Category Archives: Career

From Nominee To Finalist

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook that I got nominated for a Small Business award for the annual Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce Awards Gala 2013.

A part of me was surprised, because as a business owner, I didn’t really feel like my business was anywhere near outstanding.  I was barely making it when it came to profits and growth.

Yes, I provided my business services (event photography) to different non-profit organizations whenever I can, but no way is my photography business successful compared to all the other Small Businesses out there.

Another part of me was grateful.  For whatever reason, the people around me have been recognizing the work I have been doing.  In particular, one of the officers of the non-profit organization NAAAP-DFW Janet had nominated me for the award.  There’s no better feeling than to have a peer recognize the work you’ve been doing through an award nomination.

I filled out the questionnaire and sent in my resume to the committee.  I didn’t feel really solid after answering the questionnaire.  When your overall answer to most of the questions start with “that doesn’t really apply to me”, there is little confidence gained in your chance of making it.

I just told myself, “Hey, you should be happy you even got nominated in the first place.  So many other people who work harder than you didn’t even get a chance for nomination.  You’ve already got plenty.  Appreciate what you already have.”

A couple of weeks fly by and I receive an email saying that I’m one of the Finalists for the award.

My first reaction was disbelief, because I wasn’t sure how I got to this point.  Then a sudden burst of adrenaline came next, with the acceptance that I really am one of the Finalist.  Even though I still haven’t won the award, for some odd reason I already felt like a winner.

And now I’m sitting here just reflecting on everything that happened so far that got me to this point:

  1. Last year around this time of the year, I actually attended the previous GDAACC Award Gala 2012.  I wasn’t invited as a guest though.  I was actually covering the event as a second shooter with my friend.  It was my job to get pics of all the award winners.  Funny how one year can change your circumstances so much.  I went from covering the event as a photographer to becoming part of the event as an award finalist.
  2. When you look around at all the successful photographers, you will notice everyone specializes in something.  You will find photographers who are great with weddings, fashion, sports, nature, architecture … etc.  I’ve always wondered what my niche would be.  I think I’ve finally found it.  I will be known as the photographer who does non-profit events.
  3. Then I take a step back and think to myself, who in their right mind aspires to be a non-profit photographer?  It didn’t make sense to me at first until I reflected on my past.  For as long I can remember, I have always volunteered with the youth group at my Vietnamese Catholic Church.  My focus back then was giving to the Vietnamese Catholic community.  Now my focus has broadened to giving to the Asian Business Community.
  4. I made one other connection with my past.  Specifically my passion.  In the past I was passionate in volunteering my time to my youth group.  For the past 2 years, I have been really passionate about photographer.  Without even realizing it, for the past year I have been merging both my past and present passion into what I have right now:  non-profit photography.
  5. Everything has come full circle.  What I mean is I started out as going to the award gala 2012, come 2013, I’m going to the award gala again.  Or with community involvement, I did it for a good 10-15 years with local church, took a 3-4 year break, and now I’m helping out again with the Asian Business community.  My life is filled with things coming full circle.  I’m just grateful that each time I’ve come full circle, I’m somehow in a better place even though the place still looks the same.

Resume I Sent To Award Committee:  https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B2PUVKTY6jFGZFc2Q0wyZWtTMm8/edit?usp=sharing

Questionnaire I Sent To Award Committee:  https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B2PUVKTY6jFGVUtnSVZMbUgwN2c/edit?usp=sharing

Award Finalist Email From Award Committee:  https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B2PUVKTY6jFGQ3NqYjktUi1TcEU/edit?usp=sharing

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FB Status Update: Auto-Correct Fail

Emailing my friend about my work schedule tomorrow.

Wanted to say “I’m shooting all over fort worth tomorrow.”

Instead it types “Im shitting all over fort worth tomorrow.“

Thanks auto correct for making me sound like I have a serious digestive problem.

Perhaps I should just carry a toilet paper around with me instead of my camera.

That’ll definitely get my clients to take my work more seriously.

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FB Status Update: Started From the Bottom, Now I’m Here

Dad told me recently, “Taking pictures is a hobby. You need to stop bumming around and get your ducks in a row.”

What this usually means is he thinks photography is a dead end job with no prestige and honor. I should go back to being a teacher or engineer. Or maybe go back to school to be a doctor.

