Tuesday, April 17, 2018

my favourite kind of out-of-office!

When I worked at the law firm I used to be in charge of setting up the most BORING out-of-office messages ever. "So-and-so is not available until the 15th at 9:00am, so please do contact so-and-so for any urgent matters...."

Hashtag NOT ANYMORE. My auto-responder is always delivery the most random messages, and it's currently pumping out a palm tree emoji for the subject line. That's right -- it's vacation o'clock over here!

Super excited to be skipping town to photograph a private elopement in Antigua as of tomorrow morning! Kim K and I are ready for the plane, and promise to be updating Instagram with tons of sunshine, poolside selfies, and tropical drinks. And lemme tell ya, we better we coming home to double-digit temperatures, people. I'm leaving Winter behind with this trip! 

See you next week!!


Thursday, April 12, 2018

the story of a life changed | part seven

What you have to know is that I always knew I was destined for an unusual career. My brother and I grew up in a household that celebrated entrepreneurship, and from a super young age I thought it was weird to have one of those regular jobs everyone seemed to be out there searching for.

Some of my favourite family memories include helping my brother (he's 9 years older than me) with his business as a car detailer. I remember sitting on the floor of his bedroom surrounded by neon yellow paper, helping him cut out the ballots that he would hand out at the tradeshow that upcoming weekend. I saw him living his best life with grease under his fingernails and a huge smile on his face. I saw the way he used his personality to win over his clients and turn them into lifers. I respected his pursuit of business courses at night school instead of the framed University degree.

My father lives with regret that he didn't pursue the career of his dreams, and he used that to teach us that we didn't have to live ordinary lives. If you've met both me and my brother in real life, you'll know that this is the common thread: a pursuit of out of the box happiness and a life that is rich in more ways than just our bank accounts.

Even though our parents definitely wanted to attend our post secondary graduations, we know they're proud that Scott and I have self-made careers.

This series is called the story of a life changed because deciding to start my own business was like opening that baby blue door at the end of the Truman Show. It opened up a new world that I didn't even know was waiting for me on the other side. When you take hold of your own fate, your own life, your own happiness, you realize you can't live any other way.

No, it's not always glamourous, and it surely didn't feel like a "big" thing back then. But the secret of progress is much like that of parenting: the days are long but the years are short. The idea that one day you'll feel like you've "made it" is an illusion. I promise you, even the people that you look up to still feel like they don't know all the answers. So when you take that to heart and start realizing that we're all just trying to do the freaking best we can with what we have to work with, things like competition and jealousy and envy fade away, revealing contentment in their place.

I wrote a post many years ago about comparison and it still holds up. I am ruthless with the people I allow to permeate my screens. I bodyguard my calendar and make sure I'm feeling in control of the hours in each day. I have to continually fight for the thing I worked so hard to create: the freedom to live my best life. And if that's what you're fighting for too, I've collected my best nuggets of advice for you:

ONE // Keep your head down and try to avoid obsessing over what other people in your field are doing.

Take this especially to heart if seeing what they're doing makes you feel shitty about what YOU are doing.

TWO // Be a ruthless editor and a fearless creator.

This quote comes from Christoph Neimann's episode of the Abstract docu-series on Netflix, and has since become my mantra. Essentially it means to create freely, out of the confines of perfection and technique. Just create. Do the thing that makes you happy and do as much of it as you can, and then when it comes time to work the business side, do so with intention.

THREE // If you're low on inspiration, hunt it down.

Inspiration is a muscle that you can train. It's situational. It's either tearing you apart inside as it waves over your creative soul with such force that you think you can't take any more, or it's empty and vast like a desert on a hot day. But if you lay down in the desert and expect the rain to find you, you'll be waiting a long time.

My own recipe for finding inspiration looks like this: I change what I'm looking at. I talk to myself like I'm in a soap opera until I figure out what's blocking the inspiration from coming my way. I listen to music really loudly. I write. I create something -- anything. I find something to feel proud of and chase after it until it's mine.

FOUR // Shift your internal dialogue.

If you're telling yourself that you can't write a blog because you're a "bad writer," change that verbiage to "I'm working on being a better writer." And instead of complaining about how blogging will never work for you, take action on it. Set aside 15 minutes each day to read something that has absolutely no relevance to your industry. The more you read, the more the words will be there for you when it comes time to write.

FIVE // There are no secrets.

Give and give and give as much as you can to the people who are willing to learn from you. There's nothing proprietary about what you do that another hustler out there can't go out and learn from someone else. Turn that curious new follower into a forever loyal admirer by sharing your gifts! Karma is real. 

