I was recently inspired while reading Amanda Marie’s post, “How Amanda Marie Found 2013“, to think back to when this crazy journey with me and a camera started and, honestly, how far I’ve come since then. It was so neat to read Amanda’s timeline of events in both her personal and professional life since 2008 (a big year for both of us) – and then when I started jotting down some notes on my own journey, I realized mine was pretty neat too! Just like sending a note to a friend or writing down something you are thankful for every day, thinking about the events that led me to right here and right now make me overwhelmed with gratitude. It’s something I recommend to everyone regardless of where you are or where you started – you have always achieved more and gotten farther than you think!
Here’s a little bit from my journey…
In the spring of my senior year of high school I had just finished up an election season working in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I interned for now-Governor Bobby Jindal (he was a congressman then) and worked as the volunteer director for a political non-profit. When elections were over, so was my job! And it was time to prep for college. I found myself with a lot of free time, and a lot of money saved up from my previous jobs. So I made a financially irresponsible decision and spent $1,000 on a Canon Rebel XTi (which is now probably worth about $5… just kidding), a portrait lens, and all the accessories.
I began shooting everything. My cats! Flowers in our yard! My cats again! (Really, I cannot under-communicate how many photos of cats I have – A LOT!) First, I learned how to basically work the camera. Then I learned how to shoot manual – I learned aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and would practice for at least an hour every day.
When I went to college in August, I signed up for the school paper and basically volunteered to photograph anything, anytime, and for any department. I photographed basketball games, chapels, science experiments, and student government events. I even photographed the professors in my classes – just for fun! At this point I was in the political science program, but as the semester continued I realized it may not be the best fit for me as I would quickly spit out assignments and then spend the next six hours of my night learning how to edit my photos.
It began dawning on me that photography wasn’t just a hobby – that I loved it more than I loved anything, and that I knew nothing about it, and I wanted to learn everything. There was no art department at my school and only one very basic photography course. To complicate matters, I had met and began dating my future husband and I also really loved my friends, my school, etc. – I didn’t want to transfer but I felt trapped. My dear friend and advisor Ms. Kim listened to all of this in her office one spring afternoon and told me something that has stuck with me and I 100% believe in: college classes are not the only way to learn. Following her suggestion, I looked up area photographers that might possibly consider letting me learn from them.
I found John + Lindsey Bamber. I didn’t even email anyone else – but their email was written carefully, edited by friends, and sent with a prayer. Not even an hour later John emailed me back asking what I was doing tomorrow, and I jumped in headfirst to the world of professional photography. (You can read John + Lindsey’s take on my email – and even read an excerpt! – on their blog here.) Not long after that, school was out for the summer and I headed to Maryland to work at a summer camp where I organized, edited, and managed all the photos taken by their two photographers. That was a huge learning summer for me! I learned about organization, delegation, and editing software and also learned that I wanted to take photos, not just sit at a desk and organize them.
When I came back to school in the fall, I continued working for the Bambers as their studio manager (fortunately for me timing-wise, Lindsey had just had their first son Jack and there was plenty for me to do at the office!) and formally switched my major to Corporate Communication. I also assisted John + Lindsey that fall on my VERY FIRST WEDDING – I remember being so hot, the day being so long, and being so sore at the end of it! I couldn’t wait to do it again.
At this point I was becoming well-versed in customer service, presentation, editing, selling, and more with the Bambers. The first time John asked me to edit a wedding, he literally gave me a drive and computer and said “see you tomorrow!” I called Luke and had a mini-panic attack on the phone. But honestly it was such a great way to learn! When I finished, John and I went through it (we would repeat this dozens of times) and gave me criticism (I only cried once! Maybe twice. Okay, maybe like half the time. Sorry John!) and encouragement and I would do it all over again. I fell in love with editing at the same time I fell in love with shooting – first seniors, then engagements, then weddings!
