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August 14th, 2009

AFTER STAFF Group Therapy – What’s the best thing about what you’re doing now?

Posted by liveBooks

On a final note of moving on to bigger and better things, we asked our panel of former staff photographers this question. Please share your own stories — as you can see, you’re not alone. Follow the “more” link to see all photographers, and check out Monday’s “Group Therapy” for photographers’ back stories and websites. Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

  • What is your favorite thing about what you are doing now? Are there things that have been hard to adjust to?

Nanine Hartzenbusch
I love that my work hours are flexible. I have a nine year old son I enjoy spending time with so I schedule my work during his school day, and schedule only one photo session a day on the weekends. I miss having newsroom colleagues, but have joined a photographers networking group for creative support. I also regularly get together with clients or potential clients for coffee…

My favorite thing really about having my own business is just that — that I can take the skills I’ve acquired over 20+ years and do something different with them. I can provide storytelling images of children that will be cherished by their families for years to come.

David Walter Banks
My favorite thing about what I’m doing now is that my only limit is myself, and I know that as long as I’m doing everything I can to produce and then market that work, then I can continue to grow. The model of climbing the ladder and being held down by superiors no longer exists. My close second favorite element is definitely personal projects. I believe that I have found more time and realized how vitally important it is to work on personal projects completely outside of client influences. Strange as it may seem, these projects also seem to endear you way more in the eyes of those clients.

Stuart Thurlkil
I love when we are done with a project and our clients express how happy they are with the final results. I am an affirmation junky and love when what I am doing makes others happy. It is really gratifying to do work that people respect and appreciate. It is amazing when a client gives you creative freedom to run with your vision.

I had a hard time at first with the identity shift out of newspapers. I considered journalism a calling. I had been a journalist for a long time, and transitioning towards running my own business had many unexpected challenges. I realize now that I will always be a story teller and journalist at heart and that I will continue to create images that speak to our social, economic, and cultural condition. The amazing thing has been how many people have wanted me to do this for their family, company, publication, etc.

Bob Croslin
Honestly, it’s having time with my family. Newspapers force employees to work awful hours and can be pretty unforgiving about having a life outside the newsroom. The Times was good about trying to balance work and family, but there’s deadlines every day and someone has to be there on the weekends and holidays. Now with the web, and newspapers trying to chase the 24/7 cable news networks, and all of the layoffs, it’s just gotten worse.

I’ll admit it’s been hard to wake up every day motivated to do all the other stuff you have to do when you’re not shooting. I’m not one of those guys that jumps out of bed in the morning ready to tell the world how awesome of a photographer I am. I started the year marketing my butt off, but then I got busy and the marketing unfortunately took a back seat. I can’t emphasize enough how important marketing is and I know very few photographers who do enough of it.

Eric Larson & Jen Sens
We love working together on every project. Brainstorming, traveling, shooting. We’ve worked hard at creating a niche that keeps us working for great clients who are still willing to fly us to shoots. The fact that we get to do it together is a dream.

That said, it’s still a tough road to hoe, and you pay a certain price for living the dream. We don’t get paid vacation. While our friends and family think our life is a vacation, we work our butts off and the travel that we do isn’t something I would slip into the vacation category. We have to force ourselves to schedule downtime, somewhere where cell phones don’t work. And when we do, we usually turn down paying jobs for it.

The same applies to things that most people take for granted, like making dinner plans with friends or, here’s a big one: having kids. Sometimes we feel like we live to work, but then we realize that most people feel this way, and at least our job is something we are very passionate about. We are always thinking about our photography. This can put a strain on even simple things, like trying to enjoy dinner (which we’ve made a no business-talk zone). We’re slowly learning how to balance the business with the personal — otherwise we will go crazy.

Barry Gutierrez
My favorite thing is time to think and absorb. When I was running and gunning, it was hard to find that time. You were either preparing for something or recovering from it. The hardest thing to get use to is knowing when you have done a good day’s work. Some days I work 15 hours in the office and don’t feel like I have accomplished anything. Other days I work two hours shooting and feel like I can take the rest of the day off.

Christopher Record
My favorite thing about what I’m doing now is the freedom I have in my life. I used to have to commute through rush-hour traffic twice a day to get to my work and then drive all over town for assignments. That has been cut down a great deal. But my favorite thing is still taking pictures. I still get a thrill when I capture a great moment or a striking image.