And from a photography perspective, the minute you realize that your rules about photo usage (I'm talking those blurbs that say things like "Please do NOT crop, edit, or screenshot these photos without asking permission. Copyright 2018 blah-blah-blah"), are preventing your clients from sharing your work with their network and creating referrals for you, is the exact second when you should be taking off your fancy watermark and encouraging clients to treat your photos as their own.

I literally cringe everytime I see a blurb intended to protect a photographer's precious copyright. Check your ego at the door and serve your precious clients instead.

SIX // Don't be your own roadblock.

Don't let things like a company name, a logo, or a piece of equipment hold you back from doing something great. Those things can change and evolve as you do, and nothing is set in stone. Letting those things halt your progress moving forward is like not going on a vacation because you don't know what time the flight leaves. Obviously we know that you first pick your destination, THEN you search for flights.

Stop getting in your own way.

SEVEN // Sharing your world will expand it.

It's very scary to say your ambitions out loud. It's daunting to think of telling your spouse that you're maybe considering a side-hustle. And for those who already have businesses they're pursuing, it can be terrifying to share with your (potentially small) audience what's really on your heart.

But when you open yourself up and freely share about your pursuits, the world has a funny way of helping you out. If you just let it. 

EIGHT // Just show up.

This one is so simple, but so effective. Keep showing up. You're going to get better at something if you just keep doing it. Don't be afraid of making a decision that will take you off course, because those mistakes will help guide your next move. Trust your gut. Stand up for what you believe to be right. Feel free to prove everyone wrong. 

If you're dying to ask me what books I read to learn how to use my camera, or ask for tips on reaching out to successful photographers looking to second-shoot, you're missing the point. In those three pillars of entrepreneurship outlined in the first installment of this series, I identify with number 3. I come from the figure-it-out, make-it-happen, Google-it school of business. I don't know any other way. I think that if you want to do something you should just go out and do it. Yes, look both ways before you cross the street, so to speak, but otherwise walk straight out into traffic and use your nerves as armour for the battle you're about to face.

The time it takes for you to ask for advice is the same time it takes for you to start finding the answer yourself. The information is out there. And even still, there's no substitute for real experience. Or failure. Or risk.

So go out there and make waves! It's your life, you may as well make it as badass as possible.

It has been such a delight to craft this story and share it with you. 
The idea of writing out my story has been sitting with me for years and years. 
And that's the most promising thing about ideas: 
once you act on one, another will pop up in its place.

Here's to figuring out my all time favourite question: what's next?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

the story of a life changed | part six

You’ve been through most of my getting started story with me at this point. You know the pivotal steps that steered me towards specializing in photographing couples. You’ve been down the long road of my Groupon days, and you’ve been there while I found my voice on the internet and used it to market my skills as they developed. 

By part six, we’re done with the grind. It’s only uphill from here! 

My style really started to evolve around my third season as a wedding photographer. I had been able to snag myself a couple dream clients that allowed my work to be seen all over the country and into the US, with help from blogs like Style Me Pretty and Wedluxe. Compared to 2018, getting on those blogs was incredibly easy, as long as you knew what they were looking for and how to submit it!

Now that the market is so saturated, getting featured on a major blog is a whole different ballgame. Not only does your work need to be EXACTLY what they're looking for, but your submission needs to stand out in a huge way to even be considered. 

Even though my Groupon was over, the referrals from that season gave me enough work to fill my calendar for years to come. I realized pretty quickly that the better I shot "in camera," the easier my editing process would be. I made sure to take those extra few seconds to move a stray hair and fuss with his collar before shooting so that I wouldn't have to edit those things later. Turns out, that's what my clients appreciated most: the attention to detail. They felt that I cared about how they looked in their photos. And I truly did -- I mean, they were the reason I no longer had to spend my days in a cublicle! They would forever have my appreciation.

The combination of shooting better and editing quicker led to a gradual shift towards the light, bright, airy, and colourful style you know me to have today. My favouirte photos were the happiest ones, especially where the frame was filled with sunshine. They were the easiest to edit because my creative soul was on fire, so I chased that type of work as much as possible. 

Soon I found myself outgrowing the more youthful brands I had built in the past and started focusing on clean, sleek, minimal design. 

Ultimately I think it came down to my bright & colourful photos and how they didn’t seem to need the fancy glitter or the busy backgrounds anymore. I wanted my photos to speak for themselves! 

