Today I’m getting personal and sharing a little bit about my journey to photography….
At least a few times a week, I have conversations that go like this:
First comes: “How long have you been doing photography?”
This one’s easy – we (my husband, Rick, and I are partners in our business) have been in business for 8 years.
And, inevitably, the next question is: “So, have you always wanted to be a photographer, Anna?”
This question always makes me smile and laugh to myself, and even though it comes up all the time, I still sometimes stumble through my answer…
If there was one thing I was sure about for the first 27 years of my life, it was that I would never be an artist.
I have most definitely NOT always wanted to a be a photographer. I didn’t grow up with a camera in my hands. In fact, if I went back and told myself 9 years ago, while I was a helicopter pilot serving in Iraq for the year, that I would soon be a professional photographer and have my own studio with a steady stream of incredible clients – there’s no way in hell I would have believed you. I didn’t even know how to use a DSLR camera 9 years ago. My comfort zone was found in my routine of using flight controls and maps and flight plans and night vision goggles.
For as long as I can remember, success to me meant studying to get lots fancy degrees (hello, undergrad in physics/nuclear engineering from West Point and Master’s in Aeronautics) and then working my way up the corporate ladder – running big projects, leading big teams, and taking home the big paychecks.
And, over time, I did all those things that I thought “success” meant. Got the degrees. Wore the badass flight suit. Flew the helicopter missions in over 15 different countries as a pilot in command. Managed the big projects. Led the big teams. Got the fancy corporate job. Brought home the bacon, complete with big bonuses every January.
But – to say that something was missing even after I accomplished all of those things would be a huge understatement. Everything was missing. There was a big black hole in my life, sucking out all of the joy, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I was missing fulfillment. I missed being adventurous with my husband. I hated commuting to my job through an hour of traffic each way. I resented that the corporate world was alllllllll about the money. I was outwardly living a life of accomplishment, but on the inside I was miserable. It was a disappointing moment, when I realized that after all that I had done to earn titles and jobs, that my work and my life didn’t light me up.
When Rick and I first met and started dating over 10 years ago, we were living in Europe. We locked eyes, butterflies commenced, and it was literally love at first sight. I was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot at the time, and one day I had a maintenance issue with my helicopter, and he happened to be the one to walk up to fix it….and that was it! Sparks flew. We were inseparable. I immediately knew we were going to get married and be together forever. He brought an element of light-heartedness and go-with-the-flow into my life that I desperately needed (and still need).
While we were dating, we started traveling together, around Europe on weekends – and I don’t know if you’ve even been to Europe….but it. is. gorgeous. For our first weekend date we stayed in a castle overlooking a lake (we’ve gotta go back someday for an anniversary!). And then we diligently set about accomplishing our goal of visiting a new country every month…touring Pompeii in Italy one month, and getting scrubbed down until our skin was pink in a Turkish bath in Istanbul the next.
And then something pivotal happened that changed the course of our lives. As we were traveling together, we started taking pictures. We were newly in love. It was the happiest time of our lives. We wanted to hold on to every single second. We took pictures of places. Pictures of each other. Pictures together. We became enthralled with how we could preserve a feeling, a moment, an emotion through a photo – even with our crappy old point and shoot cameras (this was before the days of smart phones).
And while we were falling madly in love with each other, we unexpectedly fell in love with photography, too.
And one day, we woke up and realized that there was another option. We could take a different path. There was a potential parallel life out there that we could bring to fruition. We realized that maybe, just maybe, we could start a photography business and work together full time and do something that we really truly loved as a career.
It had never before occurred to me that (hello!) I could do something I really truly loved as a career, work for myself, and make money doing it. This realization opened up a whole new world for us.
And so, on a whim one evening, we sold Rick’s beloved Jeep wrangler, and then (with shaking hands and nausea) we invested all of that money plus our savings into a massive order of photography gear. I remember not being able to bring myself to actually hit the purchase button – Rick had to do it.
And so, because I worked a corporate job for a couple of years while we grew our business, I started tearfully dreading Monday mornings at my corporate job, and dreaming about being a full time photographer instead. This is something I wrestled with for a long time – because I had put so much hard work and time into my accomplishments – so to “throw all of that away” to start our own business and pursue my dream of being a photographer felt totally nuts, to put it mildly. Losing the steady paycheck, the benefits, the bonuses, etc, was terrifying.
From there, the stereotypical entrepreneurial struggle began, working 50-60 hours a week at my day job, and spending every extra second on nights and weekends growing our photography business. Despite everything I had already experienced in my life, this was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We seriously considered quitting multiple times.
But, every time I would hold my camera in my hands, or see the light in a client’s eyes when they started to really truly feel confident in their own skin, or to hand someone a print of their family and feel the tears leak down my face as they started to cry their own tears of joy….I knew I was on the right path, and that this is my purpose.
Before coming a photographer, I always knew that I wanted to change the world….I just had no idea that this was how I was going to be able to do just that.