Why I Quit My Job – Trying to be Professional Landscape Photographer

The story behind my decision to leave my job in IT and try to follow my dream of becoming a professional landscape photographer.

My desire to spend more time in the Lake District has led to me pursuing a career as a professional landscape photographer

Friday 30th of August was a big day in my career. Maybe the biggest.

For the last 20 years I have been working in IT. I started in 1999 as a junior developer working for a company you have never heard of and I finished as a principal engineer at Sky, the largest media company in Europe.

However, three months ago I made the decision to quit my job, to get out of IT and to try my hand at something else.

This is the story of how I came to make the decision to become a professional landscape photographer.

How did we get here?

In 2007 my wife and I decided that we wanted to live in the Lake District.

At the time we were living in Aylesbury and I was commuting in and out of London every day for work. We would try and visit the Lakes as often as possible, finding it harder to return home each time.

We knew it wouldn’t be easy. House prices inside the national park are well above the national average and IT jobs are few and far between.

It wasn’t until the autumn of 2010 that we took the first step on our journey.

Step 1: Scotland

In October 2010 I accepted a contract role with Sky in their offices in Livingston just outside Edinburgh.

Although it wasn’t the Lakes it was a step in the right direction. Livingston is just two hours from the Lake District as opposed to the four that we were used to.

Following the global financial crisis the value of our house had fallen sharply and we found ourselves in negative equity. We had little choice but to rent out our home until the market had recovered.

We rented a house in Scotland and for two and a half years saved as much money as we could. Eventually we had saved enough to buy a house in Cumbria.

Step 2: Shap

In July 2012 we bought our house in Shap. As Shap sits just outside the National Park house prices are considerably lower than they are in the Lake District.

And it is also only 5 minutes from the M6 motorway, very handy for the weekly commute to Livingston.

That summer was an amazing time that I will never forget. It was the time of the Olympics in London and for the first two Saturdays in our new home we got to watch Mo Farah win a gold medal. We were in heaven!

We split our lives between Cumbria and Scotland. I would drive us up on Monday morning and Helen would drive us home on Friday evening.

This continued for two and a half years.

Dark Times

Since moving north in 2010 things had not been easy for Helen. She had struggled to find work in Scotland as an event organiser and had to endure knock back after knock back.

It was hard to sit back and watch her take one disappointment after another knowing that there was nothing that I could do.

For me things could not have been better. By now I had accepted a permanent role at Sky as a lead engineer and was making my mark. But for Helen those were dark times.

I am so proud of her for they way that she conducted herself during those years. She never gave up. After each set back she would pick herself up, dust herself off and try again. And again. And again.

Sadly the breakthrough that her determination undoubtedly deserved never came and at the end of 2014 she finally accepted defeat.

Step 3: Going Solo

Helen decided that she wanted to remain full time in Cumbria and try to find work locally.

In the years since she has retrained as a gardener and established her own thriving business. She spends her days outside, indulging in her passion with the Lake District fells as her backdrop.

I am bursting with pride as I write this.

Helen’s decision meant that I would have to travel to and from Scotland on my own. We would also be apart during the week.

By this time house prices had recovered and we were able to sell our house down south and buy a flat in Livingston.

We always viewed the flat as a safety net in case Sky ever grew tired of me. To my great surprise it eventually turned out to be the other way around.

Photography

We adapted to our life apart extremely well. If this was what it took to live in the Lake District, even part time, then so be it.

To get to this point we had had to make many compromises and sacrifices. I was very aware of the cost of our decision to move to Cumbria so was determined to make the most of it.

I started to spend as much time as possible exploring the fells. As a keen photographer I would take my camera with me wherever I went in order to record what I saw.

In time my interest grew into a passion. Photography became my reason for getting out and I started to venture further afield.

I started to read as much as I could about photography, particularly during the week when I was ‘stuck’ in the flat on my own. Eventually I found a Thomas Heaton video on YouTube and my life was changed forever.

YouTube

That might seem a little dramatic but YouTube provided something that up to this point had been lacking in my photography. Purpose.

It was less than six months from finding Thomas on YouTube to starting my own channel. For the next 2 years I would head out to photograph my beloved Lake District and to film myself doing it.