Friend told me recently, “You can’t make a living off of photography. It’s something you do on the side, after you have a career in something else.”

Which is true, because most of the well-known wedding/event photographers I know, do weddings on the side. They have a tax firm, electronic store, or cell phone service business that they run on the weekdays.

My Aunt told me, “Here’s a business loan for your photography business. You have to promise me that within one year, if things don’t go well you have to move onto something more stable.”

I only got 40 more days until my year is up.



People were getting to me and I was letting them get to me. I wasn’t going to give up photography up completely, but perhaps I would be able to sustain my photography passion with a stable income like librarian or computer lab manager.

It didn’t matter much what I did during the week, as long as during the weekends, I got to do what I loved the most.

Perhaps everyone was right all along. Perhaps last year was a waste. Perhaps I shouldn’t have put my life on hold and poured everything into photography.



Last Wednesday, replied to Craigslist post. Friday got called in interview. Left interview as a full-time architectural photographer with pay comparable to a full-time teacher.

Literally, had tears falling from my eyes because I was so happy. It felt like I just won the lottery. Similar to waking up from a beautiful dream only to realize that it wasn’t just a dream, it’s reality now.

Now, I don’t need to work, save money, and then to go spend it on something I truly love. I can do something I truly love, save money, and then chill until I can do something I truly love again. This is truly my dream job.



I appreciate all the friends and family who have supported me along the way. Friends critiquing my work. Family referring photography business to me. Inspiration and creativity were allowed to flourish with companions like you guys.

At the same time, I got nothing but love for my dad, aunt, and friend. They told me what they knew to be true. It was there own way of showing me love. Full-time photographers are unheard of. Well at least now, they can say they know one full-time photographer.

No photography courses/classes. No photography degrees/certificates. Learning it the hard way by just doing it. Definitely helped to have so many experienced photographers around me to give me tips/advice. Couldn’t have done it without them.



Started from the bottom, now I’m here.

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Most Valuable Substance on Earth

The most valuable substance can’t be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or heard.

Its what everyone has, but no one ever has enough of it.

It’s everywhere you go, yet no where to be found.

It grows in value, only if you learn how to appreciate it.

What could it possibly be?



The most valuable substance on earth is space.

When you buy a house, you are really buying space.

Would you want a house that is already occupied? No, why would I want a house where strangers are in my space.

Would you want a house that doesn’t have a kitchen? No, I need space to cook for my children.

A house is appealing only as long as it serves its function, which is to provide empty space for you to live comfortably.



When you buy a glass cup, you are solely interested in the space inside.

The space inside the cup is what makes it functional.

Would anyone ever buy a cup that is solid glass? I’m buying the cup to drink from, but if it’s solid how can the piece of glass hold the water now?

Glass cups are useful only if it is hollow. The material the cup is made out of is inconsequential.

As long as the cup has space to contain fluids, it can be made out of steel, plastic, or paper.



Every year, millions of dollars are invested into Superbowl ads. But what really is being bought is space.

All of America is tuned into this channel, therefore I will sell you this slot of 30 secs for 56 million dollars.

You can fill that space with anything you think will gain the attention of your viewers. You need to come up with even more money to create something catchy.

Would anyone every buy a slot in the program, if it’s already filled? No, why would I buy a space that already has someone else’s commercial in it.

I put millions on the table, solely so I have that space in the programming to myself. I want that space to be empty, so I can fill it with what I want.



When it comes down to personal space, this is where many of us get stuck.

We don’t know how to manage our own personal space.

We don’t know how to create our own space.

The problem with most of is we don’t have any space at all.

Yet space is the most important thing in our possession.



When our space is filled with events and tasks, we quickly run out of time.

The only way to create space in our schedule is to say no.

We can’t be everywhere doing everything, so we have to say no.

Saying no, frees up our schedule and slowly restores space.

Say no enough times and suddenly you have your life back.



Most of us aspire to do great things, but where we fall short is we don’t make space for those things to happen.

If you want to pursue your passion of singing, you won’t get very far if you don’t make space for it.

Many people try to squeeze their new goal or new dreams into their already existing busy life.

They expect to keep all that they have now in addition to what may come through the realization of their dream.

The materialization of a goal requires space in your schedule for it to happen.



Stress is caused by our brains constantly being bombarded by thoughts.

“I hate work. Why did she lie to me? How am I going to pay my bills? Why is this lady buying so much stuff?’