This knowledge + my three months in France doing photojournalism work for OM that summer was a huge turning point in my shooting and editing style. The photographs I took before the spring + summer of 2010 and the photographs I took during/since then look like two completely different photographers. My summer in France threw me out of my comfort zone, and I thrived. I was learning and growing at a fast rate. The Bambers started an associate photography company, Motion Picture Co, and I became the studio manager and the lead photographer for that company. It was an incredible opportunity to learn everything there is about running a business without having to invest financially! MPC continued to grow and led to…
Weddings, weddings, weddings! At this point I spent a lot of time fine-tuning my technical skills, both while shooting and post-shooting. As the business grew, so did all the lessons I was learning and some were not easy! I was still extremely involved in school (I was class president this year) and it didn’t seem at all weird to me that while my roommate slept in and hung out with her boyfriend on Saturdays I went to shoot a twelve-hour wedding. Ha! That summer I got an apartment in my college town and continued to work for MPC – at this point it was WAY more than “just a job”. I stayed up nights thinking about it. I cried when we didn’t book a wedding. I woke up at 6am because I couldn’t wait to start working. I also loved the flexible schedule that allowed me to continue to nurture my friendships (especially with my roommate that summer, Lydia, and my best friend who had recently gotten married and lived next door to me!).
That summer Luke proposed, I enthusiastically said yes, and we began planning our own wedding and life after college (Luke had one year left, I finished up a little early so just had a couple courses to take in the fall – at this point MPC was full-time and I was loving it). I was really overwhelmed at the thought of moving somewhere else and doing this ON MY OWN. Honestly, I did not think that I could. I imagined “hanging up the dream” and getting a boring job when we eventually moved. There was still a lot of confidence that had to be built at this point!
I got married in May! The day was perfect for us and John captured it incredibly. Luke + I both officially graduated and received our diplomas. We spent one last lazy (except we both worked constantly) summer in our college town and I worked my second full summer season. Technically, I was solid – so this summer I really was able to find my “voice” as a photographer. My feel, my vibe, my jive, what have you! I felt confident in nailing “the basics” so was able to branch out a little more creatively during weddings. Without the constant anxiety over technical things (is this the right shutter speed?! where is the light coming from?!?!) I FELL IN LOVE with the creativity involved in wedding photography.
We were slated to move to New Orleans in August for Luke to begin graduate school, and I still had no idea of going out on my own was something I was capable of. John + Lindsey were very encouraging but it wasn’t enough to convince me. Around this time, MPC received a wedding inquiry for a wedding in – you’d never guess – NEW ORLEANS. I called the bride laughing and told her that I would be living in New Orleans at the time of her wedding so no, there wouldn’t be any travel costs. In the same week an acquaintance from high school contacted me about shooting her wedding that fall in Louisiana. Things. Were. Happening! I said yes to both weddings and began frantically making lists of everything I would need – equipment, a business license, a website, etc! It was a whirlwind figuring all that out but fortunately John helped me purchase everything (again, thanks John!).
When we made the move in August, I was still nervous about our financial situation (two weddings does not a solid income make) and found a “real job” in the communications field. After five months of building my client base, editing for other photographers, booking weddings in New Orleans, and literally working around the clock to also hold on to my “real job” I turned in my notice. I’ve never felt so free or so confident that I was doing the right thing!
This has been such a big year. From officially establishing my business in New Orleans, attending WPPI, second shooting for others to learn the area, to honing my own style, shooting in New Orleans and traveling up to Tennessee to shoot weddings of college friends, photographing my first California wedding, to being featured in one of my “bucket list” websites Grace Ormonde… it has been a big year. I have learned so much about business and so much about myself. I’ve had days where I feel like I’m on top of the world and days where I am full of anxiety! Some lessons have been easy to learn – some have been very, very hard. But in all of it I am so thankful that I AM DOING WHAT I LOVE EVERY DAY Y’ALL and so thankful to both my brides who entrust their day to me and to other professionals who trust me to give them a hand in their post-processing. I am fully aware that being able to photograph weddings and pay the bills is living the dream, and I don’t at all take it for granted. I am so excited to read this post in five years and think about all that has happened since 2013.
Thank you guys so much for reading ALL of this! If you have a chance, jot down a few notes from your past few years. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!