Photography: My Journey, Growth, Advice, Etc.

I've touched on the topic of photography a few times on here but not as much as I'd like to. I understand not everyone who reads my blog is a photographer or is even remotely interested in the subject - but I hope something I share speaks to you in some sort of way or at least gives you a breather from your busy work day. Who knows, man.

A bit of back story. I got interested in photography when I was 14/15 years old. A freshman in high school. I decided to take a film photography class on a complete whim. I wish high schools still had it available these days. If yours does, I highly suggest trying it. It changed my life. Deep.

I didn't actually start shooting clients for money until I was around 17 years old. I would just ask friends to model for me so I could take photos of someone other than myself. MYSPACE. I shot my first two weddings in 2008 when I was 18, a contract written in one paragraph, 3-4 hours for I think, $400 (when I lived in the midwest). Looking back at those photos.. its.. so weird. So different from how I shoot now. But this is how you find your own style.

Let's go back and cringe to the beginning when I started having real clients. 2008-2009. 

My first two weddings. Oh boy, haha. This was when I lived in St. Louis, MO. These make me happy but they are also hard to look at, haha. There are photographers who can use layers of textures and make it absolutely beautiful and then there's 18 year old me googling "old vintage paper" textures thinking I'm an innovator, haha. Hey! At the time, I was stoked. As I should be. I was growing and didn't even know it and that's pretty fucking cool. I put myself out there in a city I was a newcomer in. I'm really proud of myself for that. 

Fast forward to 2010-2011. 

I still had a day job, this was HARDLY paying my bills. I just never wanted to stop and I'm very glad I didn't. I was 20/21 and in the middle of a divorce but still pushing myself to shoot. I would do specials, discounts, even doing shoots for free just to have content and keep my brain on creative mode. No matter what shit is going on in your life, if something brings you joy - don't let anything stand in your way of doing it, as a career or for free, who cares. Do it. 

Some of my work from 2011. 

Fast forward to 2013/2014. 

We're trying new things now. Stepping a bit outside of my comfort zone here.

This was still a very chaotic few years of my life, trying to figure out what the fuck I was doing basically. But here we are, the one constant I had was photography, still. I shot the most weddings within this time period and I'm glad that I did - because it made me realize how I could never be a full time wedding photographer, haha. Don't get me wrong, shooting weddings can be ridiculously fun and I love the on-spot challenge, but full time? I was getting wiped out and fast. And what I learned? There is nothing wrong with realizing that. This goes along with my entire theme of this post: You learn as you go. You realize what you love and what you don't; there's no right or wrong. You're growing. You aren't a failure just because you can't shoot a wedding every single weekend. Fuck, I can't do that. But I know some incredible photographer friends of mine who do just that and LIVE FOR IT. And hell yeah! I don't know how they do it and I applaud them. But don't ever beat yourself up thinking that's the norm.

There is no norm. There is only you. And what you love. Do just that.

Fast forward a little further, 2015-2016.

This is when it all started coming together and I feel like my own style was being born. Of course, I'm still learning new things, but this was the year I feel like I definitely bloomed. aw. See, almost 10 years after I got into photography did I find my own personal style. 

This is when you start coming up with your own ideas instead of trying to mimic those you admire. Sometimes people get stuck in that rut and I've been there 100%. Don't feel discouraged. The best thing is to feed off of the moment and try something you've never seen before. Get to know your clients and make sure the session represents them as a whole. As a unit.

See below. I did an entire family shoot inside of a school bus yard because their toddler was obsessed with school buses. Why the fuck not? That is 100% uniquely THEM and I love that so much. Push yourself to ask questions and cater to them individually rather than just finding somewhere pretty. Just my two cents.

2016 itself was a year of extreme growth, not only in how I shot, but in my business in general. Late 2015 was when I got laid off of my 9-5 office job and started freelancing photography full time. This was also when we began the shop which has now become my full time gig as well. It was a crazy year but I've never hustled so much for photo work in my entire life. I was being shameless. as. fuck. But that's what it takes when that's your only form of income. There's nothing wrong with "cold calling" people for sessions or running 1 hour specials. Work is work god damnit, no matter how you get it, haha. You're building a portfolio and that's most important.

If you'd like to check out more of my current work, CLICK HERE FOR MY WEBSITE.

Here we are. 2017.


My Advice.

This isn't going to be in any particular order, I'm just going to word vomit like usual and hope this all flows, haha.

Personally, for being such a weirdly introverted person, I found that I am actually a very good people person when it comes to working with new clients. How? I honestly feel like the more confident you are in the work that you're providing... the more confident you are with strangers and making them feel comfortable. Because you're comfortable. They trust you. And it's a comforting combo. This is something you develop over time 100%. Especially if you're an introvert. Do not feel discouraged if it takes you awhile to come out of your shell. You're human.

The advice of "fake it 'til you make it" also runs true in this craft. Well, any craft. Act confident even if you do not feel confident in that moment. I will admit, so often am I in the middle of a session and I have no idea what my next shot is going to be; I'm coming up with random shit until something clicks and I run with it. Please note: I very rarely will walk into a session with a secure idea in mind. I just fucking wing it. And my current clients are reading this laughing right now...haha. But it's true. You have to think on your feet most, if not all of the time.

Having clients who are willing to do your wacky ideas and trusting you is one of the best feelings in the world. Pleaseee keep those people around. They are gold. Building a client base took me YEARS and I can proudly say I've never spent a dime on advertisements. It's all about word of mouth and tagging your clients on Facebook. Honestly. The better experience you give them, the more keen they are to recommend you to their friends and family and it's a beautiful snowball effect. This is just what works for me, everyone is different. I mean, one of my current clients is a former high school teacher to another one of my clients. Like, the fuck? The internet is crazy I love it so much. 

One thing I get asked A LOT is about equipment. "I'm a beginner, what kind of camera should I buy?" People thinking that the amount of megapixels in a DSLR equals it's overall quality. Wrong. Unless you're intending on blowing up images the size of buildings, you don't need that 50.6 megapixel camera, Susan. I started off shooting with a tiny credit card sized camera my grandmother bought me. Probably had the resolution of a razor flip phone, not even joking you. Slowly saved money and bought a Canon point-and-shoot (I don't remember which one specifically), from there as time went on, I saved and got a Canon 30D and a 50mm 1.8 (the best beginner portrait lens if you're on a budget). And etc etc etc. I grew overtime, but I honestly feel like the equipment I used and upgraded to had nothing to do with my growth. There are photos I took on my old cameras that I love just as much as my current ones. Camera bodies and lenses can only do so much... I've seen some incredible photographs taken with some incredibly inexpensive gear. It's all about who's behind the lens. AS CHEESY AS THAT SOUNDS. I believe it. Get what you can afford and go from there.

That being said. My advice to aspiring photographers is always this - Never stop shooting. Whether it's your career or a weekend hobby. Never stop creating. I never went to college for this. Like I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm not a classroom person. I'd rather learn by doing and by failing. BUT there is nothing wrong with going to school to learn more about something if that's what suits you personally either. Know that. Everyone is different.

Growth is there, over time you will see it (like you saw mine in this post), as long as you are always eager enough to try new things and step outside of your box. This goes for EVERYTHING you do in life, not just photography. I am in no way perfect at what I do. I'm messy and I have bad days where I get in my head just like everyone else, but I never stop trying and that's what's key. I hope this inspires at least one person to dust off their camera or whatever it is their creative tool is and get back out there. Go get 'em, nothing is stopping you, I believe in you.