Starting a Career as a Freelancer (all over again)

As of today I’ve lived in New York City for three weeks. Our apartment no longer bears any resemblance to the packed Uhaul that brought us here. Everyday this place feels more like home. …except for one thing:

I don’t have a job.

Technically, I never have. I’ve never been an employee; never gotten a tax return or had benefits or a boss. I’ve been a freelancer since I was 17, so really this is nothing new. The difference here is that I’m the new guy in town. Essentially I’m starting over. I have no client base here, and I didn’t move because of a job opportunity. What awaits for me is wide open potential drenched with excitement and insecurity. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous, but the alternative is boredom.

Three weeks ago I could count on one hand the number of people I knew in this town. Freelancing is all about who you know, and word of mouth is the heartbeat of marketing. The problem is no one in New York is talking about me yet. I feel like I’m back to square one. I have to pound the pavement and practice what I preach. I have to test my own advice and live with the consequences. In a sense I’ve left the security of my former “job” in hopes of making it as a freelancer in one of the most competitive cities in the world. No sweat, right?

To be fair, there are a few significant differences between me and those exploring this territory for the first time. My first foray into the freelancing world was with videography before I shifted into photography, but the principles here are the same for any type of freelancer.

  1. When I first started freelancing I was living at home. I didn’t have to pay rent or put food on the table. Pretty much all I was concerned about was paying for my camera, computer, and software. A few years later I was making a decent living, so I moved into my own place. Then I got married. We moved to NYC, and now she’s going to school full-time. Needless to say I’ve got a lot more responsibility on my shoulders than I did when I first started.
  2. New York and Washington D.C., while relatively close together on a map, might as well be located on different planets. Being a photographer in DC makes you the anomaly; you’re different, creative, and fun –all of which are attributes not usually associated with government workers. NYC is a different story entirely. Cameras and film crews are the new motorcades. Creativity is king, and competition is palpable.
  3. Unlike someone just starting out I have considerable experience and a portfolio under my belt. The awesome thing about art and business is that there are so many transferable skills. Leverage whatever experience you already have. Start with what and who you know. Step out from there.
  4. A decade is an eternity in technological terms. I’ve gone through five cameras, three computers, and a handful of cell phones since I first started, not to mention we now have “indispensable” things like iPads and Instagram that didn’t even exist ten years ago. Changes in technology mean changes in distribution. What worked ten years ago might not work now, and what works today might not have been possible then. Creativity and ingenuity are always an asset here.
  5. I’ve had the privilege of working on a huge variety of projects. I’ve shot everything from weddings to catheters; I’ve photographed the homeless and the President alike. I’m extremely grateful for the experiences I’ve had, but I’ve decided to narrow my focus and really pursue the work that I love. I suspect there will always be some tension between paying the rent and following your passion.
  6. Lastly, I’m in a better place financially. I have been padding our savings account for a year, so that we can breathe a little easier here. Besides, DC is only a short bus ride away if I need to pick up some more work back there. Moral of the story, if you’re planning to jump into a career as a freelancer make sure you’ve got a backup plan or cushion to fall back on.

That’s my story so far. I’m at the beginning of a new chapter, and I hope it encourages those who are thinking about writing a new one for themselves. Carpe diem, my friends!

A Washingtonian Guide to Navigating the NYC Subway


I lived in DC for 11 years and just recently moved to New York City. As of yesterday I no longer own a car which means I’ve learned to find my way around town without a set of wheels. I wrote the following guide for a friend who’s coming from DC to visit. I figured he’s probably not the only one who could benefit from it, so here you go. A few tips on getting around Manhattan and Brooklyn:

In general Google Maps is terrific for finding your way. Just select “Public Transit” as your mode and let the directions do the rest. Here’s an example. I would recommend sticking to just the subway lines at first, but if you’re feeling adventurous the bus system is pretty straightforward also.

You’ll need to purchase a metro card from one of the MTA vending machines found near most of the entry gates inside the station. You can use the same card for both the subway and the bus. The fare is the same price ($2.50) regardless of where you’re going, and you only have to swipe it upon entry (not exit).

