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Celebrating

This past week was Texture's sixth birthday.

Tomorrow is my birthday.

I'm celebrating both, but so much more than I ever dreamed I would be.

I never thought I'd be a photographer, much less a wedding photographer.  For the past 6 years, my job has been to use a camera to capture life, to tell stories, to celebrate.

My job is to celebrate with others.

I celebrate all kinds of occasions: her saying "yes", welcoming new little ones into this world, both of them saying "I do", families joining together, milestones being made.

There's often cake all over the one-year-old's face, or all over the groom's face if she's daring enough. Their only son learns to be a big brother when they welcome their newborn into the world.   Those shoes that are only for special occasions make an appearance and if the musicians know their audience well enough then those same shoes will end up left under the table. At 52, she gives her baby boy away.   At 29, he commits to choosing to love his bride for the rest of his life.

I laugh when he gets cake up his nose, whether he's one, five or 25.  I do my best to never miss an opportunity to do the wobble, whether the dance floor is empty or full.   While the bride dances with her father, I notice the smitten groom with an arm around his mother.  I sit at the rehearsal dinner while the little sister gives a toast to the couple, and then adds that she's a better woman because of the kind of man her big brother is.  I stand with the grandmother as she points to her own wedding photo next to the cake and I listen as she tells me all about the man she was married to for 44 years.  Oh, and the photo booth can't be missed.

I celebrate occasions.

But somewhere in all the occasions, I forget to celebrate my own life.  That may sound odd, unusual or even selfish.  Let me explain.

I shot my first wedding (for pay) six years ago.   In these past six years I have done A LOT of celebrating...and I wouldn't trade it!!  I LOVE my job.  I have gotten to know so many people and in the process I've gotten to tell lots and lots of stories.

If you've ever sang Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing you've probably sang the line Here I raise my Ebenezer.  But what is an Ebenezer and what does an Ebenezer have to do with celebrating?

In the Old Testament, the Israelites begged Samuel to pray on their behalf that the Lord would save them from the attack of the Philistines.  God answered Samuel's prayer causing the Philistines to lose the battle and retreat back to their own territory.  In 1 Samuel 7 it says: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’ ”.  Within the first year or so I battled with the real purpose in my job (just like most every other person I know) and the word "Ebenezer" is where I landed.

In the old testament they used rocks.  In the 2000's, we use photos.  Either way, the point is to remember.

The way I see it, my job is to build Ebenezers.  I want to take pictures at your wedding so that you can say Thus far the Lord has helped us, so that when you've been married 12 years and you're three kids in and you're exhausted and frustrated you'll hopefully look at that photo on your nightstand of your 25-year-old selves and say The Lord helped us then, and He's still the same God.  I want you see your family photos over the last six years side-by-side and remember that God has been actively involved in your lives the whole time.

Documenting your stories through photos is a beautiful way to remember.

Eight months ago I was sitting in my office working away at my green desk.  I had Texture's galleries' page open and I was suddenly caught off guard by my own emotions.

This was what I saw.  These are just a few of the friends I've made.  These are just a few of the stories I've told.  There have been a few hundred more of these galleries over the last six years.

As I sat there in my office I was overcome with emotion because I realized that this is my own Ebenezer.  I have been using my story to tell yours.  And the Lord has used your stories to tell mine.

I don't love the other side of my camera (being in pictures).  I'm most comfortable on the side I find myself most every day (taking your pictures).  Besides, why do I need pictures of me?  I haven't had any major occasions or reasons to even hire a photographer.  In the process of telling so many other stories, I've just been waiting around to tell mine.  Which makes me wonder how many of you who are also single have felt the same way.  It's easy to forget that my story matters.  But this season is JUST as valuable as the next.  The Lord does see me.

Almost a year ago, my friend Kaitie convinced me that she just needed to practice using her new lighting gear and begged me to stand in front of a backdrop in her living room.  I was very reluctant, but her convincing worked. I felt super awkward so we laughed A LOT.  She made me so comfortable.  Of course, she already had those lights figured out.  What I didn't have figured out was that she was helping me see myself.

We uploaded the photos and as she was scrolling through them I saw my own joy.  I saw myself.  I wasn't getting married.  I wasn't engaged.  I didn't just have my first child, nor am I pregnant.  I am single, and this is still a season worth remembering.  God has been my help.

