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July 11, 2012

Don’t Give Up

It’s been almost four years.  I took a chance, I held my breath, and I jumped.  My trusty Nikon N50 film camera hadn’t been touched in ages and with digital images all over Facebook and people wanting to actually pay me to take pictures, I needed my own digital SLR.  But when I went to Best Buy, laid my hands on the golden box with a brand new Nikon D90 in it, I had this odd feeling.  When I walked out of the store with the golden box in hand, a sinking feeling was taking over my stomach where butterflies should have been.  What had I just done??  That was no small chunk of change!  Not to mention that I put it on my credit card (and even though I had more than half ready to pay on it… I won’t be doing that again!).  In fact, when I came home, I sat down in my floor, turned on the Clemson game (it was October and we were playing an away game) and sat there to cheer on my Tigers.  It wasn’t until half time that I got up the courage to open the box.

What in the world was wrong with me?  I texted a couple of friends that I had just purchased my own digital SLR.  My friends were excited, but I wasn’t there yet.   It was the newest Nikon on the market – just under the professional grade cameras – and I was ready to go and pursue this photography thing.  But I had no idea what I was doing.  No clue at all.  All I knew was that I’d been taking pictures since elementary school (some of them embarrassingly “abstract”) and I wanted the images I was seeing in my head to come out on the back of the camera.

I had no idea what I was doing.  Have I mentioned that yet?  All I knew was that I liked taking pictures and the more pictures I took, the more I wanted to take!  I carried my camera with me on every work trip I took, and documented things like a pro.  Well, not really, but I was trying!  I started to scour the internet for what aperture meant and how shutter speed affected an image.  I remember deciding to give the manual setting a try…. oh my.  All I was getting were totally white, blown out images.  So, I went back to my comfortable P setting where all I had to worry about was the ISO.  Two minutes in and I gave up.  Four blown out images that I didn’t know what to do with and I was done.  But sadly, I didn’t think anything about it.

In the summer of 2008, a friend of mine took a chance on me and asked me to help her shoot a couple of weddings.  I was excited but a little nervous… I’d never done this before!  And I wasn’t sure if my images would stack up to what she needed and what she was looking for.  But, I was kind of surprised that it was fun.  And then I shot with her again.  And the following summer, another local photographer (who ended up being a good friend) asked me to shoot with her.  I couldn’t believe it!  The girl who never wanted to shoot weddings was helping with several and slowly falling in love with capturing the love stories of couples.

In the fall of 2009, I signed up for my first workshop.  It just so happens that it was taking place in the south of France :-)  My amazing grandparents were going to send me on this trip of a lifetime for my 30th birthday and not only was I going to be spending a week in Provence, but I was going to be with a National Geographic photographer for that week.  WHAT?!?!?!  Some days I still can’t believe I took that trip.  But, that trip, that experience, that leap into “what in the world am I doing” completely changed how I approached photography.  I finally started to figure out what aperture really was.  I started to learn how to work my camera to get the images I wanted instead of it controlling me and getting frustrated that it wasn’t giving me what I was looking for.  I learned how to see things differently… I learned to look for moments instead of just snapping a picture and moving on.  I learned it was ok to wait for those moments!  I learned it was ok to engage people and ask if I could take their photo (I still struggle with this when traveling!  It’s so outside of my comfort zone!).  I learned the importance of surrounding myself with others who had the same passion that I did.

This isn’t an industry where it’s safe to go at it alone.  In fact, I’m a huge proponent of surrounding yourself with community, so why would photography be any different?  Just because I think I know what I’m doing doesn’t mean I could keep figuring things out on my own.  Yes, the Internet is a huge resource.  But, it’s not the same as being with a group of people who have the same desire and drive to improve on and continue learning their craft.  I don’t ever want to stop going to workshops.  I don’t ever want to stop connecting with other photographers.  I don’t ever want to stop asking questions of those who have been doing this longer than I have.  I don’t ever want to feel like “I’ve arrived” and that I know all there is to know about photography.  Because that will never happen.  And to think “I’ve arrived” is only setting myself up for failure.  When I stop wanting to learn is when I stop growing.  And with the way this industry seems to be changing every couple of years, if I stop growing, I’m going to be left in the dust!

Even in just the past four years, photography has changed a lot.  Weddings have changed a lot.  Cameras have changed.  People are able to afford nice DSLRs and learn photography!  It’s wonderful that it’s so accessible!  One of the reasons I didn’t ever go farther with it when I was younger was because it was all so expensive.  So, my little N50 and I stayed the course together for a good 8 years or so.  But that’s not the case anymore.  There are so many good affordable cameras and so many good workshops out there!  I wish they’d been available when I was starting in high school, but all I knew about was my photography class in high school (which ended up being more of a yearbook layout class than anything else – but even in there I learned some things!).

So what am I saying?   First, don’t give up.  Just because you don’t understand how to shoot in manual mode doesn’t mean you can’t learn.  Second, find people that you can connect with.  Some of the people that I’ve met through photography are some of my favorite people in the world!  And I don’t know that I would have met them otherwise.  Third, never stop asking questions or learning.  And then, once you’ve gained some knowledge and put it into practice, give back to someone else who has just bought their first DSLR :-)

This journey isn’t easy.  And there have been many times that I’ve wanted to hang it all up and just find a normal career.  But, when I think of doing anything else, my heart sinks.  I never really believed people when they said to find something you love so that when you work, it doesn’t feel like work.  Well, this skeptic is here to tell you that it’s true.  No, not all of it is fun, but that’s just part of running a small business.  But, all of it is totally and completely worth it. When I show up on a wedding day and the bride gives me a hug, when I show her images during the day and she squeals with excitement, when I’m able to capture a sunset or document a trip in a way that makes me want to go back each time I see the pictures… all of that reminds me that it’s worth it.

  1. Loved this article… thanks for being transparent and sharing your heart. We’ve ALL been there and are still on this journey. Although it can be discouraging at times (LOTS OF TIMES), it helps to look back and see how far you’ve come!

  2. Lauren Mathues says:

    Sabrina,

    Thank you so much for this reminder. Your article is universally applicable, and I’m so thankful I read it today. You helped remind me that I am walking in the right direction — it’s not photography, but surrounding myself with my community and continuing to try is JUST what I needed today.

    Thanks for sharing your heart!

    I’m really glad that Ben found you.

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