Here’s a downloadable subway map. There’s an app for Android that is very handy.

The NYC Subway is very different from the DC Metro in a few key ways:

  1. The destination can vary at different points along the route. Typically they list the next major neighborhood or borough they are going to. For example: it may say “Trains to Uptown” …or Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, etc.” This is where Google Maps is especially helpful because the directions will tell you which way to go.
  2. Not all entrances are created equal. There is not a consistent look to all the subway stations –unlike DC, it’s not always obvious where the entrance is, so you may need to look closely. Often it’s a stairwell with a little green railing around it, but sometimes it’s inside a building or breezeway. Additionally, you’ll need to read carefully which direction the subway is going before you walk down the steps to enter the station. Generally the trains will follow the same direction as traffic, so if the entrance is on the right side of a road that’s going north, the trains are probably going that way as well. Sometimes you can get to the other side of the platform underground, but not always. The sign will typically tell you where the other entrance is or if you can walk to it from within the station.
  3. Possibly the biggest difference is that system is much more complex. DC’s most complicated station is L’Enfant Plaza because there are tracks going in two directions on two different levels. Some of the bigger stations in NYC have 4 or 5 different levels and a whole mess of tunnels connecting them. When you enter the station look for signs on the ceiling showing where to walk for the appropriate line. Keep following (and trusting) the signs on the ceiling and no one will know you’re not a New Yorker.
  4. There are express trains and there are local trains. If you look closely at the subway map you will see stops represented as white dots and black dots. The white dots are where the express trains stop. The local trains will stop at both the black and white dots. Additionally, under the name of each stop you will see a few small letters and numbers that show exactly which lines stop there.
  5. Several stops have the same names, but they’re on different lines. For example, there are five separate stations all named “23rd Street.” They are not the same stop, and they’re not connected. Double check the intersection before you plan your trip. There’s nearly a mile between 23rd on the C train and 23rd on the 6 train.

Here’s a couple other things to keep in mind:

  • Your cell phone won’t work in the subway, so don’t rely on pulling up directions en route. I will usually put my phone on airplane mode so it doesn’t waste battery searching for a signal.
  • The buses and trains run 24 hours. However they are not nearly as frequent at night or on the weekends.
  • You can eat and drink on the subway.
  • The trains, platforms, and tunnels are smaller than they are in DC. It’s not claustrophobia inducing, there’s just a reduction of personal space.
  • Not all stations have screens displaying when the next train will come.
  • Taxis are fairly cheap and easy to find in Manhattan. Brooklyn is kind of a different story.

I’ll update this post as I learn more, but please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments. I hope this helps!

Exploring the Big Apple

NewYorkCity-1744New York City is a mere four hours away from DC, yet I spent over seven years in DC before ever venturing into the Big Apple. All along I kept saying I just needed to go there by myself, camera in hand, with no agenda to speak of. One week after the call to accumulate experiences I found myself on a Bolt bus headed for Manhattan…

It was a bit overwhelming. I had no idea what exactly I was doing there other than “exploring.” After about 2 or 3 hours of wandering aimlessly I decided that my primary objective was simply to throw down some tracks and see the city, capturing it along the way. I wasn’t focused on getting great photos, I just wanted to see as much as possible. Continue reading

Why Not Now?

I’ve lived in D.C. for over seven years, yet I’ve never been to New York City.  It’s a mere four hours away, but there has always been some reason for not going.  I’ve always said that my inaugural trip to the Big Apple should be by myself, camera in hand, moleskine in pocket, and no agenda to speak of.  I just want to explore the city on my own and see what I find there.

NYC RetreatTomorrow I’m finally making that happen.  In 7 hours I’ll be getting on a bus headed to New York with little more than my camera and moleskine.  Life is too short to keep putting it off.  Can’t wait to see what happens…

I gotta say a big thanks to my friends Rodney and Lacey for subtly encouraging me to pursue this simple dream.  I’m so thankful to have friends who inspire me!