How I found my calling as a photography mentor

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on April 24, 2016

in This is Art,This is Business,This is Life

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I’m you 17 years from today.

Except I’m not, because you’re going to climb your mountains with a completely different set of tools (of heart, mind, and spirit) than I did when I launched Outlaw Photography in 1999.

The words you’re reading, and the site you’re reading them on, exist because nothing like this was around when I made the transition from amateur photographer to paid professional almost two decades ago. True encouragers in this industry are still ultrarare: Chase Jarvis, David duChemin, Eric Kim, CJ Chivers, to name the handful I’ve found who care as much as I do about helping startup photographers get their art and business out into the world.

You know what I found when I started?


Bitter, resentful, mean photographers desperate to discourage the influx of digital photographers into their established markets and industry. Their voices today are neither less numerous nor poisonous than they were 17 years ago.

I don’t hate grognards – I recognize how fast their paradigms, business models, and profit margins crashed in the face of the Digital Revolution.

But I hate their effect.

There’s no statistic to measure how many potential artists this world has been denied. Established photographers’ elitism, discouragement and browbeating has done as much to kill off startup photographers as The Resistance itself.

They sure laid a beating on me:

“You’re no photographer. You’re just a Guy With a Camera. You obviously don’t have ‘it’ and you’ll never be a professional.”

“Go back to school and get an MFA in Photography, intern with a real photographer for 4-8 years, then maybe you’ll get a shot at going pro.”

“Don’t call yourself a professional. You don’t earn your full time income from photography like we do. You’re not a professional, you’re a hobbyist.”

“You’re the reason this industry is going to crap. You’re destroying the careers of every photographer who paved the way for you to even be here.”

Reaching out to the establishment did more damage than good.

I’ve got pretty thick skin as an artist. I’ll take a beating so long as it leads to nuggets of wisdom I can apply to myself or my craft. But the wall I hit was downright hateful.

There were a few exceptions, especially the great advice shared on the forums of

I didn’t find my first mentor until I reached outside the photography world, and into business.

Seth Godin’s book Meatball Sundae (of all titles) was the first encounter I had with a professional who genuinely wanted to help me get my art into the world. Through his books and blog, I heard the message I needed to take my art, business, and life to the next level.

I can’t count the others since who have spoken wisdom and encouragement into my life. Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferriss, Michael Hyatt, Steve Arensberg, Anne Lamott, Leo Babauta, Scott Dinsmore, Danny Iny, Ramit Sethi, Chris Brogan, Josh Earl, Michael Port, John Jantsch, Jordan Harbinger, Aaron Marino, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dr. Steven Covey, Steven Schiffman, Dennis Wade, Tommy Thomason… and so many more in ways big and small, but always crucial to my growth.

Epiphanies are real.

I had one in 2009 when I was moved to publish online for the first time since I started a Mariah Carey fan site 14 years before.

I’d been a photojournalist for my hometown newspaper since my sophomore year in high school. I got my first paid portraiture gig shortly after I started, when the mother of a high school athlete saw my front page photos and asked, “Can I pay you to take photos of my family?”

Outlaw Photography was launched in 1999, and with it my career as a part time photographer.

But in 2009, after a decade of newspapering and photography, I was unfulfilled. My eldest daughter was five, my son just started toddling, our family had moved into our first apartment outside the old ranch house I inherited from my grandmother, and life was good. Secure. Simple. Normal.

Normal, I finally realized, was a gut punch.

After enough videogames, Days of Our Lives, and growing disgruntle with the corporate masters of my day job, I realized something was wrong.

And I was ashamed.

Here I was with a beautiful family, a day job that paid the bills, a successful small business, friends, and more than enough leisure.

This is the American Dream, right? Isn’t this what I’m supposed to want?

I was thankful.

But I was unsatisfied.

And that kind of misalignment can kill you.

Then, Tim Ferriss broke my reality.

When I read The Four Hour Work Week, I realized I was not only allowed to want something different in my life, but it was possible to earn that life, no matter where you started from.

I grew up in comfortable poverty. Our only income was my dad’s social security disability check. We had a real home, a real yard, pets, vacations to visit family and the beach on the Texas coast, but some months we ate rice and beans and bread instead of hamburgers and pizza. Some months we needed help with the electric bill from the Helping Hand Crisis Center in Bandera. I remember being swallowed up by the big chairs in the banker’s office while my dad negotiated (on a handshake) another extension on a personal loan he couldn’t pay until he got the next client.

My dad, retired in his 40s after a work accident at a nuclear power plant, was also an entrepreneur. He owned Taylor Electronics, selling and installing the big satellite TV dishes rural homeowners would buy since they couldn’t get cable out in the sticks.

