Meeting Teresa

I’m not usually one to reach out to people I don’t know. Especially people I look up to. But after reading about the importance of connecting with actual photographers that inspire me, I drank a margarita and got up the nerve to contact Teresa. Very glad I did!

I discovered Teresa’s work on Facebook. My friend Jenette had gone to Teresa for her maternity photos. In the photographs, Jenette and her fiance were surrounded by beautiful, bright, bold colors – they were at a carnival! How cool is that?! I went to Teresa’s Facebook page – Teresa’s PhotoWorks – and saw that most of Teresa’s photos, though taken in her studio and not a carnival, captured this wonderful color. I loved her use of it, her attention to detail, and the awesome eyes-to-the-camera smiles she had gotten out of the children. I’m very picky when it comes to posing, and she’s good at that too. Really good.

Since Jenette had recently left the photography company that she had been working for (the same one as me), she started working for Teresa. Even though I hadn’t seen Jenette in years and had never even met Teresa, I felt safe reaching out to her. She messaged me back! I was willing to drive over 3 hours to meet her at her studio, but it turned out that she was coming to St. Louis! She invited me to meet her for dinner, and of course I accepted. :)

We talked over dinner for 2 hours. It was wonderful! As she shared her photography beginnings, she talked a little bit about her years working in the studio (again, same company as me), how she was able to leave, and how she began her own business. I say “a little bit” because while I expected us to talk about photography the entire time, we actually ended up talking about ourselves more! Found out that we have some really neat things in common!

Talking with Teresa was great. She gave me some good tips, recommendations for printers, a lot of inspiration, and a bunch of encouragement. I’ll strive to produce images as beautiful and crisp as hers, try not to completely copy her studio set-up if I ever open a brick-and-mortar of my own, and definitely turn to her if I need some advice. Her website is pretty fun. Check it out! Teresa’s PhotoWorks

A Stack of Information and Inspiration

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After finishing Vik Orenstein’s book, I needed to get some other tangible resources on hand. I get distracted easily, so I figured that I’d be more likely to continue my research if I had actual books staring at me in my face. Since Vik had such a nice collection of resources listed at the end of her book, I decided to select a handful of them to purchase –
 
The Big Picture: The Professional Photographer’s Guide to Rights, Rates & Negotiation by Lou Jacobs

Pricing Photography: The Complete Guide to Assignment & Stock Prices by Michal Heron and David MacTavish

Negotiating Stock Photo Prices by Jim Pickerell and Cheryl Pickerell Difrank

Instead of purchasing Vik’s recommended Children’s Writers & Illustrator’s Market, I chose the more specific 2013 Photographer’s Market by Mary Burzlaff Bostic

Since Vik mentioned the ASMP so much, I went to their website and saw their featured book to be The ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography. So I got this one too.

To give myself a break from the business books, I turned to Courtney at Click It Up A Notch. She has a wonderful post entitled “5 Must-Read Photography Books” where she and her contributors each recommend a favorite photography book! Here’s what I got –

The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby

Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson

The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman

Humantity: A Celebration of Friendship, Family, Love & Laughter by Geoff Blackwell

When I saw Humanity, it reminded me of a book I saw when I was only 12 or 13 years old. I’d forgotten the name but never the images. As a girl, I remember being invited into the homes of families all over the world, through these photographs. I got to see what people of other cultures looked like, what the outside of their homes looked like, and all of their possessions. For someone who had spent her entire life in the Midwest, this book really left an impression on me. I was very excited to find it on Amazon!

Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel

I can’t remember how I discovered Chris Orwig’s People Pictures: 30 Exercises For Creating Authentic Photographs, but someone recommended it, so I bought that too!

Now, I feel like I have a whoooole bunch of tools right in front of me! Time to read!

The Photographer’s Market Guide To Building Your Photography Business

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I love this book. I don’t consider myself much of a reader, but I flew through this book! In fact, after I read it and returned it to the library, I found myself still thinking about it, wishing I could go back and reread parts of it. After a month of not having in my home, I purchased my own copy.

