My love affair with photography started when I was in high school — my junior year, to be exact. It’s a bit of a funny story, looking back on it. I took all honors and AP courses throughout my junior high and high school years. During my junior year of high school, I wound up with Photography as an elective. Ick! I freaked out about it, actually. It wasn’t an honors class, and it wasn’t an AP course, and I was really ticked off that the school would randomly choose this elective for me given that I’d signed up for additional courses that would be weighted differently than a regular ol’ course. I had to experience it for a few days, and my mom told me to keep an open mind before I tried to go to our guidance counselors to change classes.
I loved it, though. It wasn’t so bad after all. We got to check out SLR cameras, buy black and white film, and we processed the film ourselves, and then did all of the darkroom processing, as well. I loved everything about it, so much that I signed up for Photography II and AP 2D Design during the rest of my time in high school.
I had a love-hate relationship with my instructor. His name was Mr. O’Neal, and I think he passed away years ago. I knew that I was one of his preferred students. I also knew that he was going to be tougher on me, and I definitely had an attitude about it. On one assignment, he docked points for a reason that was beyond me — I challenged him on it, and pointed out that I met all of the design principles required for the assignment, and that art was totally subjective. I got those points back. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, I suppose!
I had my first experiences with Photoshop and digital cameras in that class, too. The digital camera was like a freaking brick. It was huge, and heavy. And it’s so funny to think about that now, when you can put a bajillion megapixel camera in your back pocket.
That’s where it all started. After that point, I had fallen in love with photography, and was always interested in the latest technology or subjects to shoot. It wasn’t until I was in the Air Force that I got my first DSLR and thought I’d make a go of a photography business. My first shoot was for a coworker, and even though she said she liked the pictures, they really sucked. Like, bad. BAD. But I kept at it, learned from it, did a lot of reading and practicing. Eventually, I began charging for my services. I was working as a government contractor when I decided to quit my job and give it a go full-time. I had business, but not a ton of business, but I figured that it would grow as I did, too.
When I moved to California from Georgia in 2012, I had extremely unrealistic expectations about running a business here. Saturated market, barely knowing anyone here… I had a few gigs, and donated some of my time to some great charitable causes, hoping that it would push my name out there to some folks. It did get pushed out, but the word “free” also got pushed out because of the work I did for military families and military homecomings. If “free” paid the bills, I could have made a killing.
Two years into it, it simply wasn’t working. I couldn’t get anyone to hire me for family shoots (what I wanted to specialize in) so I opted to go a different route — weddings. I advertised with a well-known wedding-related group, but had a single inquiry (that did not result in me being hired) over a year’s time. Did I mention, I freaking hate weddings anyway? I would have done anything to stay in the industry at that point, though. My hopes of becoming a full time photographer that would be able to contribute to family bills were shot to hell. I tried everything that was within our means to make it work, but it simply wasn’t working, and we couldn’t fork out more money on the off chance that something would change.
While my photography business was failing miserably, I was going to school full time, and I was also exploring other options. I figured that I already had the know-how when it came to design-related things, and I had enough of a diverse background from previous work & school experiences that it might be useful knowledge to apply. I began designing wedding suites, which then turned into Autumn Lane Paperie and what it is today.
That’s not what this post is about, though!
When my photography business finally croaked after a long, painful death, and Autumn Lane was doing well, I made the decision to sell off part of my photography equipment… A camera body, a few lenses, and some other implements. We met up with a guy who answered our Craig’s List ad for the equipment. He checked it all out, we checked his bills, and bam! I was pounds of photography equipment lighter!
It was so bittersweet. I’d spent so much time, effort, and tears on that business. I put so much time into honing my skills, trying to put myself out there, and it just didn’t work. Selling off my equipment (I kept one body, the kit lens, and my 40mm) was also liberating. It was basically closing the door on something that had caused so much heartache. Yet, it paved the way for the thing that was working. Over those two years since moving to California, my passion for photography had dwindled into nothingness and frustration. Pulling out the camera to take pictures of the kids was even difficult and it was a chore. It was a chore to edit any images, too, because it felt like a reminder of my failure.
What I learned from it is that it’s ok to fail. It sounds cheesy and like it’s some sort of line that some life coach or something would throw at you to make you feel better about your shortcomings…but it’s true. It was ok for me to fail, because I made it through. I’m not failing now. (I’d like it to stay that way, please.) When things didn’t work, I found what did, and I found something different to be passionate about. I learned that sometimes you need to know when to quit, move on, and cut out the negativity.
Selling my camera equipment was freedom from that negativity.
What happened after that is something that surprised me. I still had that other camera body & lenses, but I stopped taking it with me. I used to carry my camera everywhere with me, just in case I saw something cool that I felt I needed to capture. Eventually, I stopped carrying that camera with me, and it lived in a drawer under my desk. When I stopped carrying the camera, I stopped feeling obligated to capture every last moment. I started actually paying attention to those moments. It felt like I was more a part of every moment, rather than watching from the outside as everyone else had those moments. I was no longer concerned with catching that split second. This sounds cheesy, too, but…it was like I was living along *with* everyone, not through them.
That was 2014. And, this summer, I let that other camera go. I handed it off to Lily & Kate, along with the lenses and tripod that I had, since it had been in the drawer for months without being touched. It was time to let that one go, too. I used to watch people at the zoo or at the park, taking pictures with their cell phones and thinking to myself, “Ha. They’re taking such crappy pics, the ones I could take are going to be so much better quality.”
I’m that girl now, and I was wrong. Those people were living in the moment. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 megapixels or a million, it’s still the best damn picture ever if it makes them remember that one time.