Go Small To Achieve Big Things
As we near the end of the year, I have started my business planning process for next year and I realized something that is profound for me and I think can possibly help others.
Possibly my self-observations may help you and if that is the case, I would like to hear from you.
Hang in there to the end of the article and then send me a note or leave a comment and let me know what you think.
In 2015 my son, Tim Jr and I set out on a new adventure. We bought some inexpensive land in the Missouri Ozark's located in southeastern Missouri. When I say inexpensive, I frame that in the context of the cost of land near populated cities and suburbs.
We built our homes, just small and simple cabins off the grid on some amazing remote land surrounded by one million acres of the Mark Twain National Forest. I want to stress the reality of how simple and rugged the land and surrounding area actually is. Just so that you have some frame of reference, our land is off of a 2-mile long gravel forest service road and then when you get to the land, it is rugged, undeveloped, and the way that mother nature left it before we arrived. There was no electricity, water, or any type of utility on the land, just chest-high grass.
I had friends and family that thought I had lost my mind and others thought it was awesome. In the end, I needed to pursue what was in my heart, even if it turned out to be a decision that didn't work out.
Before I go any future, I want to underscore the importance of following your heart. While I recommend doing this in a responsible manner, to do anything other than following your true dreams is shortchanging yourself. If something is deep in your heart, take the time to sit down and make a realistic plan to pursue your true dreams. Working towards your destiny makes all the difficult days worthwhile.
My priorities and primary motivation when I decided to move were to create a new life that was deeply connected to nature and one that was a lot slower than the corporate work life that routinely kept me under constant pressure and rarely able to spend any quality time outside. My parents were not financially able to put me through any type of college education, so I worked multiple jobs to ultimately earn undergraduate and graduate degrees over a 12 year period. I earned and paid for every dollar of my education because it was the only choice I had and I believed it was one of the best ways out of a life that was destined for poverty. I am thankful that my parents didn't have the money to pay for my education because this experience shaped my work ethic and drive that has ultimately been at the core of my success.
I went on to earn a good living and raise a big family. I am thankful for my ability to provide for my kids until they were adults, but now it was time for me to reconnect with my true passion which is nature and photography.
I sold the house in the city and used that money to buy the land and build our simple cabins, workshop, and darkroom. I needed to be able to start this new chapter without debt hanging over my head because I knew that I couldn't sustain the new life with debts because I would have a significantly lower income.
I wanted to live and work in an environment that nurtured my inner passion for traditional analog photography and be close to nature. I didn't know exactly what my day-to-day life would look like after all the work subsided, I just knew that I needed to start my day outside hiking in the forest and connected to nature in some way.
We spent the next year building a brand new darkroom and workshop from scratch and while it was a lot of work, these are some of the best memories of my entire life, not only because of the awesome darkroom we have to work in now, but the time with my son was and is very valuable to me.
I remember the days when I was a young boy working with my dad on the farm and rebuilding our house. Now being able to share that with my son was a full-circle moment for me.
After our homes/cabins were built and the darkroom completed, I needed to figure out how to earn a living and follow my passion for film-based nature photography. I didn't come from a family that had much money and that isn't a bad thing. We were always fed and had clean clothes. I would say that is a pretty good life. It taught me that I needed to earn my own way in life and that I needed to be careful with the money that I did earn.
Over the course of the next two years, I developed a comprehensive analog photography training library and learned how to market and sell the training online. My business background really helped with this part of the journey and it felt good to put those business skills to use in a way that was meaningful to me. There was a huge learning curve and more work than I ever imagined. I had no idea if there was even enough of a market for analog photography video training and guidebooks in a society that is digitized in every way to include most photography.
Designing and creating video workshops and guidebooks has been a hugely rewarding process for me personally. More than any business accomplishment I had ever experienced. I have been able to help thousands of photographers from around the world in over 27 countries so far. I couldn't even dream that big and this within itself is a golden nugget for your consideration.
Make sure you are dreaming big and I mean really big! Don't let past failures or lack of encouragement hold you back from reaching your full potential.