Here is why I love it, chapter by chapter –

In the first chapter of The Photographer’s Market Guide To Building Your Photography Business, Vik examines what it means to be a photographer. She touches on some pros and cons and explains that being a photographer means being in business, having an obligation, and being one’s own product. In her words, it means having intimate relationships, riding the creative roller coaster, and reinventing one’s self every day. She explains that she’s often asked by those considering trying to make a living in photography if they are good enough or if they have what it takes. Vik truly believes that the tools for success are inside of each person. She feels that aspiring photographers rely too heavily on their instructors, friends, and family for that answer. Vik concludes that first chapter by touching on the importance of visual awareness, describing who makes it and who doesn’t make it, and timing. The topic of timing comes up a lot in her book, and the main thing is just to get started now!

In her second chapter, Vik begins with an interview with Ibarionex Perello. Described as a storyteller, Ibarionex is a street photographer who is also a writer and host of the podcast The Candid Frame. I’d never listened to podcasts before, but after reading this brief interview with Vik, I became a fan. I love listening to The Candid Frame now! And I was drawn to give it a listen because Ibarionex’s words really hit home to me. I felt like he was speaking directly to me! He stressed that there’s never an ideal time to start a business and to just jump in and do it. According to Ibarionex, the biggest pitfall to avoid is worrying about all the stuff that I don’t know. This is exactly why I’ve been dragging my feet since last May! Vik explained that the things she didn’t know made her fall on her face in front of her clients more than once. I’m scared of that too. But Ibarionex still encourages me to get over it and to focus on my strengths because my strengths will always be what makes clients want me. That makes me feel a little better!

Vik interviews Kerry Drager next. His advice to aspiring professional photographers is to view rejection in a positive way. Use rejection as fuel to try even harder. This makes sense to me. I just need to remind myself that rejection is a big part of professional photography but that I shouldn’t give up.

Architectural and advertising photographer Karen Melvin is interviewed next, and she advises me to be persistent and keep reinventing myself and my art. Vik asked her if she had any regrets, and Karen said she wishes she had started promoting her work nationally earlier. She explains that it takes more legwork, but it brings more commercial clients, more advertising work, has better production value, and it pays better than editorial. Ok, I’ll keep that in mind – editorial equals not as much money. Check!

Photojournalist Stormi Greener recommends that aspiring photojournalists be persistent. She once got a job by being a pest and wearing a publisher down to get a job. She admitted her photographic work was limited and not very good, but she didn’t give up and he gave her the job! For younger photojournalists, Stormi believes they should look for a school with a good program, find a mentor, and most importantly, do internships. Her biggest regret is not doing a better job of balancing work and family.

Commercial photographer Patrick Fox also believes in persistence and urges aspiring photographers to start with school. Not only photography but even a liberal arts degree instead perhaps. After school, Patrick believes in the importance of getting a lot of feedback on one’s work, making a portfolio or book, and then getting a job and assisting. The book should showcase one’s ten best images – no matter what the subject is – and be updated frequently as one gets new images. As far as trying to specialize, Patrick feels that one should start general and then specialize as one’s career matures. The biggest point that he made which stood out in my mind was his advice to not mimic other people. He recommends taking what one learns from others but then tweaking it to make it one’s own. I like the sound of that! He also believes in the power of reading. Reading anything and everything – even if it’s about things one has no interest in – because then comes a greater understanding of how the world works and how life and events all fit together. Neat!

NBA Timberwolves team photographer David Sherman attributes the start of a lot of his early work to his easygoing attitude. He snagged his Timberwolves gig over more experienced photographers (who were even willing to relocate!) because he’d hung out at every game, freelanced and photographed some crowd shots for them, and mostly because they just liked him. I love learning of people who got their gig based on their personality! It just feels real. And gives me some hope.

Stock, portraiture, and event photographer Jim Miotke stresses the importance of humility – especially when it comes to portraiture. He explains that since it’s a service industry, one has to be comfortable with uncertainty, but if one is doing what they love, the money will follow. Jim believes that before aspiring photographers attempt to go pro, they should read a few good books on marketing and promotion. As founder of BetterPhoto.com, Jim thinks it’s extremely important to open oneself up to getting help from others. Not only will the business grow at a much faster rate, but everything’s just more fun and enjoyable. Makes sense to me!

