Any serious professional will tell you that photography isn’t an easy way to make a living, and it probably won't make you rich. Even Annie Leibovitz filed for bankruptcy.
Here is a piece of our story on the journey to where we are today.
By Koby & Terilyn Brown.
Early in 2010 Koby and I had a serious talk about the direction of Archetype Studio. Key to that discussion was figuring out what lifestyle we wanted to live.
For us, photography is about passion. The need to craft memories into something emotionally tangible. It’s about freedom to go where the wind blows, and live without boundaries. It’s about risk and sacrifice. It’s about relationships and love… It’s a lot about love. It’s about seeing, really seeing. With your soul. It’s about light … and the absence of light. Sunrises, sunsets, the twist of a curl on a little girl’s head. That same twist of a curl when she walks down the aisle. It’s about life. Life … through our lens.
All that is wonderful and it compels us to take pictures . . . But we figured out early on—the hard way of course—that passion doesn’t pay the bills. And passion wasn’t getting us where we wanted to go, literally. Before 2010 we both had other jobs to supplement (read “fund”) our photography, and honestly those other jobs were holding us back. Our freedom was limited, and travel nearly impossible to schedule. We had money, drove expensive cars, and bought expensive clothes and furniture.
A lasting reminder of a life of excess: in 2006 I actually paid $11,295 plus tax for a COUCH, and thought little of it at the time. It’s kinda ugly but I still have it because I can’t seem to get a decent price on Craigslist for it, and I can’t bear to just throw it away. It’s one of our last extravagant reminders of a different life.
That couch didn’t make us happy. In fact, I think it made Koby a little mad. None of that stuff made us happy . . . except maybe the silver Mercedes coupe.
We chose to give up everything (except the couch) to pursue our dream lifestyle. Beautiful cars, house, accessories, furniture. We even sold our gold jewelry by the ounce to one of those We Buy Gold places. Everything that had cash value we sold. I was queen of Craigslist and eBay. I was happy to see it all go (except for the cars… I really like beautiful cars). But we had a goal and were willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.
In 2011, we clearly defined that goal: to travel and photograph luxury events around the world, and to live on Galveston Island.
Even though we asked for outside help with startup costs, we were turned down each time. No one (even family, and especially not banks) thought photography was a good investment for the long haul. We emptied our savings and retirement funds. There wasn’t much money in either, thanks to purchases like a ridiculously expensive couch.
We spent most of the money learning everything we could about how to run a successful business, and setting up the business itself. Who knew there was so much time and money involved in setting up a corporation with a total employee count of two?
There was also an almost complete turnover in equipment to manage. Koby and I built our original photography businesses (starting back in 1998) on studio work, and our equipment was bulky and heavy—not at all suited for travel.
We spent a year renting equipment, to field test it before we invested, and to determine exactly what we liked and what’s well suited for international travel. Bottom line . . . if it isn’t light enough or small enough to carry to a hilltop in Alaska, or a pedestrian-only mountain-top city in Italy, it’s a waste of money in our eyes.
In our new life we don’t use credit cards. When we gave up the fancy cars, and sold the house, this allowed us to be rid of debt obligations. Looking back, it’s clear this was an important step towards future success. Debt is stifling.
We paid cash—a whopping $5,600—for Big Red, the ancient, but faithful Durango that replaced my beautiful Icelandic Blue Land Rover. And we leased the Doodlebug, the little black Chevrolet HHR that was the most exciting thing we could find for less than ten grand.
Doodlebug replaced the silver Mercedes. Can you feel our pain? It was worth it . . . kind of like childbirth. In this case, Archetype was our baby.
So while I speak of fancy cars and couches, and the faux woes of giving them up (except the couch of course) you should know about the very graphic side of those first years in this business. They were intense and there wasn’t enough money to make ends meet.
The reality of shopping at Salvation Army for yourself and your kids is intense. Knowing you can’t pay all the bills each month and making sure that you alternate the late ones adds a lot of stress. Turning down an opportunity because there isn’t enough gas in the car to get there is frustrating. Doing all that while trying to grow a business in a new market is seriously challenging... mentally, physically, and most of all for me, emotionally. If there is one thing we learned in business school, it’s that success breeds success. Often, success is built on the illusion of success. And success is expensive.
The magic really started to happen when we sat down together in 2010 and discovered we both want the same thing out of life… and more importantly, that standing together we were brave enough to reach for it.
2010-2011 were lean years, but hunger drives resourcefulness, sacrifice breeds appreciation . . . and teamwork is the cornerstone of success. Koby and I work as a unit. We have the same goals and this makes it easy to have the same work ethic. We sacrifice equally to do what we love (except I still have my couch).
To sum it up: Make goals. Write them down. WORK on making them happen. Sounds simple? It is. But it takes commitment and hard work. Be brave - You can do it.
I’ll never take money for granted again. I’ve learned that money matters. It matters a lot, unfortunately. But it’s only a means to an end. For Koby and I, it’s really about the adventures along the way, and the chance to save little pieces of future history.
Stay tuned, we’ll tell you about how we defined our niche in a future post.
International wedding photographers, Koby and Terilyn, run a luxury event photography business from their happy little place on a barrier island off the coast of Texas. Together they planned, sacrificed for and ultimately built a business that takes them around the world to capture their client’s stories. Koby and Terilyn’s photography has been featured globally in publications; including a recent cover of People Magazine, and editorials in Cosmo, Glamour, Rolling Stone, Good Housekeeping, The Knot, and the New York Times, to name a few.