The hardest thing to adjust to is probably coming to the realization that it’s not just about great photography. You really have to work at the marketing and promotion, and those things were all new to me coming from a journalism background.

Annie Wells
One of the joys of working for a newspaper is that, while you’re very autonomous, there’s also a sense of teamwork. I don’t really want to be a one-man band. I don’t want to be out here on my own. The Pro Photographers Network that I’m part of is great because I love the idea that I’m still connected to these other colleagues. Also, we have a Yahoo users group for all the L.A. Times employees who were laid off. You get invaluable information about unemployment, COBRA — or just someone to listen to you.

Heather Hughes
I rarely work the holidays now and after almost 9 years of working the Saturday shift every week, it is really nice to have some of them off (I only shoot 30-35 weddings a year and some of those aren’t on Saturdays). The hardest thing to adjust to would be the ebb and flow in income, with lots of checks arriving from April until September and sometimes none in slower months like December or January. I had to learn how to budget my annual expenses better, expect the unexpected, and save more money than I think I will need so I still have enough to cover the bills through the slow season.


  1. August 14th, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Rick Hackett

    Thanks for you great “After Staff” series. One question I would like to see the participants respond to, especially as the health care debate rages on. “What type of health insurance do you have, or not? Does your business income pay for your health care or insurance, or is it provided through a spouses’ employer.”

  2. August 14th, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Heather Hughes

    I am actually on my husband’s healthcare (the newspaper) but with the increased cost on his end (common at a lot of places, higher out of pocket & co-pays) it won’t cost me much more to go out on my own so I’m looking into doing that for 2010. And I actually pay him each year for the added expense (because until I left the paper to run my own biz he only paid for himself) so I guess you would say my biz income is paying for it now.

    I also have equipment insurance & liability which is also paid for with my biz income and about to look into life insurance. Gotta count all those expenses when looking at your bottom line!

  3. August 14th, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Kendrick Brinson

    I pay for an individual health insurance plan (United Healthcare’s Golden Rule plan). I know a lot of freelance photographers who just go without insurance, but that makes me too nervous. It’s not a whole lot more than I was paying per month when I worked for a newspaper.

  4. August 15th, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Chris Tyree

    At Wéyo, we just converted to a company wide plan. The business is required by law to cover 50% of the cost of the base plan for each employee being insured. Add to that business liability insurance which is a must have since, if you have employees, you need to pay for workman’s comp and maybe even unemployment insurance. It all adds up quickly. In the end, you can see that reform of the insurance industry could have a positive effect on small businesses even though there may be more regulations placed on them. We’ll have to wait and see how all that irons out.

  5. August 15th, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Pouya Dianat

    When I changed my job I made sure that my salary bump as a contract photographer could cover some of these expenses. I have an individual healthcare plan through AETNA, where I was also a member when I worked at newspapers. Being young, single, with no pre-existing conditions the insurance was very reasonably priced.

  6. August 15th, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Amelia Phillips Hale

    Our business pays for 100% of our health care insurance, and we are currently on BCBS. Insurance can be tricky, and a lot of factors can change how much coverage you receive and how much it costs each month. If you can piggyback off your spouse I would suggest that option. Like Chris mentioned there are a lot of other insurances you need to consider as well, especially business liability and equipment (we use State Farm for this). Depending on where you live this can be less of a burden as far as covering for natural disasters common in your area. Hope this helps.

  7. August 15th, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Sol Neelman

    I pay for my own health insurance. In the past, I had Blue Cross. Today it’s Assurant. It’s not as good as I had with former employers, but it is fine and prevents me from going bankrupt should something truly bad happen.

    It’s funny, as a single man nearing 40, I look closely at prospective women. Do they have a nice income, 401k and benefits? I’m holding out for a woman with a cute smile and killer health insurance.

  8. August 17th, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    David Walter Banks

    I use UnitedHealthcare’s Golden Rule plan. Not bad and easily affordable. It’s very important to realize though that healthcare insurance is not the only insurance you’ll need. Also get business liability insurance as well as gear insurance or you’ll end up paying for the mistake (I know first hand). I use Tom C. Pickard & Co. Insurance Company who specializes in insuring photographers and has treated me really well.

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