If I am honest, for better or for worse YouTube was my primary motivation for taking photographs for quite some time. I revelled in the community that grew up around amateur landscape photography and enjoyed sharing my work with people all over the world.

I also made a load of new friends, more so than at any other point in my adult life.

Of course the time I was spending on YouTube meant that I was spending less and less time with Helen.

Eventually something had to give and it wasn’t going to be our marriage!

Cuba

The writing was on the wall long before our holiday to Cuba at the start of 2019.

Helen has always supported me in everything that I have done, but never more so than with YouTube. She has even been known to shoot a bit of b-roll for me!

But even she found it difficult to hide her delight when poor weather would stop me from heading out on a Saturday morning as usual.

For me the penny dropped when whilst on holiday in January she made the casual remark that it was the first time that we had spent two weeks together for over four years.

That thought ate away at us for months and we both started to become more and more intolerant of our situation.

Inevitably it was Helen that spoke up first. She was fed up with us being apart all the time. We agreed that it was time for me to commit to our life in Cumbria full time.

But what on earth was I going to do for a living?

The End of an Era

After 20 years in IT I had grown weary of it. It is a young man’s game and hard for old fossils like me to keep up with the constant change.

I also felt as though I had achieved all that I could.

My promotion last year to principal engineer was a very proud moment for me. But it also left me with nothing more to aspire to. Once you are at the top there is nowhere left to go.

I have loved my time at Sky. The environment suited me perfectly and allowed me to reach my full potential. Working for anyone else just wouldn’t be the same.

If I was going to leave Sky then I had to get out of IT.

Time to Go Pro

It was actually Helen’s idea that I try to make a living as a professional landscape photographer.

I had toyed with the idea but had never been able to convince myself that I have what it takes to succeed. I even confessed to my good friend Julian Baird when we first met that I had absolutely no desire to turn professional.

But after a while it soon became clear that at this point in my life it was the only logical choice.

I want the opportunity to work for myself and know that if I am to be successful then it has to be doing something that I am passionate about.


So that is my back story. How I ended up in the position of attempting to earn a living as a landscape photographer almost by accident.

Whatever happens in the future this is just another step in a journey that I have been on for 12 years.

And a journey that I am very fortunate not to be taking alone.

66 thoughts on “Why I Quit My Job – Trying to be Professional Landscape Photographer”

  1. Good luck with your new venture Chris. Based on hearing other professionals talk, it will not be easy but you clearly have a passion for sharing your interest, knowledge and experience and there is a big market for workshops and tours in the Lakes. I am sure you will enjoy the experience, and I am sure there will be lean times, but when you are doing what you want to do, life always feels better than doing something you don’t enjoy, but feel you must.
    You going to be at Fotofest in Bath at the weekend? If so, would love to catch up with you. Or maybe I can buy you a coffee first week in November when I am staying in Elterwater?

    1. Cheers Steve, unfortunately I won’t be at Fotofest this year. I think Julian and Gareth are going so keep and eye out for them. I’ve got more bad news for you I am afraid. I am away the first week in November. Gutted because I would have loved to have met you for a coffee. Sorry mate 🙁

  2. Small world: we also used to live near Aylesbury – Aston Abbotts. Offices in Aylesbury and London. So I can totally relate to the desire to escape that! In my case a return home to Wales of course. A little earlier than you and Helen though, in 2007, having been very lucky to sell at the top of the market – by pure chance of course! I still continue as an IT professional. Among other things, these days. Still visiting my London offices every now and then. But of course, I can totally empathise with you and really do wish you all the best in your new and exciting venture – I’m willing to bet you’ll make a great success of it!

    1. It’s a smaller world than you think David. I lived with my Dad in Rowsham for a while. When we were kids he used to take us to the Royal Oak all the time to play bar billiards. My brother used to beat me all of the time.

    2. Well done and good luck. Over my career I have taken a couple of big decisions (some may say risks) which I do not regret. Looking back now I am so happy that I did want I felt was right and as you know I also ended up in the Lake District. The important thing is your wife is fully on board which makes everything much easier and as you say in the blog it has taken 12 years to get here. I wish you well and will watch with interest.