A few things stood out to me in Vik‘s interview with Doug Beasley. First of all, he shoots fine art and then sells it commercially. This is one of my dreams! How amazing would it be for me to be able to make a living off of the photos I take for fun and from vacations?! I can’t imagine, but it seems like it would be incredible. What’s awesome is that he tried to shoot what he thought others would want and would sell commercially, but it didn’t work! His work was stronger when he shot from the heart. I love this! How inspiring!

The second thing that stood out to me was that he recommends choosing a person whose work one admires and learn how to do everything from them – how to shoot, get and keep clients, show work, and run a business. I thought about who this would be for me. Although I know that I am not currently interested in photographing weddings, I really love the work of Karin Doolin. Sometimes, I wish I could get married again just so that she could photograph it for me! Based on this advice, I already contacted another photographer whose work I admire, Teresa’s PhotoWorks, and she agreed to meet with me!

The third piece of advice that struck me from Doug was his advice to get into the profession of photography not for the money but for the need to express oneself photographically. I think that’s so important for us all to hear. Being told right off the bat to not expect to make the big bucks could be hard to hear, but it bothers me less and less as I think about how wonderful it will be to take pictures and get paid for it period. Getting something for it, besides just the pure joy, excites me.

In her third chapter, Vik turns her focus to the craft of photography and suggests many ways to learn. One could hire a consultant, take internet classes, work in a camera store, get on-the-job training from a portrait studio, find a mentor, teach oneself, become an apprentice, assist an established photographer, attend a tech school, go to a photography school, or attend an art school. All throughout one’s photography career, it’s important to continue learning new business practices and techniques. Vik recommends joining clubs and professional organizations, reading books and magazines, and taking advantage of free information on the internet through podcasts, online clubs, message boards, and YouTube videos. Because one can observe visual trends and access pricing and personal blogs, visiting the websites of other photographers is another great idea too! She ends the chapter suggesting the simple act of interviewing established professional photographers. The interviews don’t have to be more than 15-30 minutes, but one can learn so much and may even get tours of their studios or get invited along on shoots!

Chapter 4 covers digital technology. Affordable, high-quality equipment, editing software, and archiving and presentation options are briefly covered.

In Chapter 5, Vik explores finding one’s niche. Portrait and wedding photographer Bob Dale explains that one should start shooting everything and be a generalist but then narrow it down to a specialty. Commercial and fine art photographer Leo Kim says that one has to find one’s own personal style before the niche can be selected. He claims that one will naturally start out emulating the visual styles of others whose work one admires, but then sooner or later, one’s true self will come out. And then the niche is chosen accordingly! In the past, photographers were able to be generalists, but now, in order to be successful, they have to specialize, Vik explains. Doug Beasley advises one to shoot selfishly, because shooting what one finds interesting will lead to a successful career. Jim Miotke and Patrick Fox both agree. Commercial and fashion photographer Lee Stanford stresses the importance of balance though, recommending that one weighs one’s interests against the surrounding market and then decides on a niche based on both of those things together.

Vik also encourages the creation of one’s own niche by learning as much as one can about the existing niches and focusing on the different things one likes about each of them. If one is interested in specializing and being successful in multiple niches, Vik recommends keeping the studio name general, having different portfolios for each specialty and even creating different business cards, letterhead, invoices, and promotional pieces! She spends the rest of Chapter 5 interviewing a handful of photographers on their niches.

Chapter 6 is an exciting chapter because Vik examines a bunch of different specialities – Wedding, Nature, Portrait, Commercial, Fashion, Architectural, Travel and Wildlife, Fine Art, Photojournalism, Editorial, Stock – and covers their typical location/studio needs, the costs to break into each one, the most successful methods of advertising and promotion, average income, industry trends, where the money is, types of portfolios, specifics on promotional material, and preproduction/postproduction needs.

In Chapter 7, Vik discusses the importance of networking with fellow photographers, gives tips on where to begin and how to start. Although she had brought it up in previous chapters, she again brings up ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) and highly recommends joining their local chapter.

