My Evolution As A Professional Photographer

posted on: June 17, 2014

I decided to record an audio version of this post so you can just sit back and listen for 13 minutes over coffee, lunch, or some photo editing.  However, if you're a speed reader, it will probably only take you 5 minutes to read the text version below the audio file.  What you can't read are my tone and inflection, which lets you know exactly how I feel about different parts of my journey as a professional photographer.

If you're viewing this over email, you may need to visit the page online to hear the audio by clicking play on the Sound Cloud embedded file (my advance apologies for the mistakes in the recording, it's my first real attempt at a podcast style recording)...

Dear Blog Reader,

If you've followed me since I started my blog, you've seen me overcome a lot of moves and changes in my business.  Unlike other bloggers who've erased their past on their blog, or uprooted to a completely different blog, I've stuck with this blog all along and my archive remains open and accessible so all can see the parts of my journey that I've been able to share here.  I have some cringe-worthy material in these archives, but wouldn't trade a single post for all the experience and wisdom I've gained.

When I decided that I would pursue photography professionally 10 years ago while living in Michigan, the only vision I had for myself was as a portrait & wedding photographer.  It all started by helping friends with their modeling portfolios and headshots, as well as documenting choir concert tours and gifting wedding photos that I'd taken as a guest at friend's weddings.  Those portraits ended up on recital posters and the headshots got people paid gigs as models, the concert tours became designed and bound albums with recordings on CD or DVD slideshows, and the wedding pics ended up in albums and large wall collage frames.  It all started so simply to me, just doing what I love and giving it to people I loved while occasionally asking for their help with the cost of film, developing, and printing.

When I decided to get professional about it, I learned how to apply my previous business knowledge and experience in order to create a business that was profitable from the very beginning and has remained that way.  Once I decided to go full time with my business while moving to Indiana for my husband's first career move, I went from 11 weddings in one year to 30 weddings in a year.  In my third year of business I shot 47 events & portraits, keeping me more than busy every single week of the year.  I hardly had to try, and I felt like the universe made it very clear to me that there would be no problems making a living doing what I loved.

We knew Indiana wasn't going to be a permanent thing, so I marketed myself heavily online, blogged a lot, won some contests, got published a lot, and really worked on gaining a national reputation in anticipation of whatever move would happen next.  All that effort paid off so that when my husband found a job he really liked in Massachusetts, there were already people in the industry who knew me and allowed me to step into leadership positions and trusted me to speak in front of crowds of photographers, just 4 years into my career as a professional photographer.

I quickly saw the good and bad side of photography "rockstar" fame and it put everything I loved about photography into question for me.  I no longer wanted to rise to the top if all that fame stuff had to come with it.  I could feel my ego ballooning out of control while the quality of my work started suffering because I had to spend more time managing my online reputation than I could spend actually serving my clients.

Those "rockstar" years sucked for me, but also taught me a lot of really great lessons about what was most important to me, and it wasn't fame.  Helping people through things like PhotoLovecat and Smarter Business Workshop?  Yes, always.  But winning contests, being featured in blogs, and getting published for visibility?  Not so much.  I much preferred focusing on giving my clients the best I could offer, rather than being an idol to other photographers.  I'm much more comfortable as a one-on-one mentor, a teacher, and a guide than I am as an industry "rockstar".  I know how to deal with the fame bullsh*t now, but back then it really took a toll on my soul.

Massachusetts gave me the opportunity to try on owning a studio space and doing more controlled studio lighting and backgrounds as well as the opportunity to be an editorial photographer for UMass Lowell's public relations, which provided a steady contract that allowed me to do more work on weekdays, giving up fewer weekends to weddings.  I also second shot a lot more because the Massachusetts market was a harder one to dive into due to everyone having such tightly established networks.  I came to encounter many more clients who wanted heavy privacy controls on their event and family images- so I became very sensitive to how personal images were being used online, which dramatically reduced my blogging, contest submissions, and publication efforts.

Before moving to NYC, I knew I was approaching the 10 year mark in my business.  When I decided I'd become a professional photographer, I felt like it might only be a 10 year career for me.  I don't know why I had decided it at that time, but it seemed like I saw a lot of my colleagues drop out of photography after their mid-thirties and the ones who seemed to remain felt old, bitter, and stale.  Maybe I just wasn't meeting the right people, because that's certainly not the case for all 40+ photographers.  I think maybe we'd just gone through so many upheavals and shifts in our industry from film to digital to prosumer cameras and affordability for all, that the more established people were exhausted from having to make all the changes to their established way of doing things.

Between 2010 - 2013, I saw a lot of the colleagues I started in photography with leave to do other things.  It was that 7-year itch.  If they weren't doing as well as they thought they'd be, they got out and moved on to other things.  It started to make me nervous- as if I was next but just couldn't see the writing on the wall yet.

I started looking for other careers I might want to do... counseling, teaching again (but in a different subject or at the college level), career advising, college admissions... all things that felt "safe" and would partner well with my husband's schedule, since that had always been a point of tension when my heavy wedding season overlapped his vacation season and vice versa.

I thought taking a long sabbatical and adventure year in 2012 would help me sort it all out, but it just put even more ideas and options in my mind, and none of them felt like I would be running TOWARD them, only running AWAY from photography.  I decided I need to make photography work for my life and my desired workflow in ways that supported me being able to do everything I really love while still serving others with my unique talents and gifts.  That one shift changed everything and started to give me fuel for at least another 10 years in this crazy industry and career.

