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My Escape from the Cubicle

How I freed myself from Corporate America.

Yes, it’s true. I (Mathew) am a recovering corporate drone on the hunt for photography bliss.  How did this come to be?  You see, when I was a toddler I would pull the knobs off my father’s stereo in an attempt to find where the sound was coming from.  I loved the movie “Back to the Future” more than any other movie growing up – I identified with young Marty, but I admired Doc Brown’s incredible inventions more than anything!  I’ve always been a very inquisitive person and knowing how things work is part of my very fabric.  Even today as a grown man, I continue to write my own software and create robots to solve my everyday problems.

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Entering the Workforce

As I matured I began to realized that I would need money to survive in this world and I enrolled into university with an emphasis on computer science.  I figured I could utilize my natural skill set to make a good living. Having completed my schooling I quickly began applying for positions and by some miracle landed a job at the biggest communication company on the planet right out of college.  I was very grateful for the opportunity and worked ridiculously hard to prove to the older guys that I was worth my weight.  This desire to prove myself translated into lots of 80 hour weeks and a quick climb up the corporate ladder.

I was making good money,with great benefits and generally speaking I only marginally hated getting up in the morning to go to work for the man.  After all, “cubicle” money is the sole road to happiness; I spent my twenties chasing this fallacy and the corporate world provided the means. In stark contrast to growing up on two teacher’s salaries, money was now available with my engineering salary. I decided to start investing and saving wisely in addition to rewarding myself with occasionally high tech gifts that my hard work afforded me.  I enjoyed these perks and for a time I thought I had found true happiness.

But I had no idea what true was happiness until I was delivered the ultimate gift – I met the most incredible woman, the complete love of my life.  Knock you off your feet kind of love… to the ends of the earth kind of love! We had only been dating a relatively short time when her sister was engaged to be married.  Suddenly I had this woman I adored and her entire family was coming into town…  I knew that I was going be under the microscope by the new family members that had never met me.  Acceptance was, of course, my goal as I would certainly be asking this beautiful woman to marry me very soon!

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Stumbling into Photography

As luck would have it, the bride asked if I would take some pictures at the non wedding events, rehearsal dinner, etc…I jumped at the opportunity to help my would be sister-in-law, knowing it would provide a great way to meet everyone behind the relative safety of a camera.  Eureka!  However, I had no camera, in fact not only did I not have a camera, I had no idea how to work a camera even if I did.  But, I’m the industrious type and I wasn’t going to let a little factor like that deter me one bit!  I knew that back at the office where I worked all the engineers thought they were professional photographers.

All it would take was stroking a few egos and I would have access to a camera. So I explained my situation to a good friend/co-worker over a morning coffee and asked to borrow his fancy camera for the weekend.  He agreed with the preface that I break it, I buy it.  Sweet!  I’m in business, now all I needed was to figure out how to use this Rebel T1i & 18-55 kit lens. Being rather comfortable with dials, menus, and numbers I felt right at home.  I’m a manual reading type of guy.  My wife loves reading fiction and will read the latest top sellers regularly…. but not me. I figure that’s why they invented movies!

I love reading manuals, I will spend entire weekends absorbing information – it warms my mechanical soul.  In this instance I really wanted to impress and I stayed up all night reading to do the best job I possibly could.  The wedding weekend came and went and I had literally thousands of pictures to show for it!  I returned to office the following week, rebel in hand and thanked my co-worker for letting me use it.  He smiled and said, “Mat, that thing just collects dust at my house and I’d be happy to sell it to you”.  I literally went straight to the ATM, not knowing that this one act would change my life forever.

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When a hobby becomes an obsession

Life went as usual for sometime after this. However, I had a new hobby and I just couldn’t get enough of it.  I would literally read 2-3 photography books a week until there were none left at the local library of interest to me.  I would devour 100’s of Youtube videos from “How to Tell If You Are a Photo Noob” to “Advanced Lighting Diagrams” for gear I had no intention of ever purchasing.  I just wanted to know everything there was to know about photography.  My pictures started to improve and so did my skills.  Everyone I knew would tell me, “you are an amazing photographer! You should do it for a living.”  I thought, no wayDo people really make a living taking pictures?  My compartmentalized view for success had always required punching a time clock that paid well. However, as time went by I started purchasing more and more gear.  I didn’t need to make money with photography to reimburse the costs I was incurring thanks to my engineer salary.  However, I felt guilty that I was spending money on toys and not something more pragmatic like a house down payment.  So I started taking head shots of local actors I knew through my wife’s acting career.  This helped me pay for my pro upgrades like the Canon 50mm 1.2L and the Canon 135mm L.  But, more importantly it was the start of photography as an enterprise.