Chapter 8 is all about the creation of the business plan, as she explores each element – choosing the name, writing a mission statement, speculating the target market, listing products and services, touching on the fee structure and price list, describing the different business entities, coming up with a marketing strategy, putting down some financial projections, thinking about investors and partners, and then stressing the importance of writing this business plan to avoid negative surprises.

Chapter 9 is where I started to become a little less excited about the whole thing. Taxes, record-keeping, location, lease agreements, purchasing an existing studio, buying a franchise, protecting one’s name – all these businessy topics come to the foreground. Vik writes wonderfully and explains them in everyday language, but it’s still not the fun part of this whole process. She’s upfront in listing off some reasons most small business startups fail but remains positive, giving some key ingredients for success. Vik ends this chapter by sharing success stories and interviewing a few photographers, focusing her questioning on business tips. Portrait photographer Chris Darbonne advises aspiring photographers to know what they’re worth, charge what they’re worth, and to not apologize for it. Portrait photographer Michelle Frick‘s biggest recommendation is to set up a fee structure that one can live with (and on) for many years. She regrets that she didn’t really have a set plan when she first started her business and basically gave her images away for a flat fee. I need to charge a price that will allow my business to grow!

I’m really excited about photographer Stephanie Adams. She’s been in the business for over 10 years now and started because she loved taking pictures of her young children which grew into friends and family wanting her to do pictures for them of their children. She primarily photographs children as her job but then photographs landscapes and whatever catches her eye and sells those images as stock. How awesome! Her advice is to believe in oneself and just get out there and shoot. She feels one learns best by doing and then seeing for oneself what works.

In Chapter 10, Vik explores the challenge of bringing new life to an old business, touching on what areas to keep up on, how to avoid disillusionment, and whether to expand or contract.

The next chapter is fun, because the topic of breaking away and exploring new niches is discussed!

Chapter 12 turns to pricing. Again, Vik brings up the ASMP and how one can check pricing against their industry standard. Since this seems to be a good resource, and Vik explains that one can get pricing and fee structure recommendations from them, I went ahead and purchased some of their books. A lot of these photographers interviewed seem to regret not charging enough for their work when they first started out, so I’d be happy not to make this same mistake! Vik makes some really great points when she talks about perceived value. She explains that one’s prices tell the client how to perceive the value of one’s work, and effectively, if one’s billing rate is below the market standard, potential clients will think one’s work is below market quality. When it comes to the pricing ladder, it’s crowded at bottom and one can’t justify being in the high end, so she recommends aiming for the lower end if the middle. That makes so much sense! In this chapter, Vik also goes over how to talk about pricing with clients, how to raise prices, and urges new photographers to protect and not give away their copyrights.

Chapter 13 examines how to store, organize, handle, archive, and package one’s images.

Chapter 14 is all about marketing, and Chapter 15 covers sales. Vik spends a lot of time stressing the importance of utilizing the telephone. She believes it is the single most valuable tool for marketing, sales, PR, and customer relations, and she gives tips on how the make the most of it. The rest (and most) of this chapter goes into detail about the art of the sale. I was happy to realize that I already have all of this knowledge! Out of pure survival at my last job, I honed all these fantastic sales skills. Whew! At least I have some things already going for me!

In Chapter 16, Vik touches on public relations, and in Chapter 17, she gets into the topic of accounting. The big thing is to start with a visit to a reputable CPA (not just an accountant) who specializes in small business. By going to a CPA first, one can save some unnecessary expenses, Vik explains. I am all for that! She also recommends choosing a CPA whose firm is relatively small. Vik warns against randomly picking one out of the yellow pages or just because he’s in the neighborhood. She compares the selection process to choosing a doctor or dentist and urges one to turn to people one knows and trusts and has similar-sized businesses, using the word of mouth system.

After I select my CPA, I am to find a banker, and again, Vik recommends choosing an established one who works at a small- to medium-sized bank that’s focused on service. Ok. I think I can handle this.

