Oh gosh. Where to even begin… 2014, you were good. Real good. Going back through a year’s worth of photos is a always a daunting task, and having to narrow them down to just a handful of favorites seems downright impossible. But man, whenever one of these posts is finished (just for fun, you can check out 2012 and 2013 too!), I find myself scrolling up and down, over and over again, my heart increasingly swelling with happiness and thankfulness that THIS is my job and THESE are my amazing client-friends. These wonderful people took me to Vermont, Mississippi, Virginia (3 times!), Atlanta, Nashville, Palm Beach, Chattanooga, and, of course, all over Alabama. They invited me into their homes and their gorgeous wedding venues to document the all-too-fleeting moments of the happiest days of their lives. They lifted me up time and again with their trust and encouragement, and it was truly a joy to stand beside them, camera in hand, lump in throat, sharing in the beauty of their relationships. I honestly can’t imagine a more fulfilling career. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU for allowing me to have it.
As much as I adore my job and my clients, I’m really proud to say that 2014 was the year I finally achieved a pretty amazing work-life balance. I had to let go of some of my workaholic tendencies (being a social media and blogging machine, checking email at all hours of the day, and saying yes to every single opportunity, to name a few), but honestly that freedom has paved the way for me to be more content than ever with my life. Saying yes to more dinners with friends, shutting off the computer at 5:00 like a normal person, more traveling and days off, more hours spent on side projects and other creative outlets, and just having free time to be AVAILABLE for my friends and family when they need me and I need them… it’s a beautiful thing. And I’ve found that I return to my work with renewed passion, fresh eyes, and more creativity when I allow myself to simply be “away” from it.
In more personal news, this past year we bought and began renovating our second house (just a few streets over from our first, actually!). We’re so happy to have made the decision to stay planted in the city we’ve grown to love over the past four and a half years. The older I get, the more I appreciate having roots. By the same token, we decided that we should continue to make traveling a priority to satisfy our wanderlust, and in 2014 we were thrilled to return to some of our favorite places: Vermont, Boston, Colorado, Texas, New Orleans (twice for me!), and the Gulf Coast with friends. We also survived the grand adventure that was the Birmingham Snowpocalypse and a few months later, Jamie survived an airplane landing in the middle of the scariest tornado warning of the year. We said goodbye to our dear friend Brandon in July and mourned with Megan and her two precious boys. I started babysitting my “nephew” Buddy once a week (the best!), and I also got to see Dolly in concert in Knoxville with my bride-friend Ashley. We’ve grown to seriously love our church family and our home group at Mosaic. And Jamie proved himself to be quite the hobbyist again, this year picking up Legos and apocalyptic zombie games and rediscovering his love for fly fishing (in addition to guns, whiskey, college football, libertarian politics and conspiracy theories– you know, being Ron Swanson). I also doubt you’ll find a more devoted user of VolNation. I’ve loved my 6th year of marriage to this guy.
For a photo recap of our year, you should go follow me on Instagram (pretty much my only active social media account these days!). But for now, back to all the photographic goodness of each and every one of my weddings and portrait sessions this year. And because I just can’t say it enough… thank you. Looking back and reminiscing is fun, but I can’t wait to look ahead to all that awaits in 2015!
I know, I know. Long time, no see, eh? As you guys may know from talking to me in person or have deduced from my absence from this here blog for most of this year, I’ve taken some time to reevaluate where my tiny little corner of the internet is headed. Truth is, letting go of regular blogging has been really, really good for helping me to achieve a more healthy work/life balance this year, so when I woke up one morning this week actually WANTING to blog, I knew that my resistance had paid off. The spark is back! Now, I’m definitely not making any promises about what the future holds for my posts, but after talking to lots of friends who have been wanting to see more of what’s been going on in our lives in 2014, I decided it was AT LEAST high time for a recap of our home renovations over the last 10 months or so.
When I first posted the “before” photos of our home, taken on the day we got the keys last December, I had intended to post and update a lot more frequently, with in-depth tutorials and descriptions and what have you. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. It turns out that my creative process (particularly when it comes to renovating and decorating) looks something like this: 1. Get idea. 2. Stop at nothing until it is completed. 3. Enjoy the finished product for approximately 5 minutes. 4. Move on to next idea.
Which leaves little room for photographing and sharing the experience, since I’m usually itching to spend my time on the next task at hand. :)
So for those of you who would like more insight and details and behind the scenes shots of the process of all this, you should definitely follow me on Instagram. And more specifically, follow the hashtag #trinkerhomerenovation. So much more awaits you there! ;)
But for now, you’ve got a beast of a post to read below, so let’s get right to it!
Below, I’m covering the transformation of our living room, front bedroom (which we use as an office), hallway, kitchen, and laundry room. Our master bedroom is a work in progress, and the bathroom and guest room are still a complete disaster, so you’ll just have to wait on those. (Don’t even get me started on the basement…) But the beauty of all this, at least for me, is that this entire house will forever be a work in progress. Or at least it will be as long as we live here. :) I really do enjoy the process… the (sometimes tough) manual labor, the satisfaction of a good before and after, the smell of a freshly painted room…
But I digress.
