You know how grandpa likes to tell you a story about how he walked to school uphill (both ways) in the snow each day when he was a kid? haha! My story of how I got my start in photography is kind of along those lines. Back in 2003 (in my best shaky granny voice)...there was no such thing as Facebook... and nobody built their website from a template. You either spent tens of thousands of dollars to have someone create one for you, or you strapped on your boots and learned html (or in my case, Flash) and built one yourself! (end granny voice) haha! It IS funny how much the photography industry has changed since then. Everyone has to start somewhere, though, and today I thought I'd share a little bit about my beginnings in photography.

I took black and white film photography classes in high school and college but never thought of art as something I could do for a living -- everyone in my family is either a nurse, a pastor, or an engineer. So I thought of art and all things artistic as a hobby. In college I double-majored in philosophy and Christian ministries and minored in math (at Azusa Pacific University in southern California). I had a ton of interests and had trouble deciding what to do for a living. After college I took a job at my fairly large church in Arizona as an administrative assistant and worked my way into the position of Director of Communication where I was designing all of the publications for the church and working on some website design. Through this experience I came to recognize that the creative part of me was HUGE and I needed to do something with it for a living (and not just as a hobby) in order to really enjoy what I do. But working at the church was never a long-term situation and I began praying about a change.

At this time I heard that a friend of mine had recently started a photography business in Santa Barbara. Right around then was when digital cameras were just starting to be accepted as a tool for professional use. (I remember, when I was starting out, having to convince people that digital was just as good as film.) A light went off in my head and I realized that it was possible to make a living in photography. I contacted him and he was super-helpful and encouraging. I bought his Canon D60 (pre-Canon 10D) and shot two weddings with him that summer (2003). This is a photo from one of those first two weddings I second-shot:
I was able to take a Flash class and build my own website (something I would NEVER do if I was starting my business today), got my business cards made, shot a lot of portraits of my friends' cute kids and started booking weddings. I attended a few seminars --given by Dennis Reggie and Mike Colon to name a few -- and learned as much about business as I could (up to this point I hadn't taken a business class in my life). And even though -- by and large -- I had no idea what I as getting into, I just put one foot in front of the other, and things grew. I continued working at my church for a year and a half but then was able to go full time in photography (more on how I made that leap in a separate post soon). Today I'm obviously LOVING what I do and am so thankful to God for opening doors for me and showing me something that was beyond what I could dream up myself.

For those of you who are just starting out and wanting to get into wedding photography, there is no "one right way" to succeed in this industry. Every established photographer has a different story. But here are 4 things I would recommend to any new photographer:

1. Contact local photographers who you admire. Take them to lunch and pick their brains. Offer to assist them or second shoot for free. Do whatever you can to learn from them and form a relationship -- you never know what doors this could open!

2. Put all of the money you can into building your business. There are a ton of expenses but I would recommend focusing on lenses and your website.

3. Start a blog! It's a low-cost and powerful marketing tool!

4. Invest in some workshops and seminars. Learn from people who are ahead of you in the journey and doing what you want to do -- it's a HUGE time-saver! Go to WPPI or United. You need to focus not only on becoming a great photographer but on business. You can also do this by reading and these are some great business books I would recommend.

Like I said, there's no one specific path that all wedding photographers take to get into the business but these are a few things I think will help anyone who is starting out regardless of what form your unique path takes.

Good luck and I hope to run into you on this crazy journey!

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