3 years ago today, I officially launched my business.
And I officially can’t believe it.
I wrote this post on my 1 year anniversary, got too busy to write one on my 2nd anniversary, and am making it mandatory that I reflect upon finishing my 3rd year of business. So here I am, sitting on the patio of the Coffee Bean with my 32 ounces of iced Americano-goodness, unsure what to write.
Honestly, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the 3 years I would have. I know that’s so terribly cliché, but it’s true. Ok, well that might be a bit of a lie. Because apparently, I did imagine it. I found an old blog post I wrote on my personal blog in 2007, 4 months before I even thought of starting my business:
i’m a hobby whore. 10/16/2007
Well, i finally bought myself a digital SLR. I’ve been interested in buying one for the last year or so, but have been really hesitant because of my commitment issues. You see, I’m the gigalo of hobbies. I can’t seem to find one and stick with it. Like most love affairs, the initial interest is oh-so-hot and steamy. It’s all I think about all day long — sometimes I can’t even sleep because I’m in bed thinking about said hobby. And then another one sashays by, batting her eyelashes at me, and it’s goodbye poetry writing and hellooo knitting!
I look at my stacks of design books, piles of yarn, and a bagfulls of untouched embroidery floss, and hope this photography “thing” doesn’t end up like the rest of my discarded interests. I’m already having delusions of grandeur — I like to daydream about how I’m going to manage my soon to be successful pet photography business. Maeby and Zoey will be my spokesdogs, and I’ll shoot photos of LA celebrities and their menageries of exotic animals. My business cards will be printed on dog biscuits, and I’ll market my business as a ‘photo boutique’ because a ‘photo studio’ is far too pedestrian for a glamorous pet photographer such as myself.
Paris Hilton will hire me to do a sexy photoshoot of her and her new pet lemur named BabyLuv2. Angelina Jolie, now sick of adopting third world children, will adopt a pack of third world puppies and beg me to take pictures of them. US Weekly will do a special article on me, dubbing me the “Queen of Canines” and the “David La Chapelle” of pets.
And to think, my camera is still sitting inside some Amazon warehouse in New Jersey.
Clearly, I was reading a lot of David Sedaris back then. And 3 years later, I am still in full blown love affair mode with my little “thing.” Still waiting for Angie to give up that baby addiction though.
Which brings me to more lessons I’ve learned trying to follow my passion (sprinkled with unrelated photography). Warning: This is long. That 32 ounces of iced americano really kicked in as I was writing this.
1) Dream big
As preposterous and foolish you may feel, dream big! I found that old blog post from 2007 so hilarious because now in 2011, I didn’t even remember WRITING IT! It was complete happenstance that I came upon it, and I had to laugh at myself for being so silly, so naïve, for dreaming so big when I didn’t even have my freaking camera yet! Yes, I’m admitting this now: I guess I dreamed of being a full time pet photographer before I even knew how to operate a digital SLR. But something in my heart must have known something my head wouldn’t admit. Because while I wrote that blog post as a complete joke, now I realize deep down there was some truth to it. Yeah, I’m still waiting for Angie and Paris Hilton to come knocking, but what a wild and amazing 3 years I’ve had! Just in 2010 I’ve had the opportunity to have shoots with Rose McGowan, Chelsea Handler, Lisa Edelstein, Margaret Cho, Kristin Bauer, and more. That delusional geek inside of me who wrote that silly post 3 years ago is feeling slightly validated. So please - don’t forget to honor yourself and dream big. Wildly big! You might be surprised at what happens.
2) Be YOU.
This is fairly obvious. Just. Be. You! You have your own unique vision and story to tell. Personal vision and style is something that’s always evolving, but if you don’t know what yours is, whose story are you telling? And sincerity is super important, which comes along with being authentically YOU. I think people can smell insincerity a mile away. It reeks. Desperation is a stinky cologne.
3) Inspiration Everywhere (but here)
If you’re a pet photographer, my biggest piece of advice is stop looking at other pet photographers’ work! (Says the pet photographer writing this on her own blog). These days, it’s hard for me to look at a pet photographer’s portfolio without identifying inspiration (or sadly, straight up copying) from other people. And with all this emulation and copying, what has happened is that everyone’s work is just starting to look the same. I encourage you to find other means of inspiration if you’re feeling stuck or want to evolve your own personal style.
