MY FIRST EXPERIENCE
I remember when I was about 8 years old getting handed a 110mm camera. You know... the kind that looks like a thin little black hotel room bible with those flash cartridges that stunk when you blew one? Anyway... I remember shooting an entire roll of film just goofing taking turns taking pictures with a little friend at our cabin and feeling so guilty for doing it. A whole ROLL of film on one occasion?! Those pics made it to print and I guess it was kind of a memorable event to me looking back at my career as a photographer.
newspaper + yearbook
Kids playing with cameras is only natural. So sure... I stole my moms camera and took funny pictures around the house. The toilet... the flowers in the yard... failed attempts at a selfie. And you don't think anything about it. Never did I ever picture myself (pun intended) as a professional photographer until an army recruiter slid it onto my radar to be a journalism photographer for the national guard. No joke.
Junior year, I had an amazing mentor and journalism teacher, Mrs. Martin. Sure she had crazy bad skin, huge thick glasses and kind of a whiny voice but she really saw potential in me as a budding little photographer and showed me how to load an SLR camera for the first time and all things related to the darkroom. From then on, I became highly involved on newspaper and yearbook and became known as the 'darkroom nazi.' It used to be where everyone went to make out and escape class for a bit. But I made that little room my shrine. I kept it clean and made it my own and scolded anyone who messed up my organization. I loved the smell of the developer and fixer. I loved the alkaline residue on my hands and clothes. I loved seeing a print come to life under the glow of the red light. I was in love with photography, officially.
I began working on Thursday nights and Saturdays at a local mom and pop photography studio and learned so much about the back end of client sales and general operations. I bought my first SLR camera with my high school graduation money and never looked back.
My first session was a 2 year old little girl when I was 18 years old. I charged $20 for their session fee; shot on film and pretty sure mostly blurry.
MOM + DAD SAID 'GET YOUR DEGREE'
...and not in 'art.' Like most parents, they appreciated my artistic side but didn't necessarily support it as a career choice. So after talking with that army recruiter and knowing I would have to do basic training, I was like 'hard pass' and chose to pursue either drafting or healthcare. Sucking at math further drew me away from drafting, so that left me with whatever program I could complete to allow me to follow my boyfriend, now husband, to the same college. No joke. So after some research, I settled on a career path of radiologic technology at Mary Lanning in Hastings, NE with 2 years at UNK prior (where Ryan was a senior in finance).
I worked at a 1-hr photo lab in the evenings and on weekends... lots of printing and customer service education from that job! I would take portraits of anyone who would sit for me - I was starving to improve and the best way for me (still to this day) is to practice practice practice.
Ryan and I got hitched in 2003 and settled into married life. I graduated from X-ray school in 2004 and began work at an orthopedic clinic in Kearney doing sports medicine X-rays and MRI's and moonlighted as a portrait photographer, specializing in couples and families. But if you've ever worked in a monotonous job (such as taking knee and shoulder X-rays day after day) you begin to grow bored. I had asked for more responsibility in my xray roll to help with that and when I didn't get it, I put most of my creative energy into my side gig. And whoa, Nelly. It was just on the cusp of everything turning digital and family photography candids were becoming a thing. I had clients busting down my door because I was actually pretty good at this point in my career and charging next to nothing. But I didn't care about that -- I had my X-ray salary, 401K, and insurance all taken care of so basically every penny I earned from photography went straight into my fun account. I felt pretty damn cool to be honest. But also very busy and too big for my britches. And it was super hard on our marriage. I would work 40-50 hours at my X-ray job then do shoots nearly every evening and all weekend. I'd get myself up at 5am to edit before heading to work again. Worked hard and played too hard. Ryan and I were passing ships and thank the Lord for what happened next.
EVERY HEARD OF WAHOO?
I'll never forget the day Ryan popped his head into the office above while I was editing and asked 'Ever heard of Wahoo? Not sure if it will pan out, but I have a job offer at one of the banks there...'
So happy with that life choice we made 12 years ago. I needed it. We needed it. We had to get out of that lifestyle.
So we packed up our bags, moved to Wahoo, NE (population 4,000) and I started a new life as a full-time professional photographer and boy did it feel weird. I remember the first time I went to Target in the middle of the day on a weekday and feeling like I didn't belong. Being my own boss... what?! I can do what I want, when I want and not clock in and out everyday?
(owning your own business ROCKS, by the way IF you're doing it right)
it's a wonder i didn't become an alcoholic
So at the start of our time in Wahoo, Ryan was super loving his job at a family-owned bank (where he still is thriving!) and I was... well.... sitting alone listening to crickets while I started a photography business from scratch, essentially in a small town where I knew nobody. And everyone had a weird Czech last name that I couldn't even begin to pronounce.
I attended a photography workshop that was super expensive in Texas and that was sort of a game-changer I suppose. I got seriously into blogging to occupy myself while I waited for people to 'discover' me. And while I wouldn't say my style of shooting has changed much since my humble beginnings (documentary and artistic), my relationship with people sure has.
We busied ourselves with renovating our house and I would drive to Kearney a couple times a month for client shoots. Slowly we met people -- neighbors, mostly. And I think my first Wahoo session was for the bank. I probably did only 1-2 shoots a month in Wahoo, Omaha, and Lincoln for that first year. It's still a wonder to me what I did all day waiting patiently for Ryan to get off work so we could dive back into whatever home project we had to do.
But the slow and easy wins the race. Over the past 12 years I've learned that it's all about the long game. Networking, meeting people, being seen with my camera. Saying YES to new opportunities. Honing your skills and being a life-long learner.
Having that said, in 2022 I experienced severe burn out by, saying YES to every opportunity that came my way. I did over 450 shoots last year and turns out that was way too much for me. One week in July I did 22 sessions, alone. FML.
So I did some soul searching. Back to the beginning. I had to ask myself WHAT do I love shooting the most. WHEN do I like shooting, and how often. Was I running a sustainable business or just burning the candles at both ends trying to people please?
Cha cha changes needed to happen.
here's me in 2023
This year marks the beginning of something amazing. I'm about to turn 41 years old. I know what I DON'T want to shoot any longer (toddlers and weddings hurt my body too much!) and know what I DO. I want to shoot more women. Beautiful, bold, strong women and give them printed portraits for their children to admire and hold dear. I want to photograph young, energetic entrepreneurs who get it... that I can shoot during the day while Violet's at school. I want evenings and weekends free for family time. I want to run a sustainable business that earns me money, be full service to my clients, and get back to connecting with people without rushing to the next shoot.
I'm no longer the Old Navy of photographers. I want to be the Prada. And I'm so very excited.