I was so nervous… | McGowan Images Blog


I was so nervous…

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.


  1. Misty says:

    Wow, great post, you said some things I’ve really been needing to hear lately! And I admire your honesty in sharing how you started out down this AMAZING path!!! So proud of you and all that you and Mack have accomplished over the last 3-4 years!!! <3

  2. Angela says:

    Such great advice! I’m sorry, but I had to laugh about the battery dying! As a former cake designer, it reminds me of my own horror stories from years ago. We all have them and certainly learn from them and (eventually) laugh about them!

  3. Mack says:

    It’s weird to comment on my own blog, but I feel like anybody who scrolls down this far in the comments needs to see how I feel on this subject. I am SO proud of you– in your innate talent, in your drive, and in the work you’ve put in to become the amazing photographer you are today. The amazing PERSON you are today.

    I didn’t realize in 2008 how difficult this job was and didn’t give you the credit you deserved at the time for stepping out and trying it, and I’m SURE I didn’t see life being what it is today starting from that first wedding. Thank you for your vision, and for dragging me along with you into this amazing life we have now. You’re my favorite.

  4. Sarah Burns says:

    Chelsea, you always write the most encouraging blogs. Thank you for opening up and sharing your first wedding with us! It inspired me to try even harder. 🙂

  5. Bethe Wright says:

    I already loved this post, then saw Mack’s comment at the bottom, so now I love it even more! Thanks for inspiring us to get out of our comfort zone and dive in head first!

  6. Nicole says:

    Truly inspiring post! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  7. You are an amazing story teller! I was nearly in tears imagining you crying in your car. I’ve felt that way too before.
    You are so blessed to have an amazing man by your side to make you see that you are worthy of persuing your dreams and congratulations to you for having the faith in him and in yourself to try again.
    You are the one that chose to view this day not as simply a bad day, but as a learning experience. As long as we choose to learn from our mistakes things will always get better.

  8. Chelsea! This is so real, so honest. Thank you.

  9. Mike says:

    Now you’ve got ME crying! Oh my goodness, Chelsea. I SO needed this post. Your vulnerability here is so incredibly inspiring. I’m a perfectionist; therefore, everything I do is never good enough. Let me just say, too, Mack totally wins the “Best Husband in the World” award. I love that you keep the last shot hanging in your office. So perfect. Never take it down! I’m so proud of you guys. 🙂

  10. Liesa says:

    Awesome, awesome post! I love it and there are great lessons to be learned from it–dare to dream! (just one of them) Thank you for sharing and being open and honest!

  11. MaryAnn says:

    Everyone has to start somewhere, hunh?! And the reality is that many of us don’t pursue our dreams as much as we should. Glad you are “livin’ the dream!”

  12. bobbileigh says:

    Love this post, thanks for sharing.

  13. today was the perfect day for this post…at least, for me to read it! Thank you for sharing!

  14. Kevin says:

    Thank you for sharing! Love this post!

  15. maggie says:

    Chelsea-you should know i printed this and framed it and it is now posted on my wall. That is how much that meant. Thank you. I never thought I would meet someone so selfless and inspiring.

  16. april says:

    this post is by far the most inspirational thing i have read from you on this blog. i cried while reading it and i was rooting for you the whole time!!! i hope you know what an amazing photographer you are and that every day you inspire me with your work

  17. Cayla says:

    All in God’s timing, right? I needed to hear this lately, today, tonight, right now. You’re such a blessing to know. You’re just amazing. You and your pictures, everyday 🙂

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