There was something incredibly rewarding about creating an amazing portrait for someone and knowing how much happiness it brought them by their response.  I was hooked on making money with my new skill and began seeking out ways to bring in more money in order to attain better gear.  But, it wasn’t until my future wife and I got engaged that the lightbulb really went off.  We started to meet with Colorado wedding photographers and the amount that they would charge seemed profitable! This is it, this is how photographers make a living – shooting weddings!  We would meet with photographers and trial them with an engagement shoot.  From these sessions, I quickly realized that I had better equipment and at least equal skills to the wedding photographers we had meet with. I quickly came to the realization that this could be my ticket. I immediately started posting on craigslist that I was an amateur photographer interested in building a wedding portfolio at very affordable rates.  With lots of interested parties I was suddenly immersed in wedding photography and had learned a great deal in a short amount of time.  The clients got pictures they loved at an insane discount and I got a very bare bones portfolio to start a website.

As my pictures continued to improve the fire inside also grew for better and better quality gear.  I had become completely obsessed with photography.  I would wake up in the middle of the night and read articles or manuals or books.  Improved, more artistic pictures became my primary goal and I started calling in sick to work, just to stay home and learn more and more about photography.  It had finally come; I had hit the crossroads.

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When life gets hard you have to change

For the first time in my adult life I found my calling. This is it folks.  The reason I exist on planet earth is to create the most amazing photos I possibly can.  Once I came to this realization, returning to my comfy 9-5 grind seemed like medieval torture.  What was I to do?  Fortunately, my incredibly supporting and loving wife had the answer.  She told me “You are an incredible photographer, and this makes you so happy. I support your decision to start a business 100%”.  Wow, seriously the best woman in the world. Not only does she talk the talk, but she walks the walk every step of the way.  With her support I knew the decision would be completely on me and the weighing of the pros and cons began.  Having diligently saved during the corporate decade we had the seed money and money to survive on while we worked tirelessly to help it grow.  Everything seemed ripe for the picking, but I still had a difficult time making the decision.  It was the great unknown, and I had achieved a comfortable existence already.  Why take such an exorbitant risk to chase after a dream that, statistically speaking, is highly unlikely to succeed?

In a desperate plea for answers I emailed my favorite local photographer Jason Grub.  I had never spoken with him before. However, I loved his work and thought he had the kind of business I wanted to build.  So I sent him an email out of the blue, explaining my situation and asking if he would let me take him to lunch to talk shop.  To my surprise he responded by saying that I’d have better luck getting his secrets over a beer, but that he would love to! Could this be real?  Let me start by saying that Jason Grubb is the highest quality person one could ever hope to meet.  He could have very easily ignored my email, or when we meet he could have dissuaded me.  However, to the contrary he said that my photography was fantastic and I should leave that corporate job behind.  He explained that photography could be a very rewarding career, should I choose to pursue it.  In this one act of extreme kindness Jason reveled how much he cares about both photography and people.  To share what he loves most with what will certainly be a future adversary is commendable. With this advice, I had made up my mind. It was time to break that rusty cage and run.

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The Passion

Anyone who has ever started their own business or considered the prospect knows the trials and tribulations.  Running a business is hard. Starting a business is even harder and there are very good reasons that most businesses fail.  I knew this from the very start.  Having the passion for photography has kept me afloat through the hard times and without it I would have certainly wavered and most likely retired.  I must warn you that if you embark on this journey you must search your soul.  Do you have the passion for photography to endure the hard times?  Photography is an awesome job, that comes with an awesome workload.  Contrary to popular belief it takes a tremendous amount of work, money and failures to succeed at photography.  It’s harder than you can ever believe its going to be at the start, and for me, working 100 hours a week is in the job description.  But through all the hard work and meager starting pay, I’ve never felt so rewarded in my life.  Even if I could jump in Doc Brown’s time traveling DeLorean I wouldn’t change a thing.  If you believe in yourself and give it your all everyday then take my word for it – some dreams do come true.

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