Ten years ago, I was finishing my last year of law school, preparing for the bar exam, and looking forward to a stressful career sitting behind a desk, navigating the American legal system. If you had told me that nearly a decade later I’d be getting paid to follow adventurous couples into the backcountry or jetting off to Iceland to photograph an elopement, I would have told you that you were nuts.
But that’s where I am and I wanted to share a bit about how I got here.
As with many of the best changes in life, my move into the world of professional photography was brought on by some pretty extreme discomfort. My “real” job had been making me miserable for way too long when one day I hit a breaking point. I realized that the small amount of money I was taking home after I paid for our son’s daycare wasn’t worth the anxiety I was experiencing at work … and that continuing to do what I was doing was the definition of insanity.
That night I had a heart-to-heart with my family, drank a couple glasses of wine, and mustered up a heaping dose of courage. There may have been some tears. Turning in my resignation the following day was equal parts scary and liberating. I didn’t know what was next but I was damn sure that I needed to be doing something different.
All images by Jen Dziuvenis.
At that time I had been doing photography as a hobby for several years, mostly taking pictures of pretty landscapes and crazy cyclists ripping up trails in the mountains. Friends had asked me to take their family photos or suggested that I shoot their weddings and I had flatly refused. “That’s not really what I do …” were the words that came out of my mouth.
“No freaking way!” is what I said in my head.
Being a wedding photographer couldn’t have been farther off my radar. I didn’t especially enjoy going to weddings. Why would I want to photograph them?
Then one day, through the magic of social media, I stumbled on photographers who were doing stuff that I loved — work that spoke to my sense of adventure and search for authentic connection. People like Ben Sasso and Jordan Voth completely changed my idea of what wedding and portrait photography could be. Stiff, awkward poses were replaced with real emotion, undeniable human connection, and some of the most incredible landscapes on earth. A fire had been lit.
I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try my hand at photographing humans. I begged my friends to model for me and answered Craigslist ads looking for photographers. I connected with an online community of local photographers and did some second shooting at weddings. I agree when a friend offered to pay me to shoot her own wedding day.
I was scared as hell and full of doubt. I did it anyway.
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In a span of a few months photography went from an expensive hobby to a baby business that was bringing in enough money to convince me that this could actually be a thing. I booked a few weddings, doubled my rates, and booked some more. I invested in training and equipment. I landed my first international destination wedding. I had photos go wildly viral. For a very new business, I was having far more success than I had ever imagined was possible.
That’s not to say that it’s been easy or that I’ve been able to turn this into a fulltime gig overnight. Even with quick success, it’s slow going and a huge percentage of what I make goes straight back into the business. I’m working harder than I ever have — and doing it for less money.
And yanno what? I’m loving every damn minute of it.
I had a regularly occurring meeting at my last job that caused me considerable anxiety. Every few weeks it would pop up on my schedule and I’d curse and cringe. I left it on my calendar when I quit that job as a constant reminder of why I left. That message still pops up every two weeks but now it doesn’t cause me angst. Now it makes me feel proud. It’s a reminder that I left that world behind, took control of my life, and am hustling like hell to pursue my passions.