Most professional photographers quit within the first five years of their business. I almost did. I was in a car accident on my way to shoot a wedding and spent the next 6 months learning to walk again, quitting seemed to make a lot more sense than continuing. I could have made more money, with a lot less pain and effort, working as a receptionist.
The photographers that remain after the first five years will usually quit by year eight. In year eight of my photography business I know why.
I’ve been struggling. Really struggling. While each year brought me more wonderful referrals, the quantity of shoots I was doing to meet the demand for sessions was requiring 60 to 70 hour work weeks during 8 months of the year. I missed too many bedtimes, too many pajama breakfasts, and too many trips to the park. The moments I was physically present my mind was often in the homes of other people. In my struggle to be the best for everyone I felt like a complete failure to myself. The client emails rolled in without the time for me to respond, drafting responses in my head while driving, typing emails while pumping gas, manically flagging things for follow up that was hard to get to. Texts from friends went unanswered, Facebook tags unseen, event invitations unacknowledged and eventually, many stopped trying. Who could blame them? I felt crushing guilt leaving Justin and CeCe in a messy home with chores I couldn’t help with, laundry that never got folded, snuggles I had to peel away from. I listened to Notorious B.I.G on repeat in the car, trying to white girl rap my way out of the heavy blanket of sadness and guilt in time to pull it together and shine for whatever appointment I had scheduled. I worried secretly that I just couldn’t do it another year.
Then I went to go see Patti LaBelle in concert.
There she was, standing in the middle of the stage, doing her thing since the 1960s, and pure talent. Kicking off her shoes, belting out a song, making our hearts pound with the purity and strength of her voice. Sitting there in the room with her, there was no way to deny that this is the really big thing she was meant to do for the world.
I wanted to be her. Not just enduring, but timeless. Not just performing a task but producing art. Not just singing but SINGING the HELL out of it. Not just good, but the best.
My heart pounded in my chest one time, really hard and with that rush of blood to my brain I thought . . . well, what if photography is the really big thing I was meant to do for the world?
I will never get there if I have to spend the 10 minutes at the gas pump typing emails rather than looking at the sky and taking a deep breath.
Something had to change.
I took a step back and looked at all of my best sessions from the last year and the year before. There were four senior sessions that stood out from the rest and they all had one thing in common: I had the chance to get to know them better before our shoot. Knowing them brought out my most creative ideas, crafted my posing to line up with their personalities, and even helped me make them laugh and feel more comfortable. These shoots were perfectly magical. I didn’t just shoot, I shot the hell out of it.
Things had to change and they have. I will now be doing in-person, consultations at my new office in Downtown Cary and getting to know each of my clients before their session. I’ll also be introducing a line of premium products – handcrafted leather albums, fine art prints on archival Hahnemühle Paper, custom framing, print matting, acrylic blocks, curved metal prints, a torn-edge triptych, and heirloom boxes with matted portraits and easels. I have a full-time Studio manager (guess what? she is my MOM!) who is pretty much the expert on planet earth on reading my mind, knowing what I am forgetting, and reminding me to get my homework done. She keeps the business wheels turning so that my time is spent on creative tasks and new projects. Erica has transitioned to the role of Designer.
You know another thing Patti showed me? That her music was one thing on the computer, but a totally different experience in person. Your portraits are the same way. They might look gorgeous on your iPad but will bring you more joy on your walls and in your hands, so now every session includes art planning with sortable options that can show you what art will look like on your walls. Then we’ll install it for you so you can start enjoying it right away. You’ll see tear-worthy slideshows that show off your session with the excitement it deserves.
Together we will create custom art, crafted through genuine and authentic connections through conversations, not questionnaires. I will give more, to fewer and give myself the time to study new techniques, look up at the sky, and daydream for a minute and breathe in the restorative parts of my life so each session gets me at full speed. I will continue to grow and rise to the top.
I’m feeling good from my hat to my shoe,
Know where I am going and I know what to do,
I’ve tidied up my point of view,
I’ve got a new attitude.