Happy Wednesday, friends!
So, when I launched the “Ask Anything” section of my blog, I had NO idea that one of the questions I would be asked is how I started my business. I realized that I’ve shared pieces of my story on the blog before, but never as a start to finish “this is how it happened.” Because honestly, I didn’t start out trying to make it happen. I just took pictures.
Last week, I gave my best advice on how to start a photography business, based upon what I know now! But here’s my story! I’d SO much rather tell it to you over a cup of coffee and listen to your story, too. But for the blog post’s sake, I’ll stay on track and use images to help tell the story
I always loved the camera. As a child, my mom took portraits of me everywhere we went. She’d dress me up and take pictures in our backyard. We went on family vacations all around the country. And everywhere, I was her favorite subject. My brother, he kind of hated getting his picture taken (and still does!) I didn’t mind it – it gave me another place to express myself and it made for great memories later on.
When I was 8, I got my first 35 mm camera (back in the days of film – oh yes!) I started taking it with me on family vacations and taking pictures, too. Except, while my mom was taking pictures of me, I was taking pictures of the landscape. There’s always been something about natural beauty that has stirred my heart.
I always cite this moment, when I was 13 and in front of the Grand Canyon, as the one where I became interested in photography. The moment when I realized, here I was standing in front of something so vast and wide and deep, and I wasn’t translating it the way that I saw it. That frustration made me think differently about composition and framing, and for the first time see there was an art to this.
In high school, I took my first fine art film class when I was 18. Something huge shifted in me then. I was a straight A student who was always thought of as an “academic” girl. But with a camera in my hands, I was suddenly an artist. Someone who could see the world differently and beautifully. I learned in that class that piles of wood and dying flowers could be art, if you looked closely enough. And then, my whole world opened up. I saw that if you looked at anything closely enough, it could visually become something else. A canvas to tell a different story. And I could tell that story.
I got my first digital camera soon after that in college, a Nikon d40x. My love for nature was greater than ever before, and my mom and I would often go “sunset chasing” to catch the clouds right before they went down. And on family vacations, my love of landscapes kept growing and growing.
I would even wake up at 4 am with my parents just to catch a sunrise. Like here, on Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park. That sunrise awakened something in me!
I started capturing so many sunsets and flowers, that one day I decided to make a card and send one of my pictures to someone I loved. I made more and more, fascinated by how I could make a picture look different by the way I displayed it. And feeling so much purpose in how beauty could be shared like this. My cousin told me I should start selling my cards, and I did. I sold them to people I knew and at craft fairs, all while I was in college.
My path took a huge turn in college, and I went from studying elementary education to quitting that major, and studying photography, design, and business. (That’s a separate story. A heart felt one, as it was a time of one of my biggest pains and joys).
Studying darkroom photography at a higher level, I worked on a final project that was very abstract. (I was trying to portray what fuzzy “memories” looked like) At every critique, I was advised to add people into my artwork. I kept adding people until finally, I was told that my project should just be portraiture. Nothing fuzzy, just crisp photos of people. It was the first time I tried to capture the essence of who people really were, on film. And it was hard. So hard that my professor gave me a talk about how portraits are a “dialogue” and I was portraying a “monologue.” I asked him what he meant, and he told me I’d figure it out. And somehow, I did. Not perfectly, but I learned so much about the give-and-take between the photographer and the subject.
When I graduated college, two of my friends gave me the huge honor of capturing their wedding day. I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I asked my professor what flash I needed to buy, and he told me. I showed up to the wedding with a lens or two, a flash and a tripod. (Seriously!) And I just had a lot of fun. So much fun, that a few years later more friends asked me to capture their weddings. Here is a shot of me from one of their wedding guests.
Then, a year later, I took a trip to Haiti with my church that forever changed the way I saw people. I saw that when I pointed the camera at them, they stared through it. They didn’t fake a smile. They just showed me who they were, they let me in. And I just met them. There was an honesty I learned capturing them. An honesty that to this day, when I look at the portraits I took, still touches me to the core. Their eyes changed me.
I came back from Haiti 24 hours before the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince. It was a really hard time for all of us, but through it all our faith became stronger.
The next year, my aunt referred me to one of her friends’ daughters who was getting married. This is me with my beginner equipment, photographing their reception. I love this photo, because it shows that for me capturing weddings always started with joy. It really did.
That year, I decided to start a business doing photography and graphic design. I joined a few local business groups, and I would photograph anything that was referred to me. I tried it all. You know that saying, “Fake it till you make it?” I did that. A lot!
But in the process, I really did learn so much. I started marketing to brides and shooting more weddings. And each time, I learned something new about lighting and working with clients and authentically telling their story. And again, it was joy for me.
My business grew so much in 2 short years. I worked really hard. I stretched myself. I finally worked as a second photographer to assist someone else, and learned even more. And I learned so much myself, about the photographer I wanted to be, and how to translate truth and joy into my work, and to let it speak through my work.
The last few years, I’ve also gone to several lighting workshops and mentoring sessions with some of my favorite photographers in the industry. (This photo is from Justin & Mary’s Walk through a Wedding.)
And I still never stopped photographing flowers and nature and sunsets, because they still make my soul sing.
I’m still learning so much, friends. Truly. But I am so happy to be able to go on adventures with clients, to tell their love story in a way that brings them tears and joy. It’s an honor every time.
(Thank you Jessica for this capture last week!)
I’m so excited to keep going on this adventure, tell more beautiful stories, and see where it leads.
Thank you for all of your support – I seriously could not do this without you!
If you have any questions for me about my story, or any other “Ask Anything” – feel free to comment below