I started a new career last year as a professional photographer. Photography is a passion that both my husband and I have shared for many years. In fact, I often tease that part of the reason we were meant to be together was because I’d never met anyone who took as many (or more) photos than I did at any given event. And so over the years, we’ve often talked briefly about starting a photography business of some sort. Fortunately, the timing worked well for me to embark upon this new venture last year.
I’d learned from the previous business I started (designing scrapbook elements kits), there’s a heckuva lot more to starting and growing a business than the actual passion of creating that “thing” you want to design and sell. And there are plenty of things one cannot control. I was a die hard scrapbooker. I had several layouts published in scrapbooking magazines. I loved creating my own elements. It touched me that other scrapbookers would love and purchase the things I created for their own memory books. It was so personally gratifying…but the industry changed. And I burned out. I rarely put a scrapbook page together these days, real or virtual. Much of it is lack of time. Part of it is the lower priority it has become. Part of it is…I just lost the creative mojo. Someday, I hope to get it all back. For now, I just leave my stuff alone – digital and real – for that one day when that particular passion sparks again.
This was one of my biggest worries when I started the photography business. Would I enjoy photographing other families, other children? Could I create the kinds of images that would touch other parents – the way the ones my husband and I have taken of our own girls have touched us? And most importantly, would I burn myself out?
So, I did a lot of research on owning a photography studio – reading books, sitting through webinars, attending photography conferences and classes, connecting with other more established pro photographers. I gave myself photography assignments setting up photo shoots with several friends and family. I’m confident that the answers to the first two questions are yes. But this is a very, very competitive market. To have a creative eye, to take fabulous photos, to be technically proficient – are not enough to start a photography business and survive during the growing phase and the tough times.
“Having your own photography business is about 10% photography and 90% running your business.” I’ve heard this sentiment several times over the past year. I think this applies to any business you begin. Just substitute anything for “photography” in that sentence.
As a new pro photographer, finding my own path, my own style, is going to be a journey. Several more experienced professional photographers profess that this is an ongoing thing. The journey never ends. The paths will turn. There will be roadblocks. I understand and embrace that. Many have also said that the name of the game will be how well you market yourself and sell your wares. Yes, I get that as well. After all, this is a business, not a hobby.
But then one well-known photographer spoke (at an ImagingUSA class last year) about how meaningful being a photographer has been to her personally and as a career. And while I was on the edge of my seat listening to her (she was a hilarious speaker), she related stories of how her work touched other people’s lives through the years – not only through charitable work but in some of the sessions she held. It was inspirational. And it was her way of re-igniting her passion for photography when she’s feeling down or burned out (she’s been in the business for 35+ years).
Because of her talk, I resolved to remember some of my own stories to help carry me through those tough times when a marketing program isn’t producing results or when I feel burnout approaching or when self-doubt starts creeping into my consciousness. And a phone call I received yesterday will be one such story…
Yesterday, a mother called about a family photo shoot. They had never done a professional shoot before and she found my web site on the Internet. I explained how I usually work on location and when photos would be ready, etc., etc. Then she asked if we could do this as quickly as possible. I thought, yea, everyone always asks that. I was inclined to schedule this for the end of next week (when I returned from Atlanta) as I have many errands to do before taking off for a conference next week. And this upcoming weekend is already very busy. As her kids are in school, an afternoon session would be optimal. But she said the photo shoot was far more important than her kids being in school and she would happily pull them out in the morning if the morning was the only time available. Uh, OK. I’m glad to know that she values the photography and that she really wants me to do it…but I didn’t want her to do that if she didn’t have to.
I let her know that I needed to coordinate with my husband on taking care of our girls if I did this shoot later in the afternoon the following day (today). She offered to find a babysitter for my girls at her house, if I could just come up on Friday (today) to do the shoot. Huh? Yea, well, that’s a nice gesture but having my girls on location when I’m working – I just wasn’t sure that I could focus (or that they would let me focus) on the job. There’s a real urgency here, though.
As in all first conversations, I like to understand the potential client’s expectations and I ask several questions. I asked what she was looking for. What did she want to focus on…just her kids? The whole family? Her and her kids? She said something about not wanting memories. She wanted beautiful happy photos with her family. OK, well, that seemed kinda…off…contradictory. I mean, photos are a way to capture memories, yes? And don’t we all want happy photos of our family? I needed to probe a little better.
And then she explained. She was about to begin a different regimen for her cancer treatment and the doctors had told her that she would likely have bumps develop on her face. Oh. And then she briefly broke down in tears. I told her to take her time. And the enormity of her situation hit me. My eyes watered. I was afraid to say anything, worried my voice would break. I have no details on how long she’s been fighting or her prognosis. But I knew that if my husband couldn’t take care of our girls, I would bring them with me. This photo shoot would happen. Friday. Today.
I’ve been thinking about it all morning long. I know I need to project happiness. I need to exude excitement. I need to not worry about her health. I hope I can keep it together. I think this will be one of the most important photo shoots of my life. And one of my stories that will help sustain me as I build this business. Wish me luck.
An original It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog post.
You may also find MommyTwinGirls at Silicon Valley Moms Blog telling tales of parenting in Silicon Valley, at Mad About Multiples recounting the ups and downs of raising twins and at Solheim Photography posting favorites from her latest photo shoots.