I’ve always known I wanted to be a photographer. From the first time I held a camera I knew it would be a significant part of my life. I’d dabbled in all kinds of art but never really found something that set my soul on fire quite like film. I also knew it’d be a challenge to make a career out of it, but I was determined. Even if it took a while.
For years I worked retail while slowly building my photography dream. Kids I graduated with would come into the pharmacy where I worked and I had to pretend it didn’t sting to hear them recall fun college adventures. But I would just remind myself that I had a big dream to work towards, and someday I’d have my own fun adventures. A retail schedule makes it pretty tricky to build a business, so I took an office job that would free up my evenings and weekends. Unfortunately this job was an incredibly stressful environment and my optimistic view on the world really took a hit. I put everything I had into that job and I was drained. After I’d worked there for about a year and a half, I met with my friend Natalie while she was home from Florida for a visit. Natalie has built an incredible career in Clearwater, Florida with her vision of Markets for Makers, among other successful businesses. Natalie had previously been a top salesperson for a company in Florida, and had recently left to follow her dreams. I asked her what finally made her take the leap and her response is something that really hit home for me. “I realized I was making my boss successful when I could be doing that for myself.”
As I drove home from that meeting I knew that a better life was waiting for me, and it was up to me to create it.
I have always been a planner. I am very goal oriented and truly enjoy working towards an accomplishment. I can look at a goal and know exactly the steps I need to take to reach it. I have always been careful and well planned. But there I was, staring at a white screen and a blinking curser. Putting in my two weeks meant walking out that office door and into the unknown. It meant not being sure where my next paycheck would be coming from. It meant relying on myself completely. I closed my eyes and envisioned my future. I saw myself doing what I loved. I saw happiness. Those tiny office walls disappeared and the world opened up in front of me. My amazing husband Zach had been encouraging me for weeks to follow my heart and start pursuing photography full time and his words echoed in my mind. I opened my eyes and with my heart racing I typed my two weeks notice. It was now or never. If I didn’t take the leap I might change my mind. I looked out my office window – a dumpster blocked my view. “How symbolic” I thought. And then I hit send.
As it turns out, I jumped into full time photography mode right away. After I got home that very day Zach and I packed up the car to head to Detroit for an engagement session for our friends, Stephanie and Johnny. As we pulled out of the driveway the sky turned black and hail hit our windshield. The storm continued to rage as we drove north and turned into a blizzard. But when we got out of the car in Michigan, the sun was shining and the birds were chirping. That’s when I knew I was going to be okay.
I spent that weekend amongst good friends, the love of my life and the skyline of Detroit. We had so much fun and my heart was full. This life was what I wanted for myself and I was going to do everything in my power to make it happen.
Starting something new is always intimidating. Its incredibly easy to look at what everyone else is doing and try to do the same. And for awhile I did exactly that. I compared my business to other wedding photographers and worried that I was behind the curve because I wasn’t doing the same thing that everyone else seemed to be doing. But then something amazing happened. I stopped comparing. Actually, I stopped looking at what others were doing all together and instead put that energy into my own work. This was the catalyst for major change in my business and it really empowered me to be more confident in both myself and my work.
I started to read books for inspiration rather than browsing Pinterest and found an incredible little gem of a read called “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. This book was everything I needed to read. To absorb. To live. Elizabeth talks a great deal about owning your own creativity and not being afraid to be proud of it. She talks about moving on from failure rather than dwelling on it for days..weeks..months. But the best thing I learned from this book is to really listen to my own creative intuition and bring those ideas to life.
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
When people first learn that I am wedding photographer they usually respond with something along the lines of “Oh, now that is a fun job!” .. and it absolutely is! I truly believe I have the best job in the world. So much so that wedding days don’t feel like work to me in the slightest. I am totally in my element photographing weddings! However, there is so much work that happens behind the scenes. I quickly discovered that being a wedding photographer is about 80% business and 20% photography – at least that is the case for me. And though it is a ton of work I love every second of it.
It has taken hours and hours of work to get where I am. Late nights. Early mornings. Scribbling out dreams, ideas and visions by lamplight until my fingers ache. Countless trial and error attempts to learn new techniques and so many weekends away from my friends and family. A friend once said to me “things just fall in your lap!” and it took everything I had not to implode on the spot. For over a decade I have worked tirelessly towards my dream, and not an ounce of it just casually fell.. anywhere.
Another misconception is that running a creative business is easy. As a self taught photographer I know that it’s possible to teach yourself how to work a camera. It’s even possible to figure out how to build a website. I did both of these things myself in fact. But starting any small business is incredibly vulnerable. On top of having to wear twenty different hats at any given time, you have to put your work, your art, yourself – out there for the world to see. (Which is why I am writing this blog!) You have to let the spot light shine on your triumphs AND your failures, and you have to be proud of both. You have to really know who you are and what you stand for and then – you have to let the world see it. All of it. For some, living an adventurous and ambitious life means moving across the globe. For others, it means flying helicopters for a living. But for me it’s finding the gumption within me to put myself out there every single day, listening to my intuition and building my own dream. And even though it’s difficult at times, I am absolutely on fire for this business of mine.
And that fire is only growing higher.
Over the last two years I have made and strengthened some amazing friendships in the wedding industry and I cannot fully explain how priceless these relationships are to me. There will always be people in the wedding world that thrive on competition, shady business practices and looking down on others. But I have found a group of super humans that love to support, encourage and cheer each other on. They are proof that being kind and helping one another only makes our industry stronger. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’m incredibly thankful to my nineteen year old self. The girl who watched all of her friends go off to college while she stayed behind, working at a pharmacy and slowly building her dream – even when no one else could see it yet. I’ve always known my adventures were coming for me, it just might take a bit longer. Last week I traveled to Kentucky with two amazing photographer friends to a shoot in the blue grass hosted by another good friend of mine. This evening I’ll be having dinner with one of the nation’s leading wedding photographers (Shout out to Julie Paisley!) and some of Indy’s most talented wedding professionals. I’ve shot couples in love in waterfalls, in the desert and on mountaintops. I’ve cried tears of happiness behind my lens as my clients, who I love as friends, share their first dance. I’ve climbed on top of basketball hoops, (yes, on top) stood on the roof of my car and in water up to my knees to get the shot. I’ve witnessed so much love and pure joy and have been fortunate enough to be able to capture it all on camera. I cannot imagine the amazing things that this path still has in store for me. But I have a feeling it’s going to be filled with even more amazing people. And that is my favorite part.
So if you’re considering taking the leap yourself, know that it will be a lot of work, a lot of tears, a lot of hours, emails and to do lists. But it is an adventure and it is so worth it.
P.S. – The titles for each section of this blog were taken from songs from a playlist I made to keep me inspired. If you need songs to give you a kick in the pants – here you go!
About the author: Alison is an Indianapolis based wedding photographer who loves working with joyful couples, celebrating timeless love and helping other small businesses grow.