As I sit here thinking about the last 19 months as a photographer, I am hard pressed to say that there isn’t one thing that I would do differently—and that is a BIG statement since I pretty much did everything that “the books” say I shouldn’t have.
Photography has always been in my blood; I remember sitting in the middle of my grandmothers bed surrounded by black and white images. But my passion really took hold when my son was born in 2005. I was excited to finally have someone I could photograph at my own free will. I purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D40 with a kit lens, and I started shooting. For five years, I shot every aspect of his life.
I had read something that said to frame your shot in the viewfinder as if you were looking at an actual frame. Even then, I was looking for something more than just a smile or a pose. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was starting to find my love of lifestyle photography.
When we moved to Texas, I secretly dreamed of becoming friends with a photographer who might hire me as an assistant, because I could never in a million years have the courage start my own business. However, in September of 2010, I found myself inspired by the work of an old classmate whose images started popping up on my facebook newsfeed. It occurred to me:
Why can’t I do this?
Art is subjective.
There is no failure when it comes to art.
Soon after that epiphany, I sat my wonderful husband down and announced in my most assertive voice, “I want to start my own photography business.” He gave me a worried look (probably imagining all the money I’d be spending!) and said in a quiet but firm voice, “Liz, I bought you a D40 five years ago, and you still shoot in automatic.”
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the exchange became heated. But finally, over a Starbucks coffee, I told him, “There are two loves in my life, my family and my photography. I need you to believe in me.” With that, he smiled and gave me the thumbs up to go and purchase that new camera and lens (Nikon D300s and the 50mm 1.4) and Liz LaBianca Photography was born.
Come to find out that even though photography feeds my soul, I didn’t know one darn thing about starting a photography business. Soon new words consumed my consciousness: catchlight, open shade, shooting manual, aperture. Since I started my business around the holiday season, I was fortunate that friends hired me and kept me busy learning. Mistakes were made—a whole heck of a lot of them—but with every mistake, I learned something new.
Once I realized how much I needed to learn, I knew I had to dedicate every ounce of who I was to become better. Some of that determination stemmed from launching my Facebook business page. Since I had announced my dream to the world—all 30 fans of mine!—failure was not an option. But I also found that people online are quick to judge and demean what you are doing.
So I made a choice, I chose to take that power away. I made a point to start sharing my journey with anyone who wanted to listen. I believed it was important to acknowledge that I didn’t know everything. That I was nervous before every shoot. That everyday I was living outside of my comfort zone. That sometimes it was invigorating, but other times I was utterly exhausted. That I sometimes wanted to crawl back into the simple world that I used to live in. That friendships were tested, and that some people couldn’t or wouldn’t support me on my journey.
I still remember announcing to my sister-in-law that I didn’t need to learn manual, my pictures were already awesome! She simply pointed me to a blog that broke down the connection between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. I made a cheat sheet, and I wore my camera around my neck at all times, forcing myself to shoot in any and every circumstance. When I wasn’t shooting, I was teaching myself editing software.
After six months, I started to feel a little more confident in my work but the true challenge after mastering my camera was mastering my editing style. Defining your niche in the world of photography is one thing; defining your editing style is the other aspect. Photoshop is a very overwhelming program, so I took it step by step. I remember reading questions that other photographers would ask, “What Photoshop tool could you not live without?” Levels and Curves came up every single time, so that’s where I started. Soon after, another photographer said one of my photos had the skin tones of an Oompah Loompah. Hmmm…that’s not the look I was going for. So off I went to teach myself about skin tones. With every question I had, I looked to Professor Google or Professor YouTube for answers. My husband quickly proved to be the backbone of the business as he became what must have felt, at times, like a single parent . Not once did he complain.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “How did you grow so fast?” The answer was simple. I didn’t give up. I didn’t look at anyone else’s work or compare how good (or not) I was. I took it day by day. There were days where I felt magical and days where I felt beat down. But I did not give up. I was hard on myself, not because I was looking to be the best photographer in the world, but because I wanted to feel confident in the product I was selling. Any time I felt scared to do something, I forced myself to do it, knowing that I would learn a new lesson.
I have since sold my Nikon D300 and upgraded to the Nikon D700 and my lens stash is a little over the top. I have realized that I love primes more then zooms. I am getting closer to staying true to my niche of shooting only children, and I am still working on that beautiful thing called balance. I often wonder if I would have had the courage to start my own business had I known how over-saturated the industry was—and if I’d realized how my early work was being critiqued and frowned upon by successful photographers who secretly (or blatantly) made fun of us “momtogs”. But I also wonder how many other amazing photographers are out there, living in fear of stepping outside of their own comfort zone, afraid of failure, maybe even afraid of success, afraid of living the life that they keep safely boxed away in their dreams.