Let’s start with the living room, shall we?
I’m including the listing photos in addition to the before photos I took, because I think that sometimes a properly-exposed professional photo can disguise the flaws of a space. In these, I feel like the listing photos more accurately reflect how dark and enclosed the room felt when we first saw it. Despite the abundance of windows and size of the room (HUGE by 1925 and Crestwood North standards!), it just felt… really, really dark. I think part of it had to do with the previous owners’ style, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with it. I know that some people love spaces that feel very cozy and cabin-like, but that’s just not my thing. I prefer light, bright, and colorful. (Unless, of course, I’m vacationing in Vermont. Then of course I require a cozy cabin-like atmosphere. ;)) So the dark wood beams? They just weren’t doing it for me.
So yes, the first thing I did was buy a TON of Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace and go to town on this room. I heard an imaginary collective gasp as I brushed that first stroke over that first beam, but I haven’t looked back since. I think you’ll understand why….
Oh yeah! AND! I learned how to use a power saw this year! What?! Our friend Will (who is so handy he built his last house WITH HIS BARE HANDS) came over and showed me the basics and then sent me on my merry way. I’d been envisioning this wall of built-in bookshelves from day one, and with his help, they came to life. (I love the bottle of Advil sitting prominently amidst all of the chaos. Living through a renovation, am I right?!)
Ohhhh yeah. That’s the stuff. White walls + tons of cool windows + an abundance of architectural detail + pops of color everywhere = happy Morgan.
Those of you who saw my guest post on our realtor Tyler’s blog may be wondering what happened to Dolly and the green chandelier. Well, as with most slapped together and inexpensive DIY projects I do, I have a lot of fun with them but quickly get bored with them. :) Both were wonderful (and super cheap– practically free!) temporary elements in the space, but I soon began to realize that a room like this calls for fixtures and artwork of a bit higher quality. Enter this Erin Gregory piece I bought from One King’s Lane and the West Elm mobile chandelier (which to me is a much more proportionate size to the rest of the room), and I feel like a super chic adult. Well, sort of. I still occasionally buy my clothes in the kids section, after all. ;) I love how the colors in the artwork tie in the couch with the forest-y green of the hallway to the left and the blush pink of the laundry room to the right (both of which we’re getting to!). This is most definitely my tried and true palette!
Some of you may remember that metal army-green end table I made for the guest room in our last house. I love how it ties in with the greens and golds of the fireplace while introducing a more modern, industrial vibe. Again, those of you who read the post I wrote for Tyler or who have followed any of my other decorating journeys know that I love a mix of traditional (specifically Southern and farmhouse) elements with more modern (specifically mid-century modern) ones. It’s that mix of old and new, high and low, neutral and bold, that really make a space sing, in my opinion.
Oh, and those 3 lovely ladies are from another fave artist, Janet Hill.
Recently, in another fit of feeling unsettled and needing to do something about it, I color-coded our bookshelves, but I haven’t quite decided if I *love* them this way. Thoughts? At first I felt like it looked more organized and calming to the eye, but now I feel like it might be a bit too rainbow-y. Hmm. I’m sure it will have changed next time you see it. ;)
You may also have noticed that I once had a gallery wall on the big blank wall to the left of the dining table, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it too was not quite right, so I moved some of the pieces to the hallway (those photos are coming!). I’m not entirely sure what I want to do with the blank space now, but I know it needs to be pretty simple and easy on the eyes. I’m thinking maybe a few large-scale framed black and white family photos? We really need to display more photographs anyway…. especially since I’m a photographer, for Pete’s sake. ha.
That photo above is one of my faves. I love how all the separate rooms peek through and you can see all the colors and patterns playing nicely together. Can you believe that all these doorways had doors on them when we first moved in?! Now I can’t possibly imagine them not being open and free. With these old houses, you gotta do everything you can to maximize openness and flow from space to space, without necessarily resorting to knocking down all the walls a la The “Open Concept” Property Brothers.
The light this house gets is just bar none. That was a number one requirement in choosing a house and we couldn’t have had better luck with this one. The sun rises on the side of the house where the bedrooms and back windows to the kitchen are, so the “morning rooms” get delicious and happy and energizing morning light. But then the living room gets a full view of the sunset every day, and the golden hour seriously lights this place up around 5:00 pm. There are few happier places on earth as far as I’m concerned (sorry, Disney). I love calling it quits and leaving my office (which is two steps away) to read a book or catch up on Netflix for an hour or so while this beauty surrounds me.
Now, onto the office!
SO much brown and taupe EVERYWHERE when we moved in. Again, I totally get that there are people who are passionate about the whole spectrum of brown, but I am just not one of those people. A touch of camel leather? Gorgeous. Wood floors? Beautiful. Taupey-brown walls accented by a fleur de lis wallpaper border? No thank you. This room was also begging for a white out!
