A day in the life of…

For the loyal readers who’ve been with me from the start of this blog, I thought I’d give you all a quick update on how the transition to full time pro is going a few months in. In short: I’m enjoying it, but boy is it hard work. Even during the dark depths of my management consulting career, I don’t think I worked such long hours – and there’s no goof off time either, because you’re always on your own clock. I won’t lie and say that it’s all rosy; there are always days I wake up and worry about the pipeline, or collections, or sudden changes, or even being faced with a challenge that I can’t shoot – but I also think the reality is that these anxieties are normal, and if you don’t have them, then something is wrong (or about to go wrong) because one is being overconfident.

For the curious, here’s how my typical day looks – in this case, I’m using my schedule from 17 May, because I happened to flip to that page in my planner and can still read most of the handwriting:

7.00am: Wake up, hit snooze again.

7.15am: Alarm goes off again. I’m in that half-asleep-half-awake state thinking about what I need to get done for the day. I finally get out of bed when either antsyness (is that even a word?) overcomes inertia, or my wife starts getting ready for work.

7.20am: Poke the polar bear, who’s still sleeping.

7.30am: I’m at my desk and dealing with email. Thanks to the internet, messages arrive at all hours – a quiet day will see perhaps 20 emails when I wake up, over 50 on a busy day. And that’s having cleared out my email just before I went to bed earlier. Some stuff is from clients, some stuff is blog comments, some stuff is reader questions. And there are personal emails, offers for credit cards and personal enhancement pills buried in there somewhere too usually.

8.30am: I’m usually done with replying messages by now. Time to put an upload onto Flickr, and sort things into groups.

8.45am: POTD goes up onto the site, and any amendments that other articles require (I work about a month in advance) are made.

9.00am: Leave for breakfast with a client to pick up a watch to shoot.

10.00am: Back in the studio, begin setup of lighting for the shoot.

10.05am: Clean watch. Microfiber cloths to polish, and Rodico watchmakers’ putty to remove grit and dust from the cracks and crevices.

10.15am: Still cleaning watch. The more cleaning you do upfront, the easier your job is later in the retouching.

10.30am: Finally done cleaning watch; now handled only with microfiber gloves and a filtered blower is used between position changes to remove as much dust as possible.

11.30am: A break for the flashes because they’re starting to overheat; time for new batteries and a drink for the photographer. Download cards onto computer and run a backup.

12.45pm: Finish shooting, download cards again and run a backup. Charge all batteries, clean equipment and stow in dry cabinet. With ambient RH of anywhere between 65 and 90%, you really don’t want to leave anything out and run the risk of a fungus growing on it.

12.50pm: Burn disc of rough preview jpegs for the client to pick from. This was a rush job because it’s a foreign client that happens to be in town, otherwise I’d normally do things via Dropbox.

1.30pm: Lunch with client, delivery of rough images on CD, return watch

3.00pm: Quick coffee with a friend – the coffee is more for my benefit at this point – we share a mutual client (he’s a lawyer)

3.30pm: A serendipitous phone call reveals that another potential client is not only in town, but within the same 500m radius; I manage to squeeze in an appointment for 4.30. Rush back to the studio to get the iPad.

4.20pm: Arrive at meeting location, wait a little; find nearest and coldest air conditioning vent to cool down after rushing.

4.30pm: I’ve got a 15 minute window to pitch; it’s another watch client, so I take him to see the exhibition which fortunately still happens to be running. Turns out he’s seen it, liked the work, but didn’t realize I was the photographer. Note to self: ensure proper signage in future.

4.45pm: We go our separate ways, and I return to the studio/home/office.

5.00pm: Clear email and messages again.

5.30pm: Write an email to a prospective new agent-representative in Singapore; safeguarding the pipeline of future work is always the number one concern for any commercial photographer.

6.00pm: Call another client in Switzerland to follow up retouching details and payment; it’s a good time to call because they’ve had their morning coffee and aren’t quite thinking about lunch yet.

7.00pm: Some light browsing to see what’s news in the world of photography.

7.30pm: Time to think about dinner and spend time with the wife, who’s now arrived home and been patiently waiting for me to get off the damn computer.

9.30pm: Back online again to clear yet more email and write another post; by the time I’m done laying everything out, proof reading, adding images and so on, I’m beat.

