Assessing another year of life, some advice and plans for the future

corbis-images-cover-indian-wrestler

This is the first post since my 29th birthday, which I had about a week ago. If you’ve been following this blog for over a year, you would have perhaps read that I am really not so crazy about birthdays. Twenty-nine… things are getting really serious now, I’m kinda grown up. 🙂 It feels like I was at university just yesterday and at high-school last week. While I am very glad that I am not in high-school now (though I still get the nightmares, like a lot of you probably do) it is very, what’s the word – strange, surreal to be on the verge of turning thirty.

It seems like my birthdays over the past few years have been days for some sort of self assessing. I try to reflect on what I’ve done with my life and ponder where I’m heading next. It’s always been a little depressing to self-assess myself. I’ve always felt like I hadn’t done enough, like I hadn’t seen all the places I wanted to see and well… just insert whatever unfulfilled goals you have and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I do fully realize that my life is pretty awesome in many ways and many people dream of traveling the world and taking photos. I’m not complaining by any means, it’s just that I always seem to be behind on my plans and on top of that in the past it’s always been a struggle to get the finances together for the next trip, there was that feeling of uncertainty and the question of “how long can I keep doing this?” was never too far away.

For the first birthday in my life however, this isn’t a very pressing question. It seems that all the hard work I’ve put into my photography, eBooks, agency contracts as well as establishing contacts with magazine editors is finally paying off. For the first time in my life my finances are not much of an issue, at least not enough to have me worried about the ability to do what I love most. I have to say “This feeling is great, no doubt about it!”

It feels like there’s a world of new, possibilities ahead of me now as far as travel and photography are concerned. I am writing this post because, well because I’m pretty excited, but also because there’s a lesson to be learned, not that most of us don’t know what that lesson is – hard work and perseverance pay off. Maybe not right away, but eventually they do.

I’ve been getting more emails and even occasional calls from young aspiring travel photographers than ever before asking me for advice relating to being a travel photographer for a living and while I still don’t feel like I’m the appropriate person to ask anything about this matter, I can at least say some positive, encouraging words to them – “It can be done” even by someone like me, who for most part just kinda floated around not knowing what the next week will bring. Sure there’s the crisis and it’s always been “impossible” to make money through photography, particularly through travel pictures, but if you have the skills, a degree of talent, a lot of perseverance and if you ignore all the nay-sayers, then you can do a lot of what others say is “hard” or even “impossible”. If you ask me, there’s never been a better time to be a creative person. With the internet anyone is their own publisher, director, broadcaster or basically whatever they want to be. If you have a quality product – i.e. a solid body of work, you can make things happen. Actually let me repeat that, you need a solid body of work.

A lot of people try to jump the gun and want to make a career out of a few dozens half-decent travel snaps and become disappointed when things don’t go their way. That’s simply not how it works, forget it. So my advice to all of you who want to be “Travel photographers” is simple, in fact it should be pretty obvious and I’ve been saying it all along, but I guess with all the tweeting, blogging and whatever else that people who want to be photographers do, they forget that you need to actually be good at photography, to have something to show in order to sell yourself.

I had a reality check in regards to this back in 2005 when I submitted a bunch of photos to Lonely Planet, hoping to be represented by their image library. Their editors probably laughed (or cursed at me for wasting their time), but emailed me a polite response saying that while I had some strong work there was not enough of it to warrant a contract. The email might as well have said something like – “You’ve sent us ten decent images and four hundred and ninety shitty ones, (they needed a submission of 500) thanks for wasting our time, don’t submit again until you take this seriously.

I learned my lesson and hung onto the little positive bit of the email. I figured that the editor had no reason to lie to me and thought that if someone in a quality organization like LP thought that I had at least some strong work, then I have to build on that and I so I went out shooting stuff pretty intensely for a couple of years, using money that I earned working crappy jobs.

Ok, that’s enough of that. On a completely different note, I’ll be on the road again in a couple of weeks. My next destination – Vanuatu. I knew nothing about this country until very recently, but the more I’ve researched on it the more intrigued I’ve become. It’s actually quite easy to become intrigued with a nation which is made up of 83 islands, some of which are home to very traditional tribal groups and there’s only information out there on about two or three of them (the islands). The only way to find out more is to go, so that’s what I’m doing. It helps that Vanuatu is only about a four hour flight from Sydney, so you could say that I’ll be exploring what’s out there in my own backyard, ok, perhaps in the neighbor’s backyard. You get the point. 🙂

I’ll try to squeeze in a post before I go, but that’s all for now. Oh, and the seemingly unrelated image at the top of the post is a screen grab of the front page of the Corbis Images website. They featured (it’s gone now) one of my wrestler images there, which I thought was a pretty awesome welcome, as I fairly recently signed a contract with them. I probably mentioned before, I am now represented by two of the world’s favorite/hated (depends which way one looks at it) photo agencies – Getty and Corbis Images.

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8 Responses to “Assessing another year of life, some advice and plans for the future”

  1. Jamshid Says:

    Hi Mitch,
    I learnt so much from reading your blog and the eBooks, I was ready to call you Master Yoda, guessing by your wisdom you might be 800 years old.

    29! feeling depressed! I am twice your age and wishing to become like you when I grow up.

    Happy Birthday, and Cheers,
    Jamshid

  2. Mitchell Says:

    Hah, that’s pretty hilarious Jamshid. 🙂 Thanks for the birthday wishes! I’m real glad that you’re finding the blog and the eBooks useful. Looking forward to seeing those images of yours.

  3. Злая собака Says:

    Мастер Йода, ну, тебе реально дай только повод потрындеть. 29 лет – это повод написать самый длинный и пространный пост в твоём блоге 🙂 Ты превзошёл сам себя 😉 Поздравляю!

  4. Злая собака Says:

    А! Забыл же ж сказать, что хотел по делу. Статья в Photographer очень крутая! Вот честное слово, я прям в очередной раз возгордился нашим с тобой знакомством. Ну, текст интервью, конечно, сомнительный – не поверили мы с Н., что ты столько умных слов знаешь. Но вот фото (на разворотах особенно) – просто обалденные. Нельзя не признать – ты правда крутой фотограф.

  5. Arun Says:

    Mitchell, it is always heartening to see success stories of travel photographer. Most people I know who had an incline to travel photography find it hard to make a living and move on to commercial photography or go back to a cozy job. I am one of those who decided to mix commercial work and diluted my focus. But posts like this always inspire me to take a relook.

  6. Scott Says:

    Mitchell,

    Congrats on the recent accomplishments and thank you for the brutal honesty. I have always enjoyed reading your blog posts and the way you write… it’s refreshing to read someone tell it how it is.

    It seems like a majority of what one reads in the photo world these days are sugar coated fantasy stories and that’s why I truly appreciate your honesty and hard work. You should think about mixing in a little travel writing with your journey to Vanuatu! I think you got a knack for it.

    Anyways, congrats and best of luck in the future.

  7. Mitchell Says:

    Arun and Scott, thanks a lot for the comments. I often think whether people really give a crap about these kinds of posts, but I guess if at least some readers do, it’s worth doing them. I might do some travel writing in Vanuatu, I’ll be there for a while, hopefully.

  8. Dharmesh Says:

    Hi Mitchell,
    this is the first time I read your blog and also, the first time I am getting to know you. Even though I am not into travel photography, I am just inspired by what you’ve seen and I haven’t while living in India, especially the images of your “Rabari” collection.

    You have inspired me to see things beyond the obvious.

    Thanks,
    Dharmesh

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