Work for my passion, for money or both?
We have all heard some passionate friend say, "if only I could be a full time photographer, painter, movie director (put in any creative job there), and make enough money I would be happier. Problem is that I have a family to take care and can't afford to drop everything for my passion." Well at least I have been in that state of mind for many years.
This post is a short story about how I shifted from salesman to photographer and made a living doing something I loved. While it happened in my 40s I wouldn’t say it was a mid-life crisis (or at least I hope it wasn’t).
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to work as a movie director, or photographer. I missed the opportunity in my youth. I was not daring enough and went on to take a regular job in computers, it wasn't a boring job, but I never quite felt complete. Then at the age of 25 I went into sales for various companies as I got tired of sitting in front of a computer all day and wanted to talk to human beings.
At the age of 30, my brother created a web agency and hired me as a salesman, at first I had a lot of fun, and the company took on expansion. My dream of being an artist was parked, but things were ok. In the meantime, I was married, had four kids, one from a first marriage and my second wife had three young boys whom we raised. I bought a big house, a car and two motorbikes and had loans up to my neck!
At the age of 35, I went on holiday with friends on the Seychelles Islands. One of them was a pro Photoshop retoucher, and he started showing me Photoshop and retouched a portrait I had just taken. I was amazed. Seeing that brought back all these dreams about having a creative job. For some reason, that I day I made a decision that I was going to find a way to get into the movie industry, but I didn't have the slightest idea how.
I had more debt than ever and it was going to be a lot harder than in my youth. Making a movie as a director is a team activity. I had no team. I figured becoming a photographer would be a start. The advantage is that I just needed a camera, and I could start creating, no team needed and it was a step toward that dream.
I went into the first bookstore, I could find and bought several books about Photography and Photoshop. Most of them seemed to be pretty hard to understand, except one author by the name of Scott Kelby. If I remember well it was Adobe Photoshop CS Down Dirty Tricks. I then "investigated" all the books and tutorials I could read from that author. Later I discovered NAPP and the Photoshop Guys.
I started doing a photo series in Paris called “Paris Cinema.” The idea was to shoot Paris in the most dramatic light possible, just like we see in the big movies, such as Gone with the Wind, Spielberg movies etc. I though this would be a good exercise to train toward being a movie director.
A little note on how I learned. I had a precise method to learn photography that worked for me, in three steps:
1. Find a photographer that inspires me.
2. Read all his books, watch all his tutorials and try to "copy" his work.
3. Find your own style around that technique.
Here are some examples of what I mean.
HDR: RC Conception/Trey Ratcliff, I bought RC's books and studied HDR, as well as studying Trey's tutorials.
Below is is my understanding of their HDR photos.
Below more my personal style.
Another photographer I learned from was, Jean Michel Berts. A French photographer who's style I love, he works with film and produces fine arts prints.
Here is one of his New York photos:
Below me trying to reproduce his type of work.
Here is my own style.
Joel Grimes, I'm crazy about his composite work. When I see his photos, I get so much emotion. What I love about it is the mixture of portraits and landscape, two forms of art in one photo.
This is my attempt to reproduce Joel Grimes’ style of work:
This is how I changed it to my own style:
Back to the story
A couple of years and thousand pictures later, I met a screen writer who had worked for TV shows for quite some time and had written three feature film scripts.
I read the scripts and loved them. There was one particular script, a comedy, that I would love to direct. The screen writer told me he was tired working for other production companies and wanted to produce these three films. He needed a partner who had some experience in sales to be the producer and help negotiate the contracts with the studios/TV Channels. That was great as I was passionate about movies and I had worked as a salesman for quite some time.
We agreed to work together and I would get the chance to direct one of the movies. The only problem was that creating a movie company meant no revenue for a couple of years, time spent preparing the cast, getting the funding and preparing the team to shoot. We also had to make some short movies to show what we could do.
But as I mentioned earlier I had bills to pay and could definitely not afford to drop all my work for a few years while the family didn't eat.
I had worked out a pretty intricate plan with my brother and his business partner how it could work out. However after a year of work the plan didn't work out. Needless to say I was devastated… Yet again the dream was disappearing. But on the plus side, I spent every possible minute shooting and retouching pictures in order to improve my skills.
I went back to see the screen writer and told him that for now I couldn't create the film production company, and that I had no solution at all. He looked at me and gave me a pep talk. He told me that I had a created such a large collection of great photography which there must be a way to monetize.
So we found a way to start selling prints to hotel owners as a decoration item for their hotel. To my amazement one of the hotels I contacted was very interested and wanted to buy a series of prints for his hotel as I had proposed. But wait… He wanted prints for two hotels! I was incredulous listening to his voice mail.
In all I sold close to $180,000 worth of fine prints, basically being sponsored by many friends and refurbished over 150 hotel rooms with photos in each room.
Below are some examples:
I was so happy, because not only I had enough money to make that transition into the movies, but I made it through art.
I would never have thought that this hobby of mine would become something I could make money from.
With the screenwriter we were now ready to create our movie production company that we named Alandra Films.
One of my last shots:
In two years, we shot eight short movies, and all three major feature films are being funded. We have major partner agreements, and we should be shooting the first movie this summer. The first is called House of Time, a thriller sci-fi movie about a man who made a fortune in Role Playing games inviting friends over for a week end to play time travelâ¦
It took a bit more time than I expected to finance the first movie; I had to learn a lot about movie production, (I knew nothing about it), as I was making no money in the film company. I became a part-time photographer, to earn a living, while learning and working on the film projects.
