It was 2008, and I was so nervous.
Before I left the house to shoot my very first wedding, I told Mack I thought I was going to throw up. I’d taken pictures at weddings before, but always as a guest who just got really lucky. I’d shot a ton of portrait sessions, but I knew the difference. And here I was, having never second shot a wedding or shadowed anyone or attended a single workshop, and I was heading out the door.
I checked my gear, stowed my cards, read over my shot list, and prayed. I prayed a lot.
And you know what? It went pretty well! I stayed on schedule, stayed out of the way, and took good portraits before and after the ceremony. During the ceremony, I was a nervous wreck, but I was shooting good stuff. I was excited.
After the ceremony, the bride’s sister pulled me aside to pay me. The photography, $400 for four hours, was her gift to the bride. I was having such a good time, and was so high on creative energy, that I told her I’d stay for the rest of the reception if she wanted me to… just to get the practice. The sister was thrilled, and I felt like a rock star.
The bride & groom weren’t planning on having a first dance, but lo and behold, they decided to do one anyway. “YES!,” I thought. “The light out here under the stars is SO pretty… these are going to be fabulous!” I stood up, squared up my shot, aaaaaannnd…
My battery had died.
Did I have an extra? No. Because I hadn’t invested in much more than my Canon Digital Rebel and a few lenses. I was winging it, in every sense of the word. And there, in the middle of the dance floor when I realized that my flash wasn’t going to go off so I could even PRETEND I was taking pictures (yes… on board flash *hand/forehead*), I almost melted down.
Instead, I went over to an area of the reception where there weren’t any people, and I pretended to shoot the rest of the first dance. Oh my gosh, I’m so embarrassed to say that. And then as soon as the dance was over, I hugged the bride and groom, and literally ran to my car, where I cried so hard I thought I’d break something.
I was so embarrassed. I was sure that I’d just ruined everything. I felt like such a hack, and a faker, and a loser, and I was convinced that I’d never photograph anything again, because I was clearly incompetent.
When I got home, I handed my camera to Mack, who looked through the pictures I’d taken. He told me I’d done a great job. He hugged me. He ordered a backup battery. And he promised me that it would all be better in the morning.
(Excuse me while I bury my head in the sand… can’t believe I’m sharing these pictures. Breathe deeply, breathe deeply.)
It was better in the morning.
Was I still a woefully underprepared photographer? But I’d captured what I was paid to capture, and done a pretty great job at it, all things considered. The clients, who knew they were getting a complete newbie, were thrilled to pieces with the pictures. I posted a few on MySpace (WHOA, back in the day), and from those, booked two other weddings.
With the deposits from those weddings, I upgraded to a Canon 40D and bought a 50 mm lens.
From those two weddings, we booked four more. And so on, and so forth, learning and upgrading as we went.
If you had told me in the fall of 2008 that in a year, I’d be shooting weddings full time, I’d have laughed out loud at you. If someone with a crystal ball had appeared in my car that night, where I was sitting and crying, just certain I’d ruined everything, and showed me a glimpse of what my life is like now, I would have never believed it.
I was reminded of all this last week, when I was talking to an aspiring photographer. She just bought her first DSLR and is practicing and learning, and knows that she wants to be a wedding photographer. But she says it haltingly… apologetically… “I know I’ll never be as successful as you guys.”
To her… to any of you feeling that way… I say BALONEY.
You have no idea what you will learn, or where you will go, or how your dreams will change. All you can do is pursue what’s in front of you. Maybe you’ll learn that you’d just rather be a talented hobbyist with awesome pictures of your dogs and kids. Or maybe you’ll meet the right people at the right time, and in 4 years, you’ll be shooting 30 weddings a year as a full time business that takes you all over the world.
The following picture still hangs on the wall in our office, and I’ll be proud of it until the day I die. Is it perfect? No. But it’s beautiful. And in this picture, I see represented the dreams that I didn’t know I had yet. Dreams to run our own business. Dreams to travel. Dreams to live creatively. Dreams we’re living now, every day.
Maybe you’re scared to start something. Or maybe you DID try and start, but feel like you failed. Maybe dreaming feels risky. But I’m telling you right now… The only thing too risky in this life is living without dreams.