing this job, day in day out working 10 hours a day with a 1 hour commute on each end and I can drop the blogging. Or I can quit my job and see where this goes.”
We had this conversation many times before, not to this extreme or to this extent. I had a feeling that it would end like it usually did, with a “well, you do what you gotta do, Love.” However, she threw me for a whirl!
“Quit your job…” Those three words made my heart sink into my chest and all I could think was, ”Is this really a possibility? What about the kids? The house? Can I really do this? “ I slept on the idea. I don’t know how I slept, but I did.
The next morning I quit my full time job. As I look back on it all I can think of are three phrases that we hear all of the time, but we never really listen to.
Everything Happens for a Reason
It was sometime in early July of 2010 that I signed up for my very first “Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photo Walk” event. I thought it was a very cool idea, but I had no idea who Scott Kelby was. I wasn’t into the photo training industry at the time, heck, I had no idea it even existed. I signed up because I was looking to meet other photographers.
The photo walk was in the Marin Headlands just across the Golden Gate Bridge. What a gorgeous place for a photo walk! I was walking up a hill to overlook the ocean when a gentleman asked me what I was doing because he heard 5 continuous shots for every photo I was taking. I told him I was doing some HDR and we got on a very long discussion about it.
I didn’t see a camera in his hand so I thought he was either someone’s friend or a straggler. At the end of the event he said, “Here is my card, shoot me an email sometime and you should really consider going to Photoshop World.” I glanced at the card and read it in my head, “Matt Kloskowski, Kelby Media Group… interesting.”
I started to put some things together, Kelby Photo Walk, Kelby Media Group, Photoshop World… This sounds awesome! After battling with the idea for a while, I decided to go. Well, let me rephrase that… My wife made me go.
I went to Photoshop World thinking I knew 95% of everything I needed to know about Photoshop… after day 2, I realized I knew 5% of nothing about Photoshop! I was a sponge soaking up every ounce of information I could. I took tons of notes regardless of the giant book that came with the event.
I even got counseled by Vincent Versace in the middle of his lesson for taking notes during his course after he said, “No need to take notes.” The thing is, I didn’t want to forget anything so I wrote and wrote and wrote during every course. I even snuck in a few more after his warning.
I went to one session about Blogging with Matt Kloskowski, Scott Kelby, and Jeff Revell. Before that course I thought bloggers just liked to hear themselves talk. I had no idea how effective and helpful they could be. After the course I talked to Matt about a blog he said, “You should start a blog about HDR…” My initial thought was, “If Matt Kloskowski tells you to start a blog… you start a blog!”
He directed me to RC’s WordPress course on Kelby Training. I signed up as soon as I got home and on September 6th 2010, my first post went live on EverydayHDR.
Everything really does happen for a reason.
Hard Work Pays Off
I had no idea what direction to go with the blog when I first started, but I knew I wanted to share my knowledge of HDR with the world. I began with 3 days a week Monday, Wednesday, & Friday. Monday was themed for whatever I wanted to post from what I shot over the weekend. Wednesday was either a featured artist interview or a product review. Friday was free tutorial Friday.
Anyone who blogs knows that three times a week can be a CRAZY idea, especially with a full time job and a family. I didn’t know that, I had just started! I kept that pace for about 2 years never missing a beat. I remember the frustration of posting, checking my stats, no one watching. Read that last sentence about 150 more times… that was my life for the first 2 years.
I didn’t understand it. I was posting good quality stuff. I was putting out Video Tutorials on YouTube every Friday just to get 1 view here, maybe 3 more there. I had to do something else to gain credibility.
In December 2012, I self-published my first book, Exploring HDR. It wasn’t a best seller, it didn’t hit the top 100 (unless I put it up for free, then I watched it fly off the shelves!), but I didn’t let that bring me down either. I had my first book published online, available for download and it felt good.
It felt good to know that I wrote the entire book on my breaks at work. I didn’t have time to do it at home. Instead of watching the “Price is Right” on my break, I was on the computer typing chapter after chapter. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with watching the “Price is Right,” I was just on a mission!
It felt so good, I wrote another book, The DSLR Survival Guide, and another, 11 Things Every Photographer Should Know About HDR Photography. These weren’t your typical eBooks on Amazon, they were anywhere from 100 to 280 pages. I wrote every word, designed every image, and read each book 6 times from a different perspective during their revisions.
- The Author
- The Beginning Photographer
- The Novice Photographer
- The Advanced Photographer
- The Editor
- And one more time to make sure all my i’s were crossed and t’s were dotted.
