Where it all started (V. 2)

[If you haven’t read V. 1 yet, start here.]

Time after time I had saved up for a camera - I had my eye on a Canon Rebel - to have the funds needed elsewhere. It was really discouraging and felt like it was never going to happen. Then I had my settings wrong for an event, and almost none of the images turned out. That fear we all have that we don’t really know what we’re doing and are going to get caught someday? Whew. Enter about a 5 year stretch of feeling like an epic failure, no buying film, no cameras, and while I occasionally entertained the idea there was no tangible hope of getting one or trying again.

The year my first baby was born was also marked by a layoff and very difficult pregnancy & recovery. Finances were beyond tight - we were often living on $25-35/week for groceries. Needless to say… there was no budget for Christmas gifts. I think we set aside $20 a piece for stockings, and part of those had to be food purchases. So… the challenge was on, and creativity was essential. I managed to find a UPS feedback group where I earned around $100 in Amazon gift cards. I was so excited to have something to gift my husband and proud of my ingenuity! I was sure I had bested him in our little no spending challenge. That was until the week of… when he put one suspiciously large package under the tree.

On Christmas Day, I carefully opened up the package… thoroughly taped and padded with “FRAGILE!” written all over the cardboard to reveal a heavy duty case with a Canon 40D inside. Two kit lenses were wrapped separately to give more to open. MY HUSBAND HAD TRADED FOR A CAMERA. And a legit camera. He traded building a website for a good friend in exchange for his old camera - the camera that friend had started his own business with.

I was flabbergasted. And excited. And thoroughly shown up on gift giving.

This photographer friend was extremely generous with his time and knowledge, welcoming what I felt were incredibly silly questions, and ended up mentoring me quite a bit while I was getting started. (BTW his site is here and you should definitely check out his work!)

Less than a month after, I was asked to photograph a family wedding. I said no. This was all brand new, we were planning for another baby (that we knew would likely be a second Hyperemesis Gravidarium pregnancy, and it was), and I just did not want to shoulder such a big responsibility on no experience. Nope.

And I said no again. And again. Then listened to that still; small voice, and the next time they asked I said yes… a giant, scary leap of faith at the time.

- Just to be clear: I do not recommend this. -

The following 6 months I FLUNG myself and all my natural quick-learning skills into absorbing everything and anything I could. I asked tons of beginner’s questions. I scoured Pinterest and watched Creative Live classes and took as many Lynda.com courses as I could and found free resources from industry leaders such as Sue Bryce. I was so embarrassed to ask this but desperate enough that I did - I messaged every local wedding photographer I knew asking if I could second shoot for experience, explaining the situation. (For anyone outside the industry, this is NOT a thing photographers do. I was asking something that could easily - and probably did - step on toes or offend.) It was audacious and uncomfortable and scary.

One actually replied yes! We met in person over breakfast. I talked more of how I was desperate to not ruin these photos, and she explained what she expecting from me. I brought a notebook and wrote everything down. Her stipulation was that I had to take her beginner’s class first and study the materials. There was one coming up very soon - just after my birthday. It was $100 which at the time was overwhelming - remember that was just about our monthly grocery budget. Family decided to gift me the course “for my birthday.”

It was SO helpful, and I learned a lot from both the class and the wedding. Her feedback on my images after the wedding was invaluable in helping me see exactly the major mistakes I was making (same mistakes that ruined all the photos from that event earlier) and why and how to fix them. I cannot be more grateful for her part in my story - if you’re in the East Texas area, please look her up.

Between the time I said yes and the wedding, I did over 30 free sessions for friends. Whoever would let me practice on them, we did - portraits, families, maternity, newborn, a lifestyle blogger friend (who was my first real paying client), another wedding... Everything. A second pregnancy did land me on partial bedrest again, so I learned while very sick and keeping my toddler from unscrewing our dining room chairs (another time for that story). I found discrete ways to hide my sickness during sessions and fought hard through it to prepare and grow my skills.