I became super strict with the photos that would appear on both my blog and portfolio, careful to only choose photos that reflected the direction where I wanted to go. No more tiered photos of the wedding party in the National Gallery, no more photos where the Groomsmen held the Bride in their outstretched arms. I knew I was in charge of helping my clients to know exactly what they were looking for. 

Over the next few years I invested in myself as a business owner through a really unique collection of workshops and experiences. My time at the WPPI conference in Las Vegas taught me that my value was within me, not my equipment. Enduring a very painful 2 hour masterclass on lighting gear had me furiously scribbling notes into my “GO GET ‘EM” notepad about how if we all use the same equipment and we all find the “perfect” settings, how can we offer something unique to our customers? Also doodled on the same page: 


Other classes preached about how in-person sales were the way to go. Their argument was fueled with stats about how people are X number of times more likely to spend X number of dollars when they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. OH GOOD, I thought, let’s make our clients feel pressured and force them to spend ridiculous amounts for canvasses and 11x14 prints… I was so angry in that class and it’s the only one I’ve ever walked out on. 

It was then and there that I learned the term “service based photographer,” and I freaking ran with it. 

From that point on I would make sure I wholeheartedly agreed with the people who I would allow to speak directly to my business brain. People like Trevor Dayley, Jacilyn M, and of course my longtime love, Jasmine Star. They didn’t teach me anything incredibly revolutionary about using my camera, but I came away from each of those experiences with a newfound love for serving clients, challenging myself to hone my craft with passion, and growing a purposeful business.

When it came time many years later for me to start offering workshops for pro-photographers and beginners, I realized that they had set the bar so very high for me. I owe a lot to these inspirational teachers. 

Around this time the phrase "shoot-and-share" was being tossed around the internet from the older generation of photographers. They used this term to shame the emerging generation of people who were offering shoots with quick editing and an online gallery where clients could download and print however they'd like. We were told that our "free for all sharing methods" were harming the industry, especially those who were charging $85 for an 8x10 printed on lustrous semi-sheen multi-gloss fancy-schmancy paper that was breathed on by angels for 6 hours before getting windswept into their $24 envelopes. I'm exaggerating. But I still think of an $85 8x10 print as getting packaged up by Mr. Bean in Love Actually...

The Big Shots were charging a relatively small fee for a shoot and holding the product ransom until an in-person sales meeting could be arranged where their clients would spend a pretty penny on canvasses, prints and albums. A service based photographer, on the other hand, would much prefer to charge a lofty session fee that was entirely all-inclusive. We relished in that feeling of being able to shower our clients with as many photos as we could, and wholeheartedly enjoyed seeing what they chose to do with those very photos.

Once I really understood the kind of photographer I was shaping up to be, I focused in on that one word that I now knew to be behind everything: service. I vowed to never again hold my photos hostage over my clients.

Tomorrow I'll be sharing the final installment in the series, 
breaking down some of the biggest lessons I learned in my quest 
for entrepreneurship, as well as my advice for those of you who might be
 on the verge of your own life change. 

Thanks for sticking with me! 
You are all giving me LIFE with your encouragement. 
There are simply no words. 


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

the story of a life changed | part five

With the burden of finding work and getting paid being pretty much taken care of thanks to Groupon, I was free to pursue my real passion: booking weddings. I did my first wedding show in January of 2012, where I was able to fill in some gaps in my upcoming season and start booking into 2013. 

I met some of the most wonderful Brides and Grooms at that show, and my fate was changed when I pulled a lucky ballot from a draw for a free engagement session, and ended up meeting Joelle, who was planning her destination wedding in Punta Cana! I can’t even tell you how much of a jackpot it was to be trusted with my first international wedding! 

Being 22 and a wedding photographer proved to be an amazing experience, although it came with certain challenges. People would look at me standing at the front of the ceremony, the lone photographer with a pretty minimal set of gear, and wonder how exactly I got hired. Surely I was the Groom’s cousin or friends with the Bride… It’s humbling to be asked if this is your “real job,” or if you’re “doing this as a wedding gift” when you know you’re really out there building something great. 

2012 wasn’t the same as today. The vision of a wedding photographer has changed a LOT. Back then it was the grumpy looking sweaty guy carrying three bags and a tripod. You know, the one you hear saying “look here and smile!” from any wedding rom-com ever. He’s clunky and socially awkward, and working with him sucks. I’m not kidding friends, this was my competition back then. There were very few of us who were doing things differently. We fueled each other and worked our asses off to show our clients why we were different. 