Relaxation methods involves creating space in the mind.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Meditate. Yoga. Tai Chi. Praying. Chanting.

All these exercises are meant to empty the mind of distracting thoughts which results in more space within your mind.



At the end of most people’s lives, they regret not having more time to spend with family and friends.

What they are running out is space.

The space in their timeline is quickly coming to end.

If only they could have some more space to spend it with their loved ones.

If they could, they would go back and try to dedicate more space for friends and family.



The most valuable substance can’t be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or heard.

Its what everyone has, but no one ever has enough of it.

It’s everywhere you go, yet no where to be found.

It grows in value, only if you learn how to appreciate it.

The most valuable substance on earth is space.

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Baking Up The Sermons

My cousin and me recently made a visit to Costco.

We were casually going through the aisles until we hit the pastry section.

Immediately, we were mesmerized by the smell of fresh baked goods.

We were kids in a candy store, wanting to take everything home.

We settled on a mixed batch of cookies consisting of chocolate chips, macadamia nuts, and oatmeal raisins.



After putting the batch into our cart, my cousin made the following the comment:

“Its so difficult to find the motivation to bake cookies, when it’s so easily accessible through Costco.”

I wasn’t sure where she was coming from, so I asked her to elaborate.

“Well for me it’s so much trouble to go buy the materials, prepare it, and then wait for it to be ready”.

“Sometimes I go through all that trouble and my batch isn’t even good as the ones at Costco.”



My cousin had a point.

Why go through all that trouble, when you don’t have to right?

Most of the people that I know, don’t have enough time to do all the things they want to do.

Why waste time when you already don’t have enough time?

Life is about prioritizing what’s important and sometimes baking doesn’t always make it to the top of the list.



The only reasons I can think of, in which a person actually prefers baking cookies over buying them is:

1. Their batch is superior in taste and quality compared to the bought ones.

2. Their batch is considerable cheaper when you factor in time and materials invested.

3. They aren’t in it for superior quality or saving money, but rather they just enjoy the process of baking.

Intrinsically, you have to derive some type of benefit or else why would you choose the harder route?



This weekend I talked briefly with a friend I haven’t seen for a very long time.

She told me she recently transitioned from finance to going to school at Le Cordon Bleu.

I never asked her why she wanted to be a pastry chef, but I can see the above reasons applying to her.

Reason #1 applies to her because you got to have self-confidence in your creations and believe that they are of the highest quality.

Reason #3 applies to her because it’s impossible to make a career out of baking if you can’t enjoy yourself in the kitchen.



People ask me all the time, “Why don’t you go to the church anymore?”

I never really knew the real answer, so I made something up:

“The Catholic Church has too many rules and regulations.”

“I don’t get anything from going to mass anymore.”

“I look around at all the people in church who pretend to be holy and I lose faith.”



In the end, all those answers were insufficient because I felt like taking them back the moment I said them.

The truth is, the Catholic Church is good.

I do get something from going to mass.

Others only affect my faith, because I let them.

But still, I haven’t found a reason for my lack of motivation to attend weekly mass.



That is until now.

I stopped going to church because I wanted more than what was being offered to me at church.

For me, the most important of part of mass is the sermon.

It’s the one part that personally bridges my life to the life of Jesus Christ and all that happened before and after his life.

Everything else is simply ritual repetition with small deviations depending on where we are at in the Catholic liturgical year.



For close to 30 years of my religious life, I was like my cousin who finds it easier to buy cookies then to make them.

She goes to Costco, she finds her cookies, she eats it, and moves on with her life.

I go to Church, I get my sermon, I think about it, and then I move on with my life.

Every Sunday for 30 years, I have gone through this same routine.

I realized this same routine was cutting it for me anymore.



I took myself out of the church, because I realized that I depended on the church so much I felt like I was spiritually complacent.

I grew spiritually complacent because I knew that my Pastor will feed my soul every Sunday.

I was so busy with everything else in life that I didn’t even try to make more time for my soul than the bare minimum.

The bare minimum for any practicing Catholic is a 1 hour devotion to God every Sunday.

Because the church only required 1 hour of my life, that’s all I gave to God.



But removing myself from church didn’t exactly help me spiritually.

What has helped me spiritually after leaving the church, is learning how to bake just like my friend.

Instead of going to costco and buying cookies, she “bakes up” her own batch of cookies.

