John Schell is a Quitter

March 8, 2016
Last updated on
December 13, 2021

Member Name: John Schell

Occupation: Full-time Lifestyle Photographer

Job He Quit: High School Special Education Teacher

John juggled his photography passion with his responsibilities as a teacher for more than a decade until late 2014 when he joined Fohr Card’s Quitter’s Club and took the plunge into full-time photography. Now John’s take on sun-drenched lifestyle photography has brought him onto projects with Skechers and several swimwear brands, among others -- proving that it’s never too late to do what you love.

Endless Summers: “When I was in my early twenties, I started making surf videos. I was living on the East Coast, I grew up in New York. I would go down to the beach and I would film my friends surfing. I would put movies together and I would show them to groups of people at the surf shops. That’s what I wanted to do.”

Get Real: “I put the video camera down for a while and I went to college. I was working in a warehouse, driving a delivery truck, delivering furniture and kitchen cabinets. I figured that I didn't want to make $7.25 an hour for the rest of my life, so I should probably attend college and make something of myself.”

Head Of The Class: “A friend of mine had just gotten back from the army and we were just like, ‘What do we want to do?’ We had been spending a lot of time on the beach; he grew up surfing as well. We had a lot of friends who were teachers and they seemed to have this really great, relaxed lifestyle. The pathway to becoming a teacher didn't seem all that difficult.”

Have Camera, Will Travel: “In 2007, I had been invited to a friend's wedding over in the Mediterranean. I decided to make it a full two and a half month long backpacking trip through Europe. Over the course of the eight weeks I was taking pictures, I was travelling, I was meeting all of these great people.”

Momentum Builds: “I was still teaching so I moved down to San Diego, teaching high school special education. I wound up upgrading to the Canon 5D Mark II around 2010. I'd post my pictures on social media and the response I got was pretty good, so that pushed me to start taking and posting more pictures.”

The Hustle: “I was shooting all weekend, I was doing everything I could to shoot as much as I possibly could. A good friend of mine would come over to my place and we’d recruit one of our good-looking friends and we’d shoot in my garage. We'd do that after we got home from work at night. If you want it bad enough, you'll find time to do it and that was exactly the case. We wanted it bad enough.”

Back To The Beach: “It never would appeal to me, all this smiley, happy, running on the beach, icky pictures. It all sounded so boring. Then one day, I said, ‘I'm going to make an attempt at this and see how it goes.’ Booked about five models on the beach and had them bring guitars and blankets and very cliché kind of lifestyle stuff, and I shot it and it was a lot of fun. It was this kind of eye-opening experience.”

The Quit Decision: “In the summer of 2014 I had left California to go to Miami for a couple of months and wound up staying there longer than I thought, and just decided that that was going to be when I’d quit working. I sent the email resigning from my teaching position. I had a savings account for a couple of months. Had no real plan. Other people probably would've done it with a lot more planning involved. I said, ‘Well, it’s now or never.’ I don't even know if I woke up that morning expecting to quit teaching.”

Can’t Fight This Feeling: “Around December 2014, my social media really started to take off. I was shooting a lot of beach lifestyle here in California, and things just started snowballing. I still didn't have any clients, I still didn't have any big jobs, but I had a camera and I was shooting and it was going well.”

It’s Time: “At the end of December I took a meeting with Skechers and wound up getting booked to shoot four of their campaigns. I shot a few corporate clients for lifestyle stuff for their website and media. I did a couple of lingerie shoots for medium-sized clients like Nordstrom. It just sort of was a snowball effect and all of a sudden work was coming in.”

Growing Pains: “I have some clients and I've been shooting steadily for the last year, but in between all that there's still this giant uncertainty. I'm learning that as a freelancer, and especially as a freelance photographer, there are times during the year when things slow down. There are periods where you send out 100 emails and you don't get any back, and you start to question, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ Luckily, I’m in a good support group of other photographers so we're able to share this stuff and we're able to commiserate and push each other.”

It’s A Beautiful Morning: “I'm happy to wake up every day, completely in love with what I do and ready to do it again. Yesterday we did a 16-hour day of shooting and I'm like, ‘Let's take two, let's do it all again.’ I love it, but I could not have imagined it five years ago.”

It’s Never Too Late: “I didn't quit my teaching job when I was 25. I didn't quite my teaching job when I was 35. I quit teaching to start a new life when I was 40. I think what I want people to pull from that is basically it's never too late. I quit my teaching job to follow my dream, and with absolutely no plan other than, ‘I can take pictures and people seem to like them.’”

No Regrets: “You never want to live with the regret of something you didn't do, especially something that could be so overwhelmingly positive as this has been, at least in my experience. I love what I do. I'm so glad that this reality is here for me now. I'm grateful for everything. If there's somebody out there who's contemplating it, then absolutely do it.”

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