How Did I Get Started?
A few people over the years have asked me how I got started - so I decided to just write about it here!
If you have asked me about anything business related, you know that I am an open book. I really try to be as helpful as possible and tell beginners the things I wish I would have known from the start...the things that took years and lots of struggle for me to learn. So we will cover all that.
Hey that's me!
So. A little background on me:
I have been into art in one form or another for pretty much my whole life. Ask my parents about my early work. I did some pretty rad paintings as a three year old. Just saying.
My first lessons as a photographer were around 10 years old from my dad. We were shooting film at the Grand Canyon, and he explained to me how to frame a shot and always try to put something in the foreground to create interest and balance. I never forgot that.
In middle school, I got my first 3 megapixel digital camera and took photos of everything. We're talking flowers and black and white photos of garage door latches. (Yes, I was that emo kid, and yes, Death Cab for Cutie was my favorite band).
In high school, I focused on creative writing and was 100% sure I was going to be a writer. What is interesting is how I wrote. I wrote in a way that was saturated in imagery, just kind of "stream of consciousness" as my mom would put it. It was a lot of fragments, just short statements of details and what I saw. Intimate. Short. But pretty. I have been told that my writing reminded people of the way an Impressionist would paint - interestingly enough, my style of photography now is just about exactly the same as how I write.
After high school, I bought my first dslr but didn't really start to use it until after my daughter was born in 2012. I started by taking photos of her - in all auto. Gradually, I learned how to shoot in manual. I shared my photos on Facebook, and various friends and friends of friends started to ask if I would take photos for them. That is when things really started. And that is where we will begin.
1. Start by doing things for free. There is really no way around this - and if you love photography, you won't mind. I didn't. I was thrilled whenever someone would ask me to take photos. It was all experimental at that point. I didn't know what I wanted my photos to look like. I didn't know about different styles of shooting. I didn't even own Photoshop.
I learned and functioned by a few things:
a. Feel. As mentioned above, I was no stranger to the arts. I had a lot of experience in drawing, painting, creating, writing. It was what I lived and breathed. It was how I coped with life. I needed it. As a result, I came into photography with a general feeling of what looks good. Of course, that needed to be refined and tuned, and I needed to gain some skill to really create the things I could see in my head. BUT - some people have asked me (along with how I got started) how I choose what moment to capture/how to frame a shot and whether that is something that comes naturally or something that is taught. The answer is BOTH. In general, I do everything by feel. I see in photos. In my every day life, I see things that would make a beautiful photo or a beautiful written piece. That's just kind of how I see life. I didn't read articles on composition or what makes a good photo. I just kind of took photos and then examined them later to see what worked and what didn't. BUT you can learn. There is a reason that there are photography classes and articles out there. How to shoot is a subject for another article though.
b. Google + YouTube. While I learned predominately by trial and error, I also learned a TON from just simply Googling about what I didn't know. I read articles and watched YouTube videos about how to shoot in manual and what the different settings on a camera mean. Then I tested out my new knowledge by shooting and seeing what happened when I changed one setting or anything. For the first couple years, there was an adjustment period each time we changed scenery and lighting. I would take a photo, look at the back of my camera, find that my settings were way off, adjust, shoot again, adjust, shoot again, etc. Now, I can look at the light, make a guess, and most of the time, I am right on or pretty close. That takes time.
c. Imitation. There really is no way around this. When first starting out, I had no idea what I wanted my work to look like. If I wasn't so embarrassed, I would share some of my earlier work to show how bright it was. Eventually, I started following photographers on Facebook and I had kept following various wedding blogs from when I got married. Slowly, my style started to change as I saw photos that I really loved. They made me feel. They were how I saw the world and how I wanted to portray it. From there, it was a bunch of trial and error to get the look I wanted.
2. I created a Facebook page and a website and started sharing all the free shoots I had been doing. I made sure to tag everyone that I could in the posts and started to make a name for myself. At this time, I took any job that I could get and charged the minimal amount. I shot my first wedding for a friend for $150. I reached out to newly engaged friends and offered to shoot their weddings for free. I added as many things to my portfolio as I could. Each time I made $75 here and $75 there, I used that money to buy minimal equipment on Ebay. I bought a flash. I bought a second lens. I learned how to use both by taking test shots of my daughter inside in all kinds of lighting. I discovered what looked okay and what didn't, and when I was stumped, I turned to Google.