We knew our Brides wouldn't care about photography related accolades and competition wins. We had to be different, to celebrate who we were, and bring something NEW to the table. The Other Guys had nothing on our sparkly personalities. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to dull them… 

Sometime after my first official wedding, I attended my first wedding industry event: a pub night at Heart & Crown on Preston. I predictably arrived 15 minutes early and sipped my drink at the bar while waiting for everyone to show up. I worked up the nerve to go over to a lady in her mid-thirties and ask if she was here for the wedding industry thing, only to have her politely apologize that no, she wasn’t.

Another glass of rosĂ©, please. This was going to be a long night. 

A few people started gathering near where I was standing and I overheard some of the buzz words I was waiting for, like “ceremony,” “reception,” and “how's your season looking so far?” I said a few quick hellos before spotting a table of ladies who I definitely knew to be a part of this event. I sat down beside one of them (let’s call her Schmarb) and promptly introduced myself, only to have her roll her eyes, mutter something along the lines of, “oh good, just what we need – another photographer,” and turn away from me in her seat. 

I’ve never been so shocked at someone’s behavior… And she was an adult! Technically I was too, but she made me feel so small and unnecessary. Schmarb had never heard of me then, but boy has she heard of me now. Not to worry, this little Ariel didn’t let Ursula dull her shine. 

I walked back to my car with tears in my eyes, but not the sad kind. These were tears of empowerment. You’ve got it all wrong, I thought. I’m not just another photographer. Just watch me. 

It wasn’t the only time I’ve gotten some backlash from my community. It happened shortly after my Groupon ran. I woke up that next morning with stars in my eyes and the prospect of leaving my job in a few weeks, only to have the wind taken out of me after reading a post on Facebook. 

There was a photographer’s group for the Ottawa and Gatineau region and I’d been a member for a few months. A photographer who embodies “The Other Guy” persona, let’s call him Gene, decided to write a post calling out “that photographer who’s running today’s Groupon.” One important note: because I was still engaged and hadn’t yet changed my name, I appeared as Laura Hurren on Facebook, not Laura Kelly. Unless he did some thorough homework, he would never have known I was a member of that group. 

I’ll summarize his lengthy and exaggerated post for you: 

Here’s another photographer-turned-Groupon-robot who is coming into our industry and undercutting the rest of us. 

She’s already up to 300 sales, sales which otherwise would have gone into OUR pockets. And she’s valuing herself for absolutely nothing and working for FREE. Actually, she’s not working for free, she’s PAYING for these clients. 

(And this is the part where he broke it down like a receipt...) 

$55 for the shoot 
Groupon takes half, now she’s down to $28. 
For gas to and from each shoot, let’s budget $10. 
For the DVD and the case that she’s giving to each client there’s another $20. 
For insurance and web hosting she’s easily paying $5 per client. 

So now she’s down to nothing. This girl will have better luck flipping burgers for money than picking up her camera and trying to make a career out of it. 

Ruining this industry for the rest of us. 

(As I write this, I so desperately hope Gene gets a chance to read his own words again. Although he probably even still agrees with them…) 

His words rolled off my back; what does this guy know… First of all, I don’t know what fancy ass $20 DVD case he’s giving out, or what kind of Escalade he’s cruising around town in, but I knew his numbers to be completely untrue of my endeavor. The part that rattled me was the 140+ comments by other photographers in town who hopped on the bashing train. Schmarb showed up and agreed wholeheartedly, saying I was “stealing food out of her kids’ mouths.” A few photographers I respected joined in to say that I wouldn’t be in business come 6 months. Instead of hiding and continuing to use my maiden name as a shield, I showed up and shared my side of the story. 

But that’s the funny thing about nay-sayers, they’re not really looking to have their minds changed. 

I left that group for good and haven’t looked back since. I figured the best thing I could do was stick around long after that 6 month mark. 

Even back then, before I had shot a single one of the Groupon sessions that waited for me, I knew I would turn this story into a successful one. I could picture myself writing about this experience and how it helped me to grow. Almost seven years later, most of those names have all but disappeared from the map. Schmarb still shoots in Ottawa, but Gene hasn’t posted anything online for over five years. The awards he's won probably look super cool displayed on his mantle though. I wish him well. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

the story of a life changed | part four

Thankfully I had some experience with the legal jargon, and my experience as an assistant made it easy to create a document that looked super legit. When the signed contract came back with a cheque for over $1,000, I cried and ran back to my friend’s desk to share the news. I couldn’t have done it without her. 

