Joseph N. Tran


There has always been an ongoing discussion about whether chasing creative endeavors can lead to monetary success and overall happiness. It’s especially risky, when it’s realized, sacrifices have to be made. Unfortunately there isn’t an exact science on finding the right balance that will fit for every person heading into this arena as a career.

The best advice I can offer is to take my story, and compare it to others. See where you fit along the spectrum, and where you currently are headed in your own journey. Something of extreme importance to bare in mind, is to be honest with yourself. Be extremely honest with yourself. I know we all need that pep talk in our own mind, where we have to boost ourselves up with that sense of optimism that what we’re producing is honestly good work, to keep going forward. There isn’t anything wrong with that. Self assurance is a good mindset to have. The danger arrives when we start to ignore constructive criticism. Yes, there is a lot of noise we should just bypass, but there are also voices we should hear out, and listen to. When we start buying into ourselves too much, we start to develop that sense of irrational confidence. This is when we get stagnant. When we become content, we fail to progress, we fail to grow.

We always hear it from friends, family, and social media networks, that our work is amazing! Be thankful and humble, but try to temper these compliments. Spend time to further examine these works with a truly critical eye. It’s important to remember that improvement isn’t gained through compliments. Being able to embrace and understand constructive criticism will translate into greater results in the long run. This doesn’t just apply here to your work, but can be applied throughout a career in photography, or any other career fields. Don’t settle, and always seek self improvement.

I mentioned sacrifices, and everyone starts out at different points in life. Whether you’re younger or older, financially stable or unstable, we all start from different places. There is no denying that some individuals have more of an advantage getting off the starting line faster than others, whether it be natural talent and skills, availability of equipment, or the luxury of time. Regardless of where you start, or what advantage you feel someone else has over you, never let that be the excuse that holds you back from going forward. 

Coming up, I never sought out photography as a career. In fact, I finished my schooling in a completed unrelated area. I maintained various jobs for a long stretch of time, saving up, planning for my future, and when I felt the time was right, I took the risk to shift over to photography full time. Now over twenty years later, I can sit back and reflect about part of the journey I went through to offer others my perspective. 

I had a deep passion for photography as a kid and always treated it as such. I didn’t really think I could make a career out of it, or even entertained the thought about the possibility there could be one. So I did what I felt was best for me. Throughout that time, I still tried to sharpen my skills, and tried to be the best version of myself. 

I had two years of learned photography during school. It helped, but I felt practical real world experience and ‘going out there and just shooting’ was a lot more eventful. I shot friends, I shot friends of friends, I shot family. I took every chance I could to bring my camera along and just be that annoying guy with the camera at all the events. I learned quickly that I loved shooting people. I loved capturing the best of someone, or just presenting them in a way that I felt was their best. I loved capturing the moment, the emotion, the passing thought. I felt every time I captured a shot of someone, there was a story to be told. 

Trial and error, making mistakes, learning from them, was my growth process. Getting input from established others with an eye you trust, was so valuable. Thankfully for me, growing up, my father was an avid, hobbyist photographer. He was the one who got me my first camera, and he was the one who taught me a lot of real life tips and tricks for handling certain shooting conditions. Most importantly, he had a critical eye for my early work. He would point out specifics about my shots, and share his opinion on what he would have done. These events shaped and molded the technical side of things when it came to shooting for me, and I’m grateful for it all.

The decision that went into transitioning away from my, then career, into photography was a difficult one. I had a stable job, and I was strongly building towards my future. In reality I could have stayed put, stayed content. My head was in the right place, but I felt my heart was missing something. I’m a planner, I like to come out ahead, I often lay things out well in advance, and I make sure I have safety nets. In my mind, I had worked enough, and saved enough. I had established somewhat of a future, at the time, and felt the risk I would be taking wasn’t going to be too bold. 

During my time of employment, I shot during the weekends, I shot after work. Sometimes I took afternoons off to schedule shoots. I started paving the road, the path, to transitioning out of my current career, into my photography career. I made sure I had established strong networks with the figure heads in my city’s market. The modeling agencies, the studios, the other artist, and most importantly, those already in the industry, such as model friends and designers. This was all to ensure I could translate my work and turn it into active income. I had to determine if there was a demand. If enough people are seeking your services and your work, you’ve got a demand.

 In order to do this, I had to figure out the best way to layout my work, present my work, and develop an eye for what was working in my market. I needed to catch the attention of those I mentioned above. After that I had to figure out pricing. I had to learn how to negotiate on that level. There were steep learning curves. There was maddening frustration. There was a lot of shooting with satisfaction of the shoot and the results of your work as the only forms of profit. My heart was feeling full but my pockets were becoming empty. I often thought about ‘stopping’ (I hate using the word quit), and returning to corporate. I knew my pockets were getting lighter and lighter. Nevertheless, I dug in deep, carried on further, and told myself I’d continue the grind as long as it was still bringing me joy. I loved the process too much, I loved the people too much, it fueled me to strive ahead.

Eventually the breaks started coming my way. I started getting a lot of referrals from private shoots, to portfolio shoots, to smaller boutiques contacting me to shoot simple look books. My work was spreading through word of mouth and at the time, social media in its early infancy. From there it continued to grow and the rest I can continue in another post at another time.

Once you get your first taste of that apple, you realize the work you put in was well worth the painstaking efforts. Reflecting back on those early years, and remembering how much I sacrificed, such as removing my social life, because of the time I devoted to shooting and working on my shots, the constant networking, and uncertainty of overall financial security, I realized those were things that had to be done in order to progress and get to where I wanted to be.

Everyone is going to have a different story. Some might be slightly similar, but there are certainly distinguishing marks that always separate one’s journey from another’s. This is why it’s important to ask the questions, listen, don’t just hear it out, but listen to the stories told. From there, figure out if you’re up to the task to turn your photography into a business, and eventually into a full blown career. So in the end the question remains, did my personal journey bring about a sense of overall happiness and monetary success? In my case, I’d have to respond with a resounding, yes… I found my personal prosperity.

If you made it through that whole passage, thanks for taking the time to soak it in. Questions and comments, just drop me an email. I’ll follow up with this some time down the road. If you browsed through for the photos, that’s okay too! Thanks for the time and visit as always.

Models above:









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