I want to preface this post by immediately apologizing for its length…and saying thank you to anyone who makes it to the end!! Over the past few weeks, I have received countless emails asking me these questions: “How did you get started?” and “How did you get to where you are now?” I try to sum it up into a few sentences, but then realize that there is way too much to tell in one email. So, when I received another email this week asking me these questions, I decided that it would be best to blog about it! So, in this post, I will be sharing all about how I fell in love with photography, how I went about chasing my crazy dreams and why little people with big dreams are the best kind of people.
As I was growing up, my mom alway loved to bake. Whether it was cookies made from scratch, homemade brownies from her grandma’s secret recipe, scrumptious cupcakes or chess bars + scotcharoos (another family recipe that EVERYONE should try), there was always a plate of fresh desserts on the middle of the table. When my mom began decorating cakes and starting up a business of her own, I fell in love with the idea of being an entrepreneur and owning a business that I created all by myself. I watched her talk about how much she loved what she did, and I saw that passion behind her business when she stayed up through all hours of the night adding the perfect fondant details to a flawlessly-iced cake. But, as 10 year old girl, I had absolutely no idea what I could do to make this dream come true. I jumped from hobby to hobby, from sports to theatre to volunteering, and I never stuck with one thing for longer than a few months. When my mom needed help with graphic design or promotional needs for her business, I was the one to help her. I was so passionate about small businesses + entrepreneurs, but I still had absolutely NO idea what I could do to make this dream a reality for myself.
As my mom’s business began getting busier and busier, she purchased a little pink digital camera to take more “professional” photos of her cakes + desserts. After a few months, the camera (that cost less than $200) started to fall apart, so she gave it to me. Starting when I was 11 years old, that camera became my favorite toy. I kept it with me at all times and took pictures of everything that I could. When I was 14, my parents gifted me another camera for Christmas, but this time it was a “REAL” camera. Even though it wasn’t even a DSLR, my little 14-year-old brain was SO excited to upgrade to a CANON camera. I was bouncing of the walls with excitement. I continued to take it everywhere with me, and practice as much as I could. I began taking pictures of my close friends, and of family members. I quickly realized how much I loved portrait photography and how much I loved PEOPLE, but I still never did more than that. The camera was simply something that I brought along with me for fun, and I never considered using it for anything else.
When I was 15, I took a photojournalism class at my high school as a sophomore. A DSLR camera was a requirement for the class, so my parents helped me collect enough money to purchase a Canon Rebel T2i. Guys…this was the best day of my life. I FINALLY had a camera that had a removable LENS! SAY WHAT!? Even though I honestly had absolutely NO idea what I was doing or what the difference between the camera really was at first, the photojournalism class taught me the mechanics behind a camera and all of the technical terminology for how the camera works. Pair that with constant practice and teaching myself how the different camera settings affected each other, I quickly began to understand using my camera in manual. I continued taking pictures of friends and family members, constantly trying to improve and better understand my camera.
When I was 16, I did what every other normal 16 year old does. I got a job at a fast food restaurant. Oh, joy. While I really didn’t mind working there, the hours + demand of the job quickly became too much for someone just beginning their junior year of high school stacked with honors + AP classes. So, I then began working at a local clothing retail store. I worked there for 8 months, and I absolutely loved the job! But, there was always something missing. I knew that God had a bigger purpose for me than that, and I almost felt as if I was wasting my life away if I wasn’t doing what God put me on this earth to do. I had no idea why at the time, but I was just so unhappy. There was no joy in my life, and I felt as if there was so much in life I was missing out on. Then, one day, I had began sharing this feelings with my family + my boyfriend (this involved lots of ugly crying and “I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT IM FEELING RIGHT NOW” moments). I walked out of the room to get a tissue, and while I was out of the room, they began talking about why my camera had been sitting on the shelf for months. I heard whispers of “she was SO happy when she was taking pictures” and “that camera was SO expensive, and it’s just collecting dust!” So, when I walked back into the room, they both looked at me and said “You’re quitting that job, and you’re going to start taking pictures again”.
