“It’s a dream come true”

December 15, 2008

You Witness contributor Jeff Bachner tells the story of following his passion of photography.

My journey to change careers started in November of 2005. My wife had been very ill for about a year. The stress of dealing with that and the everyday pressures of running a high volume luxury automobile dealership became overwhelming and I lost my job. I needed something to help keep my sanity during the remainder of my wife’s recovery.

Amazingly, life always gives you what you need if you just open your eyes and look for it. I received an email from Kodak informing me that they were introducing some new products in the Soho area of Manhattan. In addition, they had hired some top pro photographers to give lectures that they called “Master Classes.”

The first lecture I attended was given by famed tennis photographer June Harrison. We struck up a friendship and June eventually became my mentor. The most important advice she gave me was to take photos every day. That’s exactly what I did.

A few months later I was rehired by the dealership where I previously worked. It soon became clear to me that my prior enthusiasm for the automobile business was gone. I felt that photography might fill that void if I could just figure out a way to make a living in the field. So, with encouragement from my mentor, I kept shooting, developing my eye for composition, and my skill with the camera. Part of my education was looking at what other photographers were doing. That’s how I found Reuters’ website and discovered You Witness News.

During the next year I started to submit photos. In July of 2007 I managed to secure a press credential for the Coney Island Summer Concert Series. As I snapped my photos I observed how other photographers were working. One in particular, Steve Mack, impressed me with his professionalism. I watched him pull out a laptop, edit his photos, and start submitting them to his agency. He was kind enough to answer my questions and explain his work flow. At that point I was hooked and knew that photojournalism was going to be my niche. The following week I was back with my laptop and started submitting my images to You Witness News.

You can’t imagine the elation I felt when I saw my first photo published in the You Witness News Weekly Showcase. Then, week after week, my photos continued to appear. It gave me validation of my photographic skill and the confidence I needed to keep going. Other photographers I spoke with thought I was crazy to keep submitting my work without payment* but, instinctively, I saw it as an opportunity to build a portfolio that would prove invaluable in securing paid work.

My instincts were right. Using my You Witness portfolio I secured a press credential for the AVP Volleyball Tournament in Coney Island in August, 2007. I felt that my work was good enough to sell so I sent emails to local newspapers and Volleyball enthusiast publications. Although all of them wrote back saying they already had people covering the event, Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman expressed an interest in seeing my work saying that he was always looking for photographers. When I sent him my You Witness portfolio he responded that he couldn’t pay anything close to what I was probably used to getting. Well, I’d never received a penny for any of my photos so, whatever he offered was fine with me.

We signed a Freelance Agreement and I started to receive assignments which I completed in my spare time. I was still working full time at the car dealership but that ended when I found myself unemployed again in December, 2007.

February of 2008 I got a call from the NY Daily News offering to purchase my photo of Miss Brooklyn, Leigh Taylor-Smith that they’d seen on the front page of the Brooklyn Paper.  During the next few months the Daily News purchased other photos I submitted to them and Photo Editor Mike Lipack eventually offered me a Freelance contract. It’s a dream come true that I don’t think would have been possible without You Witness News.

View a showcase of Jeff’s images here.

*Any You Witness images that are used on the Reuters pictures wire are paid for.

Comments

Well, imagine my delight when I first found out that the photographer named Jeff Bachner would follow my passion which is certainly his passion. I remember that concert with Tommy James, Joe Black, etc. and I can honestly say, we can all be very successful when we follow our passions. Donald Trump said it well when he said if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I never thought I would be brave enough to start shooting again and work so hard that my passion actually pays my rent. Well, its true. I’ve once again gotten to that point where I can make a living doing what I love, what I’ve been doing since I was 10 years old. Thanks Jeff for sharing your story. Keep in touch.

 

Congratulations! Great story. I’m also going through a mid-life career change, wondering if I can make the cut as a pro photojournalist. I began submitting pics to You Witness News last November and they’ve cordially published 35 of my photos since then. The added bonus for me is that I’ve been traveling so I’ve amassed an impressive international portfolio thanks to Reuters. My photography has also improved tremendously because now I try to look at a subject and photograph it from a different perspective. I also try to take photos every day, study other photographer’s work, and watch how the pros do it. All-in-all it’s been a great learning experience. And like you, I hope that all this work I’ve been doing translates into something substantial. Do you have any additional suggestions on how to get work or contracts as a freelancer?

Posted by John Jantak | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for your kind comments. I’m glad that things are going well for you Steve. It’s great to hear from others who are sharing similar experiences and challenges. John, my suggestion is to get your name in front of editors who work for publications you think might be interested in your images. Don’t wait for someone to discover you on Reuters. Start sending out some emails. Eventually, you’ll get to someone who asks to see your work. Your photos will speak for themselves and the rest is up to you. Be prepared for rejection but don’t take it personally. It also helps to be financially prepared for the variable income of a freelancer. Lastly, find an experienced mentor. I’ve found that, with few exceptions, photographers are very generous with their knowledge and willing to help newcomers.

 

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