Around the same time I started conducting webinars with Topaz Labs. They were recognizing me as a “professional.” I remember saying to my wife, “Hey Babe, they are calling me a professional, do they know I am just a guy with a blog?”
The credibility from the Webinars was starting to drive a lot more traffic to the blog. I was stoked! I couldn’t believe that 14,000 people would take time out of their month to visit what I had been writing.
I was receiving a lot of feedback from viewers asking me if I did any full-length tutorials. At the time, I just gave little 5-15 minute snippets. I was beginning to realize that people actually wanted to see what I was doing and how I was getting my results. While I would love to have given that information out for free, I realized it was valuable. This led to a subscription based website, HDRInsider, which started in November 2013.
The books and the subscription site were generating some decent revenue. However, it was not enough to quit my job, or support my family, but it was enough to support the expensive photography hobby! In early February I put my first full-length training package online, Black, White & Beyond: The Digital Zone System. I thought this was going to be our ticket.
I knew this package had potential to blow up the scene. However, my reach was not very large. I didn’t have time to spread it on social media, the other photographers I reached out to in the community either did not respond to me or told me it was not something that interested them to promote, which I completely understood. All I had was an email list, a very small email list.
It didn’t sell as much as I would have liked it to, but that was all about to change. On March 18th I did a Webinar with Topaz Labs. It was about creating an efficient workflow in Photoshop using Topaz Products. I went through the whole webinar discussing Topaz products without mentioning the new training package.
At the very end, within the last 3 minutes, I was asked to show the Digital Zone System. I ran through the process and showed how powerful the system was to an audience of about 980 people. Within an hour after the Webinar had concluded those 3 minutes generated 30 sales and more were trickling in. It was at this time that my wife and I sat on the corner of the bed and looked at the PayPal account on my phone.
“Quit your job… Think about it Blake, you spend maybe 10-20 minutes a night doing what you are truly passionate about. If you quit your job you could do it 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and get a month’s work done in 2 days. I wouldn’t tell you to do it if I didn’t think you could.”
She was right. Of course she was right, my wife is always right!
Since then, I have created yet another efficient workflow technique, the Color Zone System, which works so well with the Digital Zone System. People ask me all of the time, “It is great that you are doing what you love, but is there really any money in Online Photography Education for a small business guy like yourself?”
I tell them, “Well, I am a professional photographer who has only made $400 off of his camera this year, yet there is a roof over our head and the kids are fed. I’d say there is.”
Money is all fine and well, but it is not what drives my passion, it is just compensation for the hard work. I meet people every day online via email, social media, and my blogs. I am helping people overcome problems with their post processing workflow that took me years to do.
Through this I have learned that my passion is not necessarily my photography. I am passionate about the process of helping people become better photographers. Receiving a “Thank you” is much more rewarding than a dollar.
Looking back on all of it, I can attest:
Hard work really does pay off.
You Never Know What the Future Holds
Four years ago I was a Master Parachute Rigger working full time in the Air Force National Guard with photography as a hobby at best. If you were to tell me that in a few years I would be a professional blogger I would have laughed at you.
So I have a couple questions for you,
Are you going to sign up for your first Photo Walk this year?
You never know, a chance meeting or a business card exchange could send your life in a new direction. As long as you keep an open mind to the people that you meet and the opportunities that present themselves there is no telling what will happen.
Are you planning on going to Photoshop World?
Whether you are a professional photographer or a hobbyist like I was, there is something for everyone at Photoshop World. I was actually about to skip the blogging course to go walk the strip in Vegas for some fresh air. Because of that course, I left Photoshop World a new person. I was filled with inspiration and motivation beyond what words can even begin to describe. Thank you Scott, Matt, Jeff, and RC.
I can’t help but think about the movie The Butterfly Effect.
What would have happened if I didn’t take my wife’s advice and go to Photoshop World?
What would have happened if I didn’t go to the blogging course?
Would I have ever started EverydayHDR?
Would I be where I am now?
The reality is you can drive yourself mad thinking about what could have been only to find out you are wasting valuable time on what IS right now.
I don’t know what the future holds, it is not my responsibility to worry about that. I do know this though; the future, regardless of what it will be, is exciting!
I will be at Photoshop World this year on the Expo Floor sharing my training packages and websites. I look forward to meeting you there, heck, I’ll even give you my business card!
You can see more of Blake’s work and tutorials at EverydayHDR.com and HDRInsider.com, and follow him on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.