Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Story | Why I Am the Photographer I Am Today


Recently I was asked about "my story" (how I got into photography). After I sent them my reply, I thought, Hey, why not post it for all of my blog readers? If nothing else, have a great read. ;-)

Here it goes...

I picked up my first camera (a one time use, film camera) when I was twelve years old. While I could've used that camera to take goofy shots of me, my family, and my friends, I specifically remember that I wanted to use each one of those exposures well. I took pictures sparingly... mostly shooting landscapes: a nearby lake, some Rocky Mountain foliage, etc. I remember when I got my pictures back, people complimented on my "great photography skills" (Ha! Now I look at them and cringe. Ok, maybe not quite, but anyhow...)

When I was fourteen, after having gone through quite a few one time use cameras and photography was becoming a serious hobby of mine, my parents bought me a Canon 35mm film camera (dont remember the specific model). After about a month of owning it, I went to the Denver Museum with some friends of mine. Making a rather irresponsible choice, I layed my camera down at one of the booths, and forgot about it! As you may have already guessed, when I frantically ran back to find it, it had already been stolen. When I got home, my parents were quite disappointed in my lack of responsibility and told me they wouldn't be able to buy me another camera again. I cried like a baby. I loved my camera! (Oooh boy, I sure learned my lesson in responsibility!) ...So I went back to shooting with the one time use cameras.

When I was seventeen, my parents could see that I was still genuinely in love with taking pictures, that I had matured a lot and was much more responsible, so they bought me a Canon PowerShot S30 (my first digital camera of three megapixels).

That year, I became a high school senior and of course, people began questioning me what I wanted "to do with my life." I always wanted to be involved in a ministry... in something that was bigger than my self. A pastor's wife? A missionary? I didn't know what God had in store. Yes, I liked photography alot and was always snapping pictures of things around me, but OH NO, the idea of being a wedding photographer scared the living day lights out of me. :-O (I was quite the shy wall flower who didn't talk much, and everyone knows wedding photographers have to be bold, out front, and open.. right?) I began looking at Christian colleges. I had visited Pensacola Christian College and Bob Jones University. I prayed about what God wanted me to pursue as a life calling.

Towards the end of my senior year of highschool, God made things clearer for me, and I made the decision to pursue photography. But where on earth could I learn it professionally? I had heard of Brooks Institute in California, but I personally didn't want to attend a secular school, be around a secular worldview, look at nudity for my assignments and in other classmate's photographs, etc. None of the Christian colleges I looked into had photography majors! After thinking about college further, I decided I didn't want to spend 4 years in books and study, when I could be doing I loved immedietely out of high school... shooting and jumping right into photography business! But how?? And goodness, I didn't even have a "big camera" like all the professionals, let alone the money to afford one!

A couple months prior to my graduation, an acquiantance of mine posted on her blog about how she attended a week long Christian photography workshop through the Institute of Photographic Studies (also known as, 'IPS'. Check out http://www.prizewinningphotography.com) "Hmmm," I thought, "That sounds pretty cool!" I read up on their workshops, and thought they looked like a neat photography program... but would it be professional?

I graduated from highschool, and stayed home over the summer and fall. Christmas would be rolling around soon, and I dropped a hint (or two...or three...) to my Dad that I'd really like a beginner SLR digital camera. My Dad said, "Oh Leah, as much as Mom and I would love to get you an SLR, we just can't afford that." I was discouraged not knowing when I'd be able to finally afford an SLR camera of my own, but I kept saving my money.

So I won't lie... Christmas morning I woke up (unfortunately) discouraged and pessimistic. I was just sitting at home, not really do anything of value with my life. I loved photography and wanted to go into it more professionally. How could I do that with just a little dinky point-and-shoot, Canon PowerShot S30?

Before anyone else was allowed to open any of their presents, Mom brought a box over to me. All of my family watched me as I began to tear the paper away from the box. I got a sly grin on my face ... but... but...surely it couldn't be an SLR camera! Would it? I tore back the box flaps, and there it was: a Canon Rebel XTi! I was never so excited in my life. It was the best Christmas gift I had ever gotten, that's for sure.

