Photography had swallowed up my life in the best way imaginable. I brought my D50 with me everywhere and photographed everything. I was even set to photograph two weddings with Kristen in March! But it was becoming apparent that this camera couldn't handle the demands of wedding photography. I could hardly spot the bride and groom in the midst of a noisy 1600 ISO. But, remember, my only real job was at Quizno's up until this point. I made a bit of money from David and Casey's wedding but it wasn't enough for a brand new camera. I didn't want to part ways with my D50 in case I needed a back up camera so I was faced with raising $1,000 on my own. And that didn't even factor in new lenses which I heard were even more important than the body. Great!
Enter my high school art teacher Connie. "Tell me what kind of money you have that you could put towards that camera and how much more would you need" she wrote in an email. I couldn't believe it. Connie was offering to help me pay for my new camera. As if she hadn't helped me enough as an artist! To this day, it's one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. Without Connie (and a generous contribution from my parents) I would not have been able to produce the images that kickstarted my entire photography career. Connie, I know you're reading this, so thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope to do the same for a struggling artist one day.
Come March 2nd, the D200 was mine. Two weeks later I assisted my first double header wedding weekend with Kristen. Looking back, it was probably best that I was exposed to this type of insanity early on because it was the truest test of my ability. Weddings are ROUGH. They will sap your physical energy and your mental capacity. I always say the hardest part of a wedding for me isn't the physical stamina but the ability to stay engaged in every moment. You are constantly "on". Weddings require you to be personable, flexible, patient, funny, authoritative, and invisible all at the same time. And unless you have a strong vision and connection with your clients you will find yourself feeling stupid almost immediately. I have felt this way countless times while shooting weddings. That's when the acting part comes in. ;) Don't for a second think I approach every wedding with a lavish game plan. Heck no. I've shown up to weddings tired, discouraged, broken hearted, and whip-lashed from a car accident. But I put on a smile and get to work. Soon enough I'm reminded why I love my job so much and how well it fits me. I'm reminded how much I care about the people I'm photographing, how much I love their smiles even when they don't know I'm taking their photos. I'm reminded how much has to take place for two separate, messy hearts to love one another unconditionally, how meaningful it is to have all of their most beloved people in the same place for the first time, and how important my role is in photographing it.
Shooting with Kristen was great. As the assistant photographer I didn't feel the pressure of the whole wedding on my shoulders. I was also able to use the photos for my own personal portfolio so I blogged up a storm! Word got out and people from all sorts of places saw the pictures. One of my childhood friends, Jeremy, had recently gotten engaged and asked if I would be interested in shooting his wedding. "Of course!" I hadn't seen Jeremy in a while and never met his fiancé Angela but it felt like the perfect fit. It didn't even cross my mind that this was a wedding without Kristen…a wedding as the lead photographer. Again, that essential ingredient "foolishness" comes back into play. Had I truly been aware that I was "on my own" for this one I think I would have had a panic attack. God knew this because it wasn't until my drive-up to Pennsylvania with my assistant Brittany that it actually hit me. This was my first wedding. Holy cow.
My heart was racing as I pulled up to the church. What the heck was I getting myself into! What if I was bad at this!? I fluttered around the wedding day in a bewildered, excited fashion. Maybe if I kept too busy to think I'd forget how crazy this was. I felt like such a poser! Here I was the lead photographer, directing my own assistant, at my very first wedding. How would I know if I was getting a good shot? I didn't have a free moment to even scroll through the photos. Before I knew it the ceremony was over and it was time for the bride & groom portraits. I was excited about using the abandoned farm house on the property but nervous about shooting them alone. I had never posed a couple by myself.
Looking back, I can't help but be amazed. Because, 7 years later, this photo by the attic window is still one of my favorite wedding photos. It's certainly not my style anymore or how I edit either. But remembering the moment that photo came together? Wow. It was instant chills. It felt like Christmas morning time twenty. I was breathless and beside myself. After all the stressing and worrying it all came together in front of that window. The attic was June hot and stiflingly humid. The coordinator was waiting for us to finish and head back to the reception. But I didn't want to leave! It was in that moment I realized I wanted to do this job for a very long time. Maybe not forever. But wow, if I could just get that feeling again? That would be amazing.
I'm happy to report I got that feeling many times after. And still do. One month later I photographed another favorite of mine, David & Sarah Altrogge's wedding. After successfully surviving Jeremy & Angela's wedding my spirits were much higher. David was a family friend and I knew many of the guests. I still felt like I was faking it a little but it was easier faking than before.
Over the next few months I photographed 6 more weddings, 3 of them as the lead photographer. I couldn't believe "so many people" were interested in hiring me just a year after graduating high school! I wasn't sure if they knew how young I was but I certainly wasn't going to tell them. I had some amazing opportunities within my reach and I wasn't about to let them get away.
I finished the summer of 2008 in a happy daze. It was simply wonderful to be able to do something I loved and make money doing it. That Fall I went back to Montgomery College and registered for mostly Gen Ed courses in hopes of getting them all out of the way by the time I transferred to a four year college. I did allow myself one photo class though and that was Photojournalism. It was like the clouds parted and chubby Da Vinci cherubs started to sing. Photojournalism was it. The style, the speed, the spontaneity…it was all there. I looked forward to that Friday night class more than anything else. I'd finally found my niche. Our final project for Photojournalism was a photo essay on a topic of our choice. We would work in teams of 3 and produce a book of our best work. My classmates and I decided on the theme of "Diner". We hand picked the most interesting ones in our area and drove to photograph them.
It was the first time I had to photograph strangers outside of weddings. It made me wildly uncomfortable but my heart grew twice the size during those photo sessions. Amongst the strangers, I interviewed an old man named Bill Dansie and his two sons and grandson. I learned that he had been going to this same diner for years. I forced myself out of my comfort zone and learned to capture every day things in interesting ways. It was an exercise that forever changed the way I looked at people and at "normal". My subjects didn't need to be getting married to tell a story, everyone could tell a story. And that included me.
Part IV tomorrow!