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?


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