While an aggressive savings rate is, in my humble opinion, the best way to set yourself up for early retirement, passive income is a great way to enjoy at least some financial buffer even after retiring from required work. Some people rent out homes or other real estate. Others perform contract work. There are any number of ways to get involved in generating some passive income for yourself.
One of those ways is to monetize your true passion in life, something that will keep you focused and dedicated through your retirement years. For me, that’s photography.
A couple weeks ago, I opened up a store on Etsy – one of the Internet’s most-visited creative selling services – to start getting my hands wet selling some of my favorite photographs online – before retirement.
Store link: www.etsy.com/shop/SAADigital
So far, this experience has been both fun and rewarding. The truth is I am still very much in the learning process of selling things online. For so many years of my life, my time online has been used primarily to put forth my own ideas and to simply display my creative work, but I was never real interested in supplementing my income from it. Until now.
I have four sales already, which is wonderful to see. I am heartened and delighted that the craft that I love so much, and the work that I put into capturing the stunning beauty that this world has to offer, appeals to someone else enough to spend their hard-earned money to enjoy in their own home.
I am not necessarily looking to make big money off of this endeavor, at least yet. I have thoughts of making photography my main source of income in the coming years, especially after my wife and I pick up shop and
move to beautiful Sedona, Arizona travel the country in an RV. For now, I am using this as a learning experience that will prepare me to step forward into the business of photography as a profession more confidently and intelligently in the future.
My long-lasting photography passion
I have had a passion for photography as long as I can remember. In high school I had my own dark room setup in an unused area of our basement and developed my own 6×6 medium format black and white photographs. I mean, start-to-finish development. In the dark, I would carefully [and often times frustratingly] wrap the film (negatives) around the metal film spindle that is used to hold the film during the development process, hoping that there were no creases or bends to the film as I wrapped – because that can screw up some of the frames. I’d pour in the chemicals and let the film develop.
Once complete, the film can be exposed to light. I eagerly unwrapped the film from the spindle and carefully inspected every frame under a light box – both as a quick assessment of how well I managed to develop the negatives and to determine what frames that I would like to try printing. I would generally print 5 or 6 frames out of each roll after deciding on what frames represented my better shots.
I used an Omega C700 enlarger as my printing rig that I bought with my own birthday money one year, and generally exposed these images onto Ilford photo paper. Though the smell of the chemicals were quite pungent in our poorly-ventilated basement, the experience was a lot of fun.
It taught me how to be both meticulous and patient. There were times where I had to spend 20 minutes trying to wrap the film around the spindle correctly. Even the slightest error can throw off the entire job.
Often, a mistake requires unwrapping the entire roll of film and starting completely over. This was a test of how mentally connected you were with your hands, carefully following every pull of the film, gently feeling the flow of the roll as you turned the spindle. Though it was dark in the room, I would often close my eyes because that seemed to help me focus on the task at hand.
I wasn’t perfect. Every once in a while, I discovered a couple frames from one layer of the wrap would be stuck to the layer below it after development (which indicates there was a bend to the film that I did not catch). These frames were ruined. It sucked, but it made me realize again and again that perfection is that illustrious glimmer of light that can never be reached. Mentally, I made note of the mistake, cursed myself under my breath, and moved on. My ability to handle disappointment only strengthened through this process.
Through the years, my love for photography has only grown stronger. I no longer shoot film, though I am still hanging on to my once-top-of-the-line Nikon F5 35mm camera that I bought back in college (yes, this is called “anti-minimalism”, but I prefer to use a softer term for this, perhaps “collector”).
Now, it’s digital only. I arm myself with a
Nikon D7000 Sony A6000 mirrorless camera and one of a variety of lenses that fit nicely into my photo backpack. My lenses range from 8mm all the way out to 105mm, so I am generally prepared to capture almost any scene. I keep costs down buying my equipment used, and I almost never purchase the newest generation of equipment because, well, I do not need the latest and greatest equipment to make some truly spectacular photos.
Note: In the photography business, we “make” photos, not “take” them. 🙂
I will see how this process goes and will adjust accordingly. Until then, I will continue enjoying the learning experience of selling the results of my passion online in the hopes of turning this into my main source of income.
What hobbies do you have that could generate passive income?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.