How my lifelong hobby turned into a niche for my photography business. By: John Tulipano
Most of you know I have had a huge interest in the fire service since I was a young child. That interest has lead me to find paid photography jobs in this area.
Image from color negative taken in 1984
When I was about 10 years old there was a significant fire near my childhood home and all the older kids in my neighborhood walked to see the fire but wouldn't take me. Ever since then I have always wanted to know where the fire trucks were going. As I grew older I learned that my grandfather was a Chicago fireman. In high school I was introduced to a friend who was photographing fire trucks. We spent every Saturday taking static (posed) photos of fire trucks using my Kodak Instamatic camera. When I became a senior in high school I upgraded to the Pentax K1000. I joined the year book staff as a photographer and shot many assignments at school. We bulk loaded our own file, processed it after shooting and created contact sheets for the editors to choose the images they wanted for the page spreads. Then went back to the dark room to print the images for the spreads.
I attended Triton college after high school following the associate degree in photography and taking some fire science classes as electives. I upgraded to the Canon F1 and a Sunpak 611 flash for shooting nighttime fires. The associate’s degree program was disbanded at the college and I never completed my degree.
I continued fire scene and fire apparatus photography over many years. It slowed down as adult life started, children arrived and my corporate job took me away from the camera.
Fast-forward to 2014 I was taking pictures at a fire with my Canon 20d, the shutter was not firing properly. It was time for an upgrade and a friend suggested a full frame sensor camera and to shoot in RAW format. I had no idea what he was talking about. I had recently lost my job with AT&T and was looking for a new career and wanting to be my own boss. After purchasing a Canon 6d I was hired by a friend to take photos of large cranes working at construction sites and was paid well for the work. This would be the start of my professional career.
I began attending fires again, several firefighters asked about seeing my photos. So I would email the fire chiefs a handful of images after attending fires. I was asked to be the official photographer for the fire departments in my area and was given credentials and unfettered access at fire scenes. I could go anywhere I wanted on the fireground and with my years of experience attending fires I know where to go and still be safe.
I attended a lighting workshop hosted by Michael Barton, who suggested joining PPA and PPANI to meet other local photographers. I joined both in 2016. After learning some lighting techniques I approached one of fire chiefs about portraits, they hired me to do portraits of firefighters in their dress uniforms and I provided them with 5x7 prints. I have been hired by 25 fire departments doing anything from simple 5x7 prints to large 60x40 wall collages or a combination of both my average price is about $3200 per department.
Many of the fire scene images that I've taken over the years are now becoming decorative wall pieces at my local fire stations anywhere from 8x12 mounted prints to 16x24 metals. Fire departments are hiring me for events such as retirements and promotions.
Two months ago I was contacted by a fire truck dealership who saw a large metal print on the wall at a fire department station he was selling a new fire truck to. We worked out a contract and I am providing them delivery photos of apparatus sold in the Chicago area. I created a 16x24 metal print that he presents as a gift to the department who purchases the new fire truck. That gave me the idea to reach out to several more fire truck dealers and suggest the same thing. We are in talks right now for providing something very similar.
I would have never dreamed that a hobby I still enjoy today could be 60% of the revenue of my business. What's your hobby or interest outside of photography, how can your photography business help promote your hobby or enhance it for others?