When I first got to New York City, I was lucky enough to already have a wedding booked in Brooklyn, and a handful of headshots around the city from a random networking opportunity I'd had with a website design company in Michigan.  Again, I didn't really have to try, it all just happened, and I felt so supported by the universe in my new move to New York City.  In January, I decided I wanted to shoot and explore the city a lot more than I had been, so I turned on my ability to accept Airbnb assignments in NYC, something that had only been random and infrequent opportunities in Massachusetts and Australia.

Since NYC was getting ready for the Superbowl, the requests to photograph apartments here were pouring in and I could have booked 3-4 assignments every single day of the week if I'd wanted to.  Instead, I decided to just dedicate 2-3 days a week to Airbnb assignments, so that I could still have the rest of the week for other clients and opportunities.  I also decided I wasn't going to take Airbnb clients more than one week in advance, both for the hosts ability to have a guest book last minute, and for my ability to have a different type of client book one week in advance.  Fast forward to today, and I've photographed over 150 New York City apartments in three boroughs.  It's certainly given me a new appreciation for living in this city and making it a home that I never would have had otherwise.

At this point, you could say that 95% of my photography work over the last 6 months has been residential interiors and architecture.  I freaking love it.  I love the fast turn around that comes with getting a job produced the same day it's photographed.  I learned how much I loved short production times after working with UMass Lowell on same-day deadlines for things like media opportunities with politicians and celebrities.  It's a huge difference from the long perfectionistic work I do with weddings.  Yes, I could do weddings differently, but I want them done the way I'd want my own wedding images done.. as beautifully as possible, no matter how much time it takes.  With PR work and Real Estate work, the need for perfection is there as well, but there's only a need for 20 images rather than 200 or 2,000; so it's much easier to turn around on a same-day deadline.

I love nailing it, or getting so close in camera that there's hardly a thing to do in post-production.  I don't mind shooting JPG if that gets it to the wires quicker.  While I've never had the opportunity to work as a photojournalist for a news outlet, I can see why it would be addicting to have to get the shot, and an amazing shot that was cover worthy, and then have it published the same day.  My heart starts to jump just thinking about it.

Interiors and Architecture are more zen for me.  Much less ADD than event photography where I function as an omnipresent eye with a 360ยบ attention span.  With interiors and architecture, I get to take my time in person, feeling a space, seeing what makes it awesome, figuring out the mathematical equation of putting pieces and parts together in a frame to make a pleasing image, while highlighting what I love most, and occasionally surprising people with something delightful and unexpected.  I loooooove seeing how people decorate spaces- especially in New York City when they turn these tiny little clostrophobic boxes of apartments into an inviting retreat and personal paradise.  I geek out about custom ironwork, hard carved woodwork, crazy and unique furnishings, and sleek modern design.  I love it all and get so much joy out of photographing it and sharing it with the world.

While I still love weddings, events, and portraits, my life in NYC has introduced me to more architects, interior designers, real estate agents, home stagers, and furniture makers than I've ever met in one place before.  Behind the scenes right now I'm working on a completely new commercial portfolio of work that will center around interiors and architecture,  and I wanted you to be the first to know, since it will affect what I'm blogging about.

As someone who reads my blog regularly, I value you and the time you spend with my words and my work.  Even if we've never met in person (though I hope we do get to meet if we haven't yet) you've been a big part of my journey and support system in helping me do what I love and allowing me to serve others with my passions.  Thank you for always being there for me, and I hope you'll continue to stay with me through this next phase of my business and career as well.  


6 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. Beautifully written Anne. I enjoyed reading about your journey as a photographer and seeing how your business has evolved from the start to now. I started shooting real estate almost 5 years ago in Washington. I was in a market that was so over saturated with portrait photographers (several "rock stars" were in my area) that I had a really hard time rebuilding my business from the relocation there. It wasn't until a friend recommended me to her real estate agent for pictures that I started shooting real estate. I was hooked after the first shoot and have continued with it in Michigan. Your description of the reasons for loving this type of photography are so spot on. There is something to be said for a fast turn around and still have 100% satisfaction with the work you're producing. I'm so glad you are sticking around in the industry and have found a refreshed love for your work. Rockstar or not, this industry wouldn't be the same without you Anne. Thank you for all that you do to help encourage, teach and inspire the rest of us.

  2. thanks for sharing + congrats on such a mile stone. It's hard to evolve and it's hard to stay the same but it's always encouraging when there are people to share the journey with!

  3. Love the podcast !! Thank you so much everything you do. I have been following your photography career for a while and in addition to amazing photos, you are one of the nicest person I "met" online. Thanks to this podcast now I feel like I totally know you :)

    I am trying to transition into editorials (wedding publications) & architectural photography. Hoping to free up some weekends in the summer to spend time with my boys. So the journey continues......

  4. This was a lovely post! I read it instead of listened… and I love how you're evolving. Be blessed!

  5. Hey Anne! I was just checking in to see how you're doing and came across this post. So nice to hear your voice again! Glad to hear you like NYC! We're living in San Francisco AND we have a dog now!

  6. Hey Anne! I was just checking in to see how you're doing and came across this post. So nice to hear your voice again! Glad to hear you like NYC! We're living in San Francisco AND we have a dog now!


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