Now THIS is a space I don’t mind working in every day. All that natural light, when combined with the inspiring colors and pieces that are all around me, when also combined with a primo view of our TV so that I might binge watch Community while I work, makes for a most excellent work environment, indeed.
The abstract artwork in the above left is by Michelle Armas. The framed piece to the right is another Janet Hill.
p.s. That little bride and groom up there? Totally our wedding cake topper. :)
And now… the hallway! Here seems like a good place to talk about lessons I’ve learned with putting colors on the walls. In previous homes of ours, I’ve gone crazy with the mints and lime greens and turquoises in very large rooms, which turned out to not have quite the effect I was hoping for. Style gurus like Emily Henderson taught me the power of a crisp white backdrop for color lovers, since, as she says, we’re more likely to buy and collect furniture and objects that have a lot of color and we need that neutrality to keep it from looking like Rainbow Brite’s house. I’ve found, though, at least in this house, that color and pattern on the walls can definitely still be a very good thing, just in smaller doses. That’s why I opted to paint the hallway this delicious shade of green (with a white Sharpie pen pattern on top thanks to the brilliant Mandi of Vintage Revivals). Bonus? The newly arranged gallery wall somehow pops even more against the bold color. And I love how it calls back to the color of the fireplace subway tiles. I love modernizing the more charming aspects of a 90-year-old home like this without changing its DNA.
And now we have arrived at my proudest accomplishment to date: THE KITCHEN.
These befores, y’all. I mean. We’re talking raw plywood cabinets accented by hunter green laminate counters accented by lime green walls (which was apparently a recent decision since the online photos showed butter yellow walls– go figure). On top of that, there was a massive spaceship of a ceiling fan, enormous stainless steel appliances (which I totally get are a great thing to some!), and, well…. it all just needed a little lovin’. The good news is, I saw the potential in this room the first time we toured the house, simply because it got amazing light and had the original pine floors and felt so impossibly cozy and inviting.
My vision for this kitchen was a colorful, happy retro farmhouse-y vibe, and I think we achieved just that!
A lot– and I do mean a LOT– of time and labor went into transforming this space, so it’s hard to decide where to begin without leaving anything out. I guess the first thing we did was have the doorway leading to the 3rd bedroom closed off. (That’s where the chalkboard wall is below.) It was a secondary entrance to that room which really did nothing but cause problems for the flow of both rooms. So we had our contractor Ricky and his crew go ahead and close it off when we closed off the doors in the living room and master bedroom. (p.s. Those guys are amazing– let me know if you want his number! Super affordable and quality work!)
A few months later, after the dust had settled from the work I did in the other rooms, we REALLY hit the ground running. Will saved the day again and helped Jamie and I demo out most of the upper cabinets (saving some for reuse in the laundry room) and cut and install these beautiful butcher block countertops from Southeastern Salvage. I then painted alllll of the cabinets, as well as the insides of the cabinets because my OCD is unstoppable and I wanted the insides to be as pretty and organized as the outsides. Yep, it took forever. And a day. I replaced all the hardware, and then we installed our appliances, which are the AMAZING GE Artistry Series. I had been eyeing the Big Chill retro appliances for a long time, but knew we probably wouldn’t be able to afford them anytime in the near future. So when I was at Home Depot one day with my friend Kelly and spotted these from far away, I pretty much completely freaked out. Like, in hindsight, it was a borderline embarrassing scene. I love that these are crazy affordable but also have that clean vintage style I’ve been craving. I couldn’t be happier that white appliances are beginning to make a comeback! To me, they’re so much easier to keep clean and they keep everything light and bright and airy.
Then we hired Ricky and his crew to install the subway tile. Originally, I had planned to DIY this too, but in the end I began running out of time and realized it was just going to involve way too much labor on my part (as well as a whole new set of skills which I certainly do not possess), and I’m so happy I bit the bullet and delegated it. They did a great job and saved me from a whole lot of meltdowns. :) I also originally wanted to take the tile all the way up to the ceiling, but it was going to end up costing a fortune and be kind of a pain with all the weird old-house angles and textures. Thankfully, I think I actually like it better only going partially up. I think it could have easily gotten too busy, not to mention created complications when it came time to install all the open shelving.
Speaking of, after all the walls, trim, ceiling, and doors got a fresh coat of paint, I put in some open shelves to replace the upper cabinetry. I wanted some of my favorite vintage dishes to be on display, and I felt like it would create so much more brightness. There’s a lot of hemming and hawing over the pros and cons of open shelving since it’s trending so much right now, but for us, it’s been perfect. We still have plenty of closed cabinetry to hide our less-than-attractive Tupperware containers and we can keep some of our everyday dishes out in the open for easy access. Win-win!