11.30pm: Schedule post, look up my stats for the day (ooh, just noticed the site must have crossed the quarter million hit mark sometime in the last few days) and check the to-do list for tomorrow. Realize that on the to do list is ‘buy diary’ – I’m relying on a combination of memory, iPhone reminders and bits of paper, and it’s utterly useless for longer term scheduling.

11.45pm: Climb into bed, try to read a little before sleep; manage about four pages before dozing off. It’s bad if it’s an exciting book, because then I might read until 1-2am and not get enough sleep for the next day.

So, who wants my job? 😛 MT


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Well I tell you, I’d trade with you in a HEARTBEAT. My job is simply to work on my B.S. in Psychology, but after 4 years straight with little academic break- if I see the letters “APA” one more time I’m likely to hurl. I would love nothing more than to follow my passions (photography/music/songwriting/signing) but that means I’d have to drop out- which is oh so tempting…. but,not practical. Still, I’d trade places with you- definitely!

    • I’d actually hazard to say that if you knew what the reality was, you probably wouldn’t. Of the last two weeks, the days that weren’t spent teaching were spent flying from location to location. On the days I was teaching, I was speaking for the better part of 12 hours, followed by 2+ hours on either end of prep for the following day and keeping this site running. I just got off a 15 hour flight which I spent almost all of working and writing to create content for this site, developing a serious backache in an economy class seat next to a man with the world’s worse halitosis, an incredibly loud snore and zero sense of personal space. I’m now camped out in a corner of the airport trying to do my usual online maintenance and client management in the hour I have before catching the next flight. There’s also reading the hundreds of emails from demanding people expecting you to go through an unpunctuated life story to tell them what camera to buy, because that’s your sole reason for existence. As soon as I get off the next plane, I have family commitments followed by client meetings; most of which have no clue what they want and just want a lower price. In the last 72 hours, I’ve had about 6 hours of sleep. I earn about one quarter of what I used to in corporate. This is normal. Are you sure you want my life?

      • No, wouldn’t want your life, exactly. But would trade routines in a heartbeat! Anything but more-research-papers! UGH.

        • That’s easy. Slip in a resignation in the pile and you’ll be free of them soon 🙂

          • Haha…if only! I had the whole summer off and couldn’t wait for classes to begin again. Now I spend my day dreaming about quitting. (If only I were a quitter. Alas, I’m an over-achiever much like yourself. And that’s not a bad thing. We get things done!) I can’t imagine graduating from Oxford at 16- damn impressive. (By the way, I appreciated your chartreuse/lime/lemon “plain” grass pic in your Fine Art folder. Not an easy thing to pull off! But I think you did it justice by highlighting its simplicity and I appreciate simplicity in art. Strips away the frills and forces the eye to see what is usually surpassed.) Anyway, I’m off to absorb an hour or two of pure hedonistic rubbish. Have a great evening and it’s great to meet you. ;0)

  2. gominolas says:

    No time for sex?

  3. Thank you for reaffirming, once again, why I do photography for personal satisfaction and not money:)

  4. I second Daniel’s comment. There is so much work in the process of creating photographs for a client. Many of the steps are easy enough, but they each take time, and all that TIME adds up quite a bit.

  5. Thanks for sharing.
    It reminds me not to quit my day job…

  6. Shah Mohd Adnan says:

    Thank you for sharing. Wonderful peek into a life of a full time professional photographer. Best wishes for the future and awaiting future works from you with bated breath.

  7. Michael Sin says:

    Hi again, Ming!
    Keep up with the good work & your writings are always enjoyable to read.

  8. 🙂 i do, i do! 🙂

  9. No blood, no glory right?
    The next time someone asks me why I don’t become a professional photographer, I’ll point them to this post : )
    On another note, I’m glad I caught this site from the beginning. It’s turning out to be a very interesting ride. I’m really enjoying this site.

    • Thanks Doyle! I’ve since had busier days, better days, and worse days (Friday was insane – two client meetings, dash to the airport, dash back because I forgot the backup wireless flash trigger, collected a whole bunch of Zeiss lenses I won’t have time to shoot with for a while…)

  10. Sue Esterman says:

    My lord, Ming, you’ve come a long way from that sci-fi novel you were writing 15 years ago! what a fascinating way to earn a living.

  11. Hey ming, love your energy and hardwork, thanks for sharing with us.

  12. This is a very important subject. Thanks for sharing !

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