The Value of Time to a Photographer

A few years ago, I came up with a theory. Every person has some balance of two incredibly valuable assets: Time and Money. If you have an excess of one of them, there’s a good chance that you don’t have much of the other. I’d like to take some time and reflect on how being aware of how you spend your time can potentially improve your business… and maybe even your life.

Here I sit on a flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco. This is the fifth time I’ve taken this flight in the past 6 months. I’m confident I’ll be making the same trip at least as many times before the year is up. When I’m on a long flight like this, I use some of my time wisely and then spend some frivolously. I will spend a few hours catching up on email, organizing my computer, trying to read a bit and write a bit, and then work on some images if time allows (concepting, toning, editing).

Undoubtedly, I will also spend some time doing things that you could put in the category of “wasting time” (yes, this includes playing games on my iPhone). Believe it or not, it’s a very important part of the creative process for me. As I strive to establish efficiencies in all aspects of my photography business, my life has quickly developed a certain intensity. That being said, I find a lot of value in pulling back a bit and just relaxing.

From Spring 2002 until about Spring 2005, I spent a great deal of my time assisting commercial photographers. I believe this is a vital step in the process of developing a healthy photography career. When it was time for me to make the jump to from assistant to photographer, I was cash-poor and time-rich. I was having a very hard time making ends meet, but certainly had hours and hours to spare.

At the time, I was working with one of my mentors, photographer Bill Cramer. He was a very busy man at the time: shooting constantly, caring for his wonderful family, and developing the business that is now Wonderful Machine. I remember thinking about how I had so much of the one thing he could use — time. As you can probably guess, his financial situation was quite enviable from where I was sitting.

When you’re a young, aspiring photographer, you’ve got so much time on your hands. Time should be read as “opportunity”. You have very little responsibility, minimal commitments, and hopefully nothing holding you back from dedicating your life to developing yourself and your work. It’s an incredible time when you have the greatest chance of building yourself into someone greater than you can dream of yourself. It’s also a window that will likely close before you know it.

When I was starting out, I made some tough decisions that made great use of my time. These choices helped me go from full-time assisting to full-time shooting in just one year. First, I moved out of the apartment I was living in with friends and moved much closer to our studio. This helped me avoid some distractions and spend more time working. I also chose to destroy the idea of a 40-hour workweek. It was a tough transition, but now I can hardly remember what sleeping on the studio floor felt like. Finally, I dedicated myself to a personal project that required me driving 350 miles each way to get to my subjects. This was my Titusville Steel Project; the time dedicated to it helped make it my first successful body of work.

A photograph from the Titusville Steel Project

These days, things are a bit different for me. A week doesn’t go by when I don’t say to my studio manager Robert: “There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”

I’m coming off my best year ever in business and am shooting non-stop. Creatively, I am making the best work of my career. Most importantly, my wife and I are expecting our first child in September. We couldn’t be happier.

That being said, I’ve just been informed that we’re preparing to land in San Francisco and it’s time to shut down and stow all portable electronics.

With that, I leave you with a song that has been something of a personal mantra. Enjoy.

About the author: Chris Crisman is an internationally recognized commercial photographer recognized by Luerzers Archive, Communication Arts, American Photography, and the International Photography Awards. He and his studio manager Robert Luessen frequently update their blog and can both be found on Twitter at @crismanphoto and @robertluessen. This post was originally published here.

Image credit: The photographer and her assistant by San Diego Shooter, 1/365 I think I’ve got too much time on my hands? by Rob Ellis’