One of the questions I get asked fairly often is "What made you choose to be a photographer?" So, I thought it might make a good blog post. :o)
I would love to say that I was one of those people who was “born with a camera in my hand”, but that wouldn’t be true. I remember around age 6 or so, having a turquoise film camera that required you to adjust the aperture and focus the lens. I don’t remember any of the photos I took with it, but I remember carrying it around with me a fair amount.
I didn’t really LOVE photography until I was in high school. When I was 16, I got a camera from Service Merchandise. (Who remembers those?! Yeah… old school.) I cannot even begin to count the number of photos taken with that thing. I used it ALL.THE.TIME. I have the stacks of boxes of prints and negatives in my closet to prove it. So many photos… I also enjoyed scrap booking during that time and putting together the “story” of each event was half the fun to me.
When I started college at Troy University I majored in print journalism and public relations. Along with those classes, I took as many photography classes as my college offered at the time. I started in black and white photography with an SLR, film and a dark room.
My professor was brutal, but I credit him with making me learn the technical aspects of photography. At the end of each semester we had to present a portfolio of 30ish images that had been approved by him. Yowsers, he was TOUGH. When you walked in with a potential portfolio piece you had to defend it to the death. He made you answer for every nuance in the photo- your subject, your composition, choice of aperture, shutter speed, development techniques, and on and on. There were no easy approvals. Again, I give him a lot of credit for teaching me that photography isn’t just “playing” and having fun. As the photographer, you are constantly making choices that affect the outcome of the photo. If you aren’t intentional about them, you will never know what the outcome will be. Remember, it was film, so we couldn’t just look at the back of the camera to see if it “looked right”. We had to KNOW it was right when we took it.
While working to complete my degree I did an incredible amount of writing, as you could imagine, being a journalism major and all. Through the process of writing all different types of stories, I discovered that my favorite type of writing was in the arena of soft news, particularly human-interest and feature stories.
Two assignments specifically fueled my interest and desire in this type of story-telling. One, a story focusing on the deaf community in my college town, and the second, written during my time as an intern in the Office of University Relations, was a story for the alumni magazine on Dr. William Novick, MD.
The story focused primarily on Novick’s involvement with a documentary titled “Chernobyl Heart”. Part of the documentary focused on his work in Belarus with the International Children’s Heart Foundation, operating on a condition known as Chernobyl Heart. It was a previously unknown condition that resulted from the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. The film won an Academy Award in 2004.
During my time researching for the article and learning more about the people behind the film, I was able to speak with the director, Maryann De Leo, as well as Dr. Novick. Aside from being a little bit starstruck by speaking with these “famous” people, I realized that telling people’s stories was something I was incredibly passionate about. Especially when those stories can make a difference in the World.
I consider writing that story to be a turning point in my life. One of the major things that led to my love for photography, and more specifically, my love of photographing people.
After college I continued to take photos all the time, though at this point I had started working at a non-profit doing public relations. I learned very quickly that non-profit PR is a thankless job. Long hours, very little pay, and just emotionally exhausting. After nine months I decided I would find a photographer who would hire me and teach me what I didn’t know, or go to photography school in California. Thankfully, before I took out the $100,000+ in student loans to finance photography school, I came across Pam and Robert at FlipFlopFoto.com.
They would be turning point number two in my journey to the now.
They hired me and put up with all of my inexperience and lack of knowledge and taught me so many things. (I could digress here about how they became family, and that I learned about photography, but also about life from them. I’ll save that for another time though.) I thought I knew a lot about photography until I started working there. It was a lot of fun, but a lot of work! Robert was an incredible teacher and is an amazing photographer. He taught me all the sides to it and continues to be an incredible source of knowledge and inspiration for me.
Fast forward ten years to the present. My husband and I relocated to New England from Alabama, which led to the creation of AliCaliPhoto. After seven years of being a professional photographer, there was no looking back. This was my only choice for a job. I was sure nothing else would be nearly as fulfilling.
I love meeting new people and I love photographing people. I believe everyone has a story to tell and I love hearing people’s stories.
There are so many photographers out there working hard to tell the stories of people all over the world. People in the midst of war, terror, natural disaster, sickness and death. Those stories need to be told. The World needs to know these people and their stories so we can do something about it. I’m incredibly grateful for those photographers. They do amazing and heart-wrenching work.
The stories I tell these days focus primarily on weddings. I am incredibly fortunate that the stories I get to tell on a regular basis are LOVE stories. I get to document an incredibly important event in the history of two lives. I may not win any Pulitzer’s for my photographs, but at the end of the day, these are stories that need to be told, too. We need to see the love that exists in the World.
That’s one reason I approach my business the way I do. I don’t have the unrealistic expectation that every client is going to become my best friend, but I do have the expectation that I will get to know them throughout the process. I want to hear their story. I want to know what is important to them. These are the things that allow me to truly capture what makes THEM.
Hopefully that gives you some insight into why I became a photographer. It's not just clicking a button to me. It's telling a story, and for a lot of people, I get to be a small part of telling their life story, and for that, I’m grateful.
P.S. If you are interested in reading the story about Dr. William Novick, you can find it below. It was first published in Troy Magazine in 2004, and is posted with permission from Troy University.