more than a hobbyist

by Melissa Gibson

I am a mom and I am a photographer.  Since I am not a business owner, I am a considered a “hobbyist”.  However, I am not “just a hobbyist”.

I am an artist.

Even more than an artist?

I am a storyteller.

Seven months before my first girl was born, I was writing about her.  I wrote letters to her in her own journal.  Skipping by my old personal journal to now jot down notes about her life instead.  I remember putting my thoughts and feelings into HER journal because everything that was her was also everything that was me.  From the very day I found out I was expecting a little one I started writing messages to her and stories about her life.  Once my second girl came along, two and a half years later, I had already been writing in HER journal as well.

By that point, I had a book for each girl and every night I would lie on my bed to write all of the silly things each one did.  Or the sweet words that were spoken.  Even little notes that the big girl scribbled down…I would fold them up neatly and place them inside of her story.  Finally, the third baby was born and, you guessed it, I was writing for her, too.  I had three stories going.  Three lives of little ones being recorded each night.  Three sets of teeny drawings tucked inside.  Three books and several pens and pencils later, their stories were just beginning.

more than a hobbyist photo

About the time the second story began, I realized that what I so desperately needed for my girls were photographs.  I could write about their journeys; their daily tea parties, first time they found a worm, and trips to the library, but it was up to me to create that image in their imaginations through the journals.  That’s when I decided that I needed images and not just imaginations.  THEY needed the images.  They were so little and would forget so much of our fun-filled days.  Therefore, it was my responsibility to remember these days FOR them and what better way than through photographs?

I started to wonder; How much would I give to have shots of my girls just being…my girls?  In twenty or thirty years from now?  How much would I pay to give them those memories?  Ones that they could read about in their journals, but also images that they could hold right there in their hands?  That is when the second part of their stories began and I started photographing them everyday.

For a while, the images were not-so-great.

more than a hobbyist photo

Honestly, though?  At that point, I didn’t mind.  However, after I found the Clickin Moms forum and I started to realize where I could improve, my stories to them also improved.

more than a hobbyist photo

more than a hobbyist photo

Once I started sharing some of my images and parts of my girls’ stories online through blogging, I started to get those little ol’ questions called, “Why don’t you do this for money?” and  “Why don’t you open a business?”  After much convincing from others, I did.  And?  I hated it.  I wasn’t having a wonderful time.  I didn’t like shooting for other people.  Why?  Because it wasn’t OUR STORY.  It was THEIR STORY.  After about a year and a half I gave it up.  Turning clients and friends away was a bit difficult, but I decided that seeing the world through my children’s lives was much more important to me.  I wanted to be in their element and remember them in their daily lives rather than slipping into someone else’s story.  I wanted to photograph my babies, remember our times and focus on their stories.

more than a hobbyist photo

more than a hobbyist photo

Since I was no longer in business, I was bumped back down the “hobbyist” title.  However, (now I want you to really listen to this part) that does not mean I was no longer a “professional”.  Read that again if you need to.  That simply means that I was not a business owner.  See?  There’s a difference.  A hobbyist CAN BE a professional.  Taking money from clients doesn’t qualify you as a “professional photographer”.  It does, however, qualify you as a “business owner”.  Being labeled a hobbyist isn’t offensive to me.  Just as being called a MWAC doesn’t bother me, because honestly, we all know that’s what I am.

But, you see?  I am so much more than “just a hobbyist”.  Most importantly, to me and also to my girls…

I am a documentarian.

I am a journalist.

I am an artist.

I am most definitely a storyteller.

And I encourage you to be those things, too.

more than a hobbyist photo

more than a hobbyist photoMelissa Gibson, Georgia
Copywriter | CMU Instructor | CM Mentor
website | facebook | pinterest | instagram | mentoring | ask a pro | daily project
Melissa is a proud MWAC who gears up with a Nikon D700, prime lenses, and edits her “fun, childlike, and whimsical” photography solely in Photoshop Elements. Melissa is one of the instructors for CMU’s Mastering Manual Exposure and the new Processing 103: Photoshop Elements and her goal both now and when she first began her photography journey in 2005 is to, in her own words, “remember my girls’ lives for them. They are so young yet growing so quickly. I know they won’t remember it all so I feel it’s my job to document it for them.” She is a self proclaimed goofball that loves reading, giggling, sweet tea, her iPhone, kisses, instagram, and having fun with her small family which includes her husband and three darling girls.