Today my income as a photographer comes from architectural photos, brands buying some of my photos of Paris, and tutorials. About a year ago I made a deal with a French editor to sell some tutorials about my photo techniques. It turned out to be a success. In fact, over the last months the tutorials became the number-one Photoshop tutorials on that site. I've now added English tutorials on various platforms.
Today I make almost twice the revenue I used to make as a salesman, but now I make it doing what I love, photography and movie production.
By now you may think this post is about me and some bragging about myself. Actually quite the contrary, it is rather a story about how long I waited to do something that I should have done long ago.
If I had to summarize all this into one word and try to help people at the same time it would be: Commit. As long as it was just an idea or a desire it was in my mind the day I decided to commit to that dream and go through what I had to to make it, things started working out.
I believe that a decision, a strong decision, one completely without "maybe," will create action, then it's all a matter of finding the right mentors.
Well, Scott Kelby is my mentor as well as Matt Kloskowski, RC Concepcion, and all the Photoshop Guys. Many years ago I chose to do most of the classes on KelbyTraining.com and learned everything from there.
They are in my heart as I have never been happier than before doing what I love, and they contributed to that in a very big way.
Recently I had the chance to spend a week with Scott in Paris. I had never met him in person, and it was way above my expectations, in terms of fun, in the way he makes you comfortable. A few minutes after meeting him, I had the feeling that we had been friends for years.
Steve Jobs said, "Keep looking, don't settle, find something that you love and you will do great." And Confucius said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." For me nothing is truer.
I still have a lot to learn and share, and I know the movie business is going to be a long and adventurous road, but I love it.
You can see more of Serge’s work at PhotoSerge.com, check out his tutorials, and find him on Google+.
What a fantastic and inspiring blog post! I have always wanted to try and start doing portraits and grad photos, things like that. Since I am a college student this is hard. Now, after reading this, I want to try and commit to this idea. Thanks for posting this!
Beautiful Beautiful work Serge! Â Absolutely love what you’re doing with color in Paris.. Â I could so see a print like this on my wall. Â Congrats!!! Â
A new fan,Â RC
I call what you do being a free sprite. At the age of 69 almost 70;Â I have found that if I do one thing that I really love in life; I am a happy and blessed person. I am a USMC disable veteran and your blog and photos make me want to keep learning. Thank you for your blog.
Inspiring to say the least! Personally I’ve been trying to get my foot in anyone’s door, including Scott’s! No luck so far .. but I want this bad. not to mention that I really started hating my day job. Hearing your story put a little more fuel on my fire! So thanks for sharing your story, looks like you have had more luck thanks to the help of some friends, truly wonderful!
Great, thanks for all the helpfull info!
a very inspiring story indeed!
Wow! Great story, great work. Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.
What a great post to start the day with. Thanks.
A very motivating read. Gives me hope that it’s never too late to pursue what you truly enjoy. Thanks for sharing your story (and your photos are incredible).
Serge, Your work is beautiful, your motivation is right on. I was once told…”To work in a place you go in a dream” today I’m livin the dream. Thanks for your wonderful blog.
Serge, thanksÂ for sharing your amazing work and tenacity to achieve your passion in life, love your photos and I’m now looking forward to your films.
Best of luck.
Fantastic article, and very inspiring! Â Thanks for posting this. Â Gave me a lot of ideas to use in my own quest for photography self reliance. :)
Thank you for a truly inspiring guest blog, Serge! :)
Amazing…It is always about the journey. Â I have been following your work for about 5 years as your images are so compelling and beautiful. Â It nice to hear the complete back story. Â I know you will continue to create beautiful work.Â Talent is recognized in the end. Â Wishing you the best. :)Â
Great and inspiring story. Best of luck in your movie career, but I hope you continue to create photo images, because they are really outstanding.Â
Awesome HDR Serge, I’ve got to go back and read RC’s book again! I have problems with greenery out side of windows like in the old kitchen shot.
Great to hear this kind of success story in the photography sector.Â
Thanks for this article! I can really relate to your situation. In the last few months I have bought a house, a car and our beautiful daughter has arrived. I have an ordinary job which I find quite ok, atleast I don’t hate it… I really want to work with photography, but every month we have struggle with finances, all my free time I spend with my family and daughter so at the moment I really feel my hands are tied. This article made me feel there might be a chance for me, even though Things seem very dark at the moment. Thanks for the inspiration and perhaps me to will meet up with Mr. Kelby in the future :)
Very good read! I always love to hear the back story to people’s success and how it came to be.
OMG!! How inspiring is your Story!!! This sounds so much like where I am at the moment in life and you have just given me the reason to believe to follow your dreams! Your images are amazing and thank you for sharing this. Thank you.
stunning… its very nice creation
What a great post and inspiring story!
Enjoyed hearing about your success story and I also really liked your Lightroom tutorial — it improved so Â many of my images!
Very inspiring! Keep up the great work.
Remarkable tutorials! Easy to understand and incorporate.
Great post and great shots.
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Serge.. Your story is really inspiring, just like your photos..
Hi Serge thanks for your story it is indeed inspiring. Your tutorials have made the single biggest influence in my photography. Listening to you, I’ve also started following Scott Kelby and you can learn so much by listening to you guys.