My first real wedding was on the books; it felt like I had just made it to the Super Bowl. (And I doubled up on my memory card supply just in case…) 

When that wedding day came at the end of September, everything changed. I worked for 14 hours and shot 6,000 photos that day (resulting in a collection of 800 edited ones), a number which is hilarious now as I look back. Just to give you a frame of reference, on my most detailed and delicious wedding from 2017 I shot 2,000 photos, and turned that into a final collection of 750. The better you get, the smaller that ratio becomes. 

The original Laura Kelly Bride right here!! Mel was so laid back, so cool, and had beautiful style. That black sash was KILLER back in 2011 -- trust! 

Oh and what's a wedding without a tiered photo of the wedding party in various poses... 

I blogged their wedding and pimped it around online for a full 6 months, while I collected the 21 weddings that I would shoot that next Summer. With a full day wedding in my portfolio, suddenly Brides felt that they could trust me to show up. 

As we approach the next part of this story, I’m inviting you to change the soundtrack from the optimistic hopefulness from parts 1-3, to the trepidacious thundering tones from Shutter Island. Or Jaws… Choose your own musical reference as we forge ahead with *dun dun dunnnnnnn* …the GROUPON era. 

You might remember hearing a little bit about my Groupon experience from this blog post about difficult times, but I’m diving in deeper than ever before. 

I remember shooting a small wedding that morning. And I remember crying at night. It was the day that Groupon ran an ad for me, for a 1 hour photo session that could be used for anything from engagement photos to graduation coverage. If the Kijiji deal made me feel accomplished, then working with Groupon was like the gold star you get for student-of-the-week in second grade.   

For $55 plus tax, you received said 1-hour session as well as a DVD of my favourite 20 photos from the shoot. There was a little blurb about how you might be able to purchase additional photos afterwards, but there wasn’t a price tag attached. From that $55, Groupon took 20%, and the rest went to me. Doesn’t sound like a lot, right? Something like $44 for an hour of my time, but don’t forget I had previously been giving away sessions for free while broadening my portfolio. 

The first time I remember checking the ad was at 7am before I headed off to a small wedding I booked as a referral from one of my free shoots. The ad was live and my name and heart-shaped logo appeared right at the top of Groupon Ottawa’s home page. And to boot, it even had 2 sales! When I checked it at 10am the number had skyrocketed to 100, and I excitedly called Ryan to tell him the news! He was SO excited for me, and said he would keep refreshing for me since he knew I would be busy for the rest of the day. 

Over the next 3 hours, the excitement turned to nerves. The number was climbing into the 300s… 

I knew I had to call my rep at Groupon to let him know to pull the ad – it wasn’t even half over and I was sitting here with more shoots than days before the expiration date in 8 months! He pulled it off the web and told me he was so thankful to have worked with me. The final tally ended up at 406. 

Now the soundtrack makes sense, doesn’t it? 

406 photoshoots that would need to be completed in 8 months. And let’s not forget I was still working a full time job as a legal assistant… My Groupon rep assured me that only about 50% of people who purchase Groupons actually redeem them before the expiration date, so not to worry! Somehow I knew I couldn’t count on that. 

Leave it to Ryan Kelly to cheer me up with math: he eased my nerves by showing me on a calculator what Groupon would be sending me by cheque next week: $17,864.00. 

I went to sleep feeling nervously excited. Maybe I wouldn’t be commuting to the law firm for very much longer… 

Turns out, I would leave my job only 2 weeks after that Groupon ran, freeing me up to accept daytime bookings and pursue many of the things on my photography to-do list without having to shield my computer screen from my bosses. 

The next 8 months were a whirlwind of hard work, hustle, and expedited education. 

When the emails started rolling in I realized I needed to have some sort of organized method for handling all of the bookings. I switched from my trusted paperback agenda to a Google Calendar. When a client inquired, they were given 3 dates to choose from, most of which were on weekdays at either 8:30am, 11:00am, or 1:30pm. I used my evenings to edit those three shoots so that I wasn’t behind come the next day. I look back on my work ethic during that period of time where I was doing 21 shoots a week and honestly don’t know how I did it. I kept a huge running tally of the Groupon clients and with each click of the shutter I was one second closer to my freedom. 

I learned more shooting those 386 sessions that were redeemed than 3 years of organic experience would have allowed. I learned my limits. I learned how valuable my time really is. I learned about customer care, and how if you give and give and give, it will come back to you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. I also learned that the 50% redemption rate was total bull. 

