Last January, I was asked to assist a Niagara Falls wedding. I almost threw up from nerves and didn't even have to shoot that day. I drove 2.5 hours in a snow storm with brutal cramps and a determined spirit. It was a long and cold day, considering we were shooting in freezing rain and snow for a good chunk of time. I rode in the backseat of the BMW with the two male photographers up front. They were chatting about female photographers and Jasmine Star's name came up. I asked who she was and they said "a hot girl with a camera and no talent." I was curious.
After working a full day and driving the equally gruelling drive home, I opened my purse to show my husband what I made. "50 bucks??" he questioned in disgust. I shrugged my shoulders and chalked it up to gaining experience. It was our first wedding anniversary weekend and that is how I chose to spend it. The next day I assisted a high fashion shoot and after about 11 hours, was paid 100 dollars. I'm not sure what I was dwelling on more; the fact that I was working on our anniversary (our first) or that I needed to rapidly try and get through the grunt work stage as fast as I could. I'm not discrediting what it takes to make it in this business. I was never too proud to start at the bottom, slug camera gear and do whatever it took to just be around people that loved photography as much as I did. I quickly realized that merely being in their presence was not going to make me shoot like them. I quickly realized that photographers wouldn't give up their secrets. When I would ask during assisting about camera settings, a photographer would shrug and tell me she couldn't explain it. She just mostly shoots until she gets it. This got me thinking about a couple of things. Either she didn't know what she was doing either on a technical level, or she didn't want to share any information; even though I was working for her. Both scenarios were shitty and I pressed on in my quest to learn.
I checked out Jasmine Star's work. I wondered to myself what the hell they were talking about. Her work was not only exceptional but outstanding. I should have known better as it was through this photographer that I met a nightmare female photographer who took complete advantage of me. But that's another story for another day. The point is, sometimes we listen to people and trust what they say. We should always form our own opinions for these very reasons.
When Jasmine was featured on Creative Live, I was glued to my seat and feverishly writing notes like a madwoman. She was so damn real, captivating and her words rang true to me. Every five minutes, I would call Michael over to recite her points. I felt as if she was describing my hunger, my quest, my desperation and my struggles. Finally. Someone I could relate to. Someone who didn't speak in riddles, or provide clues to what it was she was actually saying. I often felt while asking for help, that people would give me just enough information to make me go crazy trying to decipher, but not enough to succeed. Sometimes you wonder if ignorance truly is bliss. If you're like me, I can't stop until I figure something out. I hate math and absolutely loathe watching technical tutorials over and over and over again. I get frustrated. But the thought of failing a couple, or making a fool of myself in front of competing photographers pushes me forward. And I tread on.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
(As printed with Jasmine Star's written personal permission)
FAIL AT SOMETHING YOU LOVE: So here's another point in my life when something magical occurred, a moment that forever changed my perspective. JD and I discussed my going back to law school, and I cried. Did I already mention the crying? Because really, there was a lot of it. After hours of citing every reason why I should go back, I still couldn't say I actually wanted to. And it scared me. I spent my entire life trying to become a lawyer and now I didn't want to finish? What, precisely did I want to do? That's what JD asked me, He looked into my eyes, almost daring me to admit my secret passion. "I want to be a wedding photographer," I said. My husband sat in stunned silence. JD turned to me and said, "I'd rather see you fail at something you love, than succeed at something you hate." In a single sentence, my husband gave me the permission to fail.
LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO NOT FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS: When my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer, the odds of remission were not in her favor. She was 50 years old when doctors told my father to begin making funeral arrangements. The family was devastated. One night, after driving to visit my mother while I was in school, I crawled into bed with her. I nuzzled my nose behind her ear and deeply inhaled, willing myself to remember the scent. It was a mix of musk, Pond's lotion and codeine. I was 25 years old and I thought to myself, If I die when I'm 50, I don't want to die a lawyer.
GHETTO FABULOUS PHOTOGRAPHY, 101: There are established camera settings but since I had no idea how to begin, I worked in Auto mode and hoped for the best. When I downloaded the pictures later that day, my first thought was, Wow, I suck. I was struck with the realization that the pictures I had in my mind were not what I was producing in-camera, and nothing like the photographs I studied on the Web. I floundered like this for a few weeks, then decided to start from scratch. I basically pieced together a homespun curriculum of Ghetto Fabulous Photography 101. For instance, when I studied backlighting, I required myself to photograph an item backlit in three different scenarios. I photographed: 1. A wooden chair backlit by the dining room window. 2. An orange dangling from a tree backlit by the setting sun in our backyard. 3. Running shoes in a front of a fire in the fireplace at night.
