“It’s one thing to have passion and love what you do. It’s another thing to earn a living by doing so.”
It’s a realistic look at combining business with pleasure from photographer and entrepreneur Ken Kaminesky.
Kaminesky’s work has appeared in National Geographic and The New York Times, and he’s shot images for stock photography agencies, including Corbis and JupiterImages. But all of his true passion in sharing stories with people has led him to his latest endeavor, Dream Photo Tours. But the effortless look of his images belies the hard work and long hours he’s put in to starting a business with passion as its foundation.
“It’s not an easy field, to be a travel photographer. It sounds exciting,” he says of travelling the world and photographing it. “But there aren’t too many people in the world who actually earn a living just by doing so. It’s a lot of work.”
Part of that, he concedes, is due to the number of people who have picked up photography in their spare time and continue to perfect it. And the exposure from blogging and social media—something that’s helped Kaminesky in his own career—doesn’t hurt. “There’s so many people today who are more proficient with photography that live all over the place. The need for a roving travel photographer isn’t as needed. But,” he starts, revealing the silver lining, “it makes us elevate our game. We full time pro photographers have to do something unique, something that other people can’t do as well.”
The fact that our world is so globalized, and one image from Iceland can be seen by someone in Australia in an instant, changes the entire profession. “The distinction between an amateur and a professional is being lost,” says Kaminesky matter-of-factly. “It doesn’t matter what we call ourselves.”
Instead, Kaminesky believes people need to consider what it means to enjoy something as a passion versus how that experience will change by combining it with business . “Most of the time you’re going to spend as a photographer in business is going to be running that business—not doing photography. The people who spend the most time taking photos are the avid amateurs. They finish a days work, they take trips to photograph, they spend weekends doing this; this is their hobby and passion.” He pauses before adding, “What a great creative outlet for people who do work that isn’t necessarily their passion.”
On the other hand, he cautions that before combining what you love with a business endeavor, to do some research on what is needed—and what’s not needed. In the realm of photography, that means “getting very good at Photoshop, becoming proficient with the gear you have before you think that more gear is going to do the job for you.”
Consider what it means to enjoy something as a passion versus how that experience will change by combining it with business.
It’s this point that Kaminesky emphasizes most. “It’s really about the photographer, not the gear. It’s lovely to have gear,” he admits. “But get good with what you have, then move forward. There’s no magic formula that buying a more expensive camera will make you a better photographer.”
One thing that Kaminesky has done from the start is focus on his branding. “Back when I was shooting stock photography at big agencies, it didn’t really matter if I had a brand or website. I wasn’t being hired much in terms of commercial work; it was OK to be incognito.” Now, it’s a different story. “I need to be known.” He relies on his website and blog to deliver that message. “[Branding] doesn’t have to be spectacular or beautiful beyond belief.” What it has to be is recognizable. And for Kaminesky, it’s working—and the beautiful branding doesn’t hurt.
He has his mom to thank for coming up with his iconic luggage tag logo. “I was thinking what on earth other than a camera, I want to be original. She said, ‘Why not use a luggage tag?’ And I said, ‘Oh my god I love you, mom!’” He laughs, but points out that people that can’t recognize him by his face recognize him by his luggage tag business card.
“To me, that’s good branding. It gives me confidence. It’s extremely important to make business connection and keep in touch and have them recognize you by anything you send to them. If they like you, and they’ve liked your work, then they’ll put what you send them at the top of their list to read or look at.”
To me, that’s good branding…if they like you, and they’ve liked your work, then they’ll put what you send them at the top of their list to read or look at.
For someone that relies on his working being seen, Kaminesky says social media has immensely helped his career. “It has put me on the map in so many different ways,” he says with a feeling of gratitude, noting the networking and contacts he’s built because of it. “It’s not just about getting on social media to share work. It’s using it as a proper tool for a brand, sharing your message with people you want to work with. It’s about being inspirational.” He admires how its brought the world together in so many ways, and confesses he’s just as guilty as the rest of us when it comes to getting lost in it.
Kaminesky admits beyond the hard work, there’s a lot of believing in yourself and finding ways to stay motivated. “It’s a roller coaster. It’s sink or swim. There’s no real middle ground.” And just because you can do something well, doesn’t mean you should pursue it fulltime. “I can make a good omelet, but it doesn’t’ mean I can run a restaurant,” he explains by way of comparison.
“The first step in taking chances and believing in yourself is to actually take that first step.” He admits that making significant life changes is scary. “But you know what’s scarier? Regret. I wasn’t happy where I was in my life in many different ways,” he reveals. “What other choice did I have but to start making some big decisions that would lead me to possibly living a life I wanted?
I’d rather have a life of ‘oh wells’ rather than a life of ‘what ifs’.
“I’d rather have a life of ‘oh wells’ rather than a life of ‘what ifs,’” he muses, before quoting T.S. Elliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” Fear is something Kaminesky looks at as a motivator, steering him away from the “what if” scenarios. But he also recommends surrounding yourself “with people that believe in you—and your dreams. Never base your decisions on advice from people who don’t have to live with the results.” These people are part of the group cheering for you to fail, he explains. “Sure you may fail, but I guarantee you that you will never succeed or find positive change in your life by standing still and not taking chances.”
And Kaminesky’s Dream Photo Tours is living proof of what can happen when you take a chance.
“I didn’t want to be an educator, necessarily,” he remarks. “I remember doing my first tour workshop in Jordan and going to the airport thinking, ‘I’m going to hate this. There are going to be a bunch of prima donnas to babysit.’” He laughs at himself. “I was so wrong. I’m so happy to say I was wrong.”