My Photography Journey by Jessica Svoboda
I went to college for teaching. Even finished a master’s degree in literacy education. But let’s be real. With our first three children each being a year apart, the costs of adequate childcare for our little ones equated to just about as much as what I would be bringing home each day working in the classroom and at the time, it just didn’t justify me being away from our children. And so began my roll as a stay-at-home mom. I cherished those early years, but I found out pretty quickly that time was fleeting and I wanted so badly to learn how to document their childhood “better”.
I had a Kodak EasyShare back then and of course recognized how limiting a point and shoot could be and so I began researching entry-level dslr’s. The decision between Nikon and Canon for me was an easy one. One of my first photography inspirations was my husband. When I met him, he was a hobbyist, using one of his great uncles Nikon film slr’s. I discovered his lenses would be compatible with the Nikon bodies I was looking at and so, heading into 2008, I bought my first DSLR, a Nikon d80.
I got home and took that d80 out of the shiny golden Nikon box, set it to auto and began shooting. I’m going to be very honest when I say I really had NO idea about photography. I mean, I could look at other artist’s photos and know it was a good image, but I had no idea what took place in the “making” of that picture. ISO, shutter speed and aperture had no meaning to me. I remember that first day, playing back my images and thinking, “these are worse than my point and shoot!”
But I refused to put that camera down. I was determined to learn. I began reading my manual. Cover to cover. Absorbing everything I could from it. I would hold my camera in one hand, manual in the other and familiarize myself with every element of the camera. What I couldn’t learn through my manual, I would scour the internet, trying to understand whatever I could. Most importantly though, for me, was PRACTICE. I learned MOST from actually shooting. And I found the most inspiration in shooting my kids. Everyday. All day. And I loved it.
When I finally thought I understood enough to get off auto, I moved to aperture priority. Being able to control just the aperture and letting the camera determine the ISO and shutter speed for me was a lot less daunting than doing everything on my own that early in the game. It wasn’t right away, but over time I was ready to take the leap into shooting in manual mode and that was HUGE for me. Slowly I was beginning to learn HOW to shoot and I was actually beginning to see some growth and it inspired me to keep on learning.
Living on a one family income and adding another child into the mix in 2008, began to take its toll on us financially. My husband and I were at a place where we needed to make a decision on whether I would head back into the world of teaching or explore another avenue. At that point, friends had been noticing my pictures and had started asking me to shoot their kids and admittedly I wasn’t quite ready to give up my time home with my own children completely. And so in March of 2009, began Jessica Svoboda Photography.
Now, keep in mind, I had no business experience or background (besides the one economics course I nearly failed during my undergrad program). I learned what I could about running a business on my own. A lot of it was admittedly trial and error. Through my encounters with my clients, I discovered what worked and what didn’t and I was constantly making changes to try to better the way I did things.
I’d like to say those first couple years it was all butterflies and roses. But it wasn’t. Within that first year I was booked to the brim. I was beyond grateful for the support I had within my business, but at the same time, I felt like I was loosing sight of what had inspired me in the first place.
And then, I lost another photography inspiration. My Aunt. Like my husband, she too was a hobbyist, but I drew a lot of inspiration from watching her photograph what was important to her on an everyday basis. Grieving her loss along with being blessed with our fifth child later that year, left me questioning what I was actually DOING with my photography and where I was headed.
You see, like I shared at the very beginning of this journey, my passion for photography began with my kids. Capturing their “everyday” is honestly the inspiration behind my love for taking pictures. But the busyness of owning a business during those early years really trumped my love for shooting my children. Photography as a “business” is a blessing that has helped me provide for my family and of course, for that I am thankful. But because my business is my job, there have been times in my photography journey that I have lost sight of what inspired my picture taking passion in the first place. During those years, I missed out on growing an important part of myself. And I came to learn that when I shoot what I am passionate about, the advantages are two-fold; it keeps me engaged in something I perceive as meaningful and pushes me to become better; gaining and improving on skills in an area that can be carried over into my business.
And so I began participating in various personal projects that have been extremely instrumental in bringing me from one step to another in my photography journey. I think being intentional in regards to what I shoot challenges me both technically and creatively and setting a personal goal not only helps me stay inspired, it also keeps me moving forward.
Where did that leave my business though? To be honest. I didn’t know. Heading into 2013, I attended a workshop with Julie Paisley Photography, who is notably one of the leading ladies in the industry and a photography icon that so many in the business look up to. I undoubtedly have been a big fan of hers myself since the beginning and have drawn so much inspiration from following her work. I came home from that workshop with an incredible wealth of information that enabled me to make some incredible strides in the way I looked at shooting and just as importantly, the way I ran my business.
I also decided that year to really put myself out there. For years prior, in many ways, I really was ALONE in the industry. I just wanted to feel connected and I wanted so badly to have a voice in the photography community. I joined a few photography forums, one of them being Clickin Moms and started making connections with other photographer’s right away…some local and some around the world. It was good for me to be able to just have a way of not only growing friendships, but having a community of other photographer’s that I could share ideas with and ask questions. Something I so desperately wish I had the opportunity to be apart of years ago when I was first starting out.
And so I guess that brings us to 2014. We entered that year with a loss of a baby mid pregnancy. It was devastating. Sadly, I know many of you moms have been there too and know the pain of losing a child. That sort of grief can certainly “change” you. I put my camera down for a little while and just like a few years earlier, I found myself again, questioning where I was headed with my photography.
There were probably two major turning points for me in the way I viewed myself as a photographer after we lost our baby. The first one being in March of that year, I read an article featuring one of my favorite film photographer’s, Ryan Muirhead, where he shared a lot about his view on art and “suffering”. I remember him referencing that it really doesn’t matter what type of place you come from (whether you are amidst joy or deep sorrow), as long as you are “honest” in your work and make it “sincere”.
Not too many months later, I was given the chance to speak as a small program presenter at the Click Away conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The second day of the conference kicked off with keynote speaker, Joy Prouty of Wildflowers Photography. I kept it no secret that I was a huge Joy Prouty fan and her family’s choice to live life in an authentic way was one I have always admired. I even joked that I was going to be sitting right down in the front row when it was time to hear her speak. But instead I chose a place alone in the back with my tears and my tissues and clung to her incredible words of wisdom to “not be destroyed, celebrate the gift of today, be honest, spread hope and DREAM BIG.”
It’s taking a lot of time (and tears), but since then, I have been trying to really focus on being honest in my work, taking on projects that have meaning (to me) and being a gift to others. Shooting with heart and purpose. I feel like I’m still working towards reaching that point, but if there’s anything I guess I could leave you with as I close today it would be to remind you that the journey isn’t ever over…it is continuous. Always strive to keep on learning, and remember to never lose sight of what started your picture-taking passion in the first place.