For everything I lacked in skill, I made up with hustle, professionalism, and hard work.
PRODIGIES, OSP & SHOWING UP ON TIME: Everyone else appeared to have it together. They had nicer cameras, better lenses, multiple computers, prettier cars, sample albums, studios, smaller waistlines. Everything. I was stuck in a storage room with a flaccid sandwich. I spent the rest of the afternoon simmering with venom in my veins. So much so that, by the time I got home, I collapsed on my bed and cried. I begged for some type of intervention and wished someone would take me under his or her wing and mentor me. I promised God that if this happened, I'd always make sure to give back, to share everything I'd been given.
SECOND SHOOTING. JUST HOW FAR I'D GO: The days were long and the work was hard but we had a blast. I worked for free because, for the first time in a long time, I felt like someone had breathed life into me. I'd forgotten what joy felt like, but standing behind the camera gave me something I thought I'd lost: HOPE.
MY FIRST PHOTOGRAPHY CONFERENCE: A few weeks before going to WPPI, a good friend told me to Get Uncomfortable. By doing so, life would flip and turn in new ways, forcing me to rethink and change my life, resulting in a positive outcome. After all, he reminded me, if you're comfortable, life isn't as rewarding.
STRIKE A POSE: Once, while shooting on the beach, I heard a photographer mention that a generally safe setting for shooting a couple outdoors, in full sun, is 100 ISO, f2/8, 1/2500. Now, this might sound completely idiotic to everyone but this setting became my world, almost like he handed me a golden nugget. I finally had a place to begin and I held onto this setting for dear life.
THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE: There were moments in my early career-much like my childhood-when I felt like I was always behind. Slower. Competing against the odds. Less smart. Whenever I felt overwhelmed or had the urge to quit, I remembered the tortoise and his perseverance. It might sound like the stupidest thing to everyone, but I clung to his victory as if it were my own.
THEY SAY IT'S HARD BECAUSE IT'S HARD: I wanted to jump into the forum and rip everyone a new one--clarifying each outrageous lie but I took a few deep breaths and closed my computer. Trying to convince people of something they don't want to believe is like spitting in the wind. I've come to believe those people were looking for reasons to justify why they had yet to find their own success. So they chose to build elaborate stories around kernels of truth about me. It was easier to foster a belief I was given something they weren't that allowed for my business to grow in ways theirs hadn't. The naked truth, however, was I had less than most. I just wanted it more.
CLIQUES, FRIENDS & NAMES: Okay, who am I kidding? I STILL battle the same gamut of emotions when surrounded by industry peers. In fact, during a recent national photo conference, I sat at the edge of my hotel bed one night and asked JD if I'd ever feel like I fit in. His response? Who cares?
THE COPYCAT: I've chosen to never point the finger at someone I think is copying me, EVER.
FEAR: For the first two years of my business, I functioned in a state of fear. Do you know what it feels like to live in that state? I couldn't sleep, my hair fell out in the shower like a dog losing its winter coat, and I constantly bit my nails. Once a bride kept the ceremony postponed for an hour while she fixed her hair. Once my battery died during the first kiss. Once I walked into a dark church and I was informed flash photography wasn't allowed. Once a bride and her mother got into an argument while I was in the room. Once I had a corrupt memory card. Once I went to the wrong wedding location, Once I accidentally knocked down the wedding altar before the ceremony. Once I overheard a wedding guest talk about my tacky shoes. See? Bad things happen. Everything I feared has happened. And yet my business continued to grow as more brides referred me to their friends.
OUTSOURCING & HAVING A LIFE: Much like any other photographer starting out, I had so much to learn and not enough time to focus on what I really wanted to do. So I asked myself that very question: Self, what do you want to do? The answer was to be a photographer, to be a writer, and to be happy. In light of this declaration, I decided to omit anything that didn't fall into one of these three categories. I decided after my first wedding to outsource everything I didn't want to do. It was just that simple.