Day Two on the set was really about regrouping and preparing for the big build. Engineers, inspectors, contractors and laborers descended on the site by the hundreds to survey what was left of the old structure.
We build walls around things we love to protect them and keep them safe. But sometimes, the walls we built to hold us in can also separate us from greater things outside. In His Image Photography by Julie was my baby. She was that fledging little company that learned something new every day on the adventure into entrepreneurship. I had never done this before and I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed newbie. My hunger for education and passion for photography masked the ridiculous hours I was putting into the company and I will never forget those long, hard days.
So, as the dust settles around me, I can’t help but reflect on where we’ve been. Change is scary but also necessary for growth. But before we start laying a foundation for this new house, I feel a little walk back through the past 5 years is in order.
After enough urging from friends, I decided to offer Christmas Portraits to my neighbors. I printed some pitiful little flyer and offered 30 minute sessions at our neighborhood lake/pavilion area and nearly 40 families signed up. I was totally in my element! I loved bringing out the best in the kids and learning to pose families in various poses. What I was TERRIBLE at was lighting. I had no clue about flash, light ratios, exposure, where to position people, etc. so in truth, the images now make me cringe when I look back at them. I realized then, the student in me needed to kick in and really begin understanding the world of photography.
MILESTONE: I began to build relationships with clients and begin marketing my services.
MISTAKE: Charging even $1 for poorly lit, badly processed images with a Canon Rebel quality camera (shot on AUTO mode I might add-YIKES!!) was too much!
I spent the first 6 months of 2008 READING!! I rented every book in the public library on photography and spent hours and hours on-line watching tutorials. I am pretty sure I memorized my camera’s manual too! I started to truly understand iso, f-stop and shutter speed and how to manipulate light. I knew I had a llloooonnnngggg way to go but I also saw growth in my work and was encouraged.
I approached 3 preschools and all agreed to allow me to capture their school’s fall and/or spring portraits. I learned so much about engaging with children, relating to them and creating natural looking smiles. This was also a crash course in business management for me having to process, sell and deliver images to hundreds of families. WHOA! Did I do it all wrong! I think I even presented the proofs in pdfs??? Enter, Harry Candelerio, and thank God for him! He was the first person to introduce me to Photoshop and attempted to organize my filing system to handle the sheer volume of images I was dealing with. What a patient saint he was! I still call him for technical support and he answers with that same hearty laugh every time.
We got our first website that year too (a terrible but cheap BluDomain kit site) but I was so incredibly proud to see my early work on-line. I also began second shooting weddings for an established photographer and began to fall in love with wedding photography. I am forever grateful to Laura Stikeleather for taking me under her wing back then.
MILESTONE: I finally understood the exposure triangle and how to use every feature of my camera. I got a taste for wedding photography and was hooked!
MISTAKE: I greatly underestimated how challenging running a photography business really was. I believe I stopped cooking dinner altogether this year for my family
My desire for education escalated into professional workshops this year. I attended as many seminars as I could that came through Charlotte. It didn’t matter to me what the topic was- I was hungry for ALL of it. I would leave with pages and pages of notes and an even greater desire to SUCCEED in this new career path.
Then, in February of 2009, someone told me there was a sunflower field near my house. These only bloom in the summer so how could I possibly find out who owned this random field on a long country road? I literally prayed and asked God for a little old lady to answer the phone of the nearby church who just might be able to help me. SHE ANSWERED!!! She knew the home owners and gave me the number of a spunky woman named Luann. I called her, introduced myself and talked to her for a full hour. She said it would be fine if I brough clients to their fields in July and it was beautiful beyond my wildest dreams!!! We had 20 families join us that first season and showing up at sunrise among 10,000 yellow flowers spoke to my heart. I cannot recall loving any location more in all my life. All the dirt, sweat and effort was shadowed by the beauty of those images.
I also photographed a fashion book that year, Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad. I learned so much about color theory, dressing your body type, use of accessories, etc. That experience led me to create our own Style Guide in 2011 and I am grateful for that project with Shari Braendal. One year later, it was on newstands at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. My name was there in big bold letters since I had contributed 90% of the images in the book. My heart swelled with pride seeing our company continue to grow.
MILESTONE: More professional training, partnering with fantastic people who brought in more and more clients to our business. First time published!!!!
MISTAKE: I was still undercharging for my time. I was working 40 hours/week and barely paying for my babysitter, equipment and monthly bills for the company. And, I was getting tired.
At one of the 2009 seminars, I heard about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. It was a charity for photographers and the images I saw moved me to tears. I had a dear friend, Leigh Beggs, who lost her baby 12 days after birth years ago and the few snapshots she had of his short life meant the world to her. This was a charity to provide professional images for grieving parents and I could be a part of it. I submitted my work in 2009 and on January 1, 2010, I became a certified photographer for the charity. I WAS TERRIFIED when I got my first call from Levine’s Children’s Hospital. His name was Jonathon and he was recently deceased. After 10 months in the NICU, he had finally gone home to the Lord. I had just finished a toddler shoot in Noda (not 10 minutes from the hospital) so I had all my gear with me. I called everyone who would pray for me and entered that hospital room with trembling hands. THE SWEET SPIRIT OF JESUS WAS SO REAL IN THAT MOMENT! I cannot describe it but these parents knew their baby was happier in heaven than here and the images we created were so beautiful. They held him, loved him , kissed him and I captured it all. I left a message on Leigh’s cell phone when I left the session telling her I was now capturing these images because of her son, McGill. The next day I got a phone call from her and she said through tears, “I so needed that call. It was the tenth anniversary of his death and knowing he mattered and encourage you to do this for others meant everything to me in that moment”. Stunned by God’s grace.
