10 minutes with Cody Pickens
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
A year after high-school I moved to California from Missouri and I started taking design and painting classes at a community college in Costa Mesa, CA. I heard that their photo program was really great so I decided to take a class. I took B&W Photography 101 followed directly with Color Photography 101, and I absolutely fell in love with it. At the time, I was really into skateboarding and snowboarding so I that’s where I spent most of my time taking pictures. A year or so into school, I started assisting an instructor of mine and I think this is when I realized that making a living from photography was possible and it also looked really fun.
Is there anything about being a photographer that surprises you, maybe an aspect of the job that you didn’t really consider in the very beginning?
A lot of people say this and it rings true for me as well – learning how to juggle the massive amount of administrative tasks that come with being a photographer. When I’m not shooting, I will spend entire days organizing receipts and invoicing, returning emails/phone calls for future jobs, planning the next promo, printing new pages for the portfolio, updating the website… the list is truly endless. And then it repeats itself. I’m still learning to cope with the fact that I will never feel completely caught-up and there will never be an end to the non-shooting work that a photographer has to manage.
You have a young son, and you are super busy shooting. How do you balance work/life/family?
It is tough! If I’m not traveling, I usually wake up with him around 6am and we get to hang out for a few hours before I need to leave for a shoot or start any office work. I try to keep to a daily schedule and clock out around 5:30 so that I can spend some time with him before the nightly dinner/bath/bed activities begin. My office is at home so that does give me freedom to hang out more if it’s a calm week. It is a challenge though; editorial photography is week-to-week sometimes day-to-day so balancing all of those crazy deadlines with a family is definitely hard at times. Having a 2 1/2 year old is pretty amazing though. Just when you think you’re going to go absolutely nuts, he’ll do a small little something that totally makes you realize that life is best spent in the moment and to get out from within your own head as much as possible.
What made you decide to sign with a rep? Seems like these days you hear a lot of the opposite, photographers who shoot a lot of editorial work deciding to go solo.
I’m very eager to expand my business into more than strictly editorial work and I signed with Redeye to help maximize my brand’s growth. I think having a rep right now when the industry is having a bounce back is a very strong asset. It’s hard bridging that gap into the advertising world and reps are already very well connected to that world. It’s also nice to have an experienced partner that has more knowledge in showing books and landing jobs to help guide you. Ultimately though, I think it all falls back to the photographer, so I think the success of that relationship and your career depends on the photographer’s dedication to create exciting opportunities.
If you could go back ten years, what advice would you give yourself?
I’d say, park the bike and get to shooting more! 10 years ago there was a good 3 years of not doing much. I was 23 years old and riding my bike about 400+ miles a week for recreation and on a good month, shooting a few shitty rolls of 120 on my Hasselblad 501. My girlfriend and I had just moved to San Francisco and I was casually assisting and working various other jobs, and while I really enjoy owning all of this fancy carbon bike gear that is now collecting dust in my basement, I do wish that I’d taken to the grind a bit sooner just to get through those tough first few years of business a little earlier. I would then want to go back to just 3 years ago and tell myself to relax a bit. It’s really difficult coming up in this photo world, and learning how to ride the highs and the lows is a challenging thing to do. To this day, I still think my career is over if a few days go by without a call.
Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?
Take one great big deep breath. Making a career in photography never gets any easier. You are always going to want something greater and that’s a good thing. Learn not to worry too much and put all that energy into making new pictures that will get you the work you want to be doing. Shoot a ton of new stuff every single week, and show it to as many people that are willing to look at it. Jobs will come from that. Stop reading and thinking about what other people are doing and how you should be doing it, shut down your computer and go shoot something huge. Right now!
(Cody is based in San Francisco. See more of his work, here)