  3. Hi Chris.
    Congratulations on your giant step, it must have taken a big breath and a courageous jump into the future. I suppose living in one of the great areas of natural beauty helped. Would you have made the leap if you lived somewhere less breath taking?
    Anyway I wish you all the best I am sure you will be a great success and look at this moment with pride and satisfaction when you look back in the years to come.
    I look forward to seeing the results.
    Regards
    John

    1. Hi John, yeah, living in the Lake District certainly helps. It was my love of the fells that turned my interest in photography into a passion and here we are. If it wasn’t for the Lake District I wouldn’t have started to take my photography seriously.

  4. Wow that’s a big call mate. All the best and every success. If nothing else you will hopefully be stress free and happy in life, which can’t get much better than that… not to mention living your dream. All the best I and look forward to more vlogs on the horizon. Wishing you every success. Please buy the A7Riv 😁😁

    1. Thanks Nick. At worst I will fail and have to go back to IT in 12 months. But if that happens I should at least be a much, much better photographer. I am on strict instructions from Mrs Sale not to buy any more gear for the first year. Except for a tripod. And perhaps a bag. But that’s it.

  5. Good luck, Chris. As a principal developer with 20+ years under my belt, I can empathise! I’m certain you’ll make a success of it.

    1. Thanks Damian. I loved working in IT particularly at Sky. It was such a fast paced, dynamic environment. Very excited. But certainly a big part of my decision was not knowing where to go next with it. I couldn’t progress any further as an engineer so it seemed my only option was management and I didn’t fancy that at all!

  6. Congratulations Chris on your big decision. Venturing out on your own is a big deal and it must be thrilling and exciting, and maybe a bit scary all at the same time. I know you well enough to feel very confident that you will succeed. At times it won’t be easy but you have a couple of big things on your side: a passion and desire to succeed and a supportive partner in Helen.

    It was fun to read the detailed backstory here. Through a logical progression you have now arrived at a place where you have always belonged. Exciting times ahead my friend! 👍😊Make the most of it. Best of luck to you. Cheers, Jeff

    1. It certainly helps to have Helen’s support. You know what she’s like, if she thought I wouldn’t be able to do it she’d soon let me know! I think you are right mate. This might not be where I thought I’d end up when we started this journey but it certainly feels right, at the moment at least!

  7. Needless to say Chris, I admire your choice. There are few who are willing to bypass the practical and comfortable career route and instead follow their passion and hearts. You (and Ms. S) have crafted a unique and compelling vision for yourself. I wish you all the best and look forward to reading about the next chapter in your new life.

    1. Thanks mate. I do feel very proud of us for figuring out what we wanted and going for it. It hasn’t been easy and we both agree that if we knew how hard it was going to be we probably wouldn’t have done it. But we are here now and it is time to start enjoying it. In life there is no destination, it’s all about the journey!

  8. Congratulations on taking the challenge to leave the corporate world behind and start a new chapter in your life. Very best of luck to you both in your new profession.

  9. Wow Chris, you have done what I’ve been trying to get my head around to for a while but failed at for fear of what the future might bring if I were to quit my daytime job. Congratulations and I wish you all the luck in the world and then some. I hope that I’ll eventually be able to get over my fear and trepidation, life is too short to make someone else’s dream come true instead of my own.

    1. Thanks mate. I hope you find a way of following your dream too. Having made principal engineer I had 2 options: management or career change. It was an easy decision in the end. And I can always go back to IT if it doesn’t work out.

  10. Even only knowing you for a very short time, reading that I’m not ashamed to admit I felt rather proud that I do know you. I also look forward to the movie of that origin story 👍😁. Also speaking as someone still living in the opposite corner of the country I totally get the ‘trying to visit as often as poss and it getting more difficult to go home each time’ comment. I’m likely up there later this week for 2 or 3 days which a year ago I’d have said was crazy, well it probably still is 🤫 but such is the draw of the place. I wish all the success in this exciting new chapter.

    1. Thanks Steve, I thought that once they opened the Southend to Carlisle flight you’d be up here every weekend. If they do turn it in to a movie who’d play me?

  11. Congratulations. The move is certainly brave, but if you did not, you would probably regret it all your life. Courageous in the sense that you have moved from a permanent position to self-employment, from the view of landscape photography it should not be a problem … I wish you and your wife good luck.

    1. Thanks very much Jörg. You are right, if I don’t give it a go I will regret it. I am excited and nervous about the commercial side of things. That is going to be biggest challenge for me.