While my income is a fraction of what it was in the business world, my satisfaction and joy are 100 fold of what it was. Now that I have the training library developed, I can go on to the next step in my plan. I tend to think about life in terms of chapters. In this new chapter, I would like to think I am just a little bit smarter and wiser than my last chapter. I have to approach all of this from a humble perspective because I traded money for personal freedom, passion, and the ability to serve others in a meaningful way.
I am not sure we can ever truly "have it all", because we have to make choices and trade-offs along the way based on the information we have available to us at the time. I decided to exchange my well-compensated business life for a very low paying job that I had total control over and one that filled my soul. I would say that was a good investment. I recognized that I needed to acquire some gear and resources before I made the transition, so I saved for a long time and then purchased the items I needed to allow me to make the choices I ultimately describe in this article.
In 2020, I will be creating a brand new line of images and prints that I have branded as NatureArtRxTM.
Based on the latest biophilic and evidence-based design research, I will be creating therapeutic nature images and marketing my new work to healthcare organizations and corporations that have wellness programs.
Over five decades of medical and academic research indicates that a specific style of nature photography can have measurable and positive health benefits to people receiving medical care. The body of evidence is overwhelming and it is exciting to think that I can truly help people in a way that I never realized.
I started researching evidence-based nature art back in 2010 and I quickly knew that this was my calling and purpose in life. I finally had the evidence that I needed for me to make a real difference for people when they are in their most vulnerable state. I have always known on a personal level that I simply feel better when I am outside in nature, but I never really thought about it or understood why.
My original plan was to move to my land and create a new line of evidence-based art, but the realities of life and needing to earn a living got in my way and that is why I ended up developing the training materials as the first part of a multi-step plan to ultimately be able to create evidence-based nature art. The projects on the land were much more expensive than originally anticipated, so I needed to make some adjustments to keep everything moving forward.
This leads me to a key observation and the reason why I thought about writing this article. I needed to make my life smaller in just about every way in order to afford myself the opportunity to achieve the big dreams that I had in my heart.
By minimizing my living expenses and significantly reducing my personal belongings, I was freer to pursue the things that mattered the most to me. While there is never absolute freedom, there are options for just about everybody to make some personal decisions to get you closer to your dreams.
I will briefly share some of the more important highlights that I have been thinking about this month with you today and next year, I will begin sharing more details about NatureArtRxTM as well as all the technical details from a large format photography perspective.
I will take you behind the scenes with me as I work through every part of my workflow from composition and exposure to development of the Provia 100F slide film, to scanning and editing my images.
This is a new venture for me because I have always printed all of my own black and white silver prints in the darkroom and occasionally RA-4 silver color prints.
In case you are wondering, I will continue to use black and white film for personal work and I will be creating silver gelatin prints in the darkroom as long as I am alive.
When I titled this article, Go Small To Achieve Big Things, I was trying to emphasize the importance of keeping your personal and professional life very small in order to accomplish your big dreams.
Even though I truly have noble intentions with my therapeutic nature photography, the world runs on money and there is no getting around this unfortunate truth. Even though I am now living a life that I longed for, I continue to have to balance the realities of earning a living by doing the things that fulfill my heart.
This is where patience and planning come into play. It isn't easy to pursue dreams, and I don't expect it to be without struggle and disappointment. I think this is another key point for consideration. Our perceptions are very important and when our perceptions are violated, this is when we can get off track. So, in a healthy way, I expect adversity and I know that whatever comes my way, I will do my best to work through it to get to the other side.
I know with absolute clarity that I made the right decision to downsize and simplify my life.
By keeping my personal living expenses to a very low standard my life is easier. By having fewer "things" I learned that I really didn't need the majority of the stuff that I worked so hard to pay for. I wasn't very bright, but I figured it out and I am very clear on what is important and what isn't.
I have started to apply this concept to my photography as well and I am starting to feel the benefits of this too.
The message here is to make your life very small because this keeps your expenses to a minimum and hopefully this creates an opportunity to transform your dreams into your day-to-day life. By having less stuff, you also have fewer distractions and opportunities to justify additional expenses for your dreams.
While the financial side of things is obvious, there are other areas, even within your photography that can make a big difference too.
It is very easy to get sucked into the belief that you need the latest and greatest gear and technology.