Oh, and remember when I said that the option to add extra photos didn’t come with a price tag? Well that ended up being a freaking goldmine. They already received my favourite 20 images from the session on their DVD, but using a SmugMug gallery I uploaded a collection of majorly watermarked additional photos for sale. My first few collections sold for $30 each. And everyone was buying them… So I tried $40. Then $50, $65, and after 4 months the complete collection was worth over $185. Groupon didn’t take a cut from this additional profit because it wasn’t contained within our deal. 

I never expected an 85% collection rate for those additional photos, but I’m incredibly grateful for it. I learned to shoot better and faster than ever before, with a focus on getting exactly what my clients wanted, ensuring myself that add-on sale. This structure led to an additional $45,000 in revenue, pushing me into a new tax bracket and landing me more money than I could have earned at the law firm. 

When someone asks me where I studied photography I tell them I'm self-taught. But really, this 8 month Groupon education was more important than any classroom or textbook on the subject. Just for my own curiosity, I compiled a photo from each of those 8 months, in order, as a way to see my work evolve. Maybe it's just me, but when I look at the compilation below I see a style being solidified. I see couples getting happier with each month. I see shadows disappearing and lightness in its place. 

The Groupon era was pivotal in the business that I’ve been able to build over these 8 years. I needed to be pushed to my absolute limit in order to come away with the clear vision of the photographer I wanted to be: a boutique wedding & engagement photographer. 

And now that I could envision the business of my dreams, it was time to build it.   

Sunday, April 8, 2018

the story of a life changed | part three

Jasmine Star's photography was different than the other websites I’d stumbled upon, and she had this brand new thing called…wait for it…a blog. My incessant Googling took a backseat while I read Jasmine’s words all the way back to 2007. Back to the ugly posts, the ones with the black framed borders around each photo. I looked at every wedding, every engagement, and devoured every personal story about her life and upbringing. 

I read every word and treated it as my bible going forward. 

Links within her posts allowed me to branch out to other blogs, like Mikaela Ruth, Stephanie Fay, Meg Perotti, and my personal favourite: Jamie Delaine. These ladies were paving the way for a new wave of creative people. 

I started writing about my life even though it felt like I was speaking to no-one. I’m talking page views: 3 (one from when I double-checked the link, one from Ryan, and one from my only subscriber: my Mom.) 

Each post was maybe only 5 or 6 photos long, but I always made sure to include some of my own words. Instagram wasn't a thing yet, so people were hungry for observance into their friends' lives. Before long people were rooting for me to leave my day job and pursue photography full time. They were watching from the sidelines to see if I could do it. Supportive, genuine, curious blog readers. 

Jasmine wrote a post about Showit and how she had designed her own unique website. I felt the words sink deep into my stomach. I had just spent $600 on a website that had zero personality. I felt guilty about even thinking of abandoning my site designer, who surely made all his money from monthly hosting fees. But like most of my ideas, this one was persistent. The more I looked at my clinical, cold website, the more I hated it. My blog started looking way more "me," and I had created that through trial and error using a basic template. 

This "professional" website I was sporting could have belonged to anyone…and I wasn’t happy being anyone. 

I took a leap and subscribed to Showit’s web design platform, and started playing. By this time I had completed most of the 33 Kijiji sessions that I had sold, and the referrals from those shoots were starting to spread! For the first time ever, I could be selective when picking photos for this new site. 

This photo of Brittany and Brent is an original favourite of mine. It was the first time I had ever achieved that look of sunshine filling the photo, and it was even on the verge of light and airy. It was the start of what would become my signature look. 

And can we talk about that photo on the right for a minute?! I had this vision of a blog button being the focus of my home page, so naturally I created a rustic banner out of MANILLA ENVELOPES and had my friend snap the photo. What you have to remember is that blogs were so new that I wasn't sure if my clients would know to click there! So this was me drawing as much attention to the blog as possible -- giant yellow arrow and all. 

Inspired by the personalized websites that I saw amongst these other photographers, I infused a ton of "about me" details into this site, far beyond the typical mini-paragraph biography. Spotted: my first iPhone, my dream Michael Kors bag, shimmery gold eye shadow, and a deep love of napping. I still love all of these things. 

One thing I didn’t expect as a result of purchasing a subscription to Showit was acceptance into a small but growing community of likeminded photographers who HELPED each other. There were no secrets in this group. It seems crazy to type this now because Showit is a HUGE company and the community is almost too big, but back then it was small and united; it was summer camp for budding new photographers. 

When I heard rumblings about an event called WPPI in Las Vegas, I booked a ticket before I lost my nerve. I had heard it was the place to be to learn, mingle, and meet a bunch of the Showit people I'd only met online. 