Next, I need a bookkeeper? Dang. Now it’s starting to feel complicated again! Here’s what I need to remember – not a full-time bookkeeper but a “full charge” bookkeeper. She believes I can rely on my CPA to recommend someone, but I need to not let my CPA offer to do it for me, because he’ll charge a lot more than the bookkeeper. I really did think that this would be something I could do myself, but Vik and her CPA warn against it, even with the purchase of something like QuickBooks, and they warn against having someone like a family member do it. Ok. Good to know.

Next – insurance agents? She recommends working with a couple, but I’m hoping to just insure my photography equipment through my existing renter’s insurance. Oh, please, let this be possible! And I need a lawyer? I have no idea what to do about this! Thankfully, she comes back to this.

She explains that my CPA will ideally act as my financial planner and that, once my business is growing and starting to profit, I should establish a line of credit. Apparently, this doesn’t cost anything, and I don’t have to even used it, but at least I’ll have it. And my CPA can advise me in when I might need to use it.

Chapter 18 covers legal issues. This is no fun either. She covers copyright and intellectual property law, employment law, tax law, and real estate law.

With copyright law, if I sign off on print rights, I need to be as specific as possible in a usage agreement, and if my copyright is violated, I need to send that person a bill. Always get an agreement in writing – never verbal.

I also need to protect my business name, she says. I need to do a name search to make sure no one else already owns the rights to the same or similar name, and that runs about $400. $400?! Bummer. But if I register my business name and get legal documentation from the start, it’ll save me issues in the future, she reassures. I’m all about that. Maybe my CPA can help me here too.

As far as choosing a lawyer, since there are all these different law issues, Vik recommends choosing someone who has a more general practice rather than getting too much into specialities and that after a little shopping around, I should be able to find someone that’s right for me. I sure hope so. I am definitely not looking forward to this shopping.

I shouldn’t have to worry about real estate law, as I’m not planning on having a brick and mortar studio space, but I do need to think about a tax attorney. I am really hoping that my CPA can help me decide what type of entity my new business should be. If he can’t, I’m sure he can point me towards someone who can. And this whole time, Vik and I are both referring to this mystery CPA as a guy. Are there no female CPAs?

Vik’s final chapter covers the life cycle of a small business. She describes the phases each business goes through, starting with gestation. While I am definitely right up in there and kind of scared shitless, Vik speaks fondly of her time in gestation and internationally imagines herself back in the thick of it when she needs to recharge her creative business mind.

After gestation, she describes infancy, and then goes on to the post-infancy phase. In this stage, she describes something very interesting. She shares a costly mistake she made during this phase, and it involved her mailings. For $1500, she sent out 2500 direct mailings to highly targeted families, using 4″ x 6″ postcards, with a special offer marked on them, included an expiration date for that offer, and got $9000’s worth of additional business. She then spent $4200 on 10,000 direct mailings to families who were not primarily in her target demographic, printed them on 6″ x 9″ postcards, without any sort of offer or promotion on them, sent them all first-class (instead of presorting them for the bulk rate), and only got three inquires – not even actual business – from them. This is crazy!! I guess it’s all about the details and paying close attention to them. Wow.

She continues on through more stages of life – the awkward stages of preteens, the satisfaction of young adulthood, the contentment of middle age, and the conclusion with the golden years. What a neat way to think about all of it!

Vik ends her book with a summary of key ideas, a glossary of terms, and a fantastic and extensive list of resources. Such a wonderful book!

Hello, Local Library!

I love that public libraries are still around. I don’t know if they’re even close to extinction yet, but I’m happy that they currently exist and that I can walk in and borrow books for free. In the fall, I went to my local library and went to the non-fiction section on business. With some lime green on the binding, The Boss of You called out to me from the shelves. I read the front cover, “The Boss of You: Everything A Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business” and immediately tucked it under my arm and headed for the check-out.

I started reading it the next day and spent a lot of time working through those first chapters. As I read, the authors challenged me to record my thoughts through written exercises. I feverishly jotted down my vision and business goals, my personal measures of success, my skills, strengths, and passions. I thought of potential business names, my ideal customers, my competition, and my mission statement. I even estimated start-up expenses and ongoing expenses. Then, I came to the legal stuff. I couldn’t go any further.

