How to Sustain a Long Career in Photography

I came across this old “tear sheet” in the process of cleaning out the attic.  Tom and I have dozens of boxes containing over 35 years of printed collateral with our “work” in it.

Tom Kelly and Gail Mooney

Tom Kelly and Gail Mooney

This brochure cover was from a shoot for I Love NY.  Clearly it was a low budget job, based on the fact that we were also the “talent” in our own photograph.  When this photo was shot, we were just starting out in the business of photography. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 35 years since we started Kelly/Mooney Photography, because it seems like yesterday.   As I sifted through decades of work, I started thinking  – “What is it that sustains a career?”

Some thoughts:

Don’t let age define you.  Let’s face it; we’re a youth obsessed culture. It’s not easy getting older, especially when you’re in a creative business like photography where “fresh” is equated with “young”. But there’s absolutely nothing you can do about your age.  You can’t change it.  It’s like your height – it is what it is.  But you can choose how you think about it. If you tell yourself that you’re old – you will be.

Take more risks – not less. Why not?  What is the worst that could happen?  Am I the only one who thinks this way?  I guess I was lucky that my mom and dad put those types of thoughts in my head a long time ago and they’ve served me well.  Why should I change my outlook now, when I have fewer years on the planet?

You’ll fail more than you succeed.  I sure have.  In the last couple of years I’ve been rejected more times than not, but only because I have been challenging myself more than at any other time in my career.  I have always “been on the move” in my life and my career and I am not one to stay too complacent or static.  There are just too many things left to explore.

Fear comes with the territory.  Fear is what motivated me to start writing.  For me fear would often visit in the wee small hours of the morning.  My mind would bounce from one unfounded worry to another and I couldn’t turn off the chaos in my head. So rather than toss and turn for hours, I got out of bed and started to write down my thoughts. It’s amazing how trivial some of the worries looked in the light of the day, written on a sheet of paper.

Listen to the ideas that don’t go away.  We all have ideas.  But how many of us act on them?  Less than 5%.  When I have an idea that just won’t “quit me”, I take action. The first thing I do is I commit to the idea.  Then I tell someone – someone I respect, because then I have to carry it out – just to save face.  I call it forced accountability.

Don’t take things for granted.  Nothing stays the same or lasts forever.  Be grateful for your loyal clients and show your gratitude.  Business is all about relationships and it is amazing how people seem to pop in and out of your life.  Doors are always closing and windows are eternally opening in a well-lived life.  Recognize those times when they happen.

Always wonder.  My spirit has not aged past 25 years old.  I still have dreams and they are vivid and real in my mind.  My dreams are propelled by my insatiable curiosity about everything. Many years ago I made the choice to become a professional photographer because I knew that my camera would give me access to a rich and rewarding life and to interesting people, places and cultures. My cameras (“my tools”) are still a means to a life of wonderment.

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5 Responses to “How to Sustain a Long Career in Photography”

  1. Wizwow Says:

    I have made this required reading for all my Project 52 Pros, and every other photographer I know.

    Thanks for this (I have been in business for nearly as long, but my path has had a lot of hairpin turns… LOL.)

  2. pabloconrad Says:

    Beautifully said.

    20 years in PJ and I still feel like a kid when covering news.

  3. kyledavidjones Says:

    Great read. I remember this brochure. I’m from upstate NY and spent countless hours outside in Rome and the Adirondacks. I’d love to see your other images from the I Love NY campaign.

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