(Hair and Makeup by Tia Montgomery, Dress Anthropologie)
I started my business thirteen years ago today, and it seems like yesterday! I remember going to the Smithfield City office building, I had my little cousin in tow because I was baby-sitting my cousins for the week while my aunt and uncle were out of town. But I couldn’t wait any longer and I had my papers ready to go. I felt so proud when I applied and my business was official. I have always loved photography, I often joke that it is because my mom was pregnant with me when she worked in a photo lab, and something sunk in! When I was young I would make all of my cousins and friends pose for me. I made the most ridiculous little studios with my moms comforter and anything that I could find. I started taking family and senior photos for my relatives, neighbors and my besties in high school. I took photos of everything growing up, my teenage years are so well documented, I love looking back at all of the good times that we had. My mom was nice enough to take me in weekly to drop off my film to the one hour photo lab. I am often asked why I want to be a photographer, and my answer is, it is just who I am.
When I started my business it was a completely different photography business than it is now. Not everyone you knew was a photographer, there were a few big names in each area but not how it is now. Most of the people that were the main photographers are no longer in business. In my thirteen years of business I have seen a lot of photographers come and go. It is a hard industry and it requires a lot of hard work and motivation. I don’t look down on anyone that doesn’t do photography anymore. I really believe that in life there is definitely a time and a season for everything in everyones life, and sometimes a photography business is not practical for all of those seasons.
With my business I have always had a steady source of clients and income and I have loved working with all of the people that I have come across. In the last few years I have been to a few big workshops and they have been good, but they have measured success differently than how I viewed it in the past. Since then I sometimes think why am I not making what they are making, or why am I not sought after by so and so or working with that vendor. But then I remind myself that I still love photography and I still have a lot of clients every year, income and followers doesn’t mean everything. I have never been the best business woman, and that is because I am a photographer and I just want to shoot. I am seriously the happiest when I am behind my camera. I have had several conversations with people about burnout in the industry, and I have been so lucky to have never felt that way about shooting. I am always looking for more ways to get behind my camera and not ways to be behind it less. As I have looked back at my career I have tried to pin point what has kept my love alive for photography. Over the past 13 years I have traveled the world, and that has kept my love for photograph alive, I have made countless personal projects to inspire my work, I have shot a little bit of everything to find what I truly love, I try to be creative at least once a week, and I make sure to just work hard and try my best not to complain. I hope that the next 13 years I can still say that I love photography.
- Traveling has always kept my love for photography alive. If you know anything about me you know I love to travel and I have been so lucky to have traveled as much as I have! I have my mom to thank for that! Some people travel to get away from work and I travel so I can photograph in as many places as possible. I am so inspired when I explore new places, taste new foods, and meet new people. I often don’t travel with an itinerary and I just want to walk around and observe. When I travel abroad I try to think of themes to photograph, when I went to Nepal I wanted to capture women and the relationships that they have with their children. With that goal in mind I created some of my most favorite images. I love to take photos of strangers on the street, it took me a few trips to get the courage to ask people, but by doing this it has helped me see people in a different light, many times I don’t speak the language, but there is something magical that happens when you simply smile at someone or look into their eyes, something is communicated silently, and they agree to let me take a portrait of them. When I come home my mind is open and I come up with new ideas and projects that I want to pursue in my business and in my personal photography. I do take a lot of big trips and they inspire me so much, and they help me continue to love photography, but I am equally inspired on our little weekend road trips. When my husband and I’s schedules line up we love going on road trips and it always takes us several extra hours to get to our destination because we stop so much on our way to photograph the scenes that we pass. My husband has figured out my signs when he knows I want to stop and photograph a scene. Going to new places and appreciating the beauty of this earth inspires my photography.
- Personal projects are another good way to avoid burn out in photography. It is so fun to shoot for yourself and not for clients so you can try new things. Whether it is a personal shoot with intention to show it and advertise with or if it is just a shoot for you and no one will ever see it, both are super important. It is so true that you book what you post, if you are wanting to move a certain direction with clients or types of photography you need to post what you want to be hired for. And sometimes you need to set up your own shoot to achieve that. Styled shoots are an interesting thing, they have become so popular. They definitely need to be done in the right way and for the right reasons, not just to do them. I will talk about this more in a future post. I have started to do my dinner parties because I hated to put all of the work into styling a table and then not enjoying it, so now I photograph the details and then enjoy the work with good food and good friends.