I was still second shooting weddings but also began shooting as a lead photographer. It was very scary at first but I loved every one of those first weddings.
I got my first magazine cover this year with Little Ones, a parenting magazine in NC. I was growing technically and my database of clients was nearly 400 strong at this point. I partnered with another fantastic family who owned an Arabian Horse Farm and began offering our signature fall series at their location. The sunflower project grew also and I was working about 50 hours/week now. My house was falling apart and I was way too busy. As much as I loved photography, I knew I was doing something wrong since I was working too hard to earn so little. So, I hired a financial analyst who poured over our sad attempt at bookkeeping (God bless my accountant who put up with my scattered records!) and gave me a BIG dose of reality. Guess what? I was making a whopping $8.54/hour. Mind you, my session fee was $100 and my CD of images was $350. I was making $450/family and shooting pretty consistently which sounded like a fair wage, right? However, with the fixed expenses of running a business factored in, my 14 year old babysitter (who I paid $10/hour to watch my girls when I was working) was making MORE THAN I WAS! We needed a serious business overhaul for 2011 or I was better off throwing in the towel and going back to my former role as a stay-at-home Mom.
MILESTONE: Our large scale sunflower and horse farm events were gaining momentum and we were now published regularly in magazines. I was now confident enough to shoot weddings on my own.
MISTAKE: I was failing at running a small business.
Our wedding business flourished! I captured my first wedding in New York City which was an amazing experience. Getting on a plane with your gear and having clients PAY your travel expenses is a thrill! I think I really felt like a professional photographer for the first time in Charlotte-Douglas Airport in June of 2011
We enjoyed FOUR straight featured weddings in Carolina Bride that year. Seeing your work publised is truly the ultimate for any artist and I was thrilled!
On the portrait side of the business, I changed EVERYTHING!! We stopped thinking of CDs as the end product of our sessions and began designing wall collections for our clients. We styled their wardrobes (read more HERE about our process), promoted large scale portrait events with mass mailers/promotions and delivered hundreds of framed portraits/canvases to Charlotte families. For the first time ever, I was now able to put myself on PAYROLL! Every 2 weeks, I was able to contribute to our family’s income because I took a step back and decided to run a legitimate business and not a glorified hobby.
July 2011 was a fantastic milestone too. We hosted our first annual Field of Dreams event when I opened one night in the sunflowers to any family struggling with pediatric cancer. I promoted the event with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Flashes of Hope, Levine’s Children’s Hospital and Hemby at Presby. We had 7 families join us and I will never forget that night. My own niece was a survivor of cancer so their sweet faces hold a special place in my heart. Thank you, Chuck Eaton, Kelly Patterson and Franklin Graham for donating your time and talent to produce amazing images for these families. God was truly blessing others through my company and I was incredibly proud that night.
In December, we got the call to shoot for Bellamy Homes and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Life-changing for sure!
MILESTONE: Field of Dreams was born and our wedding work was now published. We broke out of the CD mold and became a full-service,boutique photography studio. We were gaining national exposure.
MISTAKE: I was trying to do ALL of this on my own.
January 1, 2012- Mr. Andrew Staley left Coca-Cola to join the team as our Business Manager. I finally had help!! As my husband, he was just as committed to success as I was and together we became one fierce team. I still handled all the marketing and photography but he became the backbone of the company. He took over bookkeeping from our accountant, processed and managed all files (multiple computers, hard drives, etc. etc), implemented an amazing software system for clients, etc. HE SAVED ME! I had been stretched so thin for the 2 years before and having him join the company was the best decision we ever made. Now In His Image had 2 full-time employees on the payroll and we were ready to grow!
This year other photographers began taking note of our growth. We held several professional seminars teaching other photographers how to grow their own studios. I taught and mentored photographers from AZ, GA, MO, AK, PA, TN, NC, and SC. We got the attention of The Organic Bloom (one of the country’s largest framing companies) who offered to sponsor our tour in 2013 and utilize me as their Sales Trainer teaching other photographers how to design and sell wall collections. Public speaking and teaching come very naturally to me and cheering on the success of fellow photographers is incredibly rewarding.
We enjoyed 4 more featured weddings in Carolina Bride and another cover with Little Ones magazine. We were asked to capture events when the Democratic National Convention came to Charlotte in September. Our second annual Field of Dreams event brought 16 families to our sunflower fields and the momentum of the company was in full gear! Thank you to the dozen photographers who helped and to Anne Markey, of Favor Me Events, for all of your efforts in organizing the event. I even got to highlight the event on the local Fox News station- what a blast!
So, in August, we made the bold decision to change our name and company structure to hire more photographers under our umbrella.
Sorry for the super LONG journel entry but seeing the old name go made me pretty nostalgic. She will always be my baby.
Tomorrow’s post……LAYING A FOUNDATION!