My photography journey actually started a LONG time ago. When I was in high school. I was working at County Seat – do y’all remember that store – and Wolf Camera was just around the corner in the mall. I would go in there from time to time and just browse the merchandise. Well my freshman year in college, I saved up my money and bought a Nikon N60 with a kit lens for around $475. It was 1999. And I had no clue what I was doing. So I used it on auto. But I read the manual and learned a little bit. One summer when I was home from college, I signed up for a photography basics course at a local community center where I learned the basics of the exposure triangle. I remember experimenting with different settings, writing everything down, taking my film to the local lab to be developed, and then trying to figure out what the heck I had done wrong, or being so excited when I got ONE exposure that I loved!
Then, my senior year in college, I got a job as an events photographer. I was a ZAP girl. I don’t know that they do this all over the country, but in the South, this is a big deal. Fraternities and sororities hire photographers to come to their parties and a couple of weeks later, you can see the proofs and order them (we shot film back then!). Well, I was that girl. And the ZAP girl/guy is the most popular person at a party! And it was so much fun. I stayed very interested in photography and I honestly thought my future was in weddings. I did my research and came very close to investing in a medium format camera setup. Instead, I got married and moved to Virginia with my new husband. I found a photographer there that hired me to second shoot weddings and it was there that I learned that world was moving to digital. So I purchased my Nikon d70s in 2004.
We moved back to Alabama in 2006. I knew just enough about photography to be dangerous. But not enough to be as good as I knew I wanted to be. For the next 4 years I struggled to figure out WHY my images weren’t improving. WHY couldn’t I get sharp, beautiful, polished images? I always questioned why? I read my camera manual. I bought all kinds of books. But I just wasn’t getting better.
Then, in 2010, I found Clickin Moms and my world changed. Literally. I finally found real answers to my questions. I found people to critique my images. I found workshops. I found friends. It was amazing!
I remember very vividly posting this image as my very first image critique on CM and everyone was so sweet. Because, let’s face it, I had a long way to go.
I posted for critique a lot my first year on CM. I was probably close to wearing out my welcome. And some of the comments were hard to hear, not because they were mean but because they were true. I needed to get better and the only way I could was for others to point out what I was doing wrong. I cannot stress enough how much constructive critique really helped me. It pushed me to be better. I bought myself a 50mm 1.8 and then I started to see some progress.
In 2010, I took quite a few workshops offered at CM. And this is where change started to happen. The small group was great for me. I was able to ask a million questions and get feedback from top notch instructors and my peers.
In May 2011, we had our daughter, and I quit my day job to give this full time photographer thing a go. That year was hard for me; I had a newborn, a 2 year old, and a new career. At the end of that first beach season, I was terrified I had made the wrong decision to quit my steady paycheck and go to the uncertain world of full time photography. But I never looked back.
In December 2011, I shot a session that was a turning point for me. For whatever reason, everything just clicked that day. I am still so proud of that session.
2012 was a great year for me. I was busier than ever with client work. I felt like I saw the light better. I saw compositions better.
You know what I found when I joined CM that I never thought an online forum would give me? REAL friends. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many of my CM friends in real life. My friend Alicia Gould flew down and photographed my family. I also am going to visit my very good friend Leslie Densford in the fall and photograph her family. Finding friends along the way has helped me more than I ever thought it would. It’s nice to just have the support of someone that knows the highs and lows that come along with the job.
I am still at the beginning of my journey, I hope. I am dabbling in film now. I’d love to be able to shoot some film in client sessions some day.
I tell people all the time that if I can go from where I started to this…
…then you certainly can too. It just takes hard work, dedication, and the drive to be better. I genuinely am proud of my journey. I am proud of the progress. But I am even more excited to see where I am in 2, 5, 10, even 15 years from now.
Mandy Haber, Alabama
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Mandy Haber is an on-location, available light photographer based in Orange Beach, Alabama providing custom photography for newborns, children, families, and high school seniors. Mandy spends most of her summers photographing vacationers from all over the country on the white sand beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama. Mandy lives in Orange Beach with her husband and her two children, ages 3.5 and 15 months.