At the age of 14 Lucia De Giovanni’s parents did something that would forever change the course of her life – they bought her a camera. Lucia spent almost two decades studying the camera, learning from her mentor David Burnett and working as a photojournalist. Then, thinking she needed traditional stability, security and to own a home Lucia sold all her camera equipment and got a job in IT. For a few years she endured a life she refers to as ‘suffocating’ until she bought herself another camera — shortly thereafter she left her job. Today her photography is sought both nationally and internationally by news organizations, artists, musicians and businesses.
Here is a bit of her story.
Why was having a house more important than your photography?
I think I needed a sense of stability. I had pretty much been on the road since I was 14 years old. I needed to feel like I had a home. I was constantly moving around and going places and living in hotel rooms. It was at the point where I thought I needed to grow up and do what everybody else does – get a house, a dog, a plant and feel like I had some roots somewhere. It was very misguided thinking that got me to that place. Looking back I am like, ‘Oh good God that is so not me.’ But that is the thought process that got me there.
How was the world of IT?
It was horrible. It was horrendous. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t who I was. I would wake up every morning and just feel this doom. When I was there I was all business, but I was very much missing a huge part of my life. The only thing that kept me going was the incredible people I worked with, so many life friendships were formed at that job. That’s the one thing I cherish from that period.
Why did you buy a camera again?
I just needed something for me and the only thing I knew that gave me so much back was photography. I starting doing it just for me and the more I did it the more it became clear that this is what I needed to do 100% of the time. I couldn’t just do it on the weekend. My creativity was smashed by doing IT 90 hours a week. I was suffocating in that job.
Then one day I was walking to work and I slipped on ice and completely destroyed my shoulder. In talking to the surgeon and therapists they told me it would be extremely improbable that I would be able to hold an eight pound camera for three hours ever again, which is what I do when I do my concert photography.
I always thought I would go back to photography when I was ready. But that is not how it worked out for me. It happened by this realization that something so important could be taken away from me if I was not careful. I realized I always took it for granted that one day I could go back to photography and I always assumed I would have the ability to go back to it, but what if I couldn’t? What if I did not have the ability to actually do it again, which is what could have happened when I had that accident.
How did you end up leaving your job?
The company I was working for was bought by a new company and I was offered the opportunity to go to the new company. I declined because I wanted to go back to photography. I took a ginormous leap of faith because I had a mortgage and a fancy car and all the things that the paycheck job bought me — maybe to justify being so miserable at that job.
I had a moment of complete happiness when I realized I actually left. There was suddenly incredible happiness waking up in the morning. Reading my emails was a joy again. Answering the phone was great. Working on my website was phenomenal. Coming from an IT environment I didn’t think it would be possible to ever enjoy anything with a computer again.
You leave the paycheck job, how do you handle the money?
I did not go on unemployment. I had a job. I was a photographer. I was a photojournalist. I worked on my website for a month from 6 am to midnight every day. I wanted something that magazines could go to and see my work and would allow me to get in touch with the people I wanted to work with. I made a lot of connections with writers. I made a lot of connections with people I really respected in the industry. I wanted to show them I was capable of working with them on their level. During that month I was working on my presence in certain circles and forums. I wanted to work in concerts.
I wanted my website to show that my hard work was worth my fees.
It is a misconception with the corporate job that next month you will have a paycheck. Next month you can go in there and they can tell you don’t have a job. Now, I know I have a job. But it is a misconception that with the corporate job you have a monthly paycheck. What if you don’t? Some people go to work and are told, ‘You can grab your stuff we don’t need you anymore.’
What did you do with your house, car and stuff after you left your job?
I didn’t like the responsibility of owning a place. It was overnight that I decided to sell my loft and car and not be a homeowner anymore and not have that responsibility of a house. All the money I was making was going to the ‘pretty prison’ as I called it. It occurred to me that I did this to myself. I was the one who placed the priority on this because I wanted to feel safe and rooted.