Marketing professionals are very good at their jobs and then when you see your friends and peers using the latest high-end gadget, it is difficult to ignore this and not fall victim to the GAS (gear acquisition syndrome).
To make things even worse, billions of people are now carrying around mobile phones which give marketers 24x7 permission to sell you even more things you don't need and we willingly allow that to happen.
For all of my new therapeutic nature images, I am using one film, Provia 100F, and two cameras.
I could probably get away with one camera, but since I already have the other one, I am going to leverage it as a tool.
I will be using my Linhof Master Technika for all of my fieldwork and my Linhof Technikardan for the smaller botanical work whether it is located at a botanical conservatory or a short distance from my vehicle.
Based on my current plans, the vast majority of my images will be created with just three lenses on these two cameras.
For my wide angle landscapes, I like the 75mm Super Angulon lens. It speaks to my vision and it also works very well for the evidence-based design and biophilic principles that I need to align with to create my new images.
For most of my botanical images, these will be created with my standard 150mm lens and for some of my landscapes, I will use a longer 300mm lens. The standard lens is the most versatile tool that I have in my bag. I can create normal perspective landscapes or I can double my bellows draw and create 1:1 macro images.
My entire kit easily fits in a single backpack and I have no issues hiking for long distances if that is what I need to do. In a future article, I will share everything that I have in my bag.
What I am effectively trying to share with you is that it is beneficial to go small with your gear in order to achieve big things. Simple is good and I believe outweighs the negatives.
For example, you may be thinking that I am limiting myself by only using Provia 100F color transparency film. While that is technically true, and without a doubt I will miss some opportunities, especially some landscapes, I simply won't put myself into a position of missing those types of images. The upside of living and working with the "smaller is better" mindset far outweighs the downsides.
There are no perfect solutions in just about every area of life, only compromises that we choose to manage. I will get to know this film in the context of my subject matter on a much deeper level than if I tried to use a variety of different films to meet the various technical requirements.
Please leave your comments below and share your thoughts with me.
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This is a very touching and timely as I contemplate my own future. Turning 45 yrs old in December, working a “corporate” job and having 2 young children that I hardly get to spend anytime isn’t what I’d call “living” life. Just getting by at the expense of living is more apropos. My funny I should come across your blog post because my wife and I were just commenting back and forth about doing the whole Tiny House thing and scaling down the “stuff” of life and do things we love like travel, music and photography. Great post. Good luck with your venture and if I can help. I will.
(For some reason, I can't find anywhere to sign in.)
I appreciate your approach, Tim, and with some irony. From following your work, videos, etc. over a few years now, it appeared to me that you had very deep pockets from your previous work life and seemingly a vast array of equipment, from cameras to transport to darkroom. I understand your concerns better now from this article.
My disabled daughter had a local volunteer come to help her last weekend. He was here working in the yard for hours in the cold, and I invited him in for coffee. we spoke for a half hour or so. He had made a fortune in telecommunications years ago and left it when the proverbial last straw of corporate politics was added to his load. For the past dozen years, he has done nothing but volunteer, helping others with gardening.
In my view, it is part of the beginning of wisdom to recognize that things are ephemeral, ideas may be eternal.
Best wishes in your continuing journey.
Going "small"in our personal lives has helped my husband and I create a large space for visual artists in our small rural, agricultural area. We had started with a small dream for our art center, just to have a bus to take to local schools to introduce the kids to the arts. We toured 28 art centers before starting and our small dream took on a life of its own. Now, we wonder if the world conspired to make all of our dreams come true, and more ... or have we grown too large? We just keep asking "Am I happy?" and we certainly are. What an amazing community we are part of. So, I guess our advice would be, go small but be open to those serendipitous moments that might lead to something big. Thank you for all you do for us old-school photographers, Tim. We truly appreciate it!
Really liked your go small comments. It resonates for me. In this time of raging consumption and having stuff replace experiences, you are living what many of us contemplate
Bravo, Mr. Layton. Right on article. The years pass so quickly. And we must learn how to keep GAS under control. To quote the New York Institute of Photography...."it isn't the violin....it's the violinist". You are about to blaze another trail in your chosen profession.
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