Anti 9-to-5 profile: Sabrina Helas

January 29th, 2008

self-portrait.jpgThe anti 9-to-5er: Sabrina Helas, Los Angeles, California

My job: I am a pet photographer. My company’s name is Cookies and Water Photography. I began this adventure two-and-a-half years ago.

What makes my gig anti 9-to-5: I work for myself. I came to a point where I felt such an imbalance in my life that I had to do something to change it. I found myself blessed to find the love of my life, the best dog on earth, a great place to live, and a job that I loathed. And of course I spent more time with the loathsome part of my life than the blessed.

The bureaucracy of my job, the “leadership,” the politics, and the rules, made doing my job impossible and senseless. Nothing made sense anymore except that I had to do something else. The problem didn’t lie in the company I worked at or had worked at previously — the problem was what I did for a living and how I spent my days.

What I did in my former 9-to-5 life: I studied cinema at San Francisco State University. I had worked in the entertainment industry since I left college in 1997. I have held many titles in that time, some of which have been production assistant, location assistant, producer’s assistant, and co-producer. When I couldn’t take the production side of things anymore I stepped into the post-production realm, where my last position was post coordinator/scheduler/all-around fallout gal.

How I made the anti 9-to-5 leap: With my job being soooo awful, I got sick a lot, migraines mostly, so I would get massage therapy frequently. I felt so good when I left that I wondered and fantasized about how great these therapists’ lives must be, making a living helping others, working in such a serene environment. It all sounded so great, so I got a loan, a credit card, conveniently got fired from my job, and enrolled in massage therapy school. I finished the classes and realized that as wonderful a profession as it was, it simply wasn’t me.

My next step was to forgive myself and go back to the drawing board. What I hadn’t realized was that what I wanted and what was me was right under my fingertips, in front of my face the whole time. Two things I have always loved are dogs and photography. Every month with our rent check, I would include a picture I took of my landlord’s dog in the envelope. Every day that I went to the dog park, I saw ads for pet photography. My landlord jokingly would say that she didn’t care about the rent as long as I didn’t forget the picture. She loved my work and suggested that I take pictures of pets for a living. So I took her advice.

My biggest obstacles: Starting your own business is a long slow process. If you’re not a businessperson to start out with, you have to learn everything from scratch. I knew nothing. I learned everything on the fly. I did a lot of homework and research. I looked up other photographers, I studied their platforms, I read books (Photographer’s Market, Pricing Photography by Michael Heron and David Mac Tavish) to mention a few.

I donated pet sessions to charity events. I put up flyers at my local dog parks, vets, and pet stores. I advertised on Craigslist, created and passed out postcards, attended pet events. My non 9-5 job turned into a 24/7 job, but it made me happy, so happy. I lacked money, contacts, experience, equipment. I had no legal advice, but I had the support of my loved ones, a bunch of new books, a camera, and finally something that I loved to do. I just kept trying, kept learning (still do). I take the hurdles as they come and figure them out one by one.

My tips for other cubicle expats: Find the thing you love, find the thing you are good at, give it a go, and then keep going. If that thing is photography, do your homework, research other photographers, research equipment ( and are great references), take a class. Get a good digital DSLR — get it used, refurbished, look on eBay, craigslist, in local camera shops. You don’t have to pay full price. Look online — you’ll find a good deal if you keep looking.

Get a good computer. Here, I must give props to Apple. I couldn’t have done it without them. Well, maybe I could have, but they make everything so fun, easy, and accessible.

Once you have your camera and your (hopefully) Apple computer, go out and shoot. Experiment and shoot some more, develop your style. One of the best things about digital technology is you have the luxury of making mistakes, shooting a picture badly — it’s free. Keep shooting, learn from your mistakes. The best advice I can give is to shoot, shoot, shoot and don’t give up.

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Entry Filed under: Anti 9-to-5 profiles

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. leigh marino  |  January 29th, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    this is a wonderfully articulate, positive and inspiring interview. thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, sabrina!

  • 2. Guin White  |  January 30th, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Love your work! And your ‘profile’ is quite a story in itself…perhaps you should consider writing your own book, blog, journal.

  • 3. Alba Wessel  |  January 31st, 2008 at 4:58 am

    Sabrina, your article is very inspiring, very much front your heart,
    how I wish I had those advises at the beginning, now I just have to
    be in the 8 to 8 profile.

    CONGRATULATIONS!, I wish to see you in the seat of the “winners”

    My gratitude goes to Kramer and your loved ones that support you.
    Your mom

  • 4. Keith Comeaux  |  February 2nd, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    I hope some day to join you in the “anti” but for now I have to continue the path I am on. Hopefully in three years I will be following a different path (My Own) Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring people to think “outside the cube” Remember, knowledge is power, and any tiny bit of knowledge that you ever need from me is my pleasure. Hope to see you soon.

    –KC & Family

  • 5. sabrina helas  |  February 3rd, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    WOW! thanks so much for your comments, and Im soo glad you guys were inspired by my story and am completely honored!
    RE: a book, blog or journal, I actually am working on a book now. A photo book on rescue and shelter dogs. I hope to finish it by the summer (cross your fingers for me)
    I have admit that writing about myself was really difficult and leaves you feeling kind of vulnerable, so I am super grateful that it helped someone!
    best wishes

  • 6. Christine  |  February 14th, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    I love the line ‘conveniently got fired from my job’! People soo underestimate the role of fate and when it’s time, it’s time. It’s like part of us unfolding when something like that happens and I don’t get the implications from family / acquaintances that it’s tragic or unwanted.

    Needless to say I’m in the same boat and have returned to school where I found the perfect program, something that feeds my soul, something I wouldn’t of found w/o the impetus of getting fired.

    How do others deal when they’re surrounded by people who don’t understand that process of unfolding yourself, that you NEED to GROW? Guess it’s a matter of faith, being teflon-coated and, most importantly, going forward w/o expecting immediate gratification. Find gratification in the process.

  • 7. corinna neder  |  July 1st, 2008 at 3:36 am

    das ist meine Cousine, ich habe sie schon ├╝ber 10 Jahre nicht gesehen, sie wohnt am anderen Ende der Welt… aber ich bin sehr stolz…
    cu das kleine Monster :)

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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