The Transition to Full-Time Photographer

November 19, 2019

5 years ago, I bought my first “nice” camera.  It was a Canon T3 Rebel.  In reality, it wasn’t that nice, but to me, this $500 purchase represented a big, shiny opportunity.

I invested in that camera so I could take better photos for my blog.  Back in the day, I was a style blogger. Well, I wanted to be anyway.

I had a blog back when it was weird to have one, but I loved it. I loved that it was a place where I had unlimited creative freedom. I was shooting outfits and writing about them. In reality I was likely talking to an audience of about 5 people (my mom and boyfriend-now-turned-husband being 2 of those 5) but I had hope and I was inspired.

I kept it going for a few years.  I learned so much about posing, color coordination, and the technical skills of photography.

Most importantly, I learned something about myself.

I learned that it wasn’t talking about dresses & shoes that made me happy.  I truly didn’t find much purpose in that.

I did, however, find purpose in being behind the camera, and bringing joy to others by giving them memories that would last a lifetime.

Cue the start of my business.  I consider this time of my life the opening act to my creative & entrepreneurial journey.

I graduated college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing.  I landed jobs that cultivated crucial life skills and allowed me to grow both personally and professionally.

My past turned me into this strange hybrid, in that I love the business & marketing side of things just as much as the creative side.  That’s rare in this industry, and something I’m incredibly grateful for.

Every move I’ve ever made has brought me here. Everything was on purpose and it happened exactly how it was meant to. A few weeks ago, after a lot of hard work, I was able to turn my dream into reality and I’m now a full-time wedding photographer. I left my windowless cube and the corporate world for creative freedom and the ability to make my own decisions.

Little did I know, that $500 camera was my ticket out, and all of my experiences since then were my road map to get to where I am today.

In some ways, I feel lucky that this happened.  But as Barbara Corcoran says, “luck is a byproduct of hard work and good judgement.”

That couldn’t be more true.

But it wasn’t, and still isn’t easy.  Hard work doesn’t come without sacrifices and good decisions can seem like the furthest thing from obvious.

I’ll never, ever say this was simple, or that I didn’t have to give up certain comforts (you know, like a guaranteed salary…) But this year I’m making transparency and vulnerability in my business a big ol’ priority and I want you to know a little about what it took for me to get here, and my current status.

As I’m writing this, you can picture me sitting my my pajamas behind my desk with no makeup on and a space heater at my feet (hellooo, November in Wisconsin) and my dog curled up in his cozy bed in the corner.

So, here’s some of the “become a full-time photographer” prep work I did:

  • First, I want to be very clear that jumping without a net was NEVER my plan.  I don’t think that would have been smart and I don’t recommend that approach. Before I made any decisions to leave my job, I did a LOT of planning, I talked to my family & friends, and I did research.  When I started getting frustrated and wanted to “just do it already” I read the book “Quitter” by Jon Acuff and it was eye-opening.  That book preached about how your day-job allows you to build your dream job, which is a perfect segway into my next point…
  • I built my business on the side while I worked full-time for over 2 years. I saved, saved, and saved some more from that guaranteed salary I mentioned, and it was a key factor in my end result.
  • Here comes the sacrifice part: I gave up my own personal time. I had to. My day job took up 9 hours of each day, Monday – Friday. The only time left was in the morning (ugh, those 5:00AM start times) after work, and on the weekends.  Did I miss out on things and say no to opportunities I would have rather said yes to? Sure did.  But was it worth it? I can say with absolute certainty that it was.
  • I paid off debt.  Those student loans were like a dark cloud over our heads and I didn’t want those clouds to rain on my business. Adam and I are Dave Ramsey fans and have followed his plan to a debt-free life.  No debt = more income to SAVE and not stress about finances while I was building my business.
  • I bought every piece of equipment with cash, and I saved until I could do so.  It took longer, but we never went into debt for my business.
  • I leaned on Adam for support.  It took dedication and commitment from both of us to do this.  There were moments where I don’t know if I could have kept going without him.

I also want to say that this worked for me, but I’m not saying this is what YOU should do if you’re looking to make a life change. I’m no financial planner, and I don’t have all the answers, but these are the things that allowed me to make the transition, so I wanted to share them with you 🙂

After all that, here’s what life’s lookin’ like now:

  • Honestly, it doesn’t feel quite real. It’s not normal for me to NOT go to an office every single day.  It feels a little bit like I’m on extended “PTO” , so I have to remind myself daily that this is my life now.  It is very real.
  • It feels purposeful and affirming. I know with every fiber in me that I’m meant to do this, and that’s really, really awesome.
  • I’m giving myself grace, while I’m able to. I decided to make the transition during the slower months in my business, because I knew how important it was to give some TLC to the parts of it that will help it GROW, and not just jump straight into the busy shooting season again. But I’ve also accepted how important it is to take off days when I need them, just like I would if I was working for another employer.  So I do that!
  • There’s a certain “scariness” of not knowing if what I’m doing is actually productive, or just taking up time. I work for myself, so it’s up to me to make these decisions, which is cool yet also intimidating.
  • Oh, the PRESSURE!! My life and growth trajectory is now completely reliant upon ME.  There’s nobody there to do it for me. There’s no guaranteed income if I don’t HUSTLE and continue to make the right decisions.
  • I’m putting a lot of focus on GOALS and priorities for 2020 at the moment.  Having goals that are clear and defined, and that are in alignment with the priorities for my life prevents me from putting too much time & energy into things that aren’t important or won’t move the needle, AND they keeps me from experiencing the fear of not knowing what to do next.

Dannngg that was a long post!! If you made it through, you deserve a virtual high-five!

I’m leaving you with a few photos of what my new work-space looks like and where you can find my sometimes-disheveled-no-makeup-wearing-self most days. I love this space and how inspiring it is.  It represents so much more than an “office” to me. When I walk into this room, I’m instantly reminded of how grateful I am that I get to do this every day.

Lastly, Adam gave me those white roses the day I left my job to do this.  That was weeks ago, and they still look amazing.  They’re still going strong.

Cheers to that!

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