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 rosé, 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. 



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