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Desperately Seeking the Path to Purpose

Yesterday I was reminiscing with my mom about graduating college without having a real sense of direction for my photography and how long it took me to find my passion in the field. So I’m going to be sharing bits of my journey with you starting in 2007 when I packed up all my belongings and drove across country to attend the Brooks Institute of Photography.

Moving across the country was HUGE for me. Especially being a small-town girl from Vermont moving to big, sunny California. Driving out I saw a lot of our beautiful country, ended up breaking down in Russellville, AK, and finally arrived in Santa Barbara, CA on July 7, 2007 feeling like a little lost puppy. I could literally do an entire blog post on the drive alone, but I don’t want to completely bore everyone so let’s just skip to starting college…

When I started classes, I was very behind most students. I had never taken a photography class in high school, never used anything but “auto” on my point-and-shoot, and had never even held a professional camera. So when we started learning about all the settings and exposure I was mentally freaking out. FREAKING OUT!!! If you know anything about photography, you know that photography “math” isn’t like real math. It took me a lot longer to fully understand shutter speeds, f-stops, and ISO’s and how they all worked together. I remember crying in my room so many times just trying to understand. Thankfully there was one person in Santa Barbara I could reach out to that I had known from back home. If it weren’t for him taking a couple hours to go over everything with me, I’m not sure If I would have been able to understand it on my own. I know that some people have a very easy time understanding the technical aspects of photography, but I definitely wasn’t one of those people. However, when it came to the more creative side like composition, leading lines, rule of thirds, lighting, etc, I was able to pick that up much faster. Must be the way I’m wired 🙂 My husband was the opposite. All the technical mumbo jumbo came easily to him, but the creative side was more of a struggle. We balance each other out 🙂

Long story short, Brooks was Hard with a capital H. I struggled a lot to keep up but did my best. When I finally had a good grasp on things, it was already my third and final year and time for me to figure out what direction I wanted to take my photography. Commercial? Product? Food? Portraiture? Outdoor? I literally had no clue. I remember being jealous of the students who had started college knowing what they wanted to do with their photography. I wished so badly I had started school with even a little clue of what I liked, but it wasn’t until a year after graduating that things started to fall into place.

During that year I spent hours online searching for inspiration and learned as much as I could from tutorials, blogs, and books. I also converted a small room above my parents store into a mini studio to shoot in and kept applying to as many photography related jobs as I could find. I finally got a response to one application for a retouching job in New York asking if I could come in for an interview and retouching test. After talking to my parents, we decided to make a weekend of it and take the opportunity to visit my grandparents who live right outside the city in New Jersey.

I remember waking up the morning of the interview super nervous and ended up spending wayyyyy too much time picking out an outfit. When we finally arrived in the city, my parents dropped me off in front of what seemed like an unendingly tall building and went to find a Starbucks. I remember walking into that cold building suddenly feeling unexcited and forced myself to climb the six flights of stairs to the office due to the broken elevator. (It was a sign!!) I was greeted at the door by a guy that looked like he had just rolled out of bed and when I looked around the room I saw walls plastered with photos of scantily dressed (if dressed at all) women. I was interviewing to retouch trashy photos. Great. I can’t describe the heavy feeling of disappointment and sadness I felt in that moment. I ALMOST left without even doing the interview but felt guilty dragging my parents into the city so I decided to just give it a go. When I left an hour later, I walked back down the six flights of stairs and had an immediate sense of relief and peace. It was at that moment that I knew I didn’t want to be a retoucher. I really hated the idea of spending my life behind a computer editing photos; It simply wasn’t for me.

Obviously I felt like crap on the drive home having wasted everyone’s time, but I remember my mom saying to me, “Abi, it’s better to have gone through all of this so that you know what you don’t want rather than having to wonder.” It was the confirmation I needed to hear after a not-so-fun experience. The following morning I emailed the company letting them know that whether or not I passed their test, their company was not a good fit for me. Best.Feeling.Ever.

A couple weeks later I was half depressingly, half desparately researching photography hoping to get inspired by something, anything, when I stumbled onto a well known wedding photographer’s site – David Jay. Side note – his site is completely different now because he’s currently focusing on a totally different side of the photography world. Anyway, I dug through every section of his site, read every word twice and looked at every image more than twice. I read every article written by or about David and looked up any references he mentioned, including Mike Colon and Jasmine Star. I finally felt inspired! Finally felt that spark of passion and feeling of purpose I’d been yearning for. I was going to be a wedding photographer.

I spent the following winter studying any material I could find related to wedding photography and started stalking religiously following a bunch of amazing wedding photographers. I read every blog post I could find from photographers I loved, invested in a bunch of Creative Live workshops, and threw myself into the world of wedding photography. It was all I could think of and focus on and that following June of 2012, I photographed my first two weddings – my uncles intimate family wedding and my younger brother’s wedding. Both weddings were filled with anxiety, stress, and emotions, but I will always be grateful to my amazing family for helping me get started on following my passion.

Here are a couple images from my first two weddings:
FirstWeddings_01Blog post: Tom + Jenna

FirstWeddings_02Blog post: Dave + Andie

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