How Photography Has Become a Career

Lauren Callaghan

Photography Team

lcallagh@unca.edu

Tim Barnwell prepares his camera as he takes
a photograph in his studio of some objects for a project.

Photography became popular a long time ago and as a professional career, it is fairly popular
knowledge that photographers don’t make much money but some types are more successful
than others.

In speaking with three different photographers I learned how much the type of photographs
someone takes can change their career and their daily life.

I became interested in photography years ago. My mother took so many pictures of me growing
up and I naturally developed a fascination with cameras myself. My first real camera, a Polaroid,
allowed me to explore that world. Eventually I moved to phone cameras but those did not satisfy
my needs so last year I purchased my first digital camera. The digital age of cameras gave me
motivation to refine my skills and made me realize I might make photography a side or full-time
business one day.

Walking into Tim Barnwell’s photography studio immediately felt overwhelming but charming,
with photo related objects scattered about everywhere. Examples of his work lined a gray wall
just beyond the door with professional portraits and framed magazine spreads hung up. His
studio also contains a shelf opposite the wall with different books he made during the years
containing his photography. There were also hardware tools in the studio which puzzled me.
Filled with photo equipment at one end and his computer at another, it all seemed like too much.
The 64-year-old works as a professional photographer in Asheville.

Barnwell appeared to be well put together and clean shaven and came off as a kind person that had confidence but wasn’t overconfident. He became interested in photography starting in college at UNC Asheville.

“They didn’t offer photography when I was there so I started doing things on my own, I worked
for the media center there doing all the photography needs for the faculty, if they needed
enlargements done or slides processed or things like that, we would do that work,” Barnwell
said, sitting comfortably against the back of his chair.

He said his inspiration came from noticing the power of photographs and thinking about
traveling the world and visiting the places he would see in pictures.

“Later on I went to courses in Maine in 1978 on the Sun System, the view camera. That was
inspired by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and a whole group of photographers that were
known as the F-64 group, and they were contemporaries, but had kind of come into their prime
in the ‘70s and ‘80s. They were inspiring because of the quality of their work and I’d seen
exhibits at Western Carolina. They used to have a real active photography program, they would
have photography exhibits come in,” the Bryson City native.

Barnwell typically focuses on commercial photography and fine art photography. He mainly
does pictures for advertising. He also takes business portraits. Barnwell seems to be pretty
succesful because he made his fine art photography into prints and eventually into seven books
that have been released so far, he said.

“Mostly what I do is art and craft work for people that live here. I do a lot of work for the hospital
system and commercial clients. I worked for many years as a freelancer for the Biltmore Estate
and for Chimney Rock State Park,” Barnwell said.

Asheville’s small size limits the specialties photographers are able to have because there isn’t
enough of all the specialties to go around, and plus Asheville is fairly competitive, the
commercial photographer said. Barnwell gave New York as an example. A photographer there
would be very specific, like in fashion.

Barnwell also focuses on some freelance photography and his newest book, an example of that,
documented the shrimping and fishing industry on the Carolina and Georgia coast in pictures.
He also released books on travel and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“Most of my work like that is what I enjoy doing and what I try to do more of. It doesn’t pay as
well, so it’s something that I finance through my commercial work, but a lot of the projects have
been very successful and paid for themselves,” the photographer said.

Photographers sometimes struggle to maintain a financially stable career and have something
sustainable. Barnwell said when he first started his career that he would have said it was.

“It really changed with the advent of digital because digital kind of democratized photography so
that you didn’t have to learn how to do darkroom work and all this stuff that was kind of the
harder end of the spectrum,” Barnwell said.

Then there is Jennifer and Joe Mackey, who work as wedding photographers in the Asheville
area.

They left their typical nine to five jobs to pursue Jennifer’s passion in photography, whose
cousin had asked to photograph her wedding several years prior. Jennifer originally majored in
art and worked as a high school art teacher for a short time.

“While I was majoring in art, they make you take other courses, so they made me do
photography, and I did film photography and ended up loving it,” Mackey said.
The Mackeys’ photography business became so successful they opened a second studio and
they currently photograph 70-80 weddings a year.

“Mainly what we do is weddings and engagements but we also do proposals, family photo
sessions, maternity photos and corporate-type photoshoots. One thing we do not do is babies.
We’ve just learned babies aren’t our thing, they’re a little hard to deal with,” they said.

The Mackeys appeared in the tv show “Married at First Sight” earlier in 2019. They filmed a
wedding in Charlotte and said it was a cool opportunity to tell people their pictures were on
television. The couple also said it was neat to try a different way of shooting pictures.

Running a business appears to take up lots of time because they spend a lot of the time during
the week doing things other than photography. They have to do the accounting, paperwork and
contracts as well as edit pictures, so there are many things that go into what they do. The
Mackeys mainly enjoy shooting the pictures and meeting people because each couple is
different. They also like feeling the impact their pictures have on the couple because sometimes
they will receive calls from the parents with lots of praise.

“We probably work about 90 hours a week because we are hard workers and we want to be
successful so every day we’re working 12 plus hours a day, and it’s not always photos. It’s the
marketing, it’s the social media, it’s the editing that takes so much time, blogging, maintaining
our website,” the Mackeys said.

They schedule photoshoots about three or four days a week plus weddings, they said.

“We had a shoot today, we have a rehearsal dinner tomorrow, a wedding Saturday, and a shoot
Sunday, so every day we have something usually,” Jennifer Mackey said.

A third type of photographer does commercial work for a business. Adam Taylor, 52, from
Nashville, works as the photographer and videographer for the communication and marketing
department at UNC Asheville.

Taylor went to the School of Visual Arts in New York for an undergraduate degree and Georgia State University for a graduate degree. His inspiration came from switching out of band in high school to art class and falling in love with photography there.

“I had really no experience at that point in visual art and my teacher had made a darkroom out
of cardboard in the corner of the classroom. No one really used it but I was interested in it and
got a basic lesson from him,” Taylor said. “I tried it and just really liked it. I thought it was magic.”

His job is different from the typical photographer, because he doesn’t have the same
responsibilities as a professional photographer running their own studio does.

“A lot of photographers get into kind of a niche, video producers too. They get into something
and have a set of clients that are around that niche, whereas in a job like this, it’s really varied,”
Taylor said. “You don’t have to worry about the accounting, bookkeeping, billing and all that sort
of thing, which is a significant part of being in business.”

Some advice he gave to aspiring photographers was to find the types of photography one loves
most.

“Talk to people that have been in the field for awhile and see what the business is like, and
maybe even try to assist those people and get more first hand experience,” Taylor said.

Speaking with these three photographers truly showed me there isn’t just one type of
photography and I learned that I have a passion for photography. I realized I may want to follow
that passion and possibly start a full time business. I plan to take these photographers’ advice
and look into what it takes to run a business through talking to people and getting more
hands-on experience.

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