Interview with Sarah Marino | GBPW Episode 110

That’s probably the place where I would like to have more of an impact in the future: helping people who are both photographers and non-photographers think more deeply about the natural world and the role that we all can play in protecting it and having a greater appreciation for places.

Sarah Marino

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In this episode, nature photographer Sarah Marino talks about building a life that makes you happy. Sarah used to work in a high-stress environment that involved many hours of work. After quitting her job, she decided to pursue photography full-time, but on her own terms.

We talk about:

  • Sarah’s transition, from working for non-profit organisations to building her own photography business
  • The concept of small scene photography and why it inspires her
  • Business tips for photographers of all kinds

& much more!

Sarah is ambitious, clever, and very talented. She shares a lot of great business and photography tips in this interview. Whether you’re interested in nature photography or want to boost your personal business, I’m sure that you’ll enjoy listening to this episode.

Here is a preview of our conversation with Sarah Marino.

Q: What advice would you give to people who want to break free?

Sarah Marino: The first is realising what you want and then thinking about the plan to get there and realising that it could mean that your life looks entirely different. That can be really scary and it can be really exciting. In my case, I think it’s worked out really well, but my life looks completely different than it did six years ago.

The main piece of advice, if you want to transition from doing something else to photography, is that it’s not necessarily the photography skills. It’s the business skills. I had the benefit of working with non-profits and foundations on how to be more effective in terms of strategy and management, so I built up a lot of skills that are now transferrable to my photography business.

It’s not a straightforward answer. It’s a lot of little decisions that add up and building the skills that are necessary to build a successful small business. It took 10 years. I quit my full-time job 10 or 11 years ago, and then I started a full-time photography business in 2020. That was a long transition to get to that point.

Q: Do you have any business strategy tips for photographers who want to pursue full-time careers?

Sarah Marino: The first thing is spending some time on introspection and thinking. If I’m leaving a job, what do I want my life to look like? What am I leaving that I don’t like and what would I want to change? One thing I have seen with some peers is that they feel like they’re in a super stressful job. Maybe they have a type A personality, where they tend towards being a workaholic. If you don’t change some of those habits, you’re just going to repeat those habits in your photography business.

If you like that, that’s perfectly fine. But if you’re trying to have a slower, more relaxing, less stressful life where you feel like you have more time for photography and some of the things that you enjoy, then that might require adjusting some of your work habits. For me, it was a lot of introspection about what in this other life isn’t working and how do I want my business to look different.

I wanted an open schedule and be able to say, “Fall colours in this particular place look interesting. I want to be able to go to that place. Well, I have five workshops. So that means that I have this succession of workshops in these particular places every autumn, so I’m not going to have the flexibility to do what I’m interested in.” That means, for me, that having a lot of really full workshop schedule isn’t a good choice. I want flexibility and I want more control over my time.

Projects that I control are a better fit for me. Things like writing ebooks, doing video tutorials, speaking, teaching, and things that are more limited and have less of a requirement of my time. Those are the things that are the best fit for me.

What do I want my life to look like? How can I match some business strategies to what I want my life to look like? I think that’s probably the most helpful place to start if your decision to be a photographer is more lifestyle-oriented.

Q: What is small scene photography?

Sarah Marino: I think of small scenes as pretty much everything that isn’t a grand landscape with a sky. That can include intimate landscapes, which are often what I think of as little vignettes of nature. Maybe an interesting set of layers off in the distance, a little swirl of fog on a mountaintop, or a collection of interesting trees where you’re isolating that scene that connected with you. I would consider that more of an intimate landscape. Often, those are taken with telephoto lenses and just isolating bigger details in nature, but often not including the sky or a really expansive view.

I have a huge fascination in plants and botany. I really enjoy photographing plants and learning about the natural world and the places that I visit through the plant life. My photography definitely includes lots and lots of plants. Things like macro photography, where it could be just a single flower, a little bit of lichen, interesting patterns on some bark, little grains of sand. So little tiny details in nature.

For me, small scenes encompasses all of that, from intimate landscapes, to portraits of plants and trees, to macro photography, where we’re working with the very smallest subjects.

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