Yechiel Orgel is one of my most valuable friends in the photo/video world. In 2011, Yechiel and I met via B&H, and four years later he’s found a niche for himself in a way I always hoped he would. The father of four and a hardworking member of a great B&H team, Yechiel gave it all up to follow his dream: to be a commercial product photographer. But how? It’s a well known fact that the longer you wait to make the jump to full time pro, the more challenging it becomes (bordering on impossible). Add to that a family, a large one in Yechiel’s case, and you have what most would consider an insurmountable wall.
But not insurmountable for Yechiel. He defied the stats, pushed forward persistently with his dream, and just a few months after leaving B&H, he’s the incredibly successful product photographer he always dreamed of being. This is his story, how he did it, and why Yechiel is just one more guy on a list of photo heroes in my book.
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In 2002 I started working at B&H Photo Video in New York and had my second baby roughly a week after I started working there. At first I worked at the film department, and being a perfectionist by nature I totally delved into learning all about film. It didn’t take too long though before I was moved to the Pro Camera department.
Roughly five or six months after the aforementioned baby was born, I came home one nice day with a Canon 30D. My thinking was, “Hey, if I was going to sell these cameras, I had to learn what they were all about.”
Well, my wife freaked out.
Here we had just had our second child, finances were tight and I got myself a camera so that I can know what I’m selling. She thought I fell off the moon. Unfortunately, this was only the start. Once I picked up that camera… I never put it back down. It was love at first sight.
So here I was with a camera in my hand. I started taking out books from the library, signed up with NYIP and basically did tons of learning. I think I signed up for every available online tutorial. Basics / Exposure / Composition etc. I wanted to learn everything. At some point I realized that I didn’t like my Canon 30D anymore, and went on a search for what I did like.
I spent hours in the store that I worked, researching, holding, testing, on and on. And then, after trying out everything, I went over to the “dark side” as they say. I became a die hard Nikonian after I bought first Nikon camera: the Nikon D200.
At this point, I knew I wanted to make a business out of photography. I was leaning more towards children portraits as a business, but what I really loved was walking the streets of Manhattan and shooting. Alas, as I felt I couldn’t make a living out of street photography, I stuck to children’s portraits. But as much as I loved shooting… I didn’t love this particular medium. As I said before, I’m a perfectionist, and more often than not it gets me into trouble. Children simply didn’t have the patience to sit and wait until I perfected my lighting.
It was right around this time that I bought my second Nikon, the Nikon D300. Also, my family was growing: I have 4 beautiful children (thank God). Now I’m fully into child portraiture and dabbling in product photography while still working at B&H. I knew my goal for the future was product photography but needed the quick funds of child portraiture to pay for my gear and various camera accessories.
So the years are going by… I’m working two jobs. B&H by day, shooting / editing at night.
It was a rough 6 years.
I’ve had many a sleepless night due to my full workload. I have had neighbors complaining of lights flashing in through their windows late into the night. I have had a wife/family who put up with having a studio in the house all week making my tiny apartment even smaller. But I persevered. Because I knew at some point, this was going to be a solid business.
I bought my third camera, the Nikon D600.
That sixth year in, I’m working in the Affiliate /Web Marketing Department at B&H. I believe this was my best position while I was there, and it also helped me tremendously in my goal towards being a photo professional. It allowed me to work and deal with world renowned photography leaders and educators. These are people who really influenced me to pursue my long term goal ( please forgive me if I forgot to list your name ):
- Peter Hurley
- Moose Peterson
- Alex Koskolov
- Jaron Schneider (Editor’s note: Yechiel is totally overstating my importance here)
- Brian Smith
- Syl Arena
- Moshe Suzman
- Nasim Mansurov
- Tony Roslund
I need to stop here a moment and take an aside to thank the one person who has helped me for the past 5 years, day in day out with any question/issue photography related that I had. Peter Tellone, aka “ Moose.” I “met” him so to speak on a Mpix Community Forum and without a doubt he is my go-to guy for ANYTHING that has me stumped. Thank you Peter, for all your help.
