Friday, June 28, 2013

Confessions of a faux-tog

It all started with a small starter camera. Actually. Back up a bit. It all started during my wedding planning process when I joined a wedding planning forum and found a bride on there who's photos I fell in love with. Whatever that is, I must do, I thought to myself. A series of events went down. We had just got married. Bought a house. I left my 10 year job in Toronto and started over in a small town. I went through a gruelling 2 years at an office where the staff were being abused. My aunt passed away. Everything was closing in on me. I hated my life at work. I resented some of my family. I knew nobody in our new neighbourhood. Marriage was new. I couldn't stop crying. And then I took hold of my life. I went to see a Doctor who helped me understand that everyone has different coping mechanisms and that she wasn't sure if it was the events of my life that were making me lose a grip, or if I just wasn't properly equipped to handle them. So I started to take a mild anti anxiety pill. And just like that, after trying everything natural for what seemed like a lifetime, the clouds parted and the sun started to warmly trickle in. The anxiety lifted. The distracting thoughts and paranoia that everyone was talking about me and that I wasn't good enough subsided. And just like that on a lunch break, I called my husband to let him know I left work. For lunch? he asked. No. For good.

I had no plan in sight but everyone called me brave. I couldn't figure out why and then I realized. Oh yah. It's because I just bought a $350,000 home and now we have one income. Michael was so supportive. He said whatever happened that we would manage. Together. I bought my first DSLR camera. Like everything I do in life, I dove in head first and expected immediate gratification. Three years later and present day, I would shake my head at what an absolute amateur I was. But you have to start somewhere don't you?

I asked my muse, the bride from the forum for any help I could. She taught me so much. She never laughed at me when I would blatanly copy her ideas. Even today, you can tell that my style is influenced by her. Natalie Spencer rocks.

I read my manual about forty times. I took photos of everything in my house and on my street until I got bored. I came up with some "creative projects" like hanging all my dresses in the forest and pretending I was Cinderella trapped in my basement, or the time when I staged a tea party for two, but he didn't show up.

I met some girls on the street. One who loved the camera and one who did not. I took some photos of them and discovered the tilt of the camera.

I did a photoshoot with my cousin and got my very first payment for a gig; a tripod.

Michael got sick of taking photos so he bought me a self timer and then the selfies began. I joined Flick'r and became inspired by some of the most challenging types of portraits; the self portrait.

I discovered bokeh and texture. And overdid them on every photo. 

I thought I was good enough to put my logo on every single photo I took. Like anybody was going to steal my photos of household items such as gloves. 

Or my diptychs and triptychs. 

I had someone ask to buy a print of a photo of mine. 

I practiced taking ring photographs with my own and lost my engagement ring in the snowy forest (hours of searching, I later found it.)

I watched Youtube videos of how to do tricks like levitate. And added fake sun flare in my bedroom. I subconsciously started copying Natalie Spencer's ideas.

My wedding planner Mary, started taking notice of my photos and writing. I had already started a successful blog but began to accompany the narrative with the visual. She suggested I do something with my talent. Like what, I wondered. She loved this photo of mine. And organized a shoot where five photographers shot her trash the dress session. 

On my first year wedding anniversary, sick as a dog in freezing cold January, I said yes to two unpaid events that, although would be cold and free, would give me more experience. I drove to Niagara Falls and accompanied Jesse James Photography on my first styled shoot with a model. He let me try his off camera flash. I think the model got hypothermia.

I asked Natalie how she got that washed out look on her photos. I read somewhere that if you put vaseline or nylons over your lens, that would do the trick. I didn't even know what terms to search. So I tried that.

 I did my first paid session. A friend's Baptism and learned how to take control of five other photographers to get the shot. I had to learn to be aggressive and not hide in the back like I wanted to.

 Michael took an interest in food photography and submitted some of his photos. They were rejected for reasons of "harsh lighting." We had no idea what harsh lighting was.

 I had a friend pay me to do family photos. I did scrabble everything.

And frames.

 And the photo that I had on the cover of my website for a year and couldn't figure out why I wasn't attracting the brides I wanted to.

 I started to shoot and be around other photographers.

More selfies.

 More bokeh.

And selective colouring.
 I became the token family photographer.

 More stuff around the house.

I did a cousin's engagement session in Toronto.

Another request for a print.

I discovered Pinterest in Beta version and started copying other ideas. I got called out for it by a local photographer.

I did a sisters photo shoot for my cousins to surprise their parents for Christmas.

I decided to dress them alike. They are not twins.

New Years came and I was so wrapped up in my photography, I didn't notice my husband's Addison's disease bothering him again. We spent New Years Eve in the hospital.

I came home to find beautiful shoes from my aunt as a thank you on  my front doorstep.

More selfies. 

Click goes the remote. Run back into place. Try ten times until you get the shot in focus.

I had the opportunity through a relative (Thanks Tyson) to work on a styled shoot. I met an amazing makeup artist and friend Natalie Sexton (Sexton in the City)

And some model sisters who, one would later become the face of my business card after we did a shoot together.

More textures.

And selective colouring

And ring shots.

And selfies.

And frames.

I discovered the text feature in Photoshop. Natalie made me a new logo.

I met with a really nice photographer who offered me a chance to assist her at a wedding. I let her down because of my fear of failure.

Natalie and I formed a friendship and shared secrets. She wanted to have a baby so I made a wish for her and threw a bottle in the river. 