Oh, and the microwave? Total fluke. As you can see in the before photos, we originally had a combination microwave/range hood that just felt cramped. We installed a real dedicated range hood (woo!), and when it came time to find a replacement microwave, I had trouble finding a white one that fit into that weird little nook in the corner. Just so happened to pick this one up at Target, and it fit with about 3 millimeters to spare. Whew! And because it was such a tight fit, there’s the added bonus of it looking built-in AND freeing up valuable counter space for more important tasks like coffee making. ;)
The colors in this kitchen make me so happy. So glad I went with my gut and did the mint green cabinets and the citron yellow back door. I don’t know if these decisions will help or hurt us when it comes time to sell the house, but honestly I couldn’t care less. This is my dream kitchen, and even if I’m the only one who loves it for the foreseeable years to come, that’s okay.
The massive Boulangerie sign is definitely one of the stars of the show, though. I found it on Craigslist as I was perusing the antiques one day, and I couldn’t type an email to the owner quickly enough. It was a steal, and now I can’t imagine the room without it. It adds so much character and coziness to the room (and was totally worth having to crawl around in the attic to locate the beam to hang it from).
We also swapped out the stainless sink, which, despite repeated scrubbings, never really looked clean, for this beeeeautiful white cast iron sink and modern faucet. We had one of these in our last house and I became very spoiled by how easily it cleaned up and how pretty it looks. I briefly considered a farmhouse sink, but it would’ve ended up being a lot more complicated to install with our older cabinetry, and I actually kind of love the detailing of those three lines on that false drawer front right below the sink. So it was definitely okay!
And this is my little Knoxville art collection! :) The Ball jar piece was done by my FAVORITE artist Beth Meadows, who is based in Knoxville and sells her pieces at Nostalgia on McCalla for those interested. The vintage Knoxville postcard was actually mailed to us by my brother’s girlfriend Joy and I’m obsessed with it. And the piece on the far right is a cross-stitch that was made for us by one of our oldest family friends, Michele, as a wedding gift. The turquoise car played a prominent role in our day. :)
And last but certainly not least, the laundry room! Which, when we moved in, looked like this:
HAPPIEST ROOM IN THE HOUSE.
The strawberry walls are by far one of my favorite projects to date, and have gotten probably the best reactions from guests. We knocked them out one weekend when my parents came to visit, and my mom and I made strawberry-shaped stamps (tutorial can be found on A Beautiful Mess) and lovingly hand-stamped every single one you see here. SO worth it. I’ve never considered myself a lover of pink, but this shade of blush as the backdrop for the bright red strawberries just felt so right. It’s so pale that it’s practically a neutral…. or at least I treated it as such when I brought in all the colorful art and accessories. ;)
We removed the flimsy wire shelf and installed some of the upper cabinetry from the kitchen (yay repurposing!). The cabinets fit perfectly, with just enough space to add a few open shelves, and not only do they create so much additional functional storage, but they also really help this space feel more like a room– not just a forgotten scary closet with all the laundry and cleaning supplies you don’t want anyone to see. That was one of my main goals for this area, since you can see it as soon as you walk in the front door and it’s one of two ways to get into the kitchen. It’s my firm belief that even normally-overlooked laundry rooms can be fun and inspiring. :)
As you can see in the photo above, there are a LOT of different colors going on in our house. But it can be done successfully! I think the keys are to temper the bright colors with lots of white (or grey, or– if you’re a brown lover– tan), and to create one overall palette for the entire house and choose colors and accessories that generally fall within that palette. Use a color or inspiration board or photo as your jumping off point. I’ve done it plenty of times to help me visualize whether colors are going to work well together. But some of it is just a gut feeling and personal preference, so at the end of the day… do what makes you happy. Design and paint and renovate with your own needs and wants in mind. This is where you’ll spend so much of your time, and it should be a place that makes you feel good. *all the cheesy feels*
So I guess that’s where I’ll leave you…. for now! I can’t promise what my next project will be or when I’ll share it, but I’m so glad you’ve come along for the journey with me! A million thanks to everyone who has lent a helping hand or given advice this year, and to all of the bloggers and home DIY and renovation experts who inspire me endlessly, and to everyone who has encouraged me to keep on sharing. Your kind words mean the world to me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this not-so-little peek into the process! :)
Have a great weekend! xoxo
A couple of nights ago, I was at the monthly meeting of the Tiger Lily’s Warrior Princess book club (where we read young adult and classic childen’s novels and discuss them at Church Street Coffee and Books— it’s pretty fantastic and you should join us), and we were talking about a scene in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in which the main character Junior transfers to a new school. He ends up punching another kid for horribly insulting him, and when the kid doesn’t punch him back and start fighting (as anyone at his old school would have done), he stands there completely confused, and calls out after the kid who’s now walking away: “Wait… what are the rules?” He had never considered the fact that there would be a new set of social guidelines to learn in this new environment and he realized that he had to somehow figure them out in order to follow them and fit in.
My friend Carrie talked about how she was a classic rule lover and follower, wanting everything to have specific steps she could follow to ensure success, and I nodded in agreement. If ever there was a Type A goodie-goodie who absolutely hated getting in trouble growing up, it was me. I just wasn’t a rule breaker. I liked having someone tell exactly how things should be done so there was no uncertainty or risk of failure.
That is, until I started this little photography business of mine.