- A lot of people say you have to specialize in one area of photography and stick with that. I don’t agree, I love to shoot pretty much anything. I love weddings, families, travel photography and food photography. When I am shooting in these different areas they help me not to burn out in other areas. It is so nice to have a variety, I can have fun on any kind of shoot. I focus mainly on wedding and family photography, but it does not hurt exploring other areas. Right now I really want to get into stock photography, because that will give me more excuses to photograph. I hear way too often in photographer Facebook groups how a lot of photographers hate photographing weddings, and that bothers me so much! If you don’t like shooting a certain thing then stop doing it and find something else that makes you happy to photograph. There are so many ways to use your photography, don’t stick to one if it is not making you happy. Doing this will kill your creativity and your love for photography, don’t make you art pay for your living until it is ready. When I first graduated college, I was doing photography full time, but during slow times I wasn’t afraid of doing something on the side to make up the difference, I hustled and worked hard to make it happen. If you do specialize in one area of photography, that is just fine just make sure you keep loving it, if not try other things, even if it is just for you personally. Your clients can tell if your heart isn’t in it, don’t ruin their experience because you kept doing it even though you didn’t love it anymore.
- Creativity inspires my photography. I love being creative, I love trying new things, I love starting new hobbies and exploring all types of mediums. I sew, cook, bake, garden, watercolor, book bind, leather work, hike, cross country ski, fish, throw dinner parties, make pasta from scratch, hand make little kids toys, serve, arrange flowers, create patterns, and many other things. One of my favorite books on creativity is Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert, every time I listen to it I am inspired and I have new ideas for my photography business. She talks about not dwelling on your creative failures, and using those failures to build a new creative start. She then says this: “Whatever else happens, stay busy. (I always lean on this wise advice, from the seventeenth-century English scholar Robert Burton.) Find something to do—anything, even a different sort of creative work altogether—just to take your mind off your anxiety and pressure. Once, when I was struggling with a book, I signed up for a drawing class, just to open up some other kind of creative channel within my mind. I can’t draw very well, but that didn’t matter; the important thing was that I was staying in communication with the artistry at some level. I was fiddling with my own dials, trying to reach inspiration in any way possible. Eventually, after enough drawing, the writing began to flow again.” I find when I can take a break from photography and I pursue another art, I then inspire my photography in new ways. One thing that I love is photographing my other hobbies. I love taking photos of the process, and styling the finished project. I love to cook, and I am so inspired when it comes to photographing it, it is always cold by the time we get to eat it or I am late to the party because I couldn’t stop photographing it. But it fuels me.
- Focus on you and not on other photographers. There are so many Facebook groups of photographers and wedding industry people. They can be good and the can have a purpose. But one thing I find in common with a lot of them is complaining and comparison. If you are having problems with clients, don’t go on social media to complain about them, it will solve nothing. If you aren’t booking clients, don’t go and whine that you aren’t booking anything, you can take that time and put it towards bettering your SEO, blogging, personal shoots, learning something new which will in turn book you more shoots. Don’t spend time adding your name to a list of referrals that is already 15 people long, no one will ever send that many names over, you are just going to be disappointed when you don’t receive the referral. I have one more quote from Big Magic, can you tell I love this book? “Stop complaining. You’re scaring away inspiration. Every time you express a complaint about how difficult and tiresome it is to be creative, inspiration takes another step away from you, offended.” She then goes on to say, “Best of all, though by saying that you delight in your work, you will draw inspiration near. Inspiration will be grateful to hear those words coming out of your mouth, because inspiration—like all of us— appreciates being appreciated. Inspiration will overhear your pleasure, and it will send ideas to your door as a reward for your enthusiasm and loyalty.” I love this, I will often talk to Cole about somethings that I am sad about with work, but most of the time it doesn’t go further than that, sometimes you need to talk things out and get it off your chest, but don’t let it consume you. I truly believe whatever shoots I have, I am meant to have and if I didn’t book a wedding that I really wanted I acknowledge that the other photographer needed it more than I did, sometimes it is hard to get to that point, but I have to get there eventually. Having a photography business is hard work, and that is my biggest bit of advice is just work hard, keep your head down and do what you love.
I hope this helps you stay in love with your photography, it is truly such an amazing career, and I am so lucky to have a job that doesn’t feel like work, Cole has to pull me away all of the time, because I just want to work. I love to photograph weddings and families and any other subjects. I still have things to work on and to improve on, but that’s what makes it fun, learning to be better after each shoot. I hope you can find time to travel to inspire your photography, or plan a personal photo project, or reevaluate what you are photographing and making sure it makes you happy. Pursue a new hobby or art to inspire your current work and make sure to not get too sucked into social media, do what you love and love doing it.