The morning after I made this decision I called my realtor and said I really wanted this place gone. The day I put the loft up for sale I got an email from a British author who wanted me to photograph her book in Australia and soon after that I got an offer on my loft.
When your intention is very clear the doors of possibility open. What I had imagined as my ‘job’ in photography was very limited. When you really open up and say, ‘I really want to do it,’ the universe opens up in universal terms. Not just in human limited mind terms. It just opens up all sorts of possibilities. It was so immediate. It was like, ‘Ok this is what you want? Let me open up the door for you.’
What about mistakes you have made along the way?
I have made them all. Every one of them. Which are you interested in?
If someone was interested in building a photography business what advice do you have for them?
I would tell someone to approach it like a business. This is a fickle business. One month you can make enough for half a year and then it is crickets for two months. This is not for people who need a safety net. There is none. You need to work extremely hard. You need a plan in your head as to where you want your photography business to go. I spent an enormous amount of time, resources and energy working on the future promise of, ‘When we have the money we will hire you.’ When people get something for free they will always expect it for free. They will not hire you in the future. That is a very big lesson that I learned kind of early on — to make sure that I put value on my work. It is hard as an artist to put monetary value on your work but you need to and I think that was my first mistake.
Photography still does not feel like a job, but I still put financial value on it because if you don’t no one will. It was hard. I never wanted to put a dollar sign in front of what I was doing. It was art. It was my creativity, but after Ramen Noodles for a month, guess what? It is time to revisit the plan.
And the other mistakes?
The other mistake I made is that I fell into other people’s belief system that you could not make a good living at art. I fell totally into the belief system. The first month that I made as much as I did in my paycheck job I was in total disbelief. I thought this would never happen again. I thought, ‘This is a fluke.’
I think that is one of the biggest mistakes people make. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy where you just think from a place of scarcity and you make all of the mistakes you possibly can because you come from a place of scarcity instead of from a place of this is what the universe has planned for you. You were not given this gift to go around and take pretty pictures. You were given this gift to live a life of joy.
Everybody has a gift inside of them. That is what their passion is all about and that is what they should do. You need to hone into what comes easily to you. That is your gift.
People just buy into this belief system that they can’t make it. They can’t be one of the few that make it and my response to that is, ‘Why? Why not? Why can’t you be one of them? Because of statistics? Because of people not working hard enough? Because of people not believing in themselves? Why not think, ‘This is what was given to me.’ Why not respect it and work really freaking hard at it and live the life you are supposed to live?
What is your breakdown of the type of work you do?
80% is music and the rest is headshots and portraiture. I still do freelance work for Colorado Press Association. I like it. It does not pay the bills, but it keeps me on my toes.
I was just hired by Live to document their new journey with a new singer. I was out with them in York where they had their first concert. I was able to be behind the scenes with them at rehearsals and dinners. I was able to document the whole thing.
How is being in the concert scene?
People are very surprised I don’t do drugs and I barely drink. I never drink on the job. People want to go party afterwards and they are very surprised that I don’t, but I would not last if I did. For me it is about documenting the passion of somebody creating, doing something they love.
How would you describe your photography?
My style is photojournalist with artistic flair. My kind of photography is to hone into that split second emotion and try to capture that. What was really good for me on my Love Project is that I realized that the split second emotion happens really, really fast. I have done over 200 photo shoots for The Love Project all of which are just under a minute each. The Love Project helped me learn to capture that moment and train myself in what I wanted to do in photography — to know when to click.
Before I go into any photo shoot I meditate and try to get into a space where I am very calm and where my intent is very clear — I want to showcase the best of what is in these people. It is how I approach any photo shoot. I want to capture that moment for others to see. The moment they might have missed.
What are the challenges of owning your own business?
You have to be very organized with your taxes. You have to be very aware of how a business is run in the midst of it all. You have to be very strict with your calendar. You need a great CPA. You are IT, you are the person doing the scheduling, you are your own secretary, you arrange your own travel. The biggest challenge for me is having a social life because most of my time is spent with 8000 of my ‘friends’ in a concert venue.
