Finding my voice

What got me here?When going to college I kind of took the safe route. I chose the route that would lead to a job with 100% certainty i.e. medical technologist (analyzing patient samples). The alternative was a career in book making and graphic design. I was honestly afraid of choosing a career that was entirely focused on showing up and being creative every single day. The funny thing is... there is nothing safe about what I did after I graduated. In fact, if someone had told me I'd be living in the US after college I'd have laughed at them in disbelief. Still.... that is what happened. You can try to play small, but when adventure and opportunity presents itself, take it.

I moved from the rural northern Sweden to Pittsburgh in 2004 to work in a microscopy lab and to do a part-time MBA at night. I would often say that whatever I did next it needed to have the same sense of unpredictability and problem-solving as trying to capture cell interactions in real-time. No cubicle future for me! Mid-way through the MBA program I started photographing still life as a creative outlet (read: to stay sane). My flickr obsession led me to the website of a pet photographer and I thought to myself, can that be a career?!? The next day I told my boss that I had found my dream job. I was going to become a pet photographer. She kind of thought I was crazy, I graduated, and shelved the dream for 4 years.

After getting married I started second-shooting weddings on the weekend. I eventually started my business in 2011 and decided it was going to be focused on pets. Not too long into it though I started listening to the critics who said "you can't make a living only doing pet photography". So I marketed myself as a wedding & pet photographer. Not until I had a pinched nerve that made my fingers go numb half-way through a wedding day, a joint in the thumb that was pointing in the wrong direction, three chiropractor visits per week, lots of massage appointments, too much money being spent to get better, and too much saying yes to too many assisting jobs because I didn't trust that I knew enough, I realized that things had to change. There was no time in my schedule anymore for photographing pets. I was always doing a wedding or Bar Mitzvah on the weekends and the career that I was set out to pursue was not making me happy. I felt trapped.

To create change I hired Emily Levenson, holistic health coach extraordinaire. Little did I know that my world was about to be turned upside-down and she would be there to help me get through the storm. One of her first questions was "what would your life look like if you didn't do weddings? Every time you talk about weddings you get anxious, but when you mention pets and families you glow". I just stared at her. How would I be able to leave my full-time job if I didn't have the forecasting ability that events allow? Could I make enough money? Did it matter what made me happy? This was in January this year... We spent many meetings with the same question. Why do you continue doing weddings? Even though I wanted things to change I was blocked by of fear. I was simply afraid of following my heart and devoting my craft and energy solemnly to what I enjoyed the most. I kept telling myself that maybe if I could just find my voice I would love weddings. What I didn't realize was that I already had a voice and that I needed to learn to accept it for what it was.

In the midst of this inner turmoil of feelings I participated in Project Miracles which is based on Melody Beattie's book "Make Miracles in 40 Days". The idea was that by writing a daily list of gratitude (for both good and bad things) for 40 days and having an accountability partner we can let go of blocks and create miracles. My goal was to take care of myself and my marriage. Somewhere in the middle of the project I ignored the list making for a couple of days while I was out shooting a wedding and then recovering. On that particular wedding day the groom had complimented me on my calm personality and how it made him feel relaxed while we were doing portraits. I was surprised to hear that I was perceived that way. The next wedding I assisted with, the primary photographer complimented me on my attention to detail. The thoughts just swirled around in my head until I started to write my lists retroactively. I was questioning my recent decision to not do weddings anymore. My husband finally gave me the answer.

He said; "Just because someone gives you a compliment at a wedding, it doesn't mean you have to shoot weddings. Your quality was never the issue. He confessed that we are much happier since I started shifting the business more towards portraits. Here I thought I was ignoring the goal that I wrote for Project Miracles by just writing about photography and work... and working....yet at the same time I was actually working on my miracle. A miracle truly is about change in perception.

There are so many weddings in my backlog that I've chosen not to blog. They are filled with meaningful moments, and gorgeous natural portraits. However, I have made the decision to only show what I want to shoot. Pets, children, and families. Since I started being true to why I founded a business in the first place I now receive inquiries for what I love, I am pain-free, and I am happy. I'm not making enough money yet to leave my job, but everyone (my clients, my friends, my boss, and my family) knows it is my intention for next year, and the support I am feeling means the world to me.

