January 26

11 comments

The Benefits of Negative Thinking, by Anne McKinnell

By Dan

January 26, 2011

The most difficult thing on the road to going pro is figuring out where you want your road to go.  I started off on the road because I love photography and am ready for a change in my life.  I want to do something creative and spend more time outside so I started thinking about how I could make a business out of it.

My experience in project management came in handy as I worked through some business ideas.  One of the ideas combined my boating experience, business experience and photography into one exciting marine photo tour adventure.  My clients could be tourists or amateur photographers.  I would need a bigger boat, which is a significant investment and sent me further down the planning path to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake.

One key ingredient in any good business plan is the risk assessment.  I tried hard not to think negatively at first, but my business experience told me I should, at least just for a moment.  Thinking hard about the risks to my personal satisfaction I came up with these:

  • I might not become a successful photographer if my focus is running a tour business
  • I might end up in the poor house with a giant debt from buying the boat
  • I might hate working with people because I am a loner at heart
  • I might do all this work to change my life to something I like better, and then not like it better

…and then the worst risk of all came to me …

  • I might stop liking photography.

This is when I realized I might be on the wrong path.  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  Not only because I like photography and it would be a shame to loose all enjoyment in something I like, but because photography changed my whole outlook on life.

A person’s inherent characteristics have to be taken into account.  I have to be honest with myself: I am a negative thinker, a depressed person, a loner, and I see all the bad the things in the world.  The world is an evil place and a lot of nasty stuff happens.  I have to put real effort into seeing anything good.  And that’s where photography comes in.

To help myself become a happier person, I decided to photograph only beautiful things.  No more graveyards, homeless people, and injustice like I used to shoot way back in my university days.  I leave the darker side of life to other photographers.  (I also had to stop watching crime shows on TV.) Using the camera to focus only on good and beautiful things helped me change my outlook on life. If beauty and goodness exist, the world cannot be entirely evil.  I am trying to follow the advice of Dewitt Jones and “celebrate what is right with the world”.

If I lost the one thing that helps me see goodness in the world because I can’t stand working with the public, because I am stressed out over debt, or because photography becomes a J.O.B. and not a passion, I risk loosing all the happiness and appreciation for the world that photography has helped me find.  I would go back to seeing only bad things.  That is a risk I cannot take.

So, with a big sigh, I started my planning all over again from the top.  I have done a big round trip, but one I think was worthwhile and probably saved me a lot of grief.  I would still like to create a successful photography business but it has to be done in a way that relates to  my ultimate purpose: to create beautiful images that inspire me to believe in the world whether I make money or not.  After all, if the goal is making money, I would be better off staying in my current career.

If I want to live my dream, I have to carefully define my dream so I don’t end up on the wrong path.  There are much worse things than ending up in the poor house.

————

Anne McKinnell is an emerging photographer based in Victoria, BC. She shares her insight here each month as a voice to other aspiring pro photographers. Read Anne’s other articles on this site.

photos.annemckinnell.com • blog.annemckinnel.comAnne on TwitterAnne on Facebook

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.


  • Great post, Anne, I couldn’t have put it better myself. The daily grind is the nemesis of inspiration, and for most of us “staying fresh” is one of the biggest challenges. As Thoreau said: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Most women, too.

    Sing it, sister!

  • Anne, This is a very well written (and difficult to write, I’m sure) article. I applaud your discipline in the area of cutting negativity out of your life. I came to a point some years ago where I stopped watching television news and so on, for exactly the reasons you’ve given up crime shows and shooting decay. It was one of the better things I ever did. It is brave of you to have written so personally about this topic, and I thank you for having taken the risk. The photographs you included are truly beautiful and leave me wanting to see more of your work.

    Oh yeah… I also learned something and as a result will think about my own future plans in a very different way. Thank you!

  • An interesting post Anne. I made my living with photography through the 80’s and early 90’s. It eventually sucked the fun out of it for me and when I stopped, I went through a long period of not picking a camera up at all. Eventually, I rediscovered the joy that photography brought me and started photographing again. I frequently hear from co-workers that I should be doing it professionally but am always leery about losing the joy again. You are on the right path in looking for a way to develop a photography business while maintaining the joy.

  • Holy.Moly. Geez Anne it’s like you just jumped into my brain and wrote this blog. How do you do that??? 😉

    I am so in the same place with you! Again! Love it!

  • Anne, this is incredibly insightful. I love your perspective, and know exactly what you are saying. I get so bogged down by the business side of photography that it can lose its magic. Getting out with my camera and looking for the beautiful in the world does wonders for the soul. Great post, Anne.

  • That is certainly the dilemma with most any career choice. I am a web developer by day and there was a point in my life when I spent all of my free time working on personal projects, but now I can’t stand it. I probably will never write another line of code for fun again, I have to get paid or compensated some how.

    With that in the back of my mind, I’ve been very selective with my photography ambitions. The obvious paying branches like portraiture and weddings sound much to much like work. So I’ve been stubborn and refuse to go down those roads.

    Great post Anne, enjoyed the read!

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    Terry Bourk

    I have read you new book “Behind the Landscape.” I could not “put it down” meaning that I kept at it because each photo you presented/analyzed was interesting and informative. I am trying to develop an eye for composition (both the scene and the light).

    Thank you! The examples you present and the suggestions are very helpful. Purple Mountains, McKinley River and Wonder Lake are fascinating.


    Roger Sinclair

    You have done it again! Another triumph.

    Your generosity to share, the clarity of thought and concise explanation thereof is brilliant. Perhaps I should also mention the beautiful photos and the talent necessary to produce them.

    Thank you, Dan.