(If you're in the photography world, WPPI 2012 was magical. 
I met David Jay, Jasmine Star, Zach & Jody, Jacilyn M, 
and Sam & Reid who would eventually become Orange Photographie. 
Here's my recap post -- insane!) 

I didn’t have “income” per say from my business endeavor, although I didn’t have any debt. Everything I made from those small shoots went into paying for the camera bag, my Lightroom DVD and instruction manual, and the monthly fees for hosting my new Showit site. But the Vegas ticket, this was uncharted territory. Literally. Investing in that trip in September meant that by February when I would actually be flying across the country, my business would be worth it. 

I remember feeling like I didn’t want to stand still. I wanted to keep pushing and do the things that scared me. 

While I waited for February to come, things were moving along swiftly at home. I started planning my first styled shoot after seeing my idol photographers controlling what types of photos they were creating. But trust me, it wasn't as glamourous as styled shoot planning is now... There were no companies offering things like vintage rentals, which meant that if I wanted an old looking chair for my shoot, I had to sift through a heap of furniture in a warehouse and haul it into my Yaris all by myself. I was a total no-name, so who was going to make me a cake and lend me a wedding dress? 

It ultimately ended up being a small operation with a blood-sweat-and-tears kind of investment on my end. I marketed the heck out of those styled photos of my dear friend Caroline. We borrowed china from her grandparents and drove across the city twice between hair and makeup, but we made her look like a fancy bride with killer style. And at the time, that's exactly what I was after. 

I haven't looked at these photos in YEARS, but seeing them with fresh eyes, I'm pretty proud of them! If I had used my current editing techniques, these photos would have slayed! 

Just for fun let's check into that editing theory with a little then vs. now... 

See? I was a light and airy photographer even back then, I just didn't know how to blow out my highlights! ;) 

Now excuse me while I go back and re-edit every photo that's ever appeared on my blog... ;) 

My first Showit website had been set up for a couple weeks at this point, but I still had to do a double take when I saw an inquiry in my email for a real wedding in Ottawa. A real wedding…like with dinner? And bridesmaids?! I read the words over and over again until I had them memorized. A couple named Melanie and Michel were planning their black and white wedding at LAGO, and wanted to know if I was available. I ran over to my friend’s desk at the law firm and told her the news. 

“But I don’t have any pricing yet! I don’t have one of those 
legal agreement things! I don’t even know if I have enough 
memory cards for a full day...” 

She was my Tim Gunn in that moment and told me exactly what I needed to hear: You can do this. Just figure it out step by step. You have to make it work. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

the story of a life changed | part two

By the time I met up with Ryan after work, I was a photographer. He looked at me like I was crazy when I said I had already lined up my first round of clients and had arranged to pick up a camera bag from some guy on Kijiji later that evening. 

Pause for a quick note about this camera bag: it was giant. I still have it and use it and I don’t know how I will ever part with it. I bought it when I owned one camera and the lens that it came with. Nothing more. And yet here was this bag with 6 slots for lenses I didn't own and the encouragement that I would get there one day. You know that saying, "dress for the job you want, not the job you have" -- well let's just say I was carrying the bag of the photographer I wanted to be. 

Over the next 2 weeks I managed to buy some equipment: a 60mm macro lens that’s still with me today, a 50mm f1.4 that I've since replaced, two SB 700 flashes, and a handful of memory cards. I opened a gmail account, and had a friend design a logo for me. I contacted a website designer in downtown Ottawa and began collecting photos to populate it. I was a girl with a plan. 

Within a month I had my very first cookie cutter website, which proudly used verbiage like “Laura Kelly specializes in…” and “Book your free consultation NOW!” I was proud enough of it to share it on Facebook, but that’s about all I remember from this very first site. 

After my very successful ad on Kijiji from the month before, their staff contacted me about doing a Kijiji Daily Deal. HEYOOO, I thought I had made it. Kijiji wanted to work with ME?! I sold 33 packages through that deal, which gave me more than enough beautiful photos to fill up my newly designed website. One shoot in particular nudged me in the direction that photographing couples might be the way to go… 

Even back then I knew that blurry happy people were better than sharp and bored people. 

P.S. I'm sharing these images with the original watermark that I used at the time, just to give it that extra bit of pazazz I was rocking in 2012... I truly hope you're appreciating it. 

I wish I could tell you some profound story about the first wedding I ever photographed, but it really wasn’t that eventful! The couple was getting married at City Hall and responded to my free ad after thinking they weren’t going to have any photos taken at all. 

