Jay Beyer didn’t even intend to become a photographer. His wife bought their first SLR camera when they set out on a climbing-based road trip and he merely asked his dad, an avid shooter, for some technical tips. Soon, his wife’s camera had been confiscated and became his favorite toy.
Seven years of hard work, a new home in Salt Lake City, and an undying love for skiing and climbing and Beyer is earning his income from behind the lens. When I first contacted him, he gave me a short but well intended response:
“I am an adventure photographer based in Northern British Columbia, Canada,” I wrote. “I’ve recently quit my day job and hope to make the transition to full-time photography in 2011.”
“Just so you know, what you are doing is super hard,” he replied. “I’d be happy to answer some questions.”
Not surprisingly, Beyer didn’t waste words in his responses either. He cut to the chase and delivered simple but straightforward comments to questions designed to keep people writing/talking. Surprisingly, many of the answers carry more impact for their brevity.
12 Questions with Adventure Photographer Jay Beyer
1. Your transition from carpenter to photographer didn’t happen overnight. At what moment did you know that you’d never turn back from a life behind the camera? Was there an “ah” moment when you realized you’d found your calling?
JB: I worked for 5 years shooting full time in the winter and working construction in the summer. Last summer was the first summer I was able to focus only on photography. I’ve always loved shooting photos but there still hasn’t been an ahh moment. Making anything you love into work changes it.
2. What was your last non-photography related job? How long did the transition from amateur to pro shooter take and what lessons did you learn during the process? What lessons or skills did you bring from previous work experience that continues to help in photography?
JB: Everybody has a different perception of a pro photog. Some people get one check from a mag and think they are pro. I feel like I have just entered the world as a pro photog being that it is my only source of income.
3. How does your geographic location, living in Utah, help or hinder your business model?
JB: Utah does both. It has great snow and trails and access to an international airport but that is the reason that there are hundreds of photogs here doing the same thing.
4. Do you travel with pre-determined assignments or do you go to capture images and sell them after the fact? Is there a balance between the two?
JB: Both. Moving toward the former more and more…
5. Marketing and sales are not common skills among creative professionals, but as you mentioned, they are paramount skills. What different strategies do you use to maintain a solid audience and client list? Social media, blogs, phone calls, mailers, etc. What works for you and what doesn’t?
JB: Everything you can do works.
6. Some details:
Years as a shooter?
What’s your market niche and what sets you apart from others in this area?
JB: Backcountry skiing
Breakdown of income: What percentage comes from editorial clients? From commercial clients? From other sources?
JB: No Clue
Time breakdown – What percentage of time is spent shooting? Marketing? Editing?
JB: Changes every day.
7. If you could give only one piece of business advice to a young photographer, aside from finding a more lucrative career, what would it be?
JB: Be motivated by rejection.
8. What’s the harshest lesson you learned early in your photography career and how can others avoid falling into the same trap?
JB: Don’t take bad deals even if you need the money. It never works out…
9. You started as a climber and skier before you became a photographer. How do you separate yourself from your subjects? How often do you wish you could be on the other side of the lens?
JB: I don’t feel I should separate from my subjects. I want to feel what they are feeling and I believe it helps my imagery. Never.
10. Many entrepreneurs find it difficult to separate their work from their lives. What do you do to maintain a work-life balance? How does time away from the camera affect your work?
JB: Time away from my camera is the most important time. By the end of winter I usually take 2 months away from my camera. By fall I can’t wait to shoot again…
11. What three people – be it friends, family, photographers, or anyone else – provide your greatest source of inspiration?
JB: My Wife, My son, My athletes
12. I’ve read it is important to have constant feedback and critiques of your work to keep growing. When you were starting, did you have a mentor or did you go it alone? Are there other photographers you speak with regularly to compare or critique work? Do you participate in any portfolio reviews or discussions about how you can improve?
JB: I asked every one I could questions and figured it out on my own.
As always, I would like to that Jay for taking time out of a busy winter schedule to answer my questions. For those who haven’t visited his website or blog yet, please do. Jay’s skiing and climbing (and fishing, mountain biking, and trail running) work is fantastic and worth more than a quick glance. You can hook up with him on Facebook, too.
I’m thankful to have reached interview number 15. I hope to keep this going throughout all of 2011 but I am working at the last minute these days. If you know any photographers – preferably based in the adventure photography or photojournalism genres – who would be willing to answer a few questions, please leave their name in the comments section.
Check back on Wednesday for 5 More Adventure Photography Tips.