This past winter felt much, much longer than all the rest.  This has been a rather tough 2013 so far.  Back in January I wrote a post about the grieving I had experienced.  I was blown away by all the responses.  I learned how many other people were grieving also.  I'm so used to celebrating with others that I really didn't realize how much pain so many others were experiencing.  Following that post, life just continued to get harder for me.  One event after another, and I'm learning more and more that my Jesus isn't as fluffy as He used to be in my mind. But that doesn't mean he isn't GOOD.

Although life has been harder, HE HAS NOT LEFT ME ALONE.   I've never been able to say this more confidently than I can now.   Through death, pain, loss, and rejection I've been pushed to places I never wanted to go, but in those places I learned that the "outcome" of it all does not hold the weight of the presence of my Jesus.

Tomorrow, I'm celebrating my 27th birthday.  I celebrating my health in a way I never have before.  I'm celebrating and giving thanks for my own life, the life the Lord has given me and the joy that He gives me to celebrate all of you.  I'm seeing my birthday as an "occasion" to celebrate my singleness, my job, and my friendships.  More importantly, on this 27th birthday, I'm remembering how faithful God has been to me.  He has been actively involved in my life.  His faithfulness never fails.

THANK YOU to all of you who have participated in being a part of Texture's success over the last six years.  I am so grateful to have friends (and clients who have become friends) who have seen me through the ups and downs of starting my own business.  Thank you to those who have walked closely with me, lived with me, mentored me.   Thank you for encouraging me to see my singleness as a gift.  I love being self-employed and I'm here in large part because of my family who helped me dream of what this could look like.  To all of the many faces I've taken pictures of, thank you for letting me celebrate the many changes in your lives while I processed through a different set of changes in my own.  Hopefully one day I'll have a guest bedroom for all of you who have let me sleep in yours countless times on my way to and from weddings.  I'm thankful for so many of you who let me borrow your camera gear in those first few years.  Thank you to the many, many friends who have allowed me to verbally process through my thoughts on weddings, on photography, on clean water in Africa, on camera gear, websites, and so much more.

I am celebrating so many of you and what the Lord has done through you, in me and in Texture.   Here's to many, many more years of celebrating.  

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Learning to Give // Meet My Sidekick

Sea Island, GA -- Turnipseed Wedding -- September 2012

A professor of mine from Berry recently contacted me to ask if I would come back to speak for her Entrepreneurship class again this fall.  I gladly accepted and last week I stood in front of classroom full of business-minded undergrads to share my perspective on what it has been like to be my own boss as a single twenty-something.   Of course I covered the main topics like taxes, marketing and the use of social networks, but I realized that what I found myself spending the majority of the time talking about was relationships and what it means to care for people.   I answered a few questions and talked with a few of the students, and as I left the building I realized something about the whole thing felt really....vulnerable.

Following the class, I met up with an aspiring photographer at my new favorite coffee shop to discuss her business and I found myself in a conversation about the protectiveness we feel about our work.  The discussion flowed into questions about how to handle the desire we have to put up walls around our businesses -- around the tools we have, the knowledge we've acquired and the skills we've honed -- to keep them for ourselves out of fear that someone might steal them or, worse, use those tools against us as a competitor.

I acknowledged that those emotions are real, they're human.  But do our businesses and talents belong to just us?

Knoxville, TN -- DeBord Wedding -- September 2012

There are so many different ways to go about being in business for yourself.  Very early on I did my best to pursue learning a few of those ways from other photographers, but honestly, getting help wasn't as easy as I had hoped.  I was able to find a few mentors here and there -- and to those people I am EXTREMELY grateful -- but overall, the response I got wasn't a very warm one.  I was so baffled by the resistance I felt then... and honestly, I still am.

For those of you who have been in this industry for a while and even for those of you who are just attempting to put your toes in the water, you have all probably ridden a few of the waves I'm talking about -- waves of jealousy, protectiveness, pride, competitiveness, envy, anger, and most of all... fear.

If I share with you what I know, will you run away with it?  You might. Will I survive?  Probably. Will my business survive?  Honestly, I've learned that it might thrive as a result of being willing to share.