Dish Network and DirecTV put him out of business.

And after 60 years of smoking cigarettes (“menthol light 100s”), lung cancer killed him.

My dad was my best friend. I didn’t realize how much his death hurt me. I didn’t grieve. And I fell into a well-masked depression.

I was making the five-hour drive from Bandera to Fort Worth for a photojournalism workshop at Texas Christian University summer of 2009. Normally I’d surf the FM dial as one set of radio stations faded to static and others claimed the airwaves.

But Audible got me on a free trial, so instead I listened to the first audiobook I’d ever heard: The Four Hour Work Week. The course of my life was forever changed.

I learned that it wasn’t just okay, but wonderful, that I was deeply unsatisfied with the status quo.

I learned that it wasn’t just normal, but important, that I wanted more to do more with my life than work for the weekend.

I learned that it wasn’t just reasonable, but inevitably possible, that I could take control of my life instead of making my rich corporate owners richer.

That same year, I launched PTP, and found My People – you reading this, my tribe – the people whose story-changing needs I would relentlessly seek and serve whether or not I ever made a dime doing so.

I found my calling.

I’m an entrepreneur. And so are you. That’s why I’m writing these words and you’re reading them right now.

But my story isn’t about my story.

This is about your story, the discovery of your calling. You’re right there, or on the verge of it.

You’re unsatisfied. You’re in love with photography. You know you want and need to do more with your life. Maybe you’re as ashamed today of that need as I was in 2009.

I’ve been where you are.

  • You don’t know what to do next.
  • You don’t know how to find the time, how to balance work and family and art and business and self.
  • You don’t know how to overcome your fears.
  • You don’t have the money.
  • You’re discouraged by your lack of progress, and the mean things the grognards have said to you or other startup photographers.
  • You feel like you may never be good enough, it’s too late to start, and you’ll embarrass yourself if you try.
  • And it kills you inside to think this dream may never be anything more than a fantasy.

I can write and talk all day long, but I’m not the hero of your story – you are.

I’m here to help you with the tools of the heart, mind, and spirit you need to bring your art and business into the world.

But everything I do is worthless outside the hands of the artist and craftsman.

You can do this.

I mean it. And I truly, truly believe it – I don’t just say it to get you to buy my books or courses or coaching.

I believe in you.

I believe in your dream.

I believe in your potential.

I believe in the blessings of art you have to bring to your clients and community.

I believe you can launch and grow a part time photography business that will reward you creatively, socially, and financially.

I believe you can earn that great photography course on CreativeLive, that art-revolutionizing live workshop, that next camera and lens and flash upgrade, that Disney World vacation for your family, that new car, and even your full time freedom from that day job you loathe.

And I believe you can do it with grace, and peace, and joy.

I believe it because I’ve done it. Self-taught (via dozens of priceless mentors), no college degree, humble beginnings, born and raised in the sticks, part homeschooled and part public schooled, photography businesses built in towns no larger than 1,900 population. At my worst I’m lazy, easily emotionally distracted, an overweight food addict, a master rationalizer, a perfectionist, a consumer instead of producer, and scared to paralysis of judgement and rejection.

I’m a real human being, strengths and weaknesses, ups and downs, just like you.

And if I can do it, you can too.

I won’t BS you for one second: it isn’t easy, it isn’t overnight, and it isn’t always pretty. If you’re not ready to hustle, to challenge yourself, to push the boundaries of your comfort zone, I’m not the right mentor for you.

I believe in earning it.

And if you’ve read this far, you believe it too.

We’re in this together. I’m in your corner.

Now, it’s time to Do The Work.

E-mail me at and let me know the biggest challenge you’re facing today. I read everything, and I look forward to visiting with you.

Next Steps

  • REACH OUT: I’m serious when I ask you to e-mail me today. You need to break free of the echo chamber of wishing and inaction, and one of the best ways to do so is to take action – especially an action that starts a conversation. For the same reason people buddy up to lose weight or make that 5 a.m. run together, you need someone in your corner to help you overcome The Resistance. E-mail me at and tell me the biggest thing holding you back today.
  • BRAINSTORM SESSION: Get out your pen and paper. What would you do today if you weren’t afraid? File this away in your Brainstorms folder.
  • SUBSCRIBE TODAY: It’s my calling to relentlessly seek and serve the story-changing needs of startup photographers. Don’t miss out on my best stories and ideas: subscribe to my e-mail newsletter today at the top-right of any page of this site.
  • DO THIS NOW: What’s the biggest challenge holding you back? E-mail me at I read everything, and I look forward to helping you make a breakthrough today.

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