I’ll confess: I’ve only been seriously into photography for the past four years. I mean, I always thought being a photographer would be a cool job, but didn’t really give it a whole lot of thought passed that. I knew I wanted a career that was creative and that I loved taking pictures, but ultimately I studied communications and digital video production in college but didn’t explore it much after graduation. Instead, I paid my dues at a paint coatings company for several years before settling into an interior decorating job at the same company that I really enjoyed. Then came the first kid. I couldn’t afford to keep my job because the cost of daycare was too high and we couldn’t find a daycare that worked for our hectic schedules anyway. So I started staying home with my baby girl with the chubbiest cheeks in the world. And you know what you have a lot of time to do when your only company is a sleeping newborn? Take pictures.
My husband bought me my first fancy digital camera – a mirrorless Olympus E-PL1 – three weeks before my daughter was born. I chose it because it had built-in art filters, interchangeable lenses, and fit in my purse. I didn’t know a mirrorless from a DSLR, didn’t know what any of the manual modes meant, and took almost every photo in the “soft focus” art filter to cut the yellow hue from the photos and give them a dreamy vibe. I did that for a year. Every single day. In the first year of my daughter’s life, I took over 25,000 photos. I’d post large galleries on Facebook and people would comment on them being good, but ultimately, I knew I didn’t know what the heck I was doing – only that I had an eye for it.
My dear friend, Jenny, asked me one day about what aperture I was shooting at and I looked at her like she had two heads. She had taken photography classes in high school and college, and she takes absolutely beautiful photos. For my 17th birthday, my parents bought me a brand new Nikon N70 that I used to take photos for my high school yearbook. As Jenny asked me, “You mean you don’t shoot in manual?” I remembered that N70 and how every time I would switch the dial off of the automatic mode, my photos would be too dark, totally blown-out, or blurry. And this was back when you had to wait to have your photos developed to realize how bad you were at photography. I sheepishly admitted I didn’t know what any of the manual modes were and that long ago I had given up trying to learn.
You know why? BECAUSE PHOTOGRAPHY IS HARD. It’s really, really hard.
Jenny took me out in the freezing cold to our local nature center and had me bring my camera and a notebook. She gave me the run down of the exposure triangle, how changing one setting effects another, what the heck depth of field was, and how to blur a background. That day, I took 100 photos of a tree branch. She stayed there explaining everything to me until it got so cold that our fingers couldn’t turn the dials on our cameras. It took 2 weeks before just that tiny bit of info finally sunk in, and for another year, I practiced just being able to fully understand what she said that afternoon. Then I got it – and I never put my camera back into an automatic mode. I absolutely fell in love with the control I had over the image I wanted to create. I was finally telling my camera what to do and it was listening. And I started telling stories with my photos rather than simply taking a snapshot. I read everything I could about how to achieve the photos I wanted to take, checked out books from the library, and YouTubed tutorials late into the night until my eyes crossed. I was starting to get it.
Then came my first job offer. I had only met the mom a handful of times and she had seen some of my photos from a friend’s Facebook page. To say I was terrified was an understatement, but I did that job and then another and then another. And they went really, really well. As soon as the initial fear wore off, I felt more confident about what I was doing. I didn’t have an outlet to post the pictures or show anyone, and I was still afraid of saying “I’m a photographer” out loud because I was terrified of being considered a fraud. I thought, “What business do I have charging people to take their pictures? I’m green. I’m the new kid on the block (*insert “Hangin’ Tough joke here).” But I loved it. I had never known finding this kind of joy in my work and so throughly enjoyed every second of it. So I registered for digital photography classes at a local college to make darn sure I knew what I was doing when someone trusted me with their memories. That’s when I knew this was what I was supposed to do.
My style started to change. I started taking on a more documentary style of shooting and that’s when it all really fell into place for me. It took 6 months of combing through photos, editing and re-editing, and collaborating with different people who help make up the great team I have here at The Good Life for me to launch the Facebook page. I was shaking so hard when I finally put my work out for everyone to see that I couldn’t type to answer the emails that started coming in faster than I ever imagined. And everything just kept rolling.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t still have a lot to learn, because I do. We all do. That’s one of the best things about this job. Every time I take out my camera or go out on a session, there’s something new to learn. And I get a little better each time. There’s new editing techniques to try. There’s new locations to explore. The frustrating thing is that it’s just impossible to learn it all as quickly as I want to learn it! I don’t think there’s a photographer in the world who will say they know everything there is to know, whether they’ve been at this 6 months or 60 years. I’m still up late into the night watching YouTube tutorials. I’m still registering for online workshops and constantly taking classes. I can’t get enough. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead next year, in five years, in ten. In the grand scheme of a photography career, I’m just a toddler learning to walk, but I’ll keep learning and growing. And right now, I’m loving everything I’m creating and the marvelous friends I’m making along the way. Thanks to Jenny, my wonderful family, my awesome clients, and everyone who has supported this adventure and who continues to help me develop (pun intended). Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s very late and I have a tutorial to watch.