How I quit my job and became a professional photographer

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This post was originally published at Project RAWcast.

If you want to live your dreams you’ve just got to do it! Jump in the deep end, take that first leap, doors will open for you, opportunity is just waiting there for you to take it.

But, it can’t be that simple can it? It can certainly look like it from the outside looking in how some people just have success thrown upon them no matter what they do.

That’s probably because you only ever hear about the successes. No one really gets rich and famous being a complete failure, so their story isn’t going to be plastered around social media or shared in blogs like this.

So here is my success story from a realistic perspective.

I do consider myself a success story. I may not be rich and famous or the next big thing in photography, but I still managed to quit my full time job and make a living doing what I enjoy doing. And I know that the only limit to how far I go is up to me and not up to the positions available at some other corporation. So no matter how tough things get I just need to think of how much better it is working for myself than for someone else and I smile through anything.

© Kieran Stone

The outside looking in

Trying to picture what the progress of my life looks like to other people is difficult. I have to ignore all the things that are important to me and focus on whatever information is available about me on the internet and social media. I’ll probably include some more information that wouldn’t be too difficult to find out about me if someone was a mild, non-threatening stalker.

So here’s my superficial story:

I really started my public presence on Instagram in 2015 posting very amateur photos taken from an entry level DSLR. My photos gradually got better and were at least eye catching and colourful enough to get some engagement and slowly build up a follower base. By the end of 2015 I had 10k followers and was growing quite well. This growth continued to nearly 35k by the end of 2016 and up to where I am today.

During most of this time I was working as a Biomedical Scientist in Histology (Google it) and travelling every now and then around Australia and New Zealand. I started selling my photos on my website in 2015 and then started running one-on-one workshops in 2016. These workshops progressed to multi-day workshops and I co-founded a photography podcast (Project RAWcast) near the end of 2016.

© Kieran Stone

This has lead to more workshops and photography content throughout 2017. I’ve been published a few times in a prominent Australian Photography Magazine as well. My name is probably known throughout the narrow spectrum of Australian landscape photographers that are active on Instagram.

At some point in early 2016 was when I quit my full time job and started calling myself a full time professional photographer. I put this detail at the end because I figured it’s not that big of a deal to other people’s lives.

Quitting your 9-5 job and living your dream job is only exciting when you fantasise about doing it or actually do it, not when some random guy whose photos you’ve liked a couple of times on social media has done it.

©Kieran Stone

From the inside looking out

If that outside looking in story sounded dull then just wait until you hear it from my point of view! But stick around if you want to get an idea of what you need to do it yourself. Success does start with decisive action, but to jump in the deep end you first need to get off the couch, put on your swimmers and drive to the pool. Researching how not to drown is probably a good idea too. So here’s the side of things you don’t see:

I always enjoyed travelling and taking photos. I thought I was taking pretty good photos with a point and shoot camera because I didn’t really know the difference. I moved to London to work and travel and decided to get a “professional camera” and learn about how to use it. Even after 2 years in London and travelling around Europe I hadn’t learnt nearly enough to consider myself good at photography. If anything, I just kept learning how far away I was.

After returning to Australia I knew I wanted to “be a photographer” (whatever that meant) and looked into starting a business and what I would have to do. This was in 2013.

The first goal I set for myself was: get better. I had to improve my skills and knowledge of photography to a point where I was happy, really happy, with what I was producing. This meant also learning how to look at my work subjectively. And that meant comparing my work to everyone else that I considered to be good. I had a long way to go.

I bought books, I watched YouTube, I read my camera manual, I entered competitions, I took my camera everywhere and took A LOT of rubbish photos. But I looked at why they were rubbish and how I could have taken them better. By the end of 2014 I started being happy with what I was producing, it wasn’t the best but my subjective self wasn’t criticising them as much. They still weren’t good enough to make a living off though.

2015 was about getting my name out there. It’s at this point I’ll introduce you to my wife, Maria. She has been instrumental in my photography development and growing my name as a brand. I made a conscious effort to grow my Instagram following at the start of 2015 and Maria was my “bot”.

She engaged with people by liking and commenting and finding the most effective ways to grow my feed. She was the filter I went through to post photos, keeping me from posting bad photos and approving Instagram friendly images. Maria also did most of the heavy lifting for finding the best web developer for my online presence and the best place in Australia to get my photos printed and framed.

© Kieran Stone

By the end of 2015 we had a rough plan for me to quit and start making a liveable income from photography. This involved setting up workshops locally, which would be expandable to multi-day workshops. To do this I had to learn even more. I had to know everything about the photography technique and art. I had to learn how to teach people, where to teach people, how much to charge, how to sell the workshops and contingencies for bad weather.

I didn’t want to do weddings, I didn’t want to do events, portraits, pets, real estate. I really restricted myself because I knew if I started doing anything just for the money I wouldn’t enjoy it and quitting wouldn’t have made me happy.

I could have done a lot of this with the time I had at my scientist job but when I finished there every day I was drained, mentally and physically. I could have been working as a photographer much earlier, but I know some people out there can relate to those kinds of jobs where all you feel like doing is switching off at the end of your shift.

You have to work with the motivation you’ve got and mine was low for a long time. It’s been building back up ever since quitting but I just had to accept that I would quit one day, but it was going to take a while.

But then the timing was just right. At the end of 2015 my wife and I agreed that my photos and knowledge were of a high enough standard to make it work. All the slow preparation that had been building for years was finally about to pay off. But it still took a few more months before I could take the leap.

My wife was getting a new job! It was perfect! She would be travelling around Australia and New Zealand for work as well. This meant if I quit and I didn’t make it right away, we would be ok financially for a time and when she travelled I would be free to come along and take photos of whatever location she was at (we don’t like being apart for long periods).

So I quit. All those plans and ideas I prepared for are slowly falling into place and have been growing steadily.

I’m not rolling in cash or turning down jobs because I’m just way too busy. But I’m living the dream. Everyday I’m growing my business and finding new ways to try and make a name for myself and get my art out there. It’s great seeing other photographers out there producing amazing work and getting the recognition they deserve.

I never once think that people are getting something for nothing, but it does give my motivation a little more push to keep aiming high and never stop moving.

© Kieran Stone

How you can live your dream

Have a plan. Have multiple plans. Get yourself set up as much as you can and just keep learning and improving until the timing is right. It’s different for everyone.

Some people might be able to just decide one day to completely change their lives and do it there and then. Others may have to wait years at the grindstone, slowly shifting everything into place until the change seems like a gradual progression.

Find support where you can. Support can come in many forms, it can be family or friends or even the community around you. You don’t have to take handouts and work for nothing in the hopes of getting noticed, but find someone that gives you genuine and honest advice about what you’re doing.

In any case, you’re not falling behind those people that do it before you. You don’t see the years of planning that may have gone into that change. And some day, someone will be looking at your success wondering how easy it seems to be for you.

Kieran Stone is a landscape photographer based in Melbourne. One part of pro-photography duo Project RAWcast, you can see more of his work on his website, Facebook and Instagram.

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