Working with these folks on a day to day basis, my photography knowledge grew by leaps and bounds.
I bought my fourth Camera, a Nikon D800. I loved my D600 but the sensor dust… it drove me insane. At one point, I needed to rent the D800 for a photoshoot of the NYC skyline which would be printed really really large. I loved the D800, and never looked back. ( I still have the D200, 300 and 600 – sitting on my shelf accumulating “collectors dust”).
As my skills progressed, I was able to fully transition into product photography and pretty much kicked child portraiture to the far corner of my professional shooting time, only taking on clients who didn’t blink at my purposely high price. At the same time, my family has simply had enough and as much as they want me to succeed, I needed to seriously get out of my house and into a studio if I wanted to keep my family intact. So I did.
Now enough of my backstory. So how did I actually make the decision to leave the comforts of my day job and move fully into the unpredictable world of photography?
Taking the jump was HUGE and it took me a good 8 months until I was actually able to say “I’m leaving” to B&H. I was missing days regularly at work, taking on photography jobs during the day. I’ve got to hand it to B&H: they were wonderful and extremely patient with me. They knew this was my long term goal and as long as my job wasn’t suffering, they pretty much gave me a lot of leeway.
That is, until the day they told me I have to choose what I want. I couldn’t have both anymore. I was pretty much only a part time worker at this point and they couldn’t hold onto me much longer.
When that happened, things escalated from scary to terrifying… I knew I had to make the jump and I had to make it fast. This step I imagine is really hard for anyone. Leaving a day job and a secure paycheck is never easy.
So let’s backtrack just a bit.
Starting in 2012, I had opened a business corporation. I was extremely strict with cash flows coming in and going out. I only allowed real business expenses to be paid from the business account. I never took a penny for my own personal needs. Because of this decision, slowly the money started adding up. Slowly my client list started building. And slowly my confidence in myself started building.
I knew I could do this. I knew I would do this.
I put a lot of effort into my work. I really enjoy what I do, which I think is a great and necessary thing. So many people work at jobs they have no interest in… I live and breathe photography. I love setting a beautiful speaker down onto my shooting table and working the lights until I get that beautiful harsh look with gorgeous gradients. Products can sit for many hours without a fuss. They don’t get cranky, nervous or hungry. I found the style I loved and I never want to stop.
I put loads of effort into my website and SEO. I read up on the process and I worked on it all by myself. I built a solid client list.
The day I got an email from Gillette’s PR company… I will never forget that day. At first I thought it was spam. Why in the world would Gillette be looking at me, a small lowly photographer from Brooklyn, NY? But it wasn’t spam, it was real and was my first high profile gig that got into the details of World Wide Usage Rights and stuff like that.
It felt good. It felt great. It felt wonderful!
Since then, I’ve been contacted by numerous brands and have done photography work for what are likely considered “big” clients. I can’t believe my good fortune each time it happens. I must say this… it hasn’t been that long since I left BH yet. At the time I am writing this, it hasn’t been a few months and I haven’t had a moment to breathe yet, thank God. Business is good, and I pray that continues.
I know and am mentally prepared that there will be down times, slow times. However, I truly hope that I will never experience a down in my attitude towards photography, both as a business and as a hobby.
One thing I must mention: My dear wife, I could’ve never done this without your constant support and help (both physically and mentally). Thank you for always being there for me, and for believing in me and my baby (my baby is my camera).
With all the negativity out there regarding the digital age, declining demand for photography, etc… it’s totally not the case. Demand keeps on growing, e-commerce keeps expanding and businesses need and want high quality images in order to compete in their fields. So just keep at it, keep on shooting, work hard & you’ll get there.
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Yechiel Orgel is a New York City based commercial photographer who specializes in product, still-life and beverage photography. He is passionate about working with creative entrepreneurs to increase conversions of their products and services through unmatched image quality. His grasp of radiant lighting and dynamic composition bring a high level of distinction to his e-commerce advertising, web and catalog assignments. Yechiel is a true visionary who casts both extraordinary and everyday items in an ethereal light that illustrates their true appeal. You can see more of his work at www.yechielorgel.com.