While they probably felt like anything I could give to them would be above their expectations (I mean, you can't expect much from the free girl on Kijiij...), I did the very best that I could with the knowledge that opportunities like this didn’t come around very often. 

The story ends exactly as you’d imagine: they were happy with the photos, and I could now call myself a wedding photographer. And the one or two photos that were useable were displayed on the back of my very first business cards. But you'll have to kill me before I ever share that full gallery...the fishbowl lens is not a good look. 

My days at the law firm were spent on Google, searching for anything that I could get my hands on about learning to be a pro-photographer. I learned to work so quickly on my legal assistant tasks so that I could give myself more time to pour into my new business. I knew that the only way this would work was if I was still killing it in the assistant game, allowing Laura Kelly Photography to go completely unnoticed. Emails were answered in record time, files were delivered to the lawyers desks with a smile and a fresh coffee, and I signed up to run the party planning committee. 

My 33 Kijiji sessions were a breeze. I had this very fancy line that I would tell clients about how I was "just finishing up another session before yours, so would it be possible to meet at 12:30pm on Parliament Hill?" 

AKA: My lunch break. 

With a camera in my purse and a green apple for my walk over, I made this lunch hour shooting trick work a few dozen times over. And I can proudly say I know of every little nook and cranny within walking distance from 160 Elgin Street. 

Back at the office, while scrolling through a forum about portfolio building I read a comment that said: “we can’t all be 26, beautiful, and living in California like Jasmine Star – some of us have to work extra hard to be mediocre.” 

I now know that finding that name was like coming up for air. My whole game was about to change. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

the story of a life changed | part one

Writing my story has been on my big picture to-do list for years. I am so thankful for the scribbles and notes I saved from all those years ago, which helped to connect the events and the way that they unfolded. It's funny how time passes and your perspective changes. Maybe Justin Bobby was right, and truth and time really do tell all...

There was nothing special about the particular morning I decided to write this story. It was as ordinary as the morning when my story began.

That 7am car ride in 2011 plays in my mind like a scene from a movie, the soundtrack sounding something like this. A 21-year old on the verge of a brand new life, except she didn’t know it.

To set the scene, I was newly engaged, working as a legal assistant at one of the biggest law firms in Canada, eyebrows weren't even a thing yet, and Instagram was how people edited their photos. I did own a digital camera, but I used it to take gems like this:

In a moment of silence I felt the following words escape my throat without much thought behind them:

“Maybe I should become a wedding photographer...”

If life resembles the Milton Bradley board game, then this was one of those forks in the road that spiraled into a world of its own. And the fact that the fiancé who sat next to me offered nothing but support and assistance was my lucky roll of the dice.

By the time we had parked our 2010 Yaris in the lot off Somerset it was decided, and by the time I sat down in my wobbly office chair in the beige cubicle of the law firm, I was fully committed to the idea. I Googled things like, “how to become a wedding photographer,” and “best lenses to shoot weddings.” It was only an hour before that Ryan was asking me what it was I needed to be able to succeed, and now I scribbled the following things on one of those pink you’ve-got-messages notepads:

Get a good camera
Buy a few lenses
Camera bag
Editing software (no idea about this…)
Some memory cards (how big?)
A flash
A website
Book some shoots, for…free?

I was listening to a podcast by Gary Vaynerchuk the other day, which outlined the 3 pillars of becoming an entrepreneur. I’ll paraphrase but essentially it went like this:

ONE // Go to school, get the degree, and earn the piece of paper that tells the world it's okay to trust you.

TWO // Find someone who already does what you want to do and learn from them until you have the skills to do it yourself.

THREE // Eat shit and learn it the hard way.

Gary shouted through my headphones that he was number 3. Experts recommend number 2. And 99% of the world sticks with number 1.

I didn’t know it at the time but my unconscious decision to be number 3 would shape my business for the rest of my life.

Now here’s the part where I regale you with tales about how my business was born. It’s not meant to be a how-to guide because it certainly wasn’t perfect. But what it will be is factual, real, and raw.

By noon that day I had snagged myself 10 free shoots using an ad on Kijiji, offering an hour long session with as many photos as I could give, with full declaration that I was brand new at this and was simply looking to build a portfolio. I had these 10 dates doodled on an envelope at my desk, and walked to Grand&Toy on my lunch hour to purchase an agenda to put them in.

I remember that walk like it was yesterday. My feet felt weightless and the possibilities were euphoric. I prayed the feeling would never go away.