One step forward and two steps back seems to be the pattern for a lot of photographers lately, particularly in the area of cultural travel photography. Falling editorial rates and increased competition make things tougher for all. For me personally, potentially beneficial long-term opportunities in the world of travel photography have recently opened up (one step forward) but at the cost of tougher times in the short-term (two steps back).
Choosing to forgo immediate gain in order to focus on the medium and longer term future isn't always easy. I recently sent off the last of a series of photographs to a publisher. It's unlikely that I'll see any licensing fees from this until 2011 at the earliest, even though putting it all together took the best part of the summer. Other than a couple of small and quick portrait shoots and a little bit of editorial travel photography for a regional magazine, the past couple of months have been lean. In the long run, it will be worth it but that doesn't necessarily make it easier to stomach now.
2010 was always going to be a year of major transition for me as I move my photography business away from the general and into a much more specialized direction. That transition is still ongoing and becomes frustrating at times, as the bulk of my time is now spent in front of a computer rather than behind a lens. This recent project was a vital step in that process but it was only a step. Completing one major task would, in a perfect world, be cause for celebration and signify time to take a break. In reality though, it's just another box to tick and task to cross off the list. Almost as soon as the DVD's full of photographs were dropped off at Fedex, it was back to the grindstone. Seeking out, researching and reaching out to new potential clients. A day full of crafting individualized, cold email introductions to a market that is not covered by Agency Access and the like. When that day is over, I end up with a stack of further possibilities for the future to investigate and approach. It's not a task for the impatient but at the same time, it's a task that must be done sooner rather than later.
So why do it? Why not take travel photos for fun and work in something else, something that provides a regular salary? I know plenty of photographers who have done just that. They work a full time, salaried job and save photography for the weekends. For some people, that's the best thing to do. Not for me however. Why? It's quite simple.
I am a photographer. More accurately, I am a cultural travel photographer. It's what I do. It's who I am. It gives me more than I could ever hope to repay. It's a passion. I have no choice. I can't not do it.
Short term pain may well be necessary for long term gain, and if that is the case, then so be it. Photography is a calling and when you've been called, you have no other options.