I keep meaning to clean out my closet. I’ve been trying to get to it for the past year or so but between photo shoots, my home office, my home studio, my husband, my daughter, the house, the dogs, I just haven’t done it. You see, about a year ago I quit my day job as an Elementary School Spanish Teacher and decided to work for myself.
From dark room to digital
Photography is not new to me, I’ve actually always been a photographer. In college, more than 20 years ago, I would spend hours in the dark room developing photos, making prints… people had to remind me to come out for air. It’s really a miracle I never passed out after spending hours at a time inhaling those pungent chemicals.
Back then, photography was a hobby, an expensive one that I happened to be good at and passionate about but not one likely to become a profitable business. I did the practical thing and pursued other options. I studied journalism, taught languages, and got a degree in history. I had the steady paycheck and life was fine.
No one hands you your dream job
Very few of us ever get our dream job right from the start, if ever, but most people just give up on it for the sake of being practical. We have bills to pay and kids (and dogs!) to feed, so we just stop pursuing a passion as a job, maybe keep it as a hobby. I did that, of course, but I eventually started accepting photography jobs on the side, and that was enough to get me hooked. I was hooked on doing what I love for a living and the drive to make it happen kicked in.
Finally, after years of wishing Nikon or Canon would discover and hire me, (in my dream, I didn’t actively pursue them, they just randomly stumbled upon one of my photos on Facebook and decided they had to snatch me up) I decided it was time to hire myself. Twenty-five YEARS after I got my first teaching job, I said goodbye to the classroom and became a full-time photographer.
And everyone is a “photographer”
Of course, everyone’s a photographer these days, it’s the age of digital photos, smartphones and social media, after all. This makes it necessary to acquire skills superior to anything a smartphone can do, techniques that make your work unique and special. Not to mention, photos are often a luxury, something not likely to be at the top of a family’s basic needs list. But little by little you start to stand out, you nurture the customers you have, cherish them, and they tell their friends, and then you wake up one day and realize people are seeking you out too.
The skill, however, isn’t enough. Just as you don’t want your doctor relying on information from 20 years ago, or your hair stylist giving you the same ‘do’ for 15 years, you don’t want your photographer to stop learning, and exploring, and coming up with new set-ups. I don’t know it all and I doubt I ever will, and that’s fine. The learning is never complete…don’t ever act like you know it all, it just annoys the people who have to listen to you.
I can’t do it alone
As far as a support system, I am lucky. I can believe in myself all I want, I still can’t do it alone and I am not ashamed to admit it. I have friends who love my work cheering me on, and they pass my name along. I have a husband who supported my decisions, and continues to help me in every aspect of the business, from tax documents to pep talks when someone cancels a shoot. I am learning that there are people in the community I can reach out to if I need them and I make sure they know they can come to me as well. So sure, believing in myself is important, but I also have people around me who believe in me when I have a hard time doing it.
Sometimes I also forget that having cool business cards and pretty stationery is not the most important part of running my business. Numbers don’t crunch themselves, supplies run out, there’s editing to do, deliveries must be made, things come up all the time and it can definitely be overwhelming. A to-do list is an absolute must, and mine is written on paper, with a pencil. My appointment book is also old-fashioned, not digital. There are some things that can only be synced on paper and apparently my brain is one of them.
When you work from home like I do it’s easy to get sidetracked and put all the needs of your home first, just to get it all out of the way; get laundry done, dishes put away, beds made. I’ve learned that it’s important to have a work schedule even from home, or you’ll end up using what should be your family time as office hours.
A small business, fortunately, is often forgiving, and allows you to adjust whatever needs to be corrected, sometimes immediately. I’m hoping that as the years go by there is less to correct, but that may be wishful thinking.
I have days when I second guess my decisions…days when I wake up and think “What did I get myself into?” On those days I take a look at some of my favorite recent work, and compare it to my work from 2 years ago…there’s a big difference!
Lucky to be a work in progress
Most days, however, I’ll have a camera in my hand, or I’ll be in my home office, working on editing a shoot, or planning an upcoming one, or designing a promo, or making prints, and I look around in amazement because I just can’t believe that I GET to do this for a living. I never drag myself to a photo shoot, I don’t groan when I realize I have to edit 500 images…I do it all marveling at how fortunate I am to be doing what I do. Yes it’s tough, and there’s still so much to learn, but I believe the rewards far outweigh the challenges. My business is an awesome, imperfect work in progress!
My closet, by the way? Still not done.
Bertha was born in Medellín, Colombia and has lived in the United States for the past 17 years. She studied journalism in Medellín and Bogotá, and later earned a degree in history from The Ohio State University. Over the past ten years, she taught Spanish at Discovery School in Mansfield to children between the ages of 3 and 13, which prepared her for chasing kids around when taking their photos. Now she gets to be a photographer full time, which most days still feels like a dream. She lives in Mansfield with her husband, her daughter, and her four big dogs.