Back in 2009, when I decided to turn my longtime hobby into a career, I very seriously considered going back to school to study photography. If there’s one thing I knew I was good at, it was school. I loved having a syllabus and deadlines and I wanted step-by-step instructions for becoming a great photographer and running a successful business. But the more I researched, the more I realized that it was going to cost a lot of money, and these days, there are so many free tools and resources out there that it’s completely doable to teach yourself most things. Once you add in practice, experience, and guidance from mentors, you’re going to get everything you could have in a classroom and then some. So that’s the route I took.
I began soaking up every piece of information and advice I could get my hands on. And in those early days, I was very easily influenced and persuaded by all the people I admired. If Amelia Lyon was editing with Totally Rad actions, then I was editing with Totally Rad Actions. If Jasmine Star was going to WPPI, I was going to WPPI. If Zack Arias said he used Alien Bees for off-camera lighting, then guess what I was going to buy? I spent lots of time following other photographers on Twitter and trolling message boards and reading blogs.
But then a funny thing happened. I started hitting my stride. I settled into a shooting and editing style that suited me, I started booking steadily and staying busy (busier than I needed to be, truth be told), and the more comfortable I felt in my own skin, the less I felt compelled to pay attention to what other people were doing. One of the best things I ever did for myself was to adopt the mantra “unfollow, unfollow, unfollow.”
But here’s a confession. Every now and then, I’ll catch a glimpse of what’s trending in wedding photography right now, or I’ll hear about the insane traveling and shooting schedule of a photographer I admire, or I’ll see some amazing image in my Instagram feed, and the uncertainty tries to creep back in. I’m reminded that even if there aren’t stated rules for becoming a hugely successful and talented photographer, there are definitely implied ones, and I’m not exactly abiding by many, if any, of them. And as much as I would like to say I brush it off and move on with my life, realizing how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing and how satisfied I am with my current way of doing things, I don’t always. Maybe it’s the rule follower in me. But then I’m reminded of the Dalai Lama’s quote, “know the rules well, so you can break them effectively,” and I wonder if maybe I’m not as much of a rule follower as I thought I was.
So in the spirit of rebellion, in case there’s anyone else out there who has ever felt like a weirdo for not following the spoken or unspoken “rules” for success in our industry, I thought I’d share what *I* perceive to be some of those rules and how (and why) I’ve broken them. Before I begin though, HUGE disclaimer: there are many wonderful and crazy talented photographers, some of whom are my good friends, who fall into one or more of these categories. And I think they do amazing, jealousy-inducing work and they are great people. So I want to make it clear that there’s not anything inherently wrong with any of these things, and in fact, some of them can be really good things. And that’s the beauty of being a creative small business owner and the whole reason for this post: you can go your own way. Find what works for you and go for it unashamedly. My point here is that it’s okay not to do or want the same things that a lot of others do or want. That’s all. I’m sure there are rules that I follow that you think are silly and you break all the time, and that’s okay! Life would be so boring if we all did and liked the same things, after all. So if you follow any (or all!) of these rules and it’s totally working for you, THAT’S OKAY! In fact, it’s good! It means you’re figuring out what works and going with it! And now let’s jump in…
1. MAKE IT YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL TO ALWAYS BE GROWING AND GETTING BIGGER.
These days, it seems that once a photographer hits a certain peak with the growth of their business and client base, the logical next step is to take it even further. Go full time, hire associates, get an amazing studio or office space, start a product line, host a million workshops to share all your secrets, etc. Once you’ve built your brand, you’re told to monetize the crap out of it. Well, the truth is…. I really have no interest in most of those things. I happily work from my little home office. I’ve never had employees or outsourced any of my work because I prefer to keep the number of weddings I shoot manageable, so that I can still be in charge of the entire process. I know that if I keep this up, I’ll never be shooting 40+ weddings a year… but that’s not my goal. That’s the furthest thing from my goal. And call it a lack of ambition, but I don’t want to develop the next greatest camera accessory or set of Lightroom presets. (I much prefer to buy what other people make. ;)) Call it a lack of business sense, but I would much rather meet up with another photographer for coffee and chat one on one than charge for (and plan, and market, and execute) a big workshop where I would probably find myself vomiting in the bathroom beforehand and wondering why anyone would ever pay money to hear what I have to say. Perhaps this is a photography business on a small scale, but it works for me. (Oh, and if you’re not doing photography full time and you’re feeling pressured to quit your day job even if you’re not ready or really wanting to, go read this post by friend Gail on juggling the nine-to-five and a part time business. Amazing insights.)