Atlanta, GA -- Polous Wedding -- May 2012

After realizing how difficult it was to find people who would share their knowledge and creativity to help me, I vowed early on that I would do my best to always share what I had learned.  As a result I have had many different photographers and graphic designers come and go.  They have participated in the process of serving people alongside me. We've shared our own stories while telling the stories of others together. We've learned together.  There is a vulnerability to it - similar to sharing what you know with a room full of strangers - but I can't let that fear drive me to lock my gifts and ideas in a box and hope that no one ever steals them. Why? Because the joy that comes with sharing with others is so GOOD and so worth it.

Sharing the adventures of telling stories for others WITH others is one thing, but there is so much more to the business that I just accepted I would have to do alone.   I almost always have a friend to shoot with, but what about the time spent editing, driving, planning, researching, accounting, mailing, moving files, purchasing gear, editing more, designing albums, meeting with clients, driving more, editing more... did I mention editing?

Kingston, TN -- Bock Wedding -- August 2012

Last September I had a wedding a few hours from Knoxville and it would be an overnight adventure, therefore a female to share a hotel room with would be ideal.  A friend from church had been offering to join me if I ever need a companion/assistant for a wedding, so I took her up on the offer.  She accepted and soon we found ourselves on a road trip through the mountains in the new "space car" (as she so lovingly named my vehicle).

I'd like to say it was love at first sight, but honestly, I wasn't getting my hopes up.  I was used to doing most of this alone and I was planning to continue to do so. I didn't think I had any other options.  I did what I usually would and shared what I knew with Jess...and meanwhile I waited for the day when she would begin asking how she could do this on her own.  I figured we might even talk at some point about what she could name her business.  In the meantime she was really learning, and of course it felt vulnerable... it always does.  It's risky.  I could be training my competition.  Jess kept volunteering to help me shoot yet another wedding and I was always surprised.  Over time she began offering to help with other, more tedious things.  As I began teaching her how to edit I realized she had been paying attention for a lot longer than I realized.

I am learning something HUGE as a result of interacting with Jess: When you give, sometimes it's given back to you.

Rome, GA -- Wilker Wedding -- June 2012                                                      Knoxville, TN -- Thornbury Wedding -- May 2012

It's been right at a year since that first road trip with Jess and she is teaching me what loyalty looks like.  She's been my sidekick to a few dozen weddings now.  We have spent hundreds of hours together driving to weddings, preparing for weddings, editing weddings.  We've done lots of photo sessions together, we've shared ideas about how to do business better, we've eaten WAY more Chick-fil-A than we should (I'll have to tell you about the "52 Chicken Nugget Challenge" sometime soon...yes, we actually ate 52 nuggets in one wedding day).  We've gotten to know each others families and we've met old friends.  We've shared countless meals, thousands of road miles (she even splits the driving with me!), music libraries, tears, favorite tv shows, complaints, celebrations, uncontrollable laughter, embarrassing stories, awkward moments...

We've been living life together, practicing what it looks like to share what we've been given.  And as a result, we're learning what it looks like to receive.

Knoxville, TN -- Connor Wedding -- June 2012

For those of you who have found yourselves putting up walls (in business or in your personal life), the process of tearing them down feels incredibly risky, but it is SO worth it.  Jess may just start up her own business one day, and some part of me really hopes she does because she'd be KILLER at it.  But in the mean time, I get to do this with her for as long as the Lord gives us the opportunity to.

So fellow photografriends, meet Jess.

She's quiet at first but don't let her fool you, she's full of spunk and whit.  She can rock a 70-200mm lens like no other and even though she can't understand my love of sweet tea, she's the best at making sure I always have it to get through every wedding day.   She also has a few mad skills in Lightroom, not to mention what she can do with a 60D, so be on the lookout for blog posts from Jess.

As far as I know, she's a Texture gal for now.  I'm claiming her as long as she'll let me and I hope you will too.

Rome, GA -- Wilker Wedding -- June 2012

Knoxville, TN -- April 2012                           Knoxville, TN -- June 2011                          Sea Island, GA -- September 2012

Rome, GA -- Pierce Wedding -- March 2012

Jess, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for you.  You are a gift from the Lord. Thank you for using your own story to tell the stories of others.

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