      1. I think you can do it. As you read in the text, you and your wife have already solved a lot; live apart from each other, economic crisis, where the house had to be lent… I think your success depends on your good cooperation. From time to time only leftovers from the previous day instead of one evening in the restaurant on the plate. But if you go through fat and thin together, success will reward you!

  12. Hope you do well as you have a talent for teaching with a great gentle way about you, i am just about to retire and wish i had been younger to embrace this digital revolution in photography.

    Your skills are evident to all so i wish you the very best on your new path with the full support of your wife who also has confidence in you, with her by your side i have no doubts you will, life is short enough for regrets so make the most of them.

    1. Thanks Trevor, that is very kind of you to say. I am lucky I guess with my timings. Certainly if we were still shooting film I would have never gotten into photography. I wish you a long and happy retirement. Do you have any plans?

  13. Hi Chris
    I (like all your other YouTube followers I’m sure ) wish you both every success in your new venture( or should that be adventure? )
    I will follow your ” journey” with great interest!
    Good luck mate.
    Stuart

  14. Congratulations Chris and I wish you the best of success. I suspect Helens experience in getting herself up and running will aid you greatly in your ventures, and having that time closer together will only further support you tough and courageous decision. Really pleased for you chap.

    1. Thanks Geoff, I really appreciate that. Have you ever considered going full time? I’m sure Helen will give me the benefit of her experience. At the moment she is just enjoying having her dinner cooked for her. Well, as she is the main bread winner I need to take care of her.

  15. Good luck Chris but you do not need luck when you have the talent you have and the support of your family.

    I feel the journey is one alone sometimes and tough as you explain, and now your talent will shine more for all those dark times are behind you. All my respect and admiration to you for this leap and look forward to seeing your success in mountain loads!

    A friend and fan.
    SITHEE!

    1. Thanks mate. I reckon if I work really, really hard and get a huge slice of luck I stand an above average chance of pulling it off! 🙂 See you at the end of the month buddy.

  16. Good Luck Chris, I really admire your decision to follow your dreams, and realise what’s the most important thing – your marriage, being together and doing what you actually want to do, not what you need to do just as a job.

    I look forward to following you as you continue to develop as a “pro”.

    1. Thanks Mark – I hope that the move means that I get to spend more time in the place that I love, doing the things that I love, with the people that I love. “Pro” seems to be such an odd word, not sure I’ll ever get used to it.

  17. Good luck to you Chris. It is a huge step, one I am sure we all would like to take (but havent the balls to do), but with your talent both in front and behind the camera, I am sure you will be a success.

    1. Thank you Stephen, that is very kind of you to say. I have so much to learn, about both photography and business. I think that is what excites me the most.

    1. Thanks Tim. I don’t see it as being brave if I am honest mate. If it all goes wrong I can always go back to IT. But if it doesn’t… well, wouldn’t that be something! 🙂

  18. Long time no speak as the saying goes.

    Excellent piece of writing Chris. And very open and honest too.

    This piece actually resonated with me in that through chasing my career in telecoms I too ended up spending time away from the wife and kids , sometimes for months.

    Your a wise man Mr. Sale for knowing when to switch gears. Me not so much .

    All the best in your new venture/adventure mate

    1. Thanks Kevin. Being away from your loved ones is never easy. At least for me I had a ‘project’ to focus on while I was away to keep me busy. I did 20 years in IT and I enjoyed it but life is short and I want to spend the next 20 years in the place that I love, doing the things that I love, with the people that I love.

  19. I hope you didn’t think that I wish you anything but the best in whatever you do. We’ve been out traveling again and I’m just beginning to catch up. This is exciting! Are you looking into Patreon yet? My pension should be starting soon and I’d love to be able to support you that way.

    Isn’t it wonderful having a supportive spouse?

    1. Oh Theresa you are so kind, thank you so much! I haven’t considered Patreon before but now that I am a full-time photographer I think it is something that I should think hard about. Where have you been on your travels this time? Anywhere nice?

  20. We spent a four-day week-end touring central and eastern Washington, hitting the Wild Horses Monument, Frenchman Coulee Recreation Area, and Steptoe Butte. We also found a new place we want to go back and explore more – a wildlife refuge in the Columbia Basin. Traveling back and forth is so much easier when you’re in a van that’s set up for camping.

