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|| News Item: Posted 2002-07-31

Let's Talk Business: How We Measure Success
By Rick Rickman

Photo by
Did you ever wonder why photographers have one of the highest divorce rates in the world? Well, at least to some very unofficial polls they have the highest divorce rates in the world. How many photographers do you know that have been through at least one marriage and in many cases, several. Isn't there something twisted about the fact the many photographers would rather be on the sidelines of some venue somewhere rather than spending time with their families.

I bring this up because I was having a conversation with another photographer a few days ago that had just had another child this past spring. I was fascinated by the fact that even though he was in a position to be home with his family a lot this fall if he chose, he told me that he was going to try to cover as many football games as he possibly could this year. He felt like he was on the way to one of the finest portfolios he had ever had and he thought he really had a shot at POY this year. How nice!

One of the most interesting things about this business is the fact that so many photographers I know are more interested in doing well in some contest than doing well with nurturing their family or relationships. This business is brutal on relationships! The amount of hours spent at work is relentless. The amount of time spent away from home is endless and the numbers of times photographers choose work over family needlessly is mind boggling.

If we examine our photography carefully in most cases we will find that if we work for 30 years at this craft, we may have a couple of chances in our lives that our pictures will actually have some affect or benefit to society or the world. If we're very fortunate, we may have an opportunity to do something good with our images.

In sports photography, the chances of our images actually meaning anything to the world is even slimmer. Capturing a great moment is a wonderful thing but, does it hold a candle to having an opportunity to direct and shape the future of another human being? Truly having the chance to bring real good into the world is an enviable position to be in.

I'm concerned that this industry has lost sight of what is truly important in the world. Photographers seem to think that winning a contest validates their existence. Putting the title of sports photographer of the year behind their moniker places them in a position of reverence. Now that's an interesting concept.

I think that a pre-requisite for a photographer to enter any contest should be a letter of recommendation from their spouse or significant other saying that they have done well with their lives and duties at home and they should be allowed to enter said competition. No letter, no entry!

I did a little unofficial survey a few years back among the many photographers I know to try and get a handle on how high the divorce rate actually was among photographers. Of the people I surveyed, (about 40 people) 92% had been married and divorced. Of those I polled 38% had been divorced more than once.

Now maybe we can't draw too much from this unofficial survey other than this profession is very demanding on marriages and relationships but, then again, maybe we can. I believe if we look at some of the finest successes in the business we will see that not only are they successful photographers but they are also success in their relationships as well.

I was discussing this issue with a dear friend of mine David Burnett. Actually, David was helping me through a problem time I was having with my wife recently after the Winter Olympics. I was baffled by her anger at my being gone for the games. David reminded me that sometimes problems are just cumulative. He and I have both been married for 23 years now and both of us have had to spend considerable time away. I expressed my frustration at my wives anger at this situation and he reassured me that we had made good choices.

He told me that he sometimes felt as though his career had been slowed by the fact that he devoted time to his family but that he wouldn't change his life in any way. He felt spending time with his daughter and wife and watching them grow was more important than any other long assignment somewhere that might bring in a little more notoriety. To hear an amazing talent like Burnett say he'd rather spend time with his family than jet off to another potential award winning situation is truly refreshing.

Joel Sartore told me once not too long ago that he doesn't do anything anymore that takes him away from home for more than 4 weeks because it's just too hard on his family and he hates that. Staying out for only 4 weeks is quite tough when you work for National Geographic regularly.

When I was in Salt Lake City for the Olympic Games I ran into Simon Bruty for the first time in a huge amount of time. I consider Simon one of the finest sports photographers in the industry. The very first thing he did after shaking my hand and saying hello was to bring out the baby pictures and talk about how wonderful he thought his child was. You could see in his eyes that his highest priority was recorded there in those pictures.

Dave Black, another one of the very finest talents in the world of sports photography. His family is always fore most in his mind and agenda. His daughter is the always a topic of proud discussion and his wife is his ongoing inspiration. He's never entered a contest in his life but is recognized as a leader in the sports photography industry.

All these guys are successful photographers because they are successful in their personal lives as well. Success means more to them than some award for some great picture. Success is a sense of breadth, depth, insight, and commitment that comes from a broad level of experience.

Sometimes the business of photography is taking care of all the other commitments other than pushing the shutter. Sometimes remembering that is the most important thing you can do.

(Rick Rickman is a Southern California-based freelance photographer. When his is not riding the waves he writes periodically on business practices for Sports Shooter. He will be conducting a session on the business of photography at the 2nd annual Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau Nov. 1-2. He con be contacted via e-mail at: or through his personal web site,

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