2. MAKE A PROFIT… A WHOLE LOT OF PROFIT.
Expanding on #1, it’s really tempting to look around at what the photographers in the big leagues are charging and think that everyone except you is raking in a six-figure income. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: raise your prices, raise your prices, raise your prices. And is there some truth to that? Absolutely! There are plenty of photographers out there who are underestimating the value of their time and talent. And even I’ve gotten emails from other photographers asking why I don’t charge more or why my pricing hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past few years. I’ve found that a lot of photographers can talk endlessly about numbers and rates and what’s competitive, but to be honest, the answer is pretty simple for me: I know what my ideal client can afford to spend, and for me, the sweet spot between making a modest profit while not alienating my target market is pretty much what I’m charging. (Although they’re about to get raised a bit, so email now if you’re wanting to book a 2015 wedding at my current rates! :)) Granted, for some of the weddings I shoot, the cost of hiring me is about 5-10% of the total wedding budget, and for others it’s closer to 50%, but I love that variety. Whether budget or high-end, all of my weddings share a common thread: laid back, fun, in love couples with a bit (or a lot!) of a creative streak. And I want to be able to shoot all of their weddings, regardless of their budget. And you know what? I’m making a decent living off this business of mine. I fully realize I’ll never have a $150k+ yearly salary, and that’s A-OK with me, because I didn’t get into photography to get rich quick. (And God bless you if you did, because you’re in for a long, hard road.)
3. BE A GLOBE TROTTER.
You know how it seems like some photographers are in new, exotic locations shooting weddings every single weekend? And how it seems so glamorous, what with all those stamps in the passport and mai-tais on the beach the morning after the wedding? And how it seems like photography is basically just a perfect way to get paid to travel the world? Trust me… As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel a decent amount all over the country to shoot weddings, that’s not the reality. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE traveling and I’m so thankful to my clients for giving me a chance and an excuse to visit places I might not ever get to see otherwise, but traveling for weddings is stressful. I never used to be a paranoid person until I started going through airport security with thousands of dollars of equipment strapped on me. And on top of usual wedding preparations, you’re factoring in making travel arrangements, taking at least two extra days away from work and your family and friends for flying or driving, and if you use a second shooter, you’re planning for them as well. Every time I’ve traveled for a wedding, all the work and extra time and potential stress has been worth it, but trust me… it’s still work. :) I don’t know how photographers do it when they’re traveling almost every weekend. I imagine it would take a huge toll on your personal life.
4. GET PUBLISHED. FREQUENTLY. LIKE EVERY DAY IF POSSIBLE.
While I am so thankful to the blogs and magazines who have have published my work and shown off the amazingness of my clients through the years, and I do have them to thank for a few of my bookings, the reality of the-getting featured game is that it involves a LOT of rejection and unnecessary second-guessing of the vendors’ talents and/or the bride and groom’s ability to throw a ridiculously inspiring, impressive, original wedding. I’ve submitted many a wedding to blogs, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s a perfect fit, only to get a rejection without any good explanation. For every wedding I’ve had featured on one blog, I’ve gotten probably 3-4 rejections. Again, for no good reason other than it’s someone else’s blog and they have every right to select only what they want to share. It’s an extremely time-consuming process fraught with many emotional implications, and here’s a secret: no matter how big or amazing the blog is, I’ve only booked a handful of weddings due to a client finding me there. These days, we’re so overloaded with inspiration that I think a lot of brides are paralyzed by an inability to make decisions. I actually advise a lot of my brides to spend less time on blogs and Pinterest because I’m not super thrilled with the one-upmanship wedding culture they have created. (And yes, I’m fully aware that I’m somewhat part of the problem, but I am trying!) Now don’t get me wrong… I ADORE creativity at weddings. I just don’t love the questioning of that creativity. And do I still feel a rush when I get an email from a blog or publication I love saying that they want to show my photographs? Of course! I’m not a cold heartless corpse. But that rush is nothing compared to a thoughtful gift or thank you note from a client after they see their wedding photos, or the happiness I feel when I’m surrounded by craziness on the dance floor at a reception, dancing along to Pharrell while I shoot. Other people’s wedding photos can be fun to look at, but nothing beats a real life experience or connection.
5. SHOOT FILM.
A controversy waiting to happen, I know. But I’m going there. Again, I feel that I should preface this by saying that many of my friends and photographers I admire shoot film and I think their work is gorgeous. What *I* want to say right now is that I don’t think the medium matters, whether you shoot digital or film or both. Shooting with film does not a fine art photograph make. There are puh-lenty of digital shooters whom I consider to be brilliant artists. Shooting with one or the other doesn’t make you more of an artist, the same way that using oil-based paint doesn’t make you more of an artist than using watercolors. And honestly if you have to ask someone, after looking at their work, whether they shoot digital or film, it probably doesn’t matter to you as much as you think it does. While I do looove the color and bokeh of film photographs, and I fully understand the ways it can change the way you shoot for the better (yes, I read Film is Not Dead just like everyone else with a pulse), there’s just too much I love about digital to make the switch. Yep, you heard me right. I LOVE DIGITAL. You don’t hear too many photographers saying that these days. There are many reasons that it works better for me (some of them are outlined in this post by Jessica Claire), but the bottom line is that the reasons don’t matter. If it works best for me, then I shouldn’t feel bad about choosing it. These days I feel lesser than the moment anyone starts talking about film and how it has “soul” (as if digital photos don’t), and there are entire posts on wedding blogs dedicated to proving why film is better and why you should choose a wedding photographer who shoots film. (Ironically these posts aren’t usually written by photographers.) So if I sound defensive, and I’m trying really hard not to, it’s because these kinds of debates have a real effect on my business. I’m all about educating clients, but what I want for them is to hire someone whose work they truly connect with and not care so much about how the photo was created. Whether it’s a film photographer or digital photographer, it shouldn’t matter. It’s taken me a long, long time to be confident in my digital-ness, but here it is. WHEW. I feel much better having gotten that off my chest. :)
