It was around 3 years ago.
I had spent the last year and half studying to complete my Masters in Pastoral Counseling. Knowing my love of procrastination, I forced myself to take all the hard courses first. 2011 began, and I found myself with zero desire to finish my degree.
I wanted to be a photographer. A real one. The kind that had a blog that I found myself reading. The kind that photographed families in this new “lifestyle” approach that wasn’t all posey. I was obsessed.
And had no IDEA where to start.
The last few weeks I have been nose deep in designing this new website and blog you see here now, and I couldn’t help but stop and think about how much I have learned by DOING in the past three years. There were so many things I didn’t know how to do when making this site, and I had to ask for help and do a lot of googling to figure it out. But I got to thinking, man three years ago?! I didn’t know A N Y T H I N G. And it was so overwhelming! And not just about website building either. I have learned so many “experience” lessons on the way, and I thought to myself what if I could write a letter to myself? To that overwhelmed girl who didn’t know where to begin, what I would say? What are the MOST important things I have learned about being a photographer in the past 3 years?
I thought I would share it on here today. Because it’s good to remember where you started. It reminds you to appreciate all that you learn along the way.
You are about to begin the most incredibly rewarding years of your life. All that worry about stepping outside of your comfort zone? Forget it. It is going to be so, SO worth it.
You are probably reading Justin & Mary’s blog right now, keep reading. I know you think you will never have an opportunity to meet people as amazing as they are, but you will. Keep learning from them. The stuff you read there today, you will still be applying to your craft years from now. It’s also how you meet Alicia Daw, who is now also one of your best friends. You see a post on their blog about Alicia’s rebrand. You end up hiring her to photograph head shots for your first website, but you leave the session friends. She’s not into the drama of the industry, and because of her you learn what’s worth being involved in. Speaking of friends, when Emily Lapish posts on Facebook that she needs someone to spell check her new website- be sure you volunteer! She’s now also one of your best friends, and you have become each other’s sounding boards for running a photography business well.
You will be making a lot of trips back to Maine for photography sessions, since you don’t know many people here in Connecticut yet. It’s exhausting, and way too much work without a lot of return- but the experience is super important. In this first year of hosting mini sessions, you learn about light and how crucial it is to a great image. You learn about posing- and how your favorite images become the ones when you didn’t pose them at all. You learn how to have conversation with people you don’t know well, and it’s stretching for your personality in the best possible way. You learn how to be professional and have clients for the first time. You begin to learn how to edit images in photoshop. This is a time of great learning for you, so don’t give up.
Don’t waste so much money on the “latest and greatest” editing actions either. A great photograph is nailing exposure IN camera, not in photoshop. It takes time to learn, but you’ll see what I mean. And stop buying vintage props. You have a deeper vision than that. Don’t clutter the frame with the meaningless. What you see is worth the entire frame. In fact, it’s more than enough.
You spend this first year shooting everything from families, to birthday parties, baptisms, and even a few weddings. It’s ok. This really helps you make a confident decision in the years to come on specializing and ONLY photographing what you love. But be sure to soak up this experience. Not only does it help you in the future, but it will help you help others.
It’s true what they tell you. Running a photography business has you behind the camera about 10% of the time. You will need to learn SO much about what it means to run a business. From pricing to taxes, bookkeeping to workflow. Some things are harder to learn than others. But you learn as you go. It all works out.
Also don’t spend so much time looking at everyone else and what they are doing. It causes you to waste a lot of money on e-books, album samples, and website templates. Start thinking about what you REALLY want to photograph and what you want your business and brand to look like before you start buying all sorts of stuff. Begin to understand your “why”, and go deeper than just picking a cute business name and ribbon color. Knowing why you really want to be a photographer FIRST will help you create an incredible brand. Trust me, you come up with a really good idea that you love.
There are definitely some investments over the past few years that you most certainly do NOT regret! Your mentoring session with Justin & Mary forever changed your business and brand. Their honest feedback really pushes you to do big things. Also working with 315 Design for your visual brand identity. This is the first time you work with a professional designer and you quickly learn it’s importance. The logo suite and color palette alone gives you a foundation to create a visual consistency, and this is the point where you really start to feel professional and see the value in brand presentation. You also start to learn that if you want others to work with you as a professional, and pay you a professional price, than you too need to be willing to invest in a professional for the things you need. Say goodbye to DIY and generic templates.
Right now you are shooting with a Canon 50D. You won’t upgrade for about a year. Don’t get gear envy. Because if you are only satisfied with having the top of the line no matter what, in this industry contentment would never be achieved because there is ALWAYS newer and better gear out there. And it all costs a pretty penny. Learn to outgrow your gear in skills. Ignore what everyone but you “seems to have”, and know that you still have a lot to learn, a style to develop, and a business and brand to build before you can justify the investment. Master what you have. When your skills begin to stretch beyond what your gear is capable of, THEN look to invest in an upgrade. I know you don’t believe this now. But someday you will be able to buy the Mark III. In full.Without a credit card. Work hard. It will pay off.
Get involved in the right groups. When Pursuit 31 comes to New Haven for a workshop, make sure you do everything in your power to attend. That group now makes up some of your closest friends. You learn SO much in those two days that begin to form the direction of your business and your heart as a photographer. I know you won’t believe me, but Karen Stott is going to ask you to teach a workshop at the big Pursuit 31 Conference in 2014. I would share more but I don’t want you to faint. Just know that good things are coming. So be sure you are learning what you can, when you can. And don’t worry. God won’t give you this opportunity until He knows that you are ready.
Always be yourself. Always be true and authentic to who you really are. Don’t try to blog with anyone else’s voice but your own. Don’t try to make your images look exactly like anyone else’s. On the discouraging days, remember that God did not give you this gift, this talent, this passion, this love- He didn’t give it to you by mistake. In fact, He has known all along that this is what you truly loved. He is going to show Himself to you through all of this. He loves what you love. And He will use it time and time again for His Kingdom and for His purpose in ways you never imagined.
Just take one day at time. I can’t wait for you to see what I can see from here.
Image by Justin & Mary.