3. I felt discouraged. I remember the day I created my website. I was so proud. I shared the link on Facebook and thought for sure that the inquiries would come rolling in. And then radio silence. I tried Googling photographers in my area, and I couldn't even find my own page. But why? I didn't understand it. So I started doing some research. What I discovered was - Google requires keywords to find you. My photos needed words attached to them. This is when I discovered SEO (search engine optimization). I started going through my website and putting words in the description and title of my photos, I put in metatags and keywords for each page. I created a business page on Google + and verified my business through Google, and over the course of a few weeks, things started to change. I was thrilled! I was actually getting emails about weddings, and people were interested. I created contracts and priced myself way lower than I should have (haha). I got Photoshop. I got a full frame camera (Canon 6D). I got new lenses. I got a new flash. I second shot for other photographers and watched them work a wedding day and learned about posing and taking command. I was learning so much and booking clients and I couldn't believe I was living my dream.
4. Last year happened. I have heard that you have to go through trials to grow. I can vouch for this. I learned so many important lessons last year - that I will talk about more in depth in a blog post all its own. BUT I got my first unhappy clients. Four brides in a row, to be exact. Up until then, every one of my clients had been thrilled with their photos. What had changed? Had my work suddenly gotten worse? It baffled me because I finally felt proud of the photos I was taking and was so excited for these unhappy clients to see their photos. And then came the feedback. I lost sleep over it. It destroyed my positive view of my work. I started to assume everyone hated my work. I just waited for the negative reviews. I posted on Facebook that I was ready to quit wedding photography. I was so discouraged. It took a couple months, but I finally realized what had happened - I booked every bride that came my way. I felt like I needed each and every one of them, and I failed to realize that I was actually doing us both a disservice by doing this. Rather than ensuring that each bride fully understood that I had a specific style and vision, I assumed all brides were the same and that my now better photos would please all. I was wrong. Just as some people prefer one style of clothing or house decor over another, some brides simply don't like the way that I shoot. It may have destroyed me at the time, but I now know that that is totally fine! I changed my contract. I changed my website. I started sending out a PDF that thoroughly explained my style and what to expect from me. I stopped booking every single wedding and actually turned some down (I simply told them I thought a different photographer would be better suited for them - and you know what? They thanked me!). Since that time, I have not had a single unhappy bride. The most important lesson I have learned in my entire career as a photographer is: It is just as important to turn away the wrong clients as it is to book the right ones.
5. I got published. This changed the way I felt about my work, and I needed this so badly after all the negative feedback. After four unhappy brides in a row, I got two weddings published in a row! You better believe I cried. Slowly, I started to gain my confidence back, and this is the lesson I am trying to learn now: Be confident in yourself and your work. Be confident that you are worth what you charge. Be confident that you know what you are doing. Be confident. I upped my prices - so as to not be making minimum wage. Here's a little secret: Potential clients make an assumption about your skill and your worth based on how you price yourself.
6. I joined photography groups on Facebook. This helped so much. Not only was I constantly being challenged as I was now surrounded by the work of amazing amazing photographers, but I felt like I wasn't alone. I had a place where I could ask questions, get feedback, and bond with other photographers like me. I started going into each shoot thinking: "How can I shoot something new?" and "It is up to me to make this wedding look good - not the decor." and "How can I shoot this in a way that will make it easier when I go to edit it?" I started to slow down and take my time to think about the photos that I really wanted to get, the direction that I wanted to go, and I wasn't afraid to change posing if it didn't look perfect or to step back and try something new. It takes confidence to do all that. It takes being inspired.
7. I put together a styled shoot. There is no better way to connect with other professionals, get your name out there, and showcase what you can do that to create a styled shoot. I reached out to professionals that I had met through friends or at bridal shows, or just had seen online. I told them about my vision and what I was looking for from them. And we did it. It was amazing. It was published on 100 Layer Cake, and Ruffled actually emailed ME because they had seen in on my website (WHAT?!) and wanted to feature it.
8. I never stop learning and growing. Perhaps most important take away from this blog? Perhaps. Never ever think that you are done growing and learning because you aren't. Trust me, if Ben Sasso talks about how he challenges himself to do something new for every shoot - you aren't done yet. I am always looking for the next step and the next place I can take my business. For me, right now - that is destination elopements. That is my dream. I am asking questions in groups where there are photographers who are doing this. I am learning from what they do and how they market themselves. I am reading articles. I am researching. I am trying. I just became an LLC! Really. I don't know why it took me this long! I have written out a business plan with goals for this year and a list of things I need and want to do to reach those goals. As with every other step I have taken, there are setbacks and discouragements - but usually there is something awesome just on the other side. So I keep going. And I challenge all of you to do the same. Never stop pursuing your dreams. Keep going. Keep learning and growing and trying. And have the confidence to get back up again when you fall short.
Best of luck to all of you - and as always, ask questions! I am an open book. If there is something you want me to write about, comment or email me and tell me! If you have a specific question, ask me! I seriously don't mind. :) Thanks for reading, and feel free to share.