I read those sections over and over, but I still wasn’t sure of what I should be. A sole proprietor, a partner with my husband? And then, did I need to explore the option of an LLC or an LLP? The authors recommended I make an appointment with a CPA. The CPA could help us figure out what type of business would work best for me, help get the tax id set up, and then properly get our taxes set up for it. Wait, taxes? Man! With only a couple months remaining for the year, how much of a hassle would doing our 2013 taxes be? Maybe we should wait until the new year. Yep, let’s wait.

In the meantime, I was really starting to stress out. All this business stuff was definitively no fun. I felt like I was glazing over, trying to read and retread this section, and I still felt confused. Since my husband majored in Business and has been encouraging me to start my own business for years, I turned to him. I asked him if he’d be willing to read what I’d read too, so that he could explain some of it to me and we could make decisions on it together. He gladly agreed. But then his job became much more complicated in the following weeks, and I returned the book to the library, not wanting to hound him in the little free time that he’d have to read it.

Maybe reading a book specifically on starting a photography business was what I needed! I searched the entire St. Louis County Library system and fold only one The Photographer’s Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business by Vik Ornstein. Now this I could get into!

My Beginnings – The Long Story

I’ve always loved art. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I could barely talk, and I was coloring! At a young age, I suppose I knew art would always be a part of my life. Growing up, in school, Art was always my favorite subject. In grade school, at all three of the different schools I attended, art was never a big focus. It felt so infrequent. I feel like we must’ve had Art no more than once a month! I pretty much rejoiced when I was headed to high school and realized I could take Art every day!

I don’t remember learning much during those high school Art classes. I had Art every day, all four years of high school, and I mostly remember being instructed to draw and paint still lifes. Or to pick out pictures and photographs and copy them. Early on, I found I had a skill for this – looking at photographs and copying them in pencil. I won a lot of awards and recognition for my drawings. Drawing had always come so natural to me, and it was exciting to be noticed and rewarded for that. As high school ended and college began, I knew I wanted to stay in the field of art.  I was happiest there.

In college, in order to obtain my Associate of Art, I had to take design classes. I was fascinated by the subject of design! I was introduced to this new, structured way of looking at art, studying drawings, painting, and logos. I learned why famous artists placed an object in a particular spot of their piece, the importance of negative space, unity, and movement. It all made so much sense to me. I loved it! In fact, I loved it so much that, during that time, I actually considered studying to become a graphic designer. Although I enjoyed Graphic Design and had even created a number of logos and t-shirt designs for my church, I imagined the market would soon be flooded with graphic designers, probably too many, and I wanted to choose a career that stood a chance for employment. During those years at my junior college, I had discovered photography and redirected my focus towards photography. Writing and editing for the school newspaper, I was also starting to photograph for our articles. I had taken a couple of classes on Photography and loved it! The immediacy of the finished product blew my mind. For someone with ADD, photography was like a dream come true! Drawing and painting always took so long, but with photography, within hours I could see my finished work of art. I was hooked. When I thought about how useful and marketable a photography degree would be, especially compared to graphic design and all the other art forms I enjoyed, I knew I wanted to make it my career.

Shortly after leaving junior college and starting at the university, I was convinced by a friend and fellow artist to shoot (no pun intended) for not a Bachelors of Arts but a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I did some research, and although this degree would take longer to obtain, I found that it was recommended if I wanted to show my work as a serious artist in fine art galleries.

I applied and was accepted into the BFA program. In the years that followed, I found myself struggling to be validated by my Photography professor. I was drawn to photographing places and spaces based strictly on design. Bold colors, lines, texture, ambiguity. Full buildings, close-ups of brick, shadows on sidewalks. This was my true passion. But since I didn’t have a significant back story behind each place I photographed, didn’t have something I was trying to point out or prove, and didn’t have any so-called deep meaning or story behind my photographs, my professor wasn’t impressed. He made me feel as if what I was creating wasn’t even art.

