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.