  21. Some of them are just markers, but… would you believe 1003 files from 2 cameras? (Some of them were taken in burst mode because they were hand-held and some were multiples for stacking, but still.) They will eventually get processed. As of now, 62 have been exported out of Lightroom.

  22. Only a few of the night shots. The people who follow me over there don’t react well to something like a portrait. A few more will go on my facebook page and to a couple of other sites, but most will just get shared with those few who are near and dear (my super-supportive husband, one son, and a cousin).

  23. All the very best with it, Chris! From what I’ve seen, you certainly have both the skills and the talent. I decided to go it alone myself as a bookseller almost ten years ago, and have never looked back. That said, I want to do more creative things, too, and am hoping to do more literary translation (managed to get my first published translation out earlier this year) and composing. You only live once, so why not at least try? All good wishes, Simon

    1. Has it been 10 years Simon? Wow. We watch you flying from one book fair to the next thinking ‘that looks like fun’. As you know better than most it takes more than passion and dedication to be commercially successful. I think that is what excites me the most. Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot.

  24. Hallo Chris,
    my deep respect. That is a large step for you both – you and your wife. Such a courage I never had (I am a “bit” older than you) .
    I wish you and your wife all the best for your further life!
    I am watching your vlog since you are started.
    Greetings from Germany
    Claus

    1. Hallo Claus! Wie gehts? Thank you so much for your kind words. I am in the very fortunate position that if things don’t work out I can always go back to work in IT. I have a new video out on Tuesday. I hope you enjoy it.

  25. Chris, Congrats on taking that big step on following your passion in photography. Like you I’ve been in IT since the Mid 90’s and can’t keep of with the younger folks either. So also in the process of hanging up that hat and going to give my photograph a full-time try.

    1. Hi Rob, I loved my time working in IT. I loved the problem solving aspect and implementing new solutions to problems that made a real difference to the team that I worked in. But as I became more and more passionate about my photography I found I was enjoying it less and less. Good to hear that you are in the process of going full-time. What type of photography do you want to specialise in? Landscapes?

  26. Thank you for you honesty Chris it is an inspiration. I am in a similar position but under different circumstances. I have been considering following a like course but have been procrastinating for too long. Your example has helped me make up my mind. If it is convenient I would like to keep in touch regarding mutual progress.

  27. I ran across your video today, the night before I embark on a 16-day driving tour of the eastern US with nothing but my camera and 5000 songs stuffed into my iPhone. Seemed like some sort of a sign.

    Excited to follow your journey as well! Best of luck.

  28. Chris, I stumbled upon your story while browsing YouTube for photography videos (I sent you a message there too). I’m in a place you were a few months ago. A regular job and a huge passion for photography. I live in Bangalore, India, and have been a photographer for about 10 years. I’ve often considered quitting my job and going full-time with my photography (I almost did it about 3 years ago) but circumstances dictated otherwise for the time being. I admire your courage for what you’re doing, and wish you all the best. I also have to say I really like your photographs; they’re honest and genuine, nothing over the top, nothing gimmicky, so thank you for that. I’m at siddharthade.com and at the email provided in your contact form below. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to stay in touch on a more personal level, compare notes and progress, and who knows, maybe shoot together someday. Take care. Good luck.

  29. I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and your venture good luck with it. You are very eloquent narrator and certainly a good videographer and film maker (you obviously learnt a thing or two at Sky). Don’t put yourself down as far as your photography goes I liked what you produced and have subscribed to your channel. I am in a similar position to yourself but it wasn’t my decision to quit my job 2 years ago, it was someone else’s. I was made redundant. Within a year I had achieved a lifetime goal of moving to the highlands of Scotland. I instigated it but my wife found an employment opportunity for herself that had her name on it. I am self employed doing what I did before, training CSI’s, but it’s not what I want to do. I want to use my photography to earn a living but most importantly to be happy and enjoy what I do. Two years down the line I am hoping that I have hit upon the perfect business opportunity for me in the highlands. I would love it to be as a landscape photographer but the market is saturated in Scotland. No, I believe I may have the right opportunity to support local businesses who serve the tourist trade with my photography. Keeping the idea under wraps though. So I am starting where you are and I will follow your path with interest and to seek inspiration. Good luck.

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