In a business-driven world, Palm City, Florida-based portrait photographer Thomas Winter did everything right. After going to school for Radiology Technology, he got his BS in Organizational Management, followed by an MBA. Once he “outgrew” Radiology Tech work, he worked as an executive for outpatient radiology services, traveling the country building and operating outpatient imaging clinics (casual).
Before long, he tired of this and moved across the country to start his own Radiology business (also casual). In Thomas’s words, he “had a good run of it” but moved on from the “tightening healthcare industry” and sold the business. What did he move onto? You guessed it… full time photography. Passion is a beautiful thing.
Below, I pick Thomas’s brain for advice on…well…everything in life? Enjoy!
How long have you been a photographer?
Twenty five years on and off, as an enthusiast in my twenties and thirties— nature and weddings on weekends. I have been full time for the past six years.
Where did you go to school?
I went to school for Radiology Technology right out of high school, then went on for a BS in Organizational Management in New York, and finished my MBA at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. I did not receive a formal art or photography education, it was all business.
What were your specific responsibilities at your previous position?
I was a Radiology Tech early in my working career, performing X-rays, CAT Scans, and MRI Scans on people. I loved it, still miss it in some ways, but I outgrew it. I was an executive for the largest provider of outpatient radiology services at the time, where I traveled the country building and operating outpatient imaging clinics. Later in my radiology career I moved from New York to Florida, and started my own radiology business with some physician partners there. We had a good run of it for a while, but then we sold the business before the tightening healthcare industry became too much to bear.
What drew you to the photography industry? Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?
When I worked in the hospital radiology department in my early twenties, I used to photograph X-rays to make slides for physicians to use in their lectures. The radiology darkrooms could basically develop all my B&W film for almost no cost as the chemistry was essentially the same for X-ray films and B&W films. There is a funny parallel between the two careers: Radiology I was imaging people when they were sick and usually unhappy from the inside, now I get to image people when they are usually happy and on top of their game from the outside…
I had no idea I would be a full time photographer until I sold the radiology business and had some time and money on my hands to figure out my next move. I started shooting more and more to fill that void, and created a lot of fine art photography which sold really well, then people started hiring me for real jobs. Who would have guessed this would happen? I never expected to actually make a decent living off of photography.
How did you get started once you made the decision?
I had to really put myself out there through socials and networking events. Many of my fine art sales were by local businesses, and this led to corporate jobs, then word of mouth. I tend to hold onto my local clients and add a few more every year, this is a great business model. In business school, I remember one of my marketing professors talking about the “lifetime value of a customer,” I can’t tell you how important fully understanding that concept was.
Were there any challenges with the transition to full time photographer?
Sure, the first few years without much income…. it takes a while to get to know a new industry and function effectively within it, this was no exception. For no one, except for those lucky few, does success come without lots of hard work.
Do you feel that your previous career has helped you in your photography career? If so, how?
Sure, having been an executive and medium-sized business owner, I know how to run a business, accounting, marketing, and pricing for profitability. I also know my limitations and when to ask for help. This is where Agency Access and Wonderful Machine have been really great resources for me.
Are you glad that you made the switch? What are some of your favorite things about being a photographer?
I am glad I made the switch, it’s been great, the only real negative is not knowing what next month’s work and revenue will be like. Fortunately, it seems to keep working out. My favorite things, hmm, meeting tons of new people, seeing other businesses and industries from the inside, and the fact that every single day is different for me. The career has really opened my eyes to so many new things, it’s been great, really great.
What kind of projects have you worked on? Has your past career influenced your photographic style?
One of my favorite personal projects is an ongoing one, I call it my “Artist Portrait Series”, the intent is to show the face behind the art. I work with our local arts council here in Martin County, FL and that gives me access to creatives all over local area. We usually spotlight an artist for our Martin Arts Magazine, and those editorial deadlines have been a great way to keep the project going for me in busy times.
What would your advice be to others looking to switch from different careers and become photographers?
It’s not an easy transition— sure the low entry barriers make it easy to just hang out a shingle and call yourself a photographer, but to be successful at it is another story. Perhaps make the transition gradually, do it part-time, or find richer parents. Just be realistic in your expectations, your phone will not just start ringing. If you have skill, can run a business, market effectively, and have a little luck, you can make some headway and perhaps pull it off.