Maksim Shmeljov photography

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23 Feb 2015Losing a job opened up a new perspective, but I had to work really hard

So, in the spring of 2009 I found myself feeling rich. I had a studio, lots of models and a considerable income on my hands. All in all, it gave me a really magical feeling, like anything was possible for me.

But all things come to an end.

At first, we didn’t get our salary for a couple of weeks at the newspaper, and then, one morning our director gathered the creative team and announced that our services will no longer be needed because the newspaper doesn’t exist anymore.

Of course, by then I already had thoughts that at some point I would have to abandon my career as a journalist in favor of photography. Frankly, I was already starting to get sick of writing for three years. But I couldn’t have imagined that it’s going to happen so soon.

In a snap of a finger I lost more than half of my income. Although it felt really frustrating I also experienced some kind of sheer joy, like I became free all of a sudden. Probably, this was a result of my subconscious desire to bid farewell to journalism and fully enter the world of exposures, diaphragms, flashes, soft boxes and models.

The beginning of my independent career can hardly be called easy. In May 2009 I had something around a thousand kroons in my pocket, and a few weeks until the next payments from stock websites. The only resource that I had then, was time. So I started working really hard.

I was waking up every day and working: a few hours of processing pictures, shooting in the studio or in the street, and after that back to processing.

Microstock photography websites are a really inert thing. You can’t expect to get twice as much money tomorrow for twice as much work done today. Growth is slow and gradual. The situation was also worsened by the fact that it was summer vacation season. In the summer stock websites always experience a decline in sales, which has naturally reflected on my income.

I didn’t have enough money. It was a moment when all of my work could’ve been undone in an instant and I would’ve been brought back right to nothing. I couldn’t possibly pay for the studio, and so I said that I am leaving. I didn’t have any clear plan of what to do next. Of course I wanted to do photography, but since I didn’t have any money and was under constant stress with shooting and processing, I decided to make this drastic decision. Evgeny Petrovich really saved me by understanding my situation and allowing me to pay my debt in parts. I had little time on my hands and was forced to act really quickly.

And so I began to work. Really hard. Every other summer month got me more money than the previous one, breaking the record. It was far from what photographers at Vogue are paid, probably, but I did manage to pay for the studio. Something else also became clear to me: stock websites always need new material. You won’t be able to upload a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand pictures and then retire under a palm tree on some beautiful island with a cocktail in one hand and keys to your white yacht in the other. Stock websites constantly demand new material. And if you relax for one moment, then your place will be immediately taken by other people, with a more entrepreneurial approach.

For example, as I am writing this, Shutterstock already has over 20 million pictures, with 67 000 new photos and illustrations uploaded last week only.

In 2009, it was still a bit easier, and I had more realistic chances of success. Nowadays this story could’ve probably ended with me sorrowfully waving my hand to a leaving train.

People who are new to this often ask me about income, and I do not hesitate to answer them. But keep in mind, that the potential level of income for a beginner has decreased by several times compared to 2009.

By the end of that summer I really started to think about how long can I work at this pace. Well, I can shoot a lot, but in terms of processing, there is a certain limit that couldn’t be exceeded by one person.

There is of course an option, when you wouldn’t want to do this kind of work at all. I started thinking about ways to improve the efficiency of my work. For example, leaving processing and uploading to someone else and focusing solely on shooting. Of course this plan was still far from implementation and it took me awhile to get this thing going.

In the fall of 2009 there was a lot of shooting, but also a lot of partying in the studio. These parties were supplied mainly by alcohol that was left over from my birthday or was given to me as a present. All of it was strategically relocated to Suur Sõemäe str. Now parties in the studio happen of very rare occasions, mainly during the Christmas season, but then, as I recall, almost every trip to the club began in the studio. I was a younger man then.

I think that I’ve accomplished a lot by now. I don’t like to brag, but the facts are stubborn things. I do not think that many people at this age are capable of getting back on their feet in little over three months after losing their job and supporting themselves even better than they used to.

But that’s not the most important things, I guess. I finally realized what I want to do in life. Maybe I was not at all professional back in those days, but I really loved my work and was rewarded every single for it.

There is still a lot to tell about my studio on Suur Sõemäe. There will be new partners, major renovations, the joy of meeting new people, and the bitterness of parting with old friends. One day, behind the door of the same room that I am sitting in right now, writing this, appeared a girl who was destined to become my wife. Apparently, for me, the whole world will be revolving around the same address...