That’s exactly what I did. I began falling back in love with photography, and I did my first senior portrait session for someone that I didn’t know. I did it for free, because I was still learning, but then they sent me a check in the mail to say “thank you”. When I received that check, that was the first moment I realized “hey…maybe I could seriously do this”. For the first time EVER, I posted online that I was going to be offering photo sessions for $50. After years of people seeing me post my photos from doing shoots with my friends and gradually progressing, a lot of my followers and Facebook friends had already asked me to do photos of them, but I always said no. I was TERRIFIED of taking pictures of people that I didn’t know. “What if they think I suck? I have no idea what I’m doing, what if people pay me and then realize that I’m still learning? Who do you think you are? You’re 16 years old, no one is going to take you seriously.” These thoughts played on repeat in my mind. Ya’ll…I was SO. SCARED. Oh my goodness, I was scared. But…I did it anyway. I began realizing that people are booking me because they see me work, so they aren’t expecting my images to be anything that they aren’t, because they’ve already SEEN them. They KNOW what I can do, and even if it isn’t much, they still want their photos done by me.
After a few more sessions, I began raising my prices as the demand became too much. Once I saved up enough money, I purchased a Canon 6D, and I raised my prices again. In August before my senior year of high school, right after I turned 17 years old, I got my business license and quit my job. Guys…I was DOING it! This was really happening. I spent the next 6 months working hard to improve, reach new clients and better myself. Then, I spent a full year investing in education and new equipment. I put my ALL into this little business of mine, and then my graduation began creeping around the corner. This dream of mine that I had always wanted was finally coming true…but I was supposed to be leaving for college. This thought haunted my as the last few months of my senior year began to pass way quicker than I expected, and then I graduated. I committed to Radford University, and I was planning on leaving for school. Because, hey, isn’t that what you’re SUPPOSED to do? I mean, that’s what all of my friends were doing. Everyone I knew, all of the people that I had grown to love over 4 years in high school were leaving for college. I never even second guessed the idea of staying at home, because that’s just not what you DO. You don’t go against what everyone else is going, because then everyone thinks you’re crazy. But, one day, I woke up and I just knew that I was not supposed to leave. God had a purpose for me, and I could not fulfill His purpose 400 miles from my home + the city where my entire business was built. So, after fully committing to a school, paying all of the fees, choosing a roommate, buying things for my dorm and telling EVERYONE that I was going to school…I told everyone that I was staying. I woke up one morning in June, and I just cried. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know why, but now I do. It wasn’t in God’s plan for me, and when you trust Him with all of your heart and you allow His plan to lead your life, He is SO faithful, y’all. You can read a little more about that decision and why I decided to not attend a university HERE.
Now, almost 8 months later, my business has grown to a level that I NEVER could have imagined. I’m shooting 20 weddings this year along with dozens of seniors, mentoring new photographers, hosting workshops and falling more in love with my job every single day. I will never work a day in my life, because it isn’t “work” when you are so in love with what you do. I just want to use this post to encourage anyone who may have a dream, but have absolutely no idea where to start. Or, maybe, you know EXACTLY what you want and how to do it…but you’re scared. Because I know I was. I went against EVERYTHING that you are “supposed to do” as someone graduating high school. I spent months crying myself to sleep while people posting things online like “just because you have a nice camera doesn’t mean you’re a professional photographer.” and “who the heck does Hope think she is?” I received comments like “You will NEVER be successful at what you do”, “HOW old are you? And you think that you can just start a business and be successful? Do you know how many businesses fail within the first 2 years?”, “do you have any idea what you’re doing?” I lost countless friends, dealt with tons of hateful messages and trusted God in all of my decisions, even if no one else understood them. And now, I could not be happier. I know it’s scary, guys. But I believe in you. And you should, too. Because He does. And that’s all you need.
” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”