My WHY's? 2014 will be my last year that I shoot weddings. I am excited for the clients that have chosen me for their big day of celebrating unity. They are pet lovers just like me and we share similar values about life, and they appreciate quality. That makes me very happy. Going forward I will focus on pet and family photography. As of right now, pets will always come first hand. I thrive in an environment that is unpredictable and sometimes looks like complete chaos to the observer. However, in the midst of it I am capturing portraits that are rooted in the whole reason for why I love capturing pets so much.

My why stems in the fact that a pet is: a partner, a companion, a soul-mate, a friend, family. When you have a pet by your side you are never alone. I photograph pets because there is always a compassionate story behind the togetherness that I capture. When I ask an open-ended question to my clients to tell me how the pet came into their life.... they write an essay that has so many layers of love, humor, and compassion. They think that they're just crazy animal people, but I see individuals with big hearts. It makes it so meaningful to know the pet before I pick up the camera, because I know I will capture the essence of that being. I am particularly passionate about photographing rescues. Pets who have been given a second chance to life, and whom most likely changed the humans life forever. Each pet is unique and I thrive on capturing their personality. The goofball. The princess. The happy camper. I photograph pets because it makes me feel incredibly fulfilled. It makes me laugh. It reminds me of what is important in life. The furry four-legged friend who is only with us for a finite amount of time should be celebrated.

I photograph families because I love documenting a new beginning. The joy of adopting a baby. Transitioning from fur-baby to new baby and how life changes. I want to tell a story and make a difference. I want to express myself and document fleeting moments before the kids have grown up, or the pet has crossed the rainbow bridge. I want my photographs to be full of attitude and meaningful moments. I want to make sure that mom is in the picture.

In order for me to be true to my voice, what needs to change? * I have removed pretty much every local and national/international photographer that I had liked on Facebook (and removed them from my blog feed reader). It's now week three living a life of less clutter from other businesses, and a feed more focused on individuals and their lives. Without constantly seeing what others are producing, it is easier to tune into my own craft.

* I am officially telling my clients that I am no longer shooting weddings. The ones I've told have been incredibly supportive. They already see where my strength is.

* I made a budget with my husband this week so that we have a clear idea of how much we need to save to have 3 or 6 months of savings to cover living expenses. Once we have that I can leave my job. It is only 5 months away. Knowing the actual number makes a huge difference.

* When I first started shooting pets I would ask them to tell me their story. Then I transitioned to a "trendy" questionnaire that the celeb pet photographers were using. It left me feeling empty. As if I didn't know my subject before I met them. So I switched back to the stories this week and the two stories that were told were amazing. It made such a big difference. I could see the pets for who they were, and why the pet and owner had an incredible bond. It makes my heart really happy and I want to pick up the camera.

* I've played a lot of catch up recently, and through the culling process I realize I take tooooooo many pictures. I would really like to transition more to shooting film. It really speaks to my heart, slows me down, and makes me feel even more as an artist. It also reduces significantly the amount of time I spend in front of the computer. I want to invest in a medium-format camera, but first I need to have a year in the black and be debt-free.

* I need to trust myself. To follow my dreams and not listen to the critics. Whenever I am true to myself the rewards are huge.

* I want to foster more collaborations. Do good things for amazing people and grow in a supportive community.

* I need to make more time for my husband and my dog. I've been all biz for so long that I feel like we are at the risk of growing apart if I don't start refocusing on what is important. A full-time job and building a business does not create much time together. This needs to drastically change. I feel guilty when I spend all day with other peoples pets, but I don't have time or energy to take my own dog for a walk when I come home late at night. I want to practice what I preach. My husband and I are doing more things together. We went to a movie last weekend. A basketball game on Friday. It wasn't our thing, so we left halfway through and went home to watch on demand instead. We were true to who we are. I just need to make sure that he doesn't have to do everything, or feel that he has to be a trooper until I get above water. I actually want to get to a point where we enjoy a lot of time together, while I also do what I love. I'm on the right track, but have a long way to go.