I was asked to do my first engagement session. For the wedding and engagement session I charged $250. Total. 

Marriage became hard and I became obsessed with photography and in a constant bad mood because I couldn't improve. 

I thought a break would be good. I decided to accompany Charity Swords Photography to my first wedding in Dominican Republic. It was life changing. I learned a lot about missing my husband. I learned a lot about shooting in sunlight. I learned a lot about myself. I learned how to live with a stranger for a week in a room made for couples.

I came home and started to work on my marriage with Michael. Charity allowed me to shoot with her a few more times until I realized there was no time like the present to start making my own money in business. She allowed me to edit my photos and use them for my portfolio and I'm forever grateful for that experience, despite our little girl spat that we later resolved via the almighty text message.

I got big for my britches and assisted a photo shoot. When the subject wanted my images I decide to charge her. She got pissed off and played hard ball with me. I had no idea what I was in for in this industry. I gave her the free images and decided to humble myself. 

I joined forums and asked for critique. I got slammed for my "pea yellow" vintage processing and my out of focus shots. I got laughed at when I inquired about Depth of Field and told I had no right to be charging clients money when I didn't know what I was doing. I felt a sense of relief. I felt the same way. I was up front and honest with my first clients, even offering to do it for free or refusing because of my limited experience. 

I booked my second wedding for $1,000. I just about threw up, and all but told the bride and groom they should look elsewhere. When they said I was the best deal in town, I wanted to rejoice. I never got them to sign a contract, never took a deposit and the wedding was called off so I lost my opportunity to shoot that day. I never made that mistake again.

I shot alongside other photographers for $500. I wasn't comfortable posing and I offered my candid style for this small amount. I met some amazing photographers.

Like, Melanie Murray from Box Photography

And Chris & Hassan from Fresh Canadian Content

And Sylvia of Sylvia Pond Photography

I had a friend of my cousin, contact me and say that I've inspired her to start shooting again. She one day asked her husband, why I kept posting photos everyday. They were obviously not good photos. And he responded, at least she's trying. So thanks Rachelle Rousseau. Thanks for helping me. Thanks for encouraging me. And for allowing me to take part in your awesome styled circus shoot.

These were the catapulting moments that got me to where I am now. I continued to learn, seek out likeminded professionals, read, watch tutorials, practice and take on paying clients to the best of my ability, even though I doubted myself to my core. I continued to book family photos, weddings and applied for a government grant to start my own business. I was told my plan would fail and that my personality was flaky and flighty. A year later I would be charging $5,000 per wedding and booking into 2015, with five destination weddings under my belt and thousands of photos taken. I met and photographed my idol in real life Natalie; the wish in the river must have been found because she had her baby girl. I paid it forward for all the people who helped me and had someone local and new help us out to get her started. Karma paid me back for letting down others because I now know how they must have felt after a disasterous experience. And Karma will pay her back because that's just how things work. We instilled a strict no family policy after we had to learn things the hard way. We broke the no family policy when we photographed my lovely cousin's wedding. I put down a brides ring in moss while photographing it and lifted my eyes up only to find it was gone out of my view. We later found it. I will never do that again. I will never hire someone outside of my family to shoot with us again. I will never photograph for family or friends. I will never let down another photographer. Those are things I will never do. 

I will always give credit where credit is due, whether it's in referencing my blog posts, acknowledging people who have helped us along the way, taking my share of responsibility for mistakes I have made in the industry and as a human being.

I didn't get here because it was easy. I didn't get here because I gave up. I certainly haven't ever had a feeling of Hello, I've arrived because I most certainly have not. The journey of photography is more challenging than people think. Running a business is excruciatingly exhausting but equally rewarding. 
I've been published in a few magazines and nominated for a couple of awards. I recently had the chance to submit photos to a sought after wedding magazine and work with some of the most amazing industry professionals.

We've made lifelong friends out of our clients. Michael's harsh lighting has vastly improved and his food blog has now been endorsed by Martha Stewart. His advertising is bringing in monthly income and since losing his job a year ago, we've joined together to form an amazing team.

Some of our work from the past year:

And after years of chatting online and a composite of "meeting", we finally met in real life; my inspiration for this life changing thing that I am blessed to call a "job". She sent me a package in the mail with several thoughtful handmade gifts. One made me cry. It said "Go your own way" in a time that I was doing anything but. I was struggling with who I was, constantly changing my editing style according to other's and suffering from an identity crisis, having no life and spending hours upon painful hours editing every painstaking detail instead of getting it right in the camera. 

One day I got a message from a fellow photographer reading the following: You are my Natalie Spencer. And just like that, I realized. I too make a difference and matter and inspire.

If you were a part of any of this....if you told me I suck, I probably did. If I didn't, thank you anyways. If you told me to keep going, I probably shouldn't have. But I did anyways. And thank you. If you've been part of my journey in any way, I want to thank you. 

I'm proud of what I do. I'm proud that I'm no longer a faux-tog but a real live and true, hardworking, blood sweat and tears photographer. I'm proud that I did everything myself. I learned the technical stuff. I built and designed a website. I formed relationships. I stood tall when I wanted to shrink down. I'm proud of myself for staying up all hours of the night trying to perfect my craft. For the heart I put into getting to know my clients and making them feel special. I smiled when I wanted to cry. I never ever, ever gave up, when I've always given up on everything. I'm proud.

These are my confessions.