When it was time for the wedding, I was much better equipped to handle it. I joke about it being a 6 month degree in photography because it was such an intense experience. Then, because I’d invested so much time and effort into learning (and had actual bills now that needed paying), I purchased my first business license and began taking clients & paying taxes in the fall of 2013.

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None of our stories are truly self-built. Our communities and friends seeing the best in us and cheering us on are everything. We need each other. I am so incredibly grateful to have people in my life who fit that role, and also for those who I can do the same for. I can’t link or name all of you, but you know who you are. Thank you for being part of my story.

Where it all started (V. 1)

My grandparents had a trailer parked in the back of our yard growing up, and they would come visit for a week each month. The property - our house and our neighbors (who were my aunt and uncle and cousins) used to be my Grandpa’s farm. He told us stories at night around the campfire or dining room table roaring with laughter about how they used dynamite to clear the stumps; trying to aim them to land in the wagon.

Over time the land held cows, corn fields, large family gardens that lined pantries with homemade pickles and canned vegetables, a large rose garden, an orchard, a creek lined with elderberry bushes/nettles/jewelweed/buttercups… settling into two separate homes - my Aunt & Uncle’s with the creek and AMAZING sledding hill, and ours with the orchard and the log cabin my Grandpa built by hand.

Living in the country in the MIdwest may seem plain, but it is really beautiful. At least… if you appreciate corn fields (which I do) and can be mesmerized (from a distance) by the literal clouds of mosquitoes. (Exactly HOW do they form a cloud like that? How??)

Living in an old house with a wood burning stove for heat meant a lot of dust. Which probably pairs well with the clouds of mosquitoes when it comes to likability in living conditions and maintenance. But… watching the dust dance in beams of light made me want to show others how incredibly beautiful simple; even mundane things are.

Fireflies lit up the corn and soy fields at night; meandering into our yard too. To the right of the soy field in front of our house was a swamp. It may not seem glamorous to say we lived next to a swamp, but it is still to this day holds some of the most magical memories of my life.

I saved up my allowances and “window washing business - 10 cents per window!” (forever an entrepreneur since apx. age 7) funds for disposable cameras; then film when my dad handed down an old 1040 camera. Then proper film rolls when I proved myself trustworthy enough with the family Minolta. I took photos of birthday and graduation parties and around our yard and on trips and of anything that was interesting; then saved up again to get them developed. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was bliss.

That swamp. Stepping through the tall grass, just the first few feet, was like entering a different world. Everything hushed quickly becoming very quiet and very loud all at once. What looked from the outside like a boring clump of trees was very much so alive on every microscopic level. The colors were vibrant. There were trilliums hidden in the drier land and delicate flowers I’d never seen elsewhere all around the water’s edge. A large gray herring flew off from RIGHT in front of me one day as I stepped in, there were ducks and geese and deer - all right there hidden in plain sight. I was careful to tread lightly, not wanting to leave a mark on this incredible place. I regularly practiced watching and waiting - how still I could be and how close I could come to the wild animals. They often let me get within arm’s reach… I was about as feral as they were anyway. I loved watching the water bugs scoot along the surface and tadpoles swim underneath. The mosquitoes were worth it.

Photography became a way to show others these incredible spaces - gems that were obvious; yet overlooked. Back to that little trailer parked next to the cherry trees.

My grandparents collected National Geographic magazines, and they had stacks of them next to piles of well worn flannel & waffle knit blankets. I’d go to their trailer when they were back home and curl up in the blankets to read. Opening those pages opened up the world. It was the start of wanderlust - a fierce curiosity and excitement and sheer wonder about what’s out there. Images of people groups, customs, and cultures different than my own made me cry. They were hauntingly beautiful. I desperately wanted to go - not just for a tourist experience but something with more depth and soul - listening to stories and celebrating them. Understanding (as much as an outsider can) the intricacies of their cultures. It was all so fascinating and amazing. I knew I wanted to be a photographer one day.



[Continued in V.2]