For me, instead of going to church and receiving the sermon, I “bake up” my own sermons.

I found the process of “baking up” my own sermons more rewarding than just receiving the sermon at church.



When a pastor “bakes up” a sermon, he sits down and reads the bible.

He asks himself, “How can I make this bible passage relevant to my audience?”

He does research and tries to come up with some stories, jokes, and props to engage the audience.

He brainstorms, makes multiple drafts, and might ask others to critique his work.

When he believes it is good enough, he delivers it on Sunday.



I go through a similar process and once I’m done, I usually put my findings in a blog.

In fact, all my personal sermons that I have ever “baked up” go directly into this blog.

I do this not because of reason #1 (I believe my sermons are way better than the pastor.)

Nor do I believe that I fit under scenario #2 (I probably invest way more time than a pastor does. He’s definitely more efficient than me.)

I do this because of reason #3 (I simply enjoy the process of “baking up” my own sermons every week.)



For me the “baking-up” a sermon process is a spiritual process.

It encourages me to be proactive in my spirituality instead of waiting to be “fed” by the pastor every Sunday.

True, I may spend way more time coming up with these sermons when compared to the pastor’s preparation time.

But my priority is spirituality, so the fact that I spend so much time preparing, is actually a benefit not a drawback.

I’m not wasting time, I’m actually investing it.



Before, I might’ve told myself to just get the hour of mass over so I can do what I really want to do.

Now, I might spend 1, 3, or 5 hours on my own sermon until I’m satisfied with the result.

This may only apply to me, but I definitely enjoy the process of “baking-up” my own sermons because I am more involved.

I could always revert back to going to church and receive the pastor’s sermon weekly, that would be so easy.

The only reason why I persist down the hard road is because I just find it way more rewarding when I’m the one baking up the sermons.

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Career: Photographer Motivation

I have been told that photography should always be a part-time gig and that you should supplement it with another job that is stable.

Yes, I would agree that more often then not, it sucks to always to be looking for your next gig.  Sometimes you don’t even know if you’ll get enough gigs to pay the rent.  So yes, I can understand why it’s important to supplement your photography career with something else.

At least until your photography career takes off.

When you don’t have a stable work, it’s easy to get side-tracked.  I’ve been guilty of wanting to stop doing photography and get a software programmer that’ll pay me 2-3 thousand easily every month.

In the end, I just value the freedom I have with photography more then anything else a stable 9-5 job could offer me.

The hardest part is self-motivation.  How do you keep on motivating yourself to do photography day after day, week after week, … especially when all you do is free photo shoots and you can’t really call something your career unless you can bank on it.

It also doesn’t help that you go on craigslist apply to 10 different positions and get nothing out of it.  Well, for the most part I do get about 5 responses.  Those 5 responses will ask what equipment I have, how much do I charge per hour, and a link to my portfolio.

For the most part, I feel like I have good equipment, my rates aren’t too high, but where I lack is my portfolio.

For example, a couple weeks back a company was looking for a full-time photographer to shoot buildings and architecture found in Dallas area.  They wanted someone with a wide angle lens with full frame camera, which I have.  They also said they’d be willing to pay 2-3 K every month for 40 hours of work each week, which is really good for a photographer.  But when I sent my portfolio, I noticed that I didn’t have that much buildings in my portfolio.  I still sent it anyways and of course I got no response.

The same also happened when I responded to a craigslist post for a convention shooter.  They wanted someone who could take pics of the speaker, the audience, and also of people networking at the booths.  I had the equipment, the  pay was already set, but my portfolio didn’t have any convention pics.

I could easily beat myself up for even trying.  It’s like setting myself up for failure, when I knew beforehand I had no experience.

In the end, I decided to use both these two no-response posts and future no-response posts as motivation.

If I don’t get a job as a convention photographer, I’m going to go out there and find some conventions to shoot for free.  So next time, I will have some convention pics in my portfolio.  I already have 3 different conventions this month that I plan on going to.  I plan on paying admission with my own money, shooting as if I’m getting paid, but end up with a more complete portfolio by the end of the day.

The same also applies to architecture and landscape.  I’ve been traveling around to different towns, driving around looking for buildings, structures, and landscape to take pics of.  I’m paying for the gas, shooting as if I’m getting paid, and making it hard for all my future clients to walk away from me.

Pushing myself anyway I can.

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