To Be or Not To Be Just a Photographer

Two weeks, three weeks ago, things felt more stable in my life (oddly, considering…ya know, pandemic) than ever before.

I not only was paying all my bills on time, but I had those bills ready to be paid one month in advance. I had some guilt free money every month. I was building a good little travel fund. I had opened a SIPP (UK self-invested personal pension). And I was building funds to invest in my freelance photography business.


I’d been working since late-October 2019 for a London-based startup known as StuffStr on a freelance basis. I was the sole product photographer for their sales, doing very basic (and aesthetically not to my liking) product photography in their warehouse for a decent but somewhat low daily rate. But it was consistent, two to four days a week. I had a routine, rhythm, I’d graduated from my MA Photography program in January of 2020. In September of 2020 it would have marked two years since I moved from Iowa City, Iowa, where I’d been working in a local restaurant for around $9-10/hour. If things held until then, at the rate I was making money, two years on, I would have increased my average monthly take home by about 125%. Perhaps my gamble to uproot my life and move to London had paid off.

I had a good initial compensation negotiation with the two consultants whom hired me on behalf of StuffStr, where I had offered to remain a freelancer or come on as an employee. They agreed I had done an exceptional job, and gone above and beyond the initial scope of the job (which was just the photography, whereas I had made suggestions to the actual systems and processes in the warehouse leading up to products being photographed, I was doing manual prepping and a second round of cleaning on almost all the products, as the cleaners were often temp-agency workers who…well, rarely really cared what they were doing, or didn’t understand what or why I was training them, and I was providing beta-testing feedback on the internal app StuffStr were developing to manage the product inventory and photograph products). There was a potential acquisition/merger with a larger US based company in the works, whom had to agree terms with Adidas.

If that went through, then come September the consultants assured me we’d have a much more substantial conversation about what my contract or employment might look like going forward. I had never had this kind of conversation before, and I feel like I did a really good job in there, and I have some new skills I didn’t have before.

I’d been prepping like mad to do a good job. I re-listened to Ramit Sethi’s section on compensation negotiation from his book, listened to a The Great Courses series on conflict management and negotiation. I also spoke with two friends who had a lot of recent, bu different experience in compensation negotiation. One friend had just worked her ass off in her company and negotiated not only multiple promotions over the past year, but multiple pay raises and other concessions. The other friend has over the past few years started several businesses, and been hired on as CEO of a business of his that had been acquired, and so had extensive experience with compensation negotiation, both for himself, but also for his employees. I went through the whole situation with them, developed a game plan, and then I did a mock conversation with my friend and he gave me feedback.

Long story short, as of right now, the sale/acquisition doesn’t look like it will happen.  I had expected to work for them at least through August, which meant at least two more paychecks from them, one outstanding currently, and one more from working through August. If they go into administration, being an unsecured creditor, it’s very likely I don’t see any of the current invoice. 


Part of my prep for that conversation had been answering the question, “What if it all goes to hell?” I figured I had about a month of living expenses before things would get hairy. I have a few ideas for learning new skills, specifically related to AR/VR. I decided if it didn’t work, I would undertake an ultralearning project around AR/VR for 4-6 weeks, and try to use whatever I produce at the end to leverage some work in that field, as a new career path, utilizing my photography and art background in a space that is potentially filled with more tehcnically-minded folks than folks with an arts background like myself.

And even though I’ve had almost a week to process the changes, even though I had this game plan, I’ve not implemented it yet.

Last week I was also informed that my landlord is going to move back into the house I’m living in at the beginning of October with his wife to save money to purchase a property in central closer to his business, meaning I need to be out of here by my birthday, October 1st. Which means I need 1st month’s rent and a deposit for a new place.

I’ve spent the past year not doing as much to develop my client networks as I should have been, because I was riding the high of having one big client, which I knew back then as well as I do now that that is a dangerous game to play. Alas, I played, and got burnt. There is a chance that the sale/acquisition goes through, and I am able to get work with them again. But it seems unlikely. And, anyhow, I learned my lesson.


I need to diversify. Photography is a tough business to do in a pandemic, or from home, unless you have a studio and you’re doing product photography, or you’re doing property photography, or some other socially-distanced photography. Most of my clients outside of StuffStr were other creatives who needed portraits, and reportage/documentary/street style event photography. Those are two difficult things to book in the midst of a pandemic, though not impossible.

Next up, I’m going to listen to the last chapter in “Ultralearning” by Scott Young, then I’m going to use some of the best practices from that book to build a document with my notes and insights from listening to the book. Then I’m going to use that document to build an ultralearning project around something related to 360degree photography/virtual tours/Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality.

I hope to use whatever skills I learn both for personal projects, and to demonstrate ability in order to get client work. I’m also hoping that these skills give me more ability to get work should the pandemic stretch out, or another lock down occur.

Some personal project ideas are:
1. AR app to use when interacting with police officers, which recognizes their badge and identifies them, and provides any further open-source information, potentially their commanding officer, where they are stationed, their record, etc.

2. A VR space made of real-world locations where the London Metropolitan Police used facial recognition software in public.

3. A VR spaces that serves as a vehicle for an immersive storytelling product, using my personal photo archive and stories from my life to build out rooms as new stories are developed.

4. An AR app where user-generated content can be pinned to real world locations to identify anything from geocaches to event locations to historical documents and images about buildings or locations etc. etc. something like Pokemon Go and Facebook and wikipedia wrapped into one.

I don’t know the first thing about coding. The last time I coded anything was in 8th grade at the Knoxville Junior High School back in Iowa in 2004. I loved making Yahoo Geocities websites. But I’m gonna try. And even if I don’t try or don’t succeed, I’m happy to just put these ideas out into the universe. Because, at the end of the day, I don’t even really care if other people make them first, or make them better than I.

I guess what I’m saying is, there’s ALWAYS a lot going on in my head. I need to get myself in a position where I can show people that not only do I have a lot of ideas, but I have good ideas, potentially very good ideas. I need to demonstrate that there is good value in investing in me, supporting me. And to do that, I need to stop just having ideas, and start trying to implement them. Perhaps in 6 weeks I’ll have something to show related to all of the above. Or perhaps I’ll have gone down an ADHD-hole and come out the otherside with nothing too tangible, or perhaps it will be something tangible but totally different! I just need to keep loving myself, trusting in myself, and believing that I will make something work.  Life is a mixture of chance and intention, you can only control one of those. Such is life.

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