January 27


Reflecting on My Own Photographic Path and Passions

By Dan

January 27, 2011

long evening gownAfter reading such a wonderfully insightful post yesterday by Anne McKinnell about personal choices and her own approach to life and photography, and the great comments from everyone who took the time to respond, I find it hard to just follow up today with something so seemingly trivial as a gear or book review or a photography tip.

Not that those things aren’t important. After all, you often depend on this site for resources, methods and ideas that can help you improve your photography, both creatively and professionally, and I promise, I’ll continue to bring you that stuff, just not today.

Instead, I find myself turning inward and looking back at my own path, reflecting a bit on the choices that I made along the way. I can certainly identify with the notion that doing photography for work has the potential for causing creative and passion burnout. Fortunately, I haven’t ever hit that wall, but that could be because I experienced the same thing earlier in my life with music and learned from it.

As a guitar player in high school, I wanted nothing more than to try and make a career out of that passion. My determination led me to enroll at Berklee College of Music, where I aspired to become a professional grade, technically proficient musician who was capable of making a living with music.

Didn’t quite turn out that way. When I got into Berklee, I was overwhelmed, and somewhat intimidated by all the other guitar players, many of whom were so much better than I was, and so I turned my energy towards music recording and production.

I actually found that I loved that part of the music process and quickly discovered great passion within myself for being a recording engineer. It combined the specialized knowledge of using technical equipment to direct and manipulate electronic signals, the innovative creativity of microphone placement and mixing together different sounds and instruments and the inspiration of capturing a great performance from the musicians. It seemed like a tailor made career for me.

However, as I got closer to graduation, two things happened that disrupted that path. The first thing was the fact that I started to burn out on music. It somehow became a highly competitive chore in a very hierarchal environment, especially when I spent every other Friday interning at a professional recording studio, where the head engineers treated me like nothing more than a coffee boy. That jaded me to the business pretty quickly.

The other thing that happened is that while attending Berklee, I got this wild idea to buy a camera. Very quickly, that took over as my main passion and creative outlet. By the time I graduated, the seeds were already planted. I knew that photography was what I wanted to do in life, instead of spending my working life in windowless recording studios and smoky bars.

Problem was, though that I wasn’t sure how to get there. I considered going back to school for photography, but quickly remembered how I’d burned out on music. I also ignored the people who told me that I should become a full time assistant or shoot weddings because that’s how other people make money at photography. I knew that those paths wouldn’t bring me happiness and so I simply waited. I bided my time, improved my craft, worked on developing my vision, got the job as a photo editor and kept my eyes open for the right opportunity.

Eventually the right time came for me when I was let go from my last day job. I haven’t ever looked back since that day. Sure, my passion, excitement, and creativity have wavered a bit over the years, as they always will, but they’ve never died.

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And although my grumpy factor has gone up and down numerous times during different periods of my career, I’ve managed to quell it to a manageable level. In fact, despite the fact that the photography business has completely reshaped itself in recent years, I find myself standing tall with as much inspiration, excitement and passion than I had on February 2, 1990, which is the day I bought my first camera.

In one week, I will have been a photographer for twenty one years, and I still love it. Every single day. It continues to be the number one driving force in my life. Even when I struggle with the business, I still love it, because I don’t follow it with ideas that I know aren’t right for me.

And I still play guitar and record music, but not for a living. I do it just for fun. In fact, I may even love guitar more than photography. Not sure though, I just know that if someone made me choose between cameras and guitars, I just can’t see every giving up guitars forever. Glad that I don’t have to make that choice.

Anyway, my point here, and my response to Anne’s article is that everyone must follow their own path. Listen to your heart. Do what you know is best for you. If that means that photography remains your hobby instead becoming of your profession, so be it. That doesn’t mean that you love it any less that I do, it might just mean that you don’t want to risk burning out on it and that’s an admirable position to hold.

And if you do choose to make it your profession, don’t force it. Remember to be true to yourself and to evaluate every decision along your path to make sure that it’s the right course of action for you.

Thanks, Anne, for making us all think a little bit, and thanks to everyone who also shared their own thoughts on the matter. Your input on this blog is very much appreciated, and not just by me.

Oh, and by the way- if you want to hear some of my guitar playing, songwriting and recording skills, visit my page at iCompositions.com. I even sing on some of the songs.

About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 20+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

  • Like my friend Trudy says: This got me church shoutin!!!!! I amen’d every point here.

    Dan Bailey you fascinate me 🙂 If I were going to photograph a human being outside of my family, it’d be you!

  • Wow, a man of many talents: musician, photographer, pilot!

    I’m glad my article elicited such a response from you and from others who left comments as well. I particularly like your advice that if you do want to go into photography professionally, don’t force it. I think that may be part of my problem; I’m in such a rush to figure out the answer so I can get on with my new life. Maybe I need a speed limit on the road to going pro.

  • I have just stumbled upon you blog and really enjoy your writing and insight, not to mention the theme you choose ;). That is besides the point. I, too, went to school for music and graduated with a degree in Music Education, taught for two years before that school district let me go… I mean I resigned. I have since been working at a great job and developing my photography business. I never thought I would be at this point but I am loving it just the same. It is refreshing to hear other photographers say they still love what they do besides grumble and complain. Thanks for a great site, glad I found it!

  • Will, Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to read my blog. Another musician turned photographer. It seems as if music and photography are indeed intertwined on some level. Galen Rowell’s mother was a musician and so he was exposed to music in his house from an early age. Ansel Adams was a piano player during his youth and I’ve seen a few other pro photographers who also play music on the side. Thanks for reading and keep up the good work!

  • I am with “jagjit” above. I have never seen this sort of topic covered on any blog. If you two have any more stuff like this to say, I’m all ears.

  • Thanks for sharing these thoughts and for reminding me to finding my own path. One of the challenges of starting out as a photographer is simply choosing which areas of photography to work with, and I’m in that process right now… It takes a lot of thinking!

    I got curious when you mentioned you got the job as a photo editor early in the process; I would’ve guessed it was often the other way around, that photo editors are often retired photographers?

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