travel the world as a photographer

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Shelly Perry finds photography fulfilling--on top of being lucrative and allowing her to travel the world

When the table flips… what do you do? That was my predicament back in 2002. 

First, let me back up a second. I found my interest and love of photography back in high school.

I went to a magnet school in San Diego for graphic arts (where I studied photography).

That’s when working in the darkroom and seeing photos emerge from the paper before my eyes just felt like magic. I was mesmerized and hooked. 

I had a dream then to travel the world and photograph the children of every country.

But, like a lot of people do, when I went off to college, I decided I needed a “real” career. I got a BS (not even a bachelor of arts) in Interdisciplinary studies (psychology, sociology, anthropology) and went into the field of social services working with severely emotionally disturbed children in residential treatment. 

This work was many things: There were days that were fun and rewarding… and there were days, weeks, months of high-level stress and, at times, complete pandemonium. 

I did it for a long time, before I reached the predicament. 

It was around the 10-year mark that I found I was often not feeling well. I went to several doctors, even a counselor to try and figure out what was wrong. 

The counselor asked what I was doing art-wise. When I said “nothing,” her response was that since I was a creative person, I needed to have a consistent creative outlet. 

“Creatives who don’t create are slowly dying inside,” she said. 

And that is exactly how I felt. I muddled along for another two years before I just couldn’t do it anymore. I loved the kids and my co-workers, but it was time to take care of me. 

Not having the first clue what I was going to do next, I quit my job and spent an entire year focused on nothing but getting better. Doctor after doctor offered several diagnoses: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, anemia, adrenal fatigue to name a few. I worked out religiously, ate good healthy food, took supplements to support my body, slept a LOT, and slowly recovered.

But now what? 

The door to everything I had done in my adult life was closed for good. And the thoughts about photography, and doing something creative started swirling in my head.

This was it—the time had come to actually be a photographer! 

After a summer in an intensive photography program, I came home and honed my craft every day: shooting pictures, processing them in Photoshop, and basically playing, creating, learning by doing. 

Around that time, while working a short design gig, I needed an image for a design and stumbled upon online stock photography. This was entirely new at the time. And, after doing the math, I realized people were making real money with it. So I dove in… and it became my life.

Stock photography—and photography in general—has changed a lot since then. But it’s still a way to turn your love of photography into an income.

With stock photography, you can shoot what you want when you want. You don’t have to create what someone else wants on their terms. It’s really liberating to be the photographer you want to be. And, you can learn and grow as you go. 

Since that time, I’ve seen my photos appear in inflight magazines, Opera Magazine, the TV in Times Square, on the American Music Awards (behind Chris Daughtry singing “Home”), quite a few book covers, tons of websites (including Apple’s), and most recently on a Jimmy Kimmel segment. You never know where those photos will appear, but it sure is fun when you run into one! 

Photography has provided me the opportunity to travel the world, explore amazing places, meet beautiful people, and to make more money than I ever did in social services.

Most importantly, it’s allowed me to create a life that fulfills my dreams and keeps me fairly stress-free and healthy along the way.