Read all photography tutorials from Melissa Gibson.

117 Comments

  • Debbie says:

    Couldn’t be more perfect! I totally relate to this. I’ve taking pictures of my daughter and people ask me to take their pictures too, which I accepted. But then I realized that something is missing in my clients’ pictures. And you said it perfectly. It’s their story and I don’t know their story. Thank you so much for sharing this! How true what you said.

  • nikki m says:

    I totally needed this today! thank you so much for sharing your story!

  • gigi says:

    Wonderful Melissa! Love your word stories just as much as the ones you beautifully share with photos!

  • Michelle C. says:

    I LOVED this and it’s exactly what I need to hear… so great Melissa!!!

  • This is so beautifully written. What a good Mom you are to document their lives this way with the journals and the photos. You’ve inspired me!!! <3

  • Vicky says:

    I LOVE this! Thank you for writing this and putting into words how I feel about photography <3

  • Beth Simpkins says:

    I loved reading this Melissa. Thank you!

  • Erica F. says:

    Beautifully said/written! ❤

  • EyeShoot says:

    Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this post! I’m only discovered this website since two days or less and this day was so depressing for me in some ways and while reading this post I got a really uplifting feeling again.
    I’ve a friend who is into photography as much as I’m but unlike me she is actually taking clients and shooting other people than her family with her camera. On some level it really did made me feel less of a photographer than her. And to be honest; it tore down my creativity and eager to become a better photographer for myself. Last year though I stopped myself and just took the chance to take classes for photography and I really want to become a better photographer. But I’m not aiming to make myself a photographer for other people. For some people it’s a hard thing to understand that I want to do this only for myself and my family…
    So, again, thank you for this post. Very inspirational!

  • lyvismommy says:

    So beautifully written. I was talking to my sister on the phone the other day, and referred to myself as a hobbyist. She interrupted me and said, “You are so much more than a hobbyist. You are an artist.” It was the greatest compliment that I have received in a long time! I am so glad that I am comfortable with telling my story! Thanks for your encouragement!

  • Melissa D says:

    I love your work Melissa- you are absolutely a professional!

  • Dawn M says:

    Said so perfectly for all of us who work so hard to get better just for the love of documenting our families!

  • Elena says:

    Dear Melissa, I heart you!! You are one of the strongest artists I know. End of story. Great article!

  • Jessica Reischel says:

    Melissa,
    thank you! touching on so many levels.

  • Andrea says:

    I love everything about this!
    Beautifully written, Melissa!

  • Freda says:

    I love this! This is me at this exact moment, I’m a MWAC. And it’s all I may ever be. But that’s ok because this MWAC has a hard drive full of moments with her little girls preserved by me. :)

  • Meredith says:

    Is it weird if I just say that I love you. Well, there it is.

  • Jenna says:

    I’ve told you before, but… well, I am happy to say it again – I adore you!

  • Leah says:

    AMAZING post, Melissa! we are SO much alike! <3

  • Tiffany Morrant says:

    LOVE this, so much.

  • Christi says:

    Beautiful! Once I got past the mom guilt of not keeping journals.

  • Liz says:

    just perfect Melissa! Love it !!

  • I loved this post. I hear often that I can’t be a professional without owning a business. I love taking pictures and capturing moments of my boys. But, like you, I don’t enjoy doing it for everyone else. There’s too much pressure and stress of trying to capture moments for people that you really don’t even know that well. I’m so happy you put this out there.

  • Trace says:

    Melissa, thank you SO much for writing this. I LOVE WHAT YOU WROTE!!!! Now I don’t feel so awkward for writing down everything since before my daughter was born. I now write the Letters to My Daughter monthly. Such a great way to document her life.

  • Kim says:

    Courtney shared this post and as a photographer I just had to read.

