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|| News Item: Posted 2001-11-26

Let's Talk Business: When Things Get Bad...Go Surfing. When Things Get Really Bad, Go Surfing a Lot!
By Rick Rickman

Photo by
This past year has been the worst freelance market anyone can remember in 30 years. All the freelance photographers I know have been worried sick. Some very unfortunate photographers have had to go out of business. Studios are up for sale, a lot of used camera gear is on the market, and there's been a lot of hand wringing and furrowed brows.

Photography is a creative pursuit and by its very nature can be elusive to even the most talented of us. I have a dear friend who is a very talented and overpaid psychologist who tells me that most artists are horribly insecure by their very nature. In times of hardship and economic down turns they become positively neurotic.

My psychologist friend who we will refer to as Martin, tells me all the time, when times are tough we need to do everything we can do to try and drum up business and of course be ready when opportunities present themselves. After we've done all those things, Martin suggests to me that we find something really fun and relatively inexpensive, to take our minds off of being idle.

I argued with Martin about this for some time this past year but then what he was saying started to make real sense to me. Martin's main mantra is; "Worry energy is wasted energy!" He tells me that all the time. In fact he's said it to me so many times this year that I'm sick of hearing it. However, I've accepted it as my own.

I've had two magazine assignments in the past 4 months. Luckily I've had a couple really nice advertising jobs that have paid for the entire last half of the year. Without that work I would have been in real trouble. I've been making a few contact calls with some of my favorite editors just to check in but, when you talk with them on the phone some of them seem like they have to apologize all the time for not having any work to send my way.

I really don't want these people to feel bad so, I always say, I was just calling to see how they have been. We chat a bit and then we go our merry way. It's ok! I know they're not assigning a lot of work now and I don't want them to feel obligated and not call later.

Anyway, I've taken up Martin's philosophy whole heatedly the past few months and have been immersing myself in the creative pursuit of surfing. It's something I just took up a couple years ago and found I really enjoyed. You're probably rolling your eyes and telling yourself that this guy is nuts. I am nuts but believe it or not there is a wonderful correlation between surfing and photography.

To be a great photographer it's important to be brave, to be patient, to be calm, to be assertive, to be empathetic, and to be balanced. The same is true if you are ever going to be a good surfer. Most importantly however to be a great photographer you have to be clear headed and focused.

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin
I have found that there is absolutely no better place in the world for me to clear my head and focus than sitting on a ten foot long board just outside the outer break zone on a clear morning as the sun comes up and the feathery cirrus clouds high overhead turn an incredible fuschia and orange, contrasted against the deep blue of the morning sky.

All the concerns I have disappear when I'm in the water as if someone has given me a tablet of Prozac. In the mornings on the California coast the most peaceful time you'll ever encounter is at San Onofre beach. The only sound you hear is the waves breaking on the beach, an occasional spout of water shooting up as a curious dolphin rises to the surface for a breath, or another surfer expressing his wonder at the beauty of the morning. All else is still. In these quiet morning sessions, I've been able to plan several new projects, plan how I'm going to fill holes in the projects I'm currently working on, and think about what I need to do to improve my shooting techniques.

Martin's right! Worry energy is wasted energy! It doesn't do anything but clutter your head with noise and make your digestive tract uncomfortable. In this, the worst year of record for freelance photography, I can say with some confidence that I have become a very good surfer. Lord knows I have a lot of time to practice.

I can also say with confidence that I have become a better photographer. I say this because several people that I have great admiration for both personally and professionally have told me that my work has improved tremendously this past year. I think so too. I've had time to think about what it is I'm doing and how I can make it better.

You're saying to yourself, what the hell does this have to do with the business of photography. Well, I guess the thing that I have found, is that if I allow myself to find a way to dump most of my stress and quiet my head I can improve on my vision. If it can work for me. I know it can work for you. If nothing else, the physical exercise will do you a great deal of good.

If you're not lucky enough to be in an area where you are blessed to be able to surf, then try something else. Skiing, Rock-Climbing, One man crewing, Mountain Biking, they all have a sense of individuality to them and are things that get you into an isolated natural setting. That kind of setting allows you to be with yourself and become comfortable with that self. Do something that takes you away from that traditional worry platform.

Tomorrow, as the sun rises and the color of the sky reflects like a refracted mirror from the surface of the ocean, I'll take a moment to wish that each of you are fortunate enough to find an interest that can take you to a higher level in your photography. When that moment passes, I'll pivot my board to drop in on the biggest wave I can find and try to make it past the break to the next section. I'll try to get to the nose of the board and feel that rush that always brings a smile to my face and peace and well being to my head. Catch a wave dude. You'll be better for it!

 (Rick Rickman is a freelance photographer based in Southern California. He frequently writes about business matters for Sports Shooter. You can contact Rick at: and his web site is:


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