I often get asked how I got started as a photographer. Since I had to take over a year off from shooting while laid up with my pregnancy and my difficult postpartum recovery, I feel like I have had to start over with the photography business (link here). My husband (and business partner) and I had to make the decision that we will no longer be shooting weddings since I can only handle being on my feet for about two hours at a time before the pelvic and leg pain from the pregnancy comes back. Since weddings were the primary focus of the business before, I have been working on refocusing and re-branding the business to just focus on portraits, primarily babies & families.
It is interesting to me how everything with my photography has come back around full circle to where I started as a photographer, many years ago. When I was in high school, I started taking an interest in photography. My dad, a former photographer, got me a camera and started teaching me about photography. I signed up as the photographer for the community service club at my high school. I went around photographing all of the volunteer events and absolutely loved it. I loved focusing on the joy and happiness of the interactions. There was one place where we all volunteered where I really took an interest in photographing the events, a local shelter for women and their babies.
His Nesting Place is a house in Long Beach, CA where women can go with their babies when they don’t have a lot of options. They are an alternative to abortion, and provide a safe haven for women and children at risk. I loved volunteering there so much, and started photographing all of the new babies that came through there, gifting the mothers with some prints of their babies. This was many years ago, before the digital photography revolution, so those prints were very precious. I received so much positive encouragement with my photography from the staff of His Nesting Place, and it really helped spark my confidence as a photographer. I did not have any fancy props or elaborate set ups, but I took some beautifully simple pictures with just window light, a bed, and a baby. Back in those days, I was spending most of my babysitting/pet sitting/house sitting money on film and lab development.
Every year, our club went to a tri-state convention where our yearly scrapbook with all of the photos from our events was entered into a competition. My photos kept winning out of all of the high schools from three states. I got so much encouragement from the staff at His Nesting Place to consider pursuing a career in photography. When I spoke with my high school guidance counselors, I was strongly discouraged from doing anything of the sort. To a prep school guidance counselor, apparently photography is not a valid career path, especially for a student who showed strong aptitude in math and science.
I put all thoughts of becoming a photographer aside while in college. However, whenever I was stressed out, I would find myself wandering around campus taking photographs of the architecture, flowers, etc. The guy at my local photo lab at that point thought I was crazy for studying engineering when clearly I had a strong creative side that was begging to come out. When I made the switch to fashion school, we had a lot of marketing classes where I really started to have fun with my photography again.
After I finished school, I found my way into working in e-commerce in the fashion industry. It was the perfect mix of my engineering background and my creative, fashion-loving side. E-commerce obviously is very photography dependent, so it was a natural progression for me to start using my photography skills at work. Years later, and a few different jobs later, I entered a very challenging phase in my life.
My grandmother was suddenly sick with cancer and dying. We were very close, and she was one of the few people I talked to every day. The stress of knowing she was dying flared up a very large cyst/non-cancerous tumor in one of my ovaries. Work was getting out of control also. My boss’ plan was to get rid of much of my support staff, and increase my workload significantly. I left work early one day to go see my grandmother at her house when I found out how sick she was. I tried to not tell her that I was feeling sick myself, but she knew right away when she saw me.
I had a long talk with my grandmother about the stress at work, and the strain it was putting on my body. I had been showing her various pictures that I took both for fun and for work any time I saw her. She urged me to consider a career change at that point to lessen the stress on myself. She told me that she had been watching my photography progress over the years, and that she strongly felt that it was time for me to get rid of all the stressful parts and just focus on what I love, the photography. She was very wise and I really valued her opinion, especially since she was right from the start about my husband when I had some reservations about him (he was very anti-religion when we started dating but soon had a conversion of heart).
When the time came and my grandmother was about to pass, the growth on my ovary ruptured and I had to go to my own hospital across town. While I was in the Emergency Room, the doctor was concerned about how many times I had been in there in the few years prior with similar situations. He told me that I was at extremely high risk for developing ovarian cancer, and he highly recommended that I have my ovaries removed right then and there. Since my grandmother was sick, we had moved our wedding date up to a.s.a.p., in the hopes that she would be able to attend. I refused to have my ovaries removed then, especially since our wedding was going to be taking place in just a few days. I still had hopes that maybe, by some miracle, I would be able to get pregnant, and I was not willing to give up on that hope.
The doctor recommended that I seriously evaluate my life and cut down on my stress levels since I refused to have my ovaries removed. My grandmother passed that night, and her funeral came a few days later. Our wedding took place a few days after that, despite how upset we all were.
I ended up taking a week off work for my hospital visit, my grandmother’s funeral, and our wedding. When I had a meeting with my boss, she said that it was “very inconvenient” that I had taken a week off, and I would not be eligible for a raise since I had taken that time off. I had barely taken any of my allowed vacation time in the years I had worked there. My husband and I decided at that point to add me onto his insurance, and that I would quit and start working on starting our own photography business.
We started out primarily focusing on weddings, but I also started shooting babies, children and families again. It felt so easy and fulfilling, without being stressful like a “regular” job. I felt like I was really getting the hang of things when everything got put on hold with our move and then my pregnancy.
After our baby Edison was born, I could not wait to be able to start shooting again. Before Edison was born, I feel like I approached the photography business in a certain way. I wanted to make sure that I got most of my weddings and engagement shoots published in wedding blogs, so I tried to mold my photography around what it seemed like the blog editors were looking for. Props and styled shoots are popular, so I worked hard on incorporating lots of props and styling into my shoots. Certain styles of photo editing and actions are popular, so I started editing my photos using a combination of those techniques. In retrospect, I feel like I put aside my own creative voice a bit in order to try to get my work to conform to what the blog editors wanted. Don’t get me wrong…I still love the work I did before I was pregnant with Edison (and it definitely got us published in many places and won a prestigious award), but I still felt like a bit of my own creative voice was missing from it all.
Recently, I started trying to prepare myself to get the photography business back up and running again. I evaluated my portfolio, and even went back through and looked at some of my really old photos and editing, from before I started the business. I started thinking back about all of the photos I used to take at His Nesting Place, and the clean simplicity and beauty of them. I wish I still had some of them to reference, but I made the dumb mistake of letting the school convince me that they were their property, even the negatives, even though I paid for it all with my own money.
I came to the realization that I would let my own creative voice dictate my photos going forward, and try to ignore what the “trends” are as dictated by blog editors. I loved some of my customized photo editing before I started purchasing Photoshop actions, and have been inspired by those to try some new things lately. I decided to do Edison’s three month photoshoot with inspiration from my memory of my old photos that I used to take at His Nesting Place (example from this shoot seen above). I contacted His Nesting Place to see if I could start volunteering there again and photographing the babies again. I am so grateful that the Lord has blessed us with Edison, despite all my infertility problems, and really want to find a way to give back.
A lady from His Nesting Place called me the other day and let me know that unfortunately, they cannot utilize my services to shoot the babies at this time since the house is currently vacant. Apparently they had some major plumbing problems, and have had to turn all of the women and babies away for now. Many of them are living on the street until HNP can raise enough funds to have the plumbing repaired. I am excited that I will be helping HNP with a charity fundraising event later this month. I really hope they can raise the funds quickly. Their cause and mission is so close to my heart, and I feel especially supportive of them since they were so encouraging and supportive to me when I was just starting out with my photography. I find it so amazing that I started feeling my love of photography when photographing babies at their house, and now my journey has come back around to focusing primarily on photographing babies. If you would like to help His Nesting Place get back on their feet, please click here to contribute!