I much more enjoyed my drawing classes and all the professors I had for those. They were challenging, but I still received positive critique. My lifelong skill of drawing felt right at home in those classes. I felt proud of myself. Like I had something to offer to the world. Who I would be offering my skills to was an unknown to me. With equal credits in both Drawing and Photography, I still filled my BFA show with my photographs though. I felt I would still be more employable if I was a photographer, instead of searching for drawing jobs. I didn’t even know if those existed.

The year after I graduated, I was happy to find and land a job as a photographer! I worked as a traveling daycare and preschool photographer. I learned very quickly that the true skill for this job was not the photography but learning how to make smiles come from babies and toddlers. Per the restrictions of the job, my camera and light settings were to be locked, so my goal was to get children to warm up to me, coax them to move into precise places, and get them to smile. I had 2-3 minutes to accomplish this per child, with an extended 5-minute allowance for two-year-olds. It was tough! The most difficult part was learning how to not be self-conscience and to let myself go. Dropping stuffed animals off of my head, pretending to sneeze loudly, reaching out and tickling children with one hand while my other held the camera – it was all very silly. But I soon became completely confident in capturing great smiles out of the little ones. It was fun!

After only a few fast months, I left that job. For that job, I was required to travel solo, with thousands of dollars’ worth of photography equipment in my trunk, to either unsafe urban areas or remote rural areas where I sometimes couldn’t even receive reception for my cell phone. When I had to stay somewhere overnight, I was provided with only $60 a day to feed myself and find a motel room. I didn’t feel safe.

Luckily, a few months later, a friend alerted me to another photography job! It was for a new portrait studio that needed associates to open it, run it, clean it, and photograph on-site. Possessing a desire to move up in the company through management and strong sales skills were a plus. I felt like it was everything I could hope for in a photography job! I was so happy to get the job. Although I didn’t have any experience posing families, I figured that was the best skill I could take away from the job, and that maybe I’d stay there for 2-3 years.

Over six years later, I was still working for them, but I’d given all that I could to that company. I’d become one of the studio’s top sellers, learned to pose everything from newborns to seniors to families of 40. For over 3 years, I even managed the studio. I’d gained so much more from that job than I ever dreamed possible, but I’d lost a lot too. I’d missed out on so much of life – birthdays, vacations, baby and bridal showers. Even simple events like weekend dinner dates with my in-laws were not possible. During the holidays, I missed my family and my husband so much it brought me to tears. I knew I had to leave. So, in May, I quit.

Well, now what? After 6 ½ years, I didn’t even know what “me” felt like anymore. What should I do? Did I even still want to do photography? I took the summer off to reconnect with my family and friends, take care of myself, rest and relax, and think about the future. By the time autumn came, I was ready to photograph again.

I had a bit of a dilemma though. I didn’t know how to shoot in Manual. Yes, I should know, since I had received a BFA in photography, but I never mastered it and certainly never relied on it. Most of my work was shot in Auto Mode. To get through the work required for all of my studio classes, while working 2 part time jobs, I shot in Auto and got away with it. I never had to prove I’d properly learned it and was never tested on it, so Auto it was! When both of my “real world” photography jobs required that I shoot on fixed settings to mimic point-and-shoot cameras, I lost any knowledge I may have learned. I knew I needed to learn it, and so I turned to Courtney Slazinik.

Courtney runs a photography site called Click It Up A Notch. I met Courtney when I was a freshman in high school and had been able to keep in touch with her through mutual classmates and Facebook. She’s very sweet and friendly, and her site is fun and enjoyable to read. If she’s teaching thousands of moms all over the country how to properly and beautifully photograph their children, I could learn from her too! I dug up all my camera equipment and headed for her site.

Because Courtney shot with a Nikon, I decided I would shoot with my Nikon. I used a Fuji in college, bought a Canon after I graduated, and received a Nikon for my birthday from my husband a few years ago. Since I’d made her my teacher, I figured it best to switch solely to Nikon. I sold all my Canon lenses to B&H, researched and purchased new Nikon lenses that Courtney and her Click It Up A Notch contributors recommended, and started practicing. Now, how do I go about making this a professional business?