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Finding Balance…

November 19, 2011
White-crowned Sparrow

© jmillerphoto.com - White-crowned Sparrow

I am told by my friends who are in the know that flying a helicopter is very much like trying to stand on a basketball and maintain your balance.  And as an enthusiastic advanced amateur photographer, I find that trying to balance work, family obligations, and photography is nearly as difficult.

I am not ready to make the leap to doing photography full-time.  The era of digital photography has made it very difficult to earn more than a meager living as a nature specialist unless you are both very lucky and very good.  I am blessed that I have an outstanding full-time job that pays me probably more than I’m worth and my long-term employer has been exceptionally good to me.  My job provides my family with a lifestyle that they have become accustomed to so keeping that full-time job is kinda important.  Or put more bluntly, they like to eat and they enjoy living in a house.  Photography can’t pay for that right now.

Money doesn’t buy everything.  Spending time with the family is very important.  A career may only last until your early 60’s, but what you do with your family lasts not only until your death, but also lives in the memories of your spouse, children, and their children.

So then there is photography.  The only way you get better as a photographer is to practice your trade.  There was an awesome pie chart out on Facebook a number of weeks back that showed how people see photography (big chunk taking pictures and smaller chunks traveling to exciting places and hobnobbing with interesting people) and how photography really is (about 15% shooting pictures, another 25% working with the images to get them printed, and the other 60% doing mundane tasks associated like marketing, website development, and so on).  For every two hours that I spend in the field like I did this past Sunday at South Llano River State Park, I can figure I’m going to spend at least another 3-4 hours keywording the images, picking out the winners from the losers, and then processing them through Lightroom and Photoshop and far more time taking care of other admin things.

But like the commercial goes, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”  And you can’t make great images if you’re not in the field every once in a while.  It gets discouraging when you hear from a fellow photographer who isn’t as encumbered by work (whether through retirement or underemployment) about how great the bird species spread was on Wednesday morning when I was actively engaged in my profession wearing my business gear, especially since I know that where they were on Wednesday will be overrun with people come the weekend when I can get out.  Membership has it’s privileges.

So where is the balance?  Well, if you go into budgeting there are mandatory spending items and discretionary spending items.  Work is mandatory.  Family is mandatory.  Sleep is mandatory (in spite of my best efforts while in grad school).  Photography is definitely discretionary.  But the photography helps relieve the stress of work and some family items.  And some photography work is still kinda mandatory because I do sell my work and it is a business.  It isn’t full-time, but part of maintaining that balance is to find the time to balance the books, engage in social media, and occasionally write a blog entry or two.

Part of the balance is to get the willing of the family to spend some time out in the blind or out on the trail.  Part of the balance is being efficient when time does make itself available to be spent on photography.

And part of the balance is to remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I envy those who have completed their careers and are enjoying retirement and are still working, but their work is photography.  I’ll be there someday.  With a camera in my hand.

About the Image:

This White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) appeared a bit frazzled but was trying to find his balance in the water feature in the Acorn blind at South Llano River SP near Junction (Kimble County), Texas.

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