6. BE A HUSBAND AND WIFE TEAM.
Wayyy back in those early days, when I was fascinated by the rockstar lifestyle of husband and wife photographers, I had some pretty high hopes that Jamie would be my permanent second shooter and an essential part of my business. It’s hard not to think it’s a perfect set up when you see it work for so many married people out there. Travel together, work together, spend every moment together…. living the dream, right? :) Well, we figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be a long term solution for us. Jamie just doesn’t feel quite the same way that I do about weddings (but not many normal people do, so that’s ok), and he just wasn’t passionate about it. And he says I was way too bossy. ;) So I had to accept pretty early on that I would never be one half of an impossibly adorable husband and wife duo, kind of like our friends Wes and Emma. (Seriously, they’re so cute it’s ridiculous.) What I didn’t realize at the time was what a blessing in disguise that decision was. For us. Jamie pursued his own passion, web and software developing (honestly I barely have a clue what he even does), taught himself like I taught myself photography, and has become really great at it and has had one amazing job opportunity after another fall in his lap. He loves it so much that he does it in his spare time, for fun. It’s actually kind of great to see his passion develop in the same way mine has with photography. He both make decent livings, we’re both fortunate enough to have careers that we love, but we don’t have to be doing the same thing for that to be the case. We may not spend every moment of every day together, but when we are together the time feels more meaningful and full of things to talk about. And when we travel together, it’s for fun and not for work. Do I occasionally wish I had a permanent second shooter and get secretly jealous of husband and wife teams on occasion? Of course! But it’s not worth sacrificing Jamie’s happiness. I’d much rather spend wedding days with my friends who are just as obsessed with weddings as I am. :)
7. BE A SOCIAL MEDIA AND BLOGGING MACHINE.
Ah, online marketing and self-promotion. Probably the one thing I’ve gotten worse at with every passing year of being in business. ha. When I first started out, when I didn’t even really have that much to blog, I was blogging a few times a week, about everything under the sun. And it was great, because it really did help me to build a following and connect with people that I never would have otherwise. I truly enjoyed it. And now, in 2014, this is maybe my 3rd or 4th blog post in six months? It’s not that I don’t still enjoy it, because I’m actually loving getting to sit here and just write my heart out. It’s that I don’t have time… or I don’t make the time, because I feel guilty not spending all of my work hours staying caught up on editing and emailing. You know, taking care of my clients. You can tell me all the reasons that’s wrong. That’s okay. But it’s where I’m at right now. I’ve got about 10-ish weddings I’m dying to share, and it may be that I sit down in July (during my down time) and blog all of them back to back. And not blog again for another 3 months. And Google will probably hate me and my readership will keep dwindling, but I think I’m okay with that. It’s just that my priorities have changed, and the busier I’ve gotten, the more protective I’ve become of my personal time. It’s all about balance. That’s also why my last tweet happened 3 years ago. And why I rarely check Facebook anymore. (Well, and because all their changes to business pages have basically ruined by ability to reach clients that way anyway. I’m honestly *thisclose* to deleting my account altogether. This video gave some strong arguments in favor of doing so.) I never even signed up for LinkedIn despite the hundreds of connection requests I’ve been emailed, because I knew it would be just one more thing to keep up with. My 2 social media vices are Pinterest (which for me is all about home decor and DIY inspiration, my other true creative love), and of course Instagram. Unsurprisingly, they’re both photo-based, and as a photographer, that’s truly what I love seeing. I’ve had to figure out over time that I will just never be the business owner who takes a social media marketing class and makes sure to update 10 different accounts every single day in order to be “active” and reach clients. Truth be told, the majority of my clients come from referrals from friends and other photographers anyway, so I’m kind of relieved that it’s not an absolute requirement anymore to be “connected” all the time. (I’ve also been convicted by videos like this one and books like this one that being glued to a computer or mobile device every waking moment is not exactly a healthy way of life.) So the point is, if you feel like you also kind of suck at keeping the world updated on your every movement and thought and achievement, I really don’t think it’s such a bad thing. I do have the Internet to thank for connecting me with some of my closest friends, but moderation is key. And if you’re not enjoying it anymore and it’s becoming another chore, it’s really okay to cut back or to pick and choose one or two outlets to post with. Sometimes, the pressure we put on ourselves to constantly be creating new content can end disastrously. You don’t have to be a prolific blogger or tweeter to be a happy and successful creative business owner.