    And let me tell you, I agree with every word. My husband (the paid professional between us) has been intent on starting a business for as long as we’ve been together and even beyond that.

    Me? I’m content with where I am at as a photographer. I shoot to document my friends, the world as I see it, places and things of historical value, and my husband. Courtney is spot on about the pressure and stress of creating a good shot for others. I admire those who can do it but it’s just not for me. I will shoot the occasional event but it’s generally rare.

    I’ve seen many new photographers get caught up in wanting to become professionals with a business. And while their ambition is admirable, the reality of it is that it’s a hard and often unstable business. I encourage these photographers to slow down and enjoy the process. If after a few years they still want to go into business for themselves then more power to them. If not, hey there’s nothing wrong with documenting and telling stories just for the fun of it.

  • kelly garvey says:

    beautiful! i totally resent my “business” now! very well written.

  • Jodi Arego says:

    Melissa, I’ve already reread over and over this several times… I am so inspired with what you put into words here about the role of the storyteller. <3

  • kate says:

    This is amazing, Melissa!! Every single word. I have been a “business owner” for almost two years, and have started coming to the realization of how much I hate it too. But, I love documenting every little detail of our life at home. Such a perfectly written article. Made me smile tonight as I was about to get up to go to bed. Thank you!

  • Cary says:

    Thanks for sharing this Melissa :) I too love being able to be a MWAC and documenting our lives!

  • Chesna Koch says:

    Love this article and your work!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Amanda says:

    This is so awesome! Thank you so much for sharing this. So well written and so true!!!

  • Karen says:

    Nice to see the written feelings to what I’ve been struggling with. Sometimes doing something you love for money can take the joy out of it. Thanks for the article!

  • Erica Collins says:

    This was absolutely perfect!! Thank you for sharing this!!

  • Courtney says:

    This was wonderful!! This is exactly where I am and I SO needed to hear this today! The focus on the story of my family is my art as well, and it was so great to hear someone else say that it IS an art. Deepest thanks for writing this piece!

  • Rosa says:

    Well said! I enjoyed your post and it speaks to many of us on this forum.

  • Sarah says:

    Love this! That’s kind of where I am, Melissa- got pressure to do a biz, and now it’s not really what I want, but I do love it to a degree. Just not the biz part. Thank you for this post. I’m giving biz one last big push this year, and if I still feel the same way next January, I’m going to go the way you did. :)

  • Deirdre says:

    This is so spot on! Many people have asked me the same: “why not photograph for money?” Maybe some day I will, but right now it’s more important to capture our story.

    Thanks for putting into words what I’ve never been able to articulate.

  • Leah Cook says:

    you, my friend, are WAY MORE. what a talent you are, Melissa. beautiful article with gorgeous images. xoxo

  • SharonKC says:

    This post was incredibly moving. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  • Candy says:

    I love your article, I am a little the opposite, I have such a need to photograph families but I can totally, totally see your need not to. I love your photos and your beautiful words.

  • Karenb says:

    Love this Melissa! Thanks for sharing.

  • Melissa says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. Well said.

  • Randa says:

    This is beyond fabulous! And so affirming for many :)
    Love your images Melissa!

  • Jenny says:

    Clearly you have expressed a feeling that many of us have experienced. There’s not a good word for someone who does something beautifully and well but isn’t paid. Amateur means a lover of something but sounds like someone who isn’t good enough to get paid. And that’s it really — the assumption that if you were really good you’d do photography for a living.
    Thank you for you post.

  • Dana Foley says:

    Beautiful Melissa! As a huge fan of your work, I adored this article…. and you even more! :)

  • Greta says:

    Melissa this made me teary eyed! As a admirer of you amazing talent, as a fellow story teller and as someone who is right now struggling at the cliff of business or “hobbiest” thank you for your wonderful words!!! There is no place better place to focus your heart than with your family and art after all is right inside heart!!! Hugs!!!

  • Lacey says:

    Wonderfully said, Melissa. I’m so happy you’re doing what makes you happy. :)

  • Love this Melissa, beautifully written.

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