The next day, I mailed out my application for two weeks of photography training with IPS, the Institute of Photographic Studies (http://www.prizewinningphotography.com) What did I have to loose?

In April of 2008, I flew down to Dallas, Texas for two weeks of photography training with IPS. It was incredible. It was fabulous. It became known as the two happiest weeks of my life. I learned so, so much and it made such a difference in my photography.

That fall, in September, I attended another week of training with IPS. Three weeks later in October, I headed off to New Zealand and Fiji with 20 other IPS alumni for a month long adventure. We did sightseeing in New Zealand and did missions work in Fiji. The trip changed my life and I began to see myself for who I was in Christ and how he saw me as a person.

Six months later after the NZ/Fiji trip, I went on a missions trip to Thailand with a three other people, and I volunteered my photography for the mission board we were working with.

At this point, I was pretty sure I was going to be a missionary & humanitarian photographer, traveling around the world to foreign countries, documenting life for missions organizations and other non profit organizations. But that fall, the Lord closed the doors on a couple missions trip opportunities and made it clear to me that he wanted me to lay missions photography aside. What?!? Why? Wedding photography was intimidating... and exhausting! But wanting to do what God wanted me to do with my life, I stayed home in the US to do more wedding and portrait photography.

The winter passed, and the following spring, I had more than double the wedding photography jobs I had the previous year. From March to May, I was traveling almost every weekend for a wedding. It was crazy, but slowly & surely, my love for wedding photography grew. It was tiring, but rewarding at the same time.

And so, I've been doing professional photography for 2.5 years now, and I l.o.v.e. it more all the time. I currently shoot with my Canon 5D Mark II. Yes, I finally parted with my beloved Canon Rebel XTi, but it was a good move to make, because I love my new camera even better. ;-)

Sometimes I feel so challenged, overwhelmed, and unexperienced trying to have a successful photography business as a twenty-something year old young woman, but somehow, I keep going, and I'm so excited to learn more from those who've had more experience in the photography business. ...Speaking of which, next week, I am excited to expand my horizons and attend a Dane Sanders' Fasttrack Photographer Roadshow workshop!

...Um... WOW. That was a long read! Congratulations, you've reached the end. ;-)

If nothing else, I hope my story has inspired you to dream big, and trust God to do that which He has promised. Two verses that have encouraged me many times are Psalms 23:6, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life..." and Psalms 37:23, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way."

To God be the glory in all things!




Meg Martin said...

AWESOME! I loved reading your story because I've wondered how you got into this. I love your photography,

Magic Hour Photography said...

Loved reading this, Leah-darling!
It's so funny to look back over the last couple of years and see how far we've come. I mean 2 years? My goodness! =)
So glad that God used IPS to bring us together! =D

Beth Simmons said...

Thank you so much for sharing your very inspirational story!

Kelsey Schweickert said...

"Dream big" is right! :) And who knows what God has ahead...it's all good with Him!

Darlene said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Leah. I am so blessed to know you, not just your work, but your heart for the Lord. I watch your work closely. I hope someday God is also going to use my love for photography for His glory.

Christa said...

Wow...as I read this, I kept saying to myself, "This is ME!" I feel like I am you as you were two or three years ago. Right out of high school, with a passion for photography and missions, but not sure what to do with either of these.... It's very good for me to hear of others who have felt like I do and have spent time seeking the Lord, and have heard His voice and direction. Thanks so much for posting!!

Samantha R. said...

Very inspiring and encouraging! This is kind of me except I just got my beginner DSLR- the Xsi this year and I've yet to attend a course. But I WOULD love to eventually!!
I fell in love with photography when I was about 12 or 13. When we got our first digital camera, I barely put it down. When we got the Canon point and shoot in 2006, I was ecstatic!! Finally, I had manual controls. I could do macro... (my first love) and so much more. The best part? Dad basically let me pick it out and he paid for me it too ;) Yes, it was the family camera but basically it was mine too! =D
I really worked that thing to the max and got lots of compliments when people saw my photography and then they saw the camera. ("Just a 5 megapixel point and shoot?")

You inspire me.
I want to be like you when I grow up. ;) (and who cares if I'm older than you already!)