From Breaking News to Weddings
Would you ever believe that there was a time when my life revolved around fires, car crashes, football games, politicians and deadlines? It truly seems like a lifetime when I think about it but just three short years ago I was a news photographer dreaming of starting my own business.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Every time I meet with potential clients inevitably the question of "Well, how did you get started in photography?" comes up. And I always struggle with the answer. Because for me, I feel like photography has been a part of my life since birth.
I guess you could say it runs in the family. My great grandfather had his own darkroom in the attic of their home. He would shoot bridal portraits up there... can you imagine??! My parents have some of his hand tinted photographs around their home and I've always loved staring at them. My dad was an avid photographer too and I remember looking at his slides (yes he shot slide film!) and thinking how awesome it was. I don't know what drew me to it, but I found myself falling in love with photography.
My parents caught on and so like most photographers, they bought me a rinky dink film camera that I carried with me everywhere. I took pictures of our trip to Disney, our fatty cat Toffy, and my friends. And though they were AWFUL pictures I discovered that I really loved photography.
So when an opportunity to take a REAL photography class came my way in middle school I jumped at the chance to sign up. Most of the kids there were taking it as a fun elective, but for me I was desperate to find out if this was truly what I loved. (Guys apparently I take things WAY too seriously especially as a seventh grader;)). One day we were taught about light and lighting subjects and were encouraged by our teacher to photograph each other. I took one picture of a classmate and when I developed my film I knew that this was what I had to do for the rest of my life. That image sits on my desk currently as a reminder that above all else, I love what I do.
That one class alone determined what I was to do with the rest of my life. I knew it needed to involve photography but I wasn't exactly sure how yet. One day we visited a gallery of work by Mary Ellen Mark, a successful and established documentarian portrait photographer. She was showing work that she had done on circus life and immediately I knew that if I were to do anything with photography it had to be through telling people's stories. Yes my friends, at the young age of 13 I knew what I was doing with the rest of my life. Or at least what I WANTED to do with the rest of my life. See I told you. Way too serious.
I graduated high school with a portfolio (everything was in film and print!) and an acceptance letter to Northeastern University and the photography program there. I spent the next four years playing in the darkroom morning, noon, night and somehow also minored in journalism. I was determined to tell stories with my camera, to document life. How to make a living out of that? Well, I wasn't quite sure yet.
My very first REAL job (aka getting paid!) as a photographer was working with a wedding photographer as an assistant during my freshman year of college! One wedding, as I sat eating my vendor meal with the other vendors, the videographer asked me, "So you're going to be a wedding photographer when you grow up?" I snorted a vehement "NO! I'm a journalist!" And that was that. Funny how life never turns out how you expect!
I spent much of my college life preparing to be a journalist, interning and freelancing at papers like the Boston Metro. I got my first "real" job right out of college with the newspaper company that I would work at for the next five years. There I spent my time photographing football games, fires, car crashes, feature stories, politicians, breaking news, and more. And I loved it for many years. But deep down inside, even though I was telling stories, exactly what I had wanted to do from the beginning of my journey with photography, I wasn't happy.
I spent three years going back and forth about MAYBE starting my own business. All the while still working hard and diligently at my newspaper job. What if I couldn't hack it? What would life look like without a full time salary? How would I get clients? Would I even LIKE weddings? I went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth again.
In 2009 I took a chance and started my photography business ON THE SIDE. It was my little secret that no one at the paper knew about. Neither did many other people for that matter. But that was ok. I was ok being "invisible" because it meant if I failed, then no one would know. I practiced with friends photographing them for free and making the beginnings of a portfolio out of it. I started a website for $50 and prayed that no one would see it and that everyone would see it. Slowly and steadily I started to get clients. Somehow they found out about me. And before I knew it I was faced with a dilemma.
I couldn't shoot weddings and work at the paper. It just doesn't work that way. So I had to make a decision. Take a chance with my business or continue to work as a news photographer. I wasn't happy, I wasn't satisfied and I found myself every day looking at blogs of other wedding photographers DREAMING of doing what they were doing. At the end of 2010 I took a chance, gave my two week notice and with 8 weddings on the books for 2011 I quit my full time job to become a full time business owner. PHEW. I still can't believe I had the guts to do that, even to this day.
And so that brings me to today. Two years of working from home, over three years of having a business and many weddings later, writing this post about how it all happened. I still balk sometimes at the fact that this is my life. That clients pay me to do something that I absolutely love. That I get to tell stories with my camera, that I get to capture memories for people to cherish, that I get to work from home and make my own hours. If you had asked that seventh grader WAY back when if she wanted to be a wedding photographer, she probably would have laughed at you. But today, I honestly can't imagine my life as anything else.
That is my story from a little girl admiring her Dad's slides to full time business owner and wedding photographer. I asked on Facebook if anyone had any questions or things they wanted to hear specifically about my journey from a little girl with a plastic camera to wedding photographer. Because you asked such GREAT questions that require a more in depth response than I could provide today I've decide to split this post up into two parts. Come back on Friday as I answer those important questions about how I actually saw my dreams become a reality!
For now, if you're just DREAMING of making your goal a reality, know this. It can happen. It takes a lot of work and it may not happen exactly as you DREAMED it would, but that's ok. Dreams are worth chasing. And while I made my dream of becoming a business owner a reality, I'm still working at it every day. Chasing after even bigger dreams. Truly, if that little seventh grader can do it, so can you.