The Hidden Costs of Running a (Photography) Business

I've spent the last eight years building a viable nature photography business.  And now I'm walking away from it.

Why?  It's rather simple, really.  My family is more important than owning a gallery, producing calendars, seeing my photos in magazines and hawking fine art prints.  My son, Jackson, is almost seven.  He still thinks Mom and Dad are cool and he wants to hang out with us.  He wants to wrestle with me, color with me and go mountain biking with me.  He wants to read to me and have me help him with his math homework.  He wants me to cheer him on at soccer and football games.  He wants to play at the park and then eat oversized cups of frozen yogurt together.  I want to do all those things with him, and more.  But all too often, I can't.  There's always an inbox full of emails awaiting a response, prints to make for eager clients, accounting and marketing and photo processing to do, blog posts and articles to write...the to-do list never ends.

A few months ago Jackson asked me to wrestle with him.  "Sorry buddy, Daddy's got too much work to do."  He hung his head and said, "It's okay, Dad. I just hope I don't have to work as much as you do when I grow up."  That was a hard punch to the gut.  That night, after he fell asleep, I sat in my office and cried.  I completely lost it.  How much time had I already lost with him because I was too goddamn busy building a business?  Too much, and it hasn't been worth it.  I can't get back the time lost but I most certainly can make changes that will allow me to spend more time with him going forward.

If I only had the photography business to run I'd have more time to spend with my family but the truth is, I've got a full-time (and then some) job.  I'm a cop, a patrol sergeant.  I work rotating shifts, go to court and training on my days off and pick up overtime shifts when someone on my crew calls in sick or is injured.  And when I wasn't pulling a shift or in training or court, I was swamped with all it takes to keep a business afloat.  It was just too much.  My days off were consumed with it when they should have been spent making memories with my family.

There are other, tertiary reasons for shuttering the photography business.  I've packed on 35 pounds since we opened the gallery.  With the exception of the last couple of months, I can't tell you when I last made the time to take care of myself.  As a cop and business owner in a small town, it wears on you when people threaten to blow up your business and/or kill or kidnap your family, which are threats I've received more times than I can count.  Whatever creative drive I once had is gone.  My new Sony A7RII has been sitting on the office shelf for several months. I forced myself to use it once, just to see if the damn thing actually worked.  Spectacular sunsets have come and gone, and I haven't given two shits that I wasn't somewhere to photograph them.  Hell, for the first time in nine years I didn't even make an effort to drive thirty minutes into the La Sal Mountains to see the autumn aspens.

So, what happens now?  The Edge Gallery is closed.  We sold off almost all of our inventory in the last couple of months we were open and just handed over the keys to the landlord at the end of January.  (I do still have a handful of canvas prints in various sizes I'm looking to offload at 60% off retail. Contact me if interested.)  I'll post images from time to time on my Facebook and Instagram pages and I'll continue to interact with all of the fantastic people I've met on Twitter.  I took the winter off from leading workshops but this spring, I'll be back at it.  The one aspect of the business I still thoroughly enjoy is working with other photographers but if it ever starts to feel like work I'll abandon it, too.  Though I'm not interested in nature photography at the moment I'm thrilled to start shooting more mountain biking.  I'll continue to work on eFotoGuide, a series of ebooks I'm co-developing with Aaron Bates.

Most of all, I look forward to spending real quality time with my family.  In December we finally took a trip to Durango to ride the Polar Express.  We started eating homemade dinners together again.  We've gone for bike rides, had epic snowball fights, played countless board games, built and re-built Lego sets, snuggled on the couch while watching movies and wrestled until we're out of breath.  I've lost 15 pounds already and have more energy and enthusiasm than I've had in years.

To those who have supported us over the years, we extend a heartfelt "thank you!"  You have no idea how much we appreciate it.  Melissa, Jackson and I are thankful for the friends we've made along the way and we look forward to staying in touch with you all.