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Meet Pasadena Photographer: Rafael Najarian

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rafael Najarian.

Rafael, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was first introduced to photography in High School and always loved it, but never thought of it as a profession, but it was always a hobby of mine. Later I went to school at Pasadena City College and took a few art classes for graphic design, and then transferred to Mt.Sierra College to get my BS in Multimedia Design Technologies. During this time, I worked in Downtown LA building websites for jewelers. There I would take photos of jewelry, build basic web designs, and do maintenance on those sites. After graduating in 2003, I jumped from job to job trying to land a stable graphic design job, but I was unlucky on finding a long term position. After working at 1928 Jewelry for about a year and a half, I was laid off in 2008 after the economy crash. After that, I was unemployed for almost 2 years when I decided to try another route and went back to school at Glendale City College and took classes in Fire Tech, to try my chances on becoming a Fire Fighter. I got certified as an EMT and got a job with an ambulance company doing non-emergency transports. While working as an EMT, I was admitted to the Verdugo Fire Academy while being sponsored by the Glendale Fire Department. After I had graduated from the Fire Academy, I landed a position in a volunteer fire station in Sierra Madre. I was there for about 6 months until I decided that this job wasn’t for me and that I did not want to live this lifestyle. After I left the Fire Service, I decided I truly wanted to pursue my passion of photography and started my own business, Pasadena-Photography. While I was starting off, I got a part time job doing jewelry photography at a company in Monrovia. During this time, I would work 3 days a week at my part-time job, and the rest of the time was devoted to building my business. I would start by booking clients and jobs on the weekends, and in about a year and a half I was getting enough work to where I was able to leave my job, and continue my business full time. It’s been about six months now that I have been working for myself full time, and slowly growing by business more and more.

Has it been a smooth road?
This was not smooth at all for me. The hardest part was actually getting enough courage to go into business for myself. I have always been afraid of that. Not knowing where your next paycheck is going to come from. Not knowing when your next job will be. Those have always been a big fear of mine.

Some of the other struggles I was having too was how was I going to get my name and brand out there. But I was lucky on that aspect. After going through a personal development training in 2013, I was able to grow my group of friends which were able to help me out tremendously. I started by offering my services for free for a long time until I built up my portfolio and started to make a name for myself. Slowly the ones that were able to pay me started too, and that’s when things started to take off.

Of course, money was a struggle too. I had to cut back on a lot of extra expenses. Since I was only working 3 days a week, my funds were limited. I was not able to go out with my friends at nights or do anything that would cost me anything. I was struggling to even pay my bills.

I would also have to balance working my part time job and building my business. Some nights I was up till 12 or 1 am working on projects, or working on my website or some other aspect of my business. Learning how to manage my finances, keep track of my bookings, and accounting needs. These were all things I never had to handle before, but I had to learn how to do all of this by myself.

When you look back, what are you most proud of?
I would say my proudest moment was when I got my first commission. I was contacted by a friend that a company was looking for a photographer to take some photos around Los Angeles, some of the iconic spots, for some advertising material. After I was connected with the representative of the company, they hired me to work on this project for them. They wanted photos some of the major landmarks around town, the Hollywood sign, Melrose, the Santa Monica Pier, things like that. Unfortunately, we never got to finish the project because the company ended up not opening their location in Los Angeles, but it was my first commission. That’s when it hit me that I could actually make a career out of this.

Every story has ups and downs. What were some of the downs others might not be aware of?
One of the major struggles I have had was making a name for myself. Now with social media, the market is so saturated with photographers and artist, that to make a name for yourself you have to stand out in a unique way. I guess for me, it’s trying to find that. That thing that makes my photography different than the other guys. It is something I am always working on, and to this day still trying to figure out what it is.

Is there something we can do as a city to improve the outlook for professionals like you?
I think Los Angeles is a great place to get started. There are always people here looking for creative people. Either someone has an idea that they need help bringing to life, or a project that they need help with, and they always need someone with the talents that they might not have. I guess in a way, its a curse and a blessing in Los Angeles. There are plenty of people with great ideas, but there are also just as many people trying to be a part of those ideas. So the market is saturated with a lot of talent, and that brings down the wages of the working professionals.

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