Planning on a retirement while still at your full time job.

When your in the Federal Government and you reach that point in your career, when you can retire at full benefits, it’s a wonderful experience. Some might call it a life goal, some will call it a sweet and sour moment, others just won’t care. If you leave before your planned calculated retirement date, the government will punish you by taking away a percentage of your retirement, based on the amount of time you have left.

Under the current federal government retirement plan called FURS, they calculate the number of years in service against the total earned at the end of your service. So far I have thirty three plus years in service, and that equals thirty three plus percentage for my top three salary years averaged out. If I was making 100,000 dollars average out over those last three years, my retirement amount, would equal 33,000 a year. That is, 33 years at 1 percent a year, equals 33,000. For an early retirement, say four years early, you can easily have four percent taken away from your final number.

Now some will say, that doesn’t sound like a great retirement plan, but that’s what congress has decided our loyal Federal Employees deserve. There’s not much we can do about changing our retirement plan, we’re at the whim of Congress and the White House. So, let’s not get into comparing our retirement with Congress’s retirement. That will make everyone mad. That’s only one third of the triad that makes up the FURS plan. The other two is social security benefits, plus what you saved in your 401k plan commonly called, TSP.

So, when you reach that point and the Office of Public Management can’t take away from your retirement, it should be a party.

It’s sweet that they can’t take away a percentage of your retirement, and sour, because now you have to decided what to do with your life.

If your like me, I’ve spent the last thirty three years, getting up in the morning and coming to work, not knowing what I will be doing for the most part. I could have been sent to a far away place to take photographs for an investigation or spent the time at my desk doing paperwork. Now, this period in my life is more of a reflection, not just on what I have accomplish, but what I plan on accomplishing.

Creativity and Understanding

I really have a tech job with the government, I work in law enforcement; not as a sworn officer, or a scientist, but a pure and simple technical photographer.

Most of my co-workers will say, when asked, they are simply, a forensic photographer. But, most people think being a forensic photographer, is you, photographing dead people all the time. Well, I've done my share back in the nineties, but that duty did not covered the scope of my employment . Now, there are people that think Forensic Photography is only about photographing fingerprints, and to be honest, in my whole career, I can count on my right hand how many fingerprints or palm prints that I have done. If you go with my official job title of, "Scientific and Technical Photographer," most people won't realize that I've was also required to photograph portraits. Anyway you slice it, or view my career with the Federal Government, I have worked in many different photographic disciplines.

Working in law enforcement as a photographer is slightly different from say, a photojournalist. In such that we both photograph objectively, and try not to put our subjective opinion on our subjects. Ok, photojournalist do tell stories, and they do put their personal spin on that story, but they do not alter the image, using Photoshop, and other digital techniques. It's a big no, no, to say, add or remove certain items from those images, like move a person closer together for a tighter design.

Most photography jobs, the main reason you go with one photographer over another, is how they approach the process, the design elements, he final image. That's why some photographers get the big bucks. With being a scientific and technical photographer, that personal opinion doesn't come into play, except maybe the technique used to capture that image. That's the creative side of forensic photography, choosing the technique to enhance or just basically record what you are seeing. I guess you can say, that's what is common, across the photography industry, the creativity of the work. Be it: in choosing the type of background, the lighting used, he photographic technique used to capture the object or event. It's the creativity nature of the business.

I've just finished a great book about recharging your creative thinking, called the "Accidental Creative," by Todd Henry. The tag line for the book states, "How to be brilliant at a moment's notice." The book covers the problems with, why you might get stuck with an answer, and ways to continue to recharge the source material used by you to think creatively. Some people seem to be able to pull ideas out of nothing, but in reality, that answer came from preparation over a life time of research.

Always on the job, even at a friend's wedding.

I know that I'm not fully ready to get back into the wedding industry, but I still like to take pictures at my friends' family weddings. I just came back from a wedding in Philadelphia. A wonderful wedding, we had a great time, but mostly I watched the photographers and videographers and how they worked.

Some times I find that the photographers will get lost in the wedding. The photographer or videographer will be looking for those winning images from the viewpoint of the bride or groom. Which is ok, but sometimes you need to kick back and watch those that came to the wedding. That is, their mothers, fathers, cousins and other guests.

These secondary important people, will add as much color to the final product as the bride and groom will. This one photograph is of the groom's father and the nephew/grandson/ring bearer. The grandfather is checking on the wedding ring that the grandson, aka ring bearer is carriage before the ceremony. If you only pay attention to the bride and groom one hundred percent of the time, you miss out on the more colorful characters of the wedding and miss a chance to add more local color to your final album.

grandfather and the ring bearer

grandfather and the ring bearer

Labor Day 2017

We all spend our Labor Day differently, most reflecting on our work and lives, as we enjoy the last holiday of the summer. My girlfriend/best friend/ long time partner is enjoying her spin class for the energy, and then changing out her summer clothes for her fall clothes. I'm sitting at one of my favorite dog parks with my Duke, a black Labrador mix. Duke has been enjoying his day by being chased or being the chaser.

Since today is a day of reflection, I think about my choice of moving into retirement from a secure law enforcement job, with the Federal Government. It's a great photography job, fantastic assignments, work with equipment that I would never think about using as a civilian or even being able to afford. It does have one down side, with the very nature of the position, you can't go into details about what you do.

You can't go and tell a new client about that great travel assignment, where you photograph some technique that was amazing. Matter of fact, you can't even tell people where your going on your assignment. Since your only as good as your last assignment, it's hard to tell someone your work history. It's also specially hard when you can not show any of the work from those assignments.

That's the problem that I have, from working for the Federal Government. Trying to prove that, yes, I've worked in a photography career and can do the work. I could never go and tell a prospect client any of the details to my federal employment, just to try and get them as a client. Giving details about photographing the command staff at one of our field offices, or even showing the final portraits is not permitted.

So what do you do to show that you have been working in the photography industry? One way is to take on jobs, that can fit in between your federal employer's assignments. One aspect of my job, requires that I be on call almost twenty four seven, it has changed over the years and so have my private photography projects. There have been times, where I'm traveling week after week, and then their was times, I could photograph weddings because I knew I wouldn't be chosen for a travel assignment. This has put a condition on what types of work that I can do, outside of my government employment, while I'm still employed.

Learning about Pricing

Since I've been working for the federal government for the last thirty three years, pricing hasn't been on my radar. Yes, when I wasn't on duty for the federal government, I've photographed weddings and other kinds of photographic assignments. For weddings; it was more as a second shooter, or as one of the contract photographers for a studio, where I was paid a hourly wage. Pricing prints and albums just wasn't required.

To develop my business knowledge, I've been listening to an audio podcast from the "Sprouting Photographer's website," its about the "business side of photography."

You can find it at this web address, The two main speakers Bryan Caporicci and Robert Nowell, also wrote a nice small book called "Pricing for Profit."

It's an easy read and goes over the basics for determining how to develop a pricing model for your studio. They work out the figures; for a theoretical home base studio, and, a retail base studio.

The book will cover the difference between; fix cost and cost of sales, methods for pricing, calculating business volume gross profit and how to develop your business financial plan and determine gross revenue. What would be nice, would be to include an Excel Spreadsheet that the user can change the figures around to see the effects it has on the bottom line of your business model. Maybe that's a project, I should be taking on myself.