I shot a corporate event in Atlanta today. I got up at 4:30am, left the house by 5:30am to make it to downtown ATL by 8am. I had my gear on, ready to shoot and was talking lenses with my friend and mentor, James. He was the one who hired me to shoot this gig with him and he always brings an extra camera body and lens that I don't have so that I can practice. We were swooning over our 85mm lenses and he stops and says "Do you know how far you've come since I first met you?"
I stopped and fought back tears as I said "YES! I do!"
I met James in 2016 when I was shooting my husand's uncle's wedding in Jefferson, Ga. I was shooting a medium sized camera body, I only had two lenses but they were my go-to's. We instantly hit if off as he offered several lenses for me to shoot with to try out for fun during slow times. I learned so much just in the few hours we worked together. I have met a hundred videographers in my day, but James and his family have literally took me under their wing and have let me borrow countless lenses, I've purchased several lenses from them as well.
All it took was one conversation and one gesture of kindness to spark my curiosity. I wanted to learn more, to acquire more, to be challenged more.
This led to me really focusing on knowing my gear. I added a couple new camera bodies, several new lenses and off-camera flash to my camera bag. It was NOT cheap. I then found tutorials online, second shot with Scott Greene and other photographers in this area and learned so much. I also listened to my clients.
I never took an actual photography class, a business class or took out a business loan. Every piece of equipment I have, I have paid for with photography money. I knew I didn't want to go into debt with this business but I also knew it was not a cheap business to start. So I started small and worked my way up. Each year, I set an equipment goal and saved up for that piece. And then at the end of the year, I reviewed my income and decided if I needed to raise my prices to cover the cost of the already purchased equipment on top of the new gear on my upcoming year's list.
While chatting with James today, he said that he is all about helping others, but it still takes initiative and work for the newcomers. He said had you not been willing to learn, willing to work and save up, then you wouldn't have gotten this job today in ATL. Just being passionate about something doesn't pay the bills, you have to seek out ways to improve, you have to say yes when opportunity knocks.
Growing my business and honing my skill has been a process. And with the support of my husband and family and mentors like James and Scott, I have been given priceless advice about camera settings, how to run this business and how to value my work. I have also had friends in my corner who let me practice on them and their families, offered all kinds of encouragement over wine or margaritas and have even offered a shoulder for me to cry on when I didn't get the shot I really wanted. Thank you, Frances Byrd, Ashley Dodd, Megan Kidd, Tiffany Reiher and Leslie Dills for your incredible support. Having you all in my corner kept the fight alive in me.
Let's let my work speak for itself. ( And yes, posting this feels like I'm standing naked in Times Square ;) but I'm doing it because I need to prove a point )
Here is a bride and bridesmaids shot that I took this year.
And here is a bride and bridesmaids shot I took in 2017.
And this is a senior portrait I took back in 2015...
I shot that with my 50mm DX lens. I love that photo of Hailee but as you can see in the photo of Averi below, my skill and my gear has improved significantly. I shot this with my D750 body using my 85mm 1.4f lens.
All it took was one person saying hey, I see you have a love for this but you are new, so let me show you some neat tricks about this type of work.
Where were you in your industry in 2015? How far have you come?
Take a minute and go find those files, those contracts or whatever it is that is proof of where you were then. Now look at where you are now.
Take time to celebrate that growth! Then go thank anyone who helped you along the way. Gratitude is a game changer when it comes to growth. Let those who helped you know the difference they made in your career.
I hope when each of you see a passionate but new photographer (like me in 2015) that instead of rolling your eyes and saying watch this ish, you offer guidance.
And to all the new photographers out there, if someone offers you guidance, take it and be willing to do the work it takes to get better. This industry is very cruel to its own. It is a rare thing that I had not one but two mentors helping me along the way. I hope I never forget how grateful I was for their help so that I don't hesitate to keep that currency flowing to other new photographers.
Take the time to celebrate your growth.
Hell, it's been raining for 3,000 days so it's not like you have anything else to do! ;)