I find my inspiration reading magazines and looking at the work of photographers who are NOT shooting pets. I find so much inspiration reading art books and blogs. My brain is on fire when I visit museums. And my hands down favorite source of inspiration is watching movies – the use of color, light, and composition is a revelation. Even amazingly stupid movies can be inspirational – Dear John, anyone? And I’m not talking about Channing Tatum’s abs. The color and light in that movie were amazing. Even if the story wasn’t.
When I was in advertising school, our instructors always warned us against looking at ad annuals and ad blogs while creating work. Why? Because we’d just end up creating derivatives of everything else that already exists! Boring! Would this Superbowl spot * have been as EPIC if it was a lame copy of something else?
4) R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to you.
One of the BIGGEST pieces of advice I can give you is to respect your fellow photographers, especially those in your own town. Ever since I started my business, one of my goals has been to be as respectful as possible to my colleagues. I won’t try to squeeze my way into an event if I know another pet photographer is already committed to be there. I won’t reach out to a business if I know they already are in relationship with someone else. I won’t try to build relationships with talent or celebrities that I know are working with someone else. I won’t change my business practices just to blatantly out-compete someone else. I won’t email another photographer pretending to be a student on the east coast so I can spy and get information. This is just obvious and common courtesy, but sadly these aforementioned examples are NOT made up.
Pardon my language, but what the F*CK? This kind of desperation just reeks. It’s horrible. It’s disrespectful. It’s capitalism at its worst. There’s enough out there for all of us without having to trample on each other. Karma is a scary, raging hormonal bitch – and I don’t like to tempt her.
5) Integrity. It’s Not an STD.
I think integrity and respect are like peanut butter and jelly. They always go together, and they make each other better. If you maintain your integrity, you’re respecting yourself. If you act with integrity, you’re respecting others. The way people behave, it’s as if integrity needs to be avoided like gonorrhea. You are born with your integrity, and nobody can give it away but you. Stay an integrity virgin people! Practice Safe Integrity!
6) Have an Attitude of Gratitude
Thanks to the interwebs, it only takes a click of a mouse to look at the work of those you admire and feel like complete poop. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I was in ad school, my friend was a rockstar art director. Every idea he had and layout he created made you simultaneously want to bow down in reverence of his skills, and punch him in the face. He was the bar I was always striving to reach and the person I most wanted to be like. But every time I felt I slightly caught up to him, he was already 20 steps ahead being even awesomer. I look back now and wish I never did this to myself. And as I look at the careers of photographers I admire, I have to pinch myself as a reminder to stop doing it all over again. How can you possibly live your best life when you’re comparing yourself to someone else, trying so hard to catch up to them? Earth to Matilda - it ain’t gonna happen! All you’ll be left with is a miserable, self loathing version of yourself.
If you ever feel yourself doing this, take a deep breath and a step back. Have a moment of complete gratitude – for the talents you do have. For the clients you do have. For the amazing work you’re able to create with total bliss. Pet your dogs and be grateful for their joy. Kiss your husband and thank God for allowing you to meet your soulmate. Step outside and give thanks for fresh air and beautiful sun. Life suddenly seems so full, doesn’t it?
7) Stay Humble
This is the last piece of advice I had on my list in 2009 and it’s still so important to me. Stay humble and thankful for everything you’ve accomplished now and everything you may accomplish tomorrow. No man is an island and someone in your life, whether it’s your encouraging friends, your supportive spouse, or your loving God up above, helped you get where you are now and will be by your side as you continue on your path tomorrow.
U2 said it best - “If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel.”
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Thanks for reading my novella, for enjoying my photography, your friendship online, entrusting me to photograph your pets, and for allowing me to live my best life by just being me.
Happy 3 years to following my dreams. I can’t wait to see what else is coming.
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*I just found out that my fellow art director friend from Deutsch is the person that created the epic Volkswagen Darth Vader Superbowl spot and am FLOORED. I linked the ad this morning just because I loved it. But to find out my friend who is the kindest, awesomest, humblest, nicest guy in the ad industry, who is so talented and amazing without being a complete a-hole douchebag (and believe me, there are way too many of them in advertising) created this iconic spot just proves so many points of this entry! He has so much character and kindness, and now look!!!! Ryan I am so proud of you and your team. Thanks for being such a great example to those of us who aspire to create ad greatness.