You need to have constant Internet presence. I found that social media was something I really wanted to explore to lessen the burden of writing a blog. Facebook and Twitter are things you need to keep up with. You need to show people your new work and what you are up to. You are also your own marketing person. There are so many different aspects of the business that you need to take care of. If you don’t treat it like a business, it won’t be. I am really lucky to have an assistant now, but at the beginning ‘I’ was the business.
How else do you market yourself?
It is all word of mouth. If one of my pictures appears in a newspaper and it has my credit on it, I get phone calls and inquiries from my website. Having Internet presence is extremely important in my business. I try to mix what I am doing with work, for example what I did with Live and Candlebox, with the cute little Instagram photos of what I see along the way during the day. That makes people more familiar with you as a person rather than just having your work out there for people to see. They are more apt to think that they know you and then are more apt to hire you. I have found that social media marketing is the best out there.
Although I am seriously rethinking it because people who think they know you also judge you, which is weird to me. I covered the 420 in Denver and I posted something on Facebook like, ‘I smell like a skunk and I am second hand high and I might be a little paranoid too.’ It was joke, but it was also a statement about me not doing any drugs and just not really feeling the whole smoke out in Denver. I got these horrible emails from people about, ‘Medical marijuana is really important for cancer and you don’t know anything about it…’ I was thinking, ‘My mother just died of cancer. You don’t know anything about me and to read into a statement thinking I am against medical marijuana is something that is completely fabricated.’ So people’s perception of you also affects your business. I am trying to be better about writing on my blog so I can explain myself a little more. I need to market my business more than I need these personal attacks. I was stunned. It is happening more and more with people I don’t even know. I am just like, ‘Wow I need to work this out and be less personal and more business.’ But the problem is people hire you for you.
What is the process of making connections with writers or publications?
In the beginning there was a lot of emailing and calling. I would maybe see something in a magazine that I respected and I would call or email the writer and tell them about my work, tell them what I have that might help them or maybe even suggest a story to them and send them a link to my work. Now I get a lot of inquiries from my website. It got to the point where my website is working for me. If I find someone who is doing something that I think is interesting I have no problem contacting them or their PR person if it is someone I want to photograph and telling them who I am and give them a link to my website. You do need to have some kind of credibility. Sometimes they have a budget and sometimes they don’t. It is up to you how badly you want to do something. 90% of my work is paid and then there is the 10% that I do because it is something that interests me even though I will not be paid.
There are some really high profile people’s pictures I took. For example the opposition leader of Cambodia, Mu Sochua, I took what would become her official portrait. It was not something I was hired to do. I was just in the right place at the right time. But that turned into newspapers from all over the world using my pictures and paying me for it. When I met her my camera was in my bag and I had no intention of taking it out, but I just needed to take her picture. She was so extraordinary. I didn’t get paid to take the picture at the time, but I really wanted to do it. It was the foresight that comes with years in the business in knowing that if you have the opportunity to do something that really fascinates you – do it. Seize that particular moment because you never know what will come out of it. I never thought I would be in the Jakarta Post on the front page.
Was it difficult to mentally rectify the standard societal plan against your desire to be a photographer?
There are perceived sacrifices. When I wake up in the morning and I am happy, I don’t care about having the fancy sports car. I really don’t. I have a car. It gets me from point A to point B. But being trapped by material things did not allow me to pursue my creative spirit which makes my life now so much richer – financially as well. I did not believe that was possible. I believed in everybody else’s belief system. Now that I can afford the fancy car again, I don’t want to buy one because my old one is a daily reminder of where I put my priorities.
I look at everyone that does what they love. I read biographies all the time. What do these people have in common that other’s don’t? It is their belief system. They believe that they can actually do it. They believe it from the inside. They believe, ‘Why not? Why not, me?’
To learn more about Lucia visit her websites: www.luciadegiovanni.com, Follow Her on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/luciadegiovanniphotography or www.facebook.com/photoloveproject or on Twitter.