8. GET FAMOUS.
I was having a conversation with another photographer recently and we were talking about “celebrity” photographer culture. She told me that she had talked to a photographer who actually specifically said “I want to get famous.” This person was trying to associate herself with all the right people, carefully curating her social media feeds to reflect a certain lifestyle (perhaps not entirely true to reality), offering to work for free (or very cheap) all the time in order to travel to exotic places and collaborate with certain vendors, overstating her level of closeness and friendship with the big time photographers. All to become more famous. This is actually a much more common occurrence than you might think. Honestly, I’ve had to unfollow a lot of people who constantly put out the my-life-is-straight-out-of-an-impeccably-styled-photo-shoot vibe. I totally get wanting to put your best foot forward, or only feeling compelled to share things that are pretty and positive and happy, but dang. There’s a point at which it stops becoming inspiration and starts becoming an endless rotation of humble brags. Once upon a time I, too, used to think I wanted to be a big famous photographer, until I started hearing the truth through the grapevine. (Because yes, the truth does get revealed. You can only fool people for so long.) Tales of all these “famous” photographers and their behind-the-scenes personal struggles, things like drugs and broken relationships and even prison (!!), things that don’t look so pretty on Instagram. And I realized that yes, my life might be kind of small and boring in comparison, but I’m actually happy. I don’t feel compelled to be always chasing the next biggest and shiniest thing. Again, maybe this makes me a less ambitious person, but I can accept that. I really don’t think that fame and fortune is all it’s cracked up to be. (But if you’re famous and fortunate and LOVIN’ IT, feel free to call me out. I don’t mind. :))
9. HAVE A DISCIPLINED AND SUPER PRODUCTIVE WORKFLOW AND DAILY ROUTINE.
Every now and then I’ll come across an article or blog post by another photographer in which they share their daily schedule, and I promptly want to lay down on the floor and just give up because I WILL NEVER BE THAT EFFICIENT. You know the ones… “This morning, I woke up at 5:30 am, went on a 6 mile run, showered, prepared and ate a delicious and healthy breakfast, and got my inbox down to zero…. All by 9:00 am! Doesn’t it feel great to get your day started on the right foot?” I mean…. WHAT. I’m honestly doing good to shower before 10:00 am. Sometimes I eat breakfast, sometimes I forget to eat and then wonder why I’m suddenly raging with hanger. My inbox is pretty much never at zero (sigh). And it’s taken me awhile to realize it, but this is kind of the beauty of being self-employed. *I* can determine how I work best and most productively, and even though I don’t always make the best decisions, it’s kind of a beautiful thing to have that freedom. I eventually realized that it’s okay to not work a standard 40 hour work week Monday-Friday because I usually work about 15 hours on the weekends alone. And it’s okay to edit for 10-12 hours straight one day and then spend the next running errands, meeting friends for lunch, reading a book, etc. Granted, to have this kind of schedule, you do have to have a self-starter personality and give yourself deadlines, but it’s really kind of freeing to not have designated work hours. I know what I need to get done and when I need to finish it by, and I always do. How I get from Point A to Point B shouldn’t really matter all that much. I’m a grown woman, and if I want to do my work in my PJs at odd hours while dancing to Jason Derulo songs in my chair, then so be it. :)
10. BE ORIGINAL.
I used to think that in order to be a really great photographer, I needed to reinvent the wheel every single time I went into a wedding or shoot. I needed to get some National Geographic-worthy shot from an angle no one had ever thought of before, with some insanely amazing lighting setup. But here’s the thing. I’m a wedding photographer. And wedding days are typically chaotic, with a whole host of unpredictable and uncontrollable factors (our crazy Southern weather not the least of them). There are beautiful moments unfolding all around me, and then there are details to think about and more formal portraits to take and certain traditional shots that I’ve grown to love capturing because even if they’re not the most creative, they are timeless, and they are heirlooms, and they will be passed down for generations to come. So treating an entire wedding day as an experiment in originality isn’t really the smartest approach, in my personal experience. I *do* have a general running list of photos in my head that I pretty much always take. And I’ve grown to love that process. Because what I’ve found is that to me, what makes a photo unique are the people in it. The moments that are fleeting and can’t be recreated and might only be remembered with the click of my shutter button. And the more I try to think of some earth-shatteringly new way of documenting wedding days, the more likely I am to miss the specialness that’s already there. That said, I don’t think that’s a good excuse to turn wedding photography into a formula, so at every wedding I do push myself to think outside of the box for at least a few shots. This keeps my creative juices flowing without turning the wedding into the Morgan Trinker Show.
So I guess to sum it all up, here’s what I’m saying. There is no right or wrong way to be a creative entrepreneur. We’re all doing this because we probably like freedom and not having someone else tell us what to do or how to do it. So there’s no reason for us to impose rules on ourselves or other people. If you’re attracting enough clients to stay busy and be profitable, and they’re the kind of clients that are a good fit for you, and you’re taking great care of them and delivering a quality product and memorable experience, and if you truly love what you’re doing…. then you’re okay. None of the other fluff really matters. Let’s be rebels together.
(All images you’ve seen in this post are from all those yet-to-be-blogged weddings and shoots I mentioned earlier. Consider this a teaser! ;))