My photography business plan has always been fairly straightforward… Build a website, take some photos, sell some photos, get published in respected magazine, have photos displayed in a museum, leave a legacy for my family. As you may have guessed from the title of this article, I’ve hit the published in respected magazine milestone and not just any magazine, one of the most respected magazines in the world. The Feb/March issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine has a two page spread of one of my photos from Pittsburgh (above). Which brings us to this article, how exactly did my photo end up in National Geographic Traveler magazine?
Now, the readers digest version of this story is that National Geographic was writing a story about up and coming cities and they wanted an image of Pittsburgh that was unique, one of my Pittsburgh images was on the YourShot site (join that community if you have not already) and they reached out to me to see if they could purchase the rights to use said image in their magazine. This explains why Nat Geo published the photo but not really why I had an image they wanted.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
The how could be a little more complex, or it could simply be luck. You’ll have to decide that for yourself. If you believe it is simply luck then you can stop here, the rest of the article won’t interest you. If you believe the quote above, that luck is nothing more than opportunity colliding with someone who has worked hard and prepared for any and every opportunity available then the article below will shed some light on what may have increased the chances of realizing my goal of being published at some point in my career.
I Take A Camera Everywhere
I take a camera everywhere I go. Interestingly, I can put my finger on the exact moment I decided to take a camera everywhere (the first time). I was driving to work one November morning and came across one of the most beautiful winter scenes I had (or have) ever witnessed. It was the first real snow and there were still beautifully colored autumn foliage on some trees. I drove past, contemplated it, and half a mile later I turned around and went home to get my camera. This was the morning I said “never again will I be without my camera”.
The image that was published in National Geographic Traveler (top of article) was also a direct result of taking my camera everywhere. The photograph was created from a hotel room window while staying downtown for a wedding reception with my (at the time) future wife (she’s my present day wife now). Think about that for a second… I was basically on a date with my girlfriend who invited me to a wedding reception and I had the audacity to say “sure, I’m bringing my camera and tripod along too”. Admittedly, at the time, I believe my wife understood her only competition for my heart was my camera. In fact, she is quick to remind me that in one of our arguments my apology went something like “you know I love you as much as my most expensive cameras.” I was joking of course, my family is my world.
The photograph above was taken at a wedding I was a guest at, the low-light shot was taken with an iPhone camera.
What’s my point? Glad you asked. My point is this, I take my camera with me wherever I go. I believe this increases my chances of creating the type of images that will help me hit each milestone I’ve set for myself in my business plan. I highly recommend you do the same, whether you have the same goals or not, and your likelihood of creating amazing images will increase exponentially. Sometimes you may feel awkward (I’d love to say this goes away but if you’re self-aware it really does not) sometimes you may look out-of-place, but ultimately you can’t be faulted for following your passion/dream. And who knows, one of the photos you capture from being in the right place and the right time, AND BEING PREPARED, may be one of your best.
The Oxford Dictionary defines persistence as “the fact of continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition”. Now, I had to kiss a lot of frogs before I found my princess, as do most people. One of the interesting things I came to realize is that many of the people I met don’t understand passion. Not because they are daft but, sadly, because they’ve never experienced it. You can imagine, it was sometimes frustrating to get questions like “why do you always want to take photos?” or “really, you brought a camera to dinner?” but I understood that many folks did not have the passion and perhaps didn’t understand what it was like. This was not their fault and I wouldn’t get upset. I wasn’t going to give up on my passion or my goals simply because others thought it was strange.
Persistence can take many forms, I can remember another specific instance where I was working on a commission for a client in Boston and walked upwards of 15 miles a day doing street photography. Never had I been so happy and exhausted at the same time. The images came out great but I ended up with Plantar Fasciitis that still bugs me over a year later (it feels like someone beat the bottom of my feet with a baseball bat each day). Foot pain or not, I’d jump at the opportunity to do a project like that again (and have).
Think about the last time you faced difficulty or opposition in your photography, what did you do? If you want to increase the likelihood of getting published, being successful, or simply creating great photos it’s important to ask yourself this question. If your answer is anything other than “persevered” then I suggest you reassess whether photography is a true passion for you. Truly, I’d encourage you to persevere in all aspects of your life, where it makes sense.
Lastly, and just as importantly, patience. Patience in waiting for the right time to create an image, waiting for the right opportunities in business, or simply taking the time to perfect your craft over months, years, or decades. Patience truly is a virtue. Plenty of people who pick up a camera have the potential to be amazing and simply give up because milestones don’t come quickly enough, a lack of patience robs them of a fulfilling career/life.
Speaking of patience, the photo above took approximately one hour to create. I had to wait for someone to walk by at the right time, not just directly in front of me but also in the distant alley as well (I was working on layering). There was a point where I tried to convince myself that nothing was going to happen and I should just move on but I simply hushed my inner thoughts and stuck it out because I liked the light and trusted that if something happened it would be
good great. It was. The same situation occurred with the Pittsburgh photo that was published, I had to wait quite some time for the jitney and the Gateway Clipper (a famous ferry company in the city) to be in the same frame at the same time.
Patience and persistence can feel pretty similar but, for me, patience is what occurs when you use persistence without worrying about what or when your goals come to fruition. Simply focus on working hard, being prepared, being persistent, and having fun along the way. Everything else will take care of itself.
All of these principles, when put together, form the recipe for success as a photographer. One without the other is often useless. For instance, you could have all the patience in the world but if you’re waiting for success to come and find you and you’re not doing anything to grow your craft then you’ll be waiting forever. If you’re prepared, persistent, and patient you’ll find success or it will find you. And that is how my photo ended up in National Geographic Traveler, if you ask me.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below and follow me on Instagram @PhotolisticLife.com.
A special thanks to the folks at Nat Geo for their hard work and amazing reportage. I am truly honored to be a part of such a distinguished publication alongside other talented photographers around the world.
Excellent post John, I’m new to the professional photography world, but I identified myself in your words. Be prepared. Thanks. Greetings from Brazil.
Thank you! I appreciate your feedback. I wish you all the luck. I’m envious of your beautiful country!
Congratulations John on your great and well deserved publication. Bravo.
I try to follow your work every now and then either on your website or instagram. And man every time you produce amazing and inspiring pictures. Keep it up !
Wow, thank you. I truly appreciate your kind words and really appreciate you following my work. I am thankful my work is inspiring, that is one of the biggest compliments one can give. Have a great day!
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