How Did I Wind Up Here? | Reflections

My journey to becoming a full fledged, full time photographer was a slow, yet also quick one.  

I got my first DSLR (aka “fancy camera”) when I graduated from UGA in the spring of 2011.  It was fun to play with and took way better pictures than any other camera even on AUTO.  I was the friend that brought it to tailgates and trips and my camera would get passed around so we could document the day’s activities.  This was also during the time when “Facebook Albums” were pretty prevalent and you had to try to come up with witty album names. 

 Shelby Rae Photographs

Shelby Rae Photographs

It wasn’t till maybe a year later when a recently engaged friend suggested that I take their engagement photos.  So I did!  And I have been photographing them ever since :). We could probably have some kind of art exhibit of the Tuttle family and the evolution of Holly Von Lanken Photography… maybe one day. ;)

Anyway, I loved getting to photograph them!  It was so much fun and it made them happy.. which made me happy!

I was at the stage in my life when several friends were starting to get married and I would volunteer to take engagement photos for them for fun/practice/as a wedding present of sorts.  At this point in time, I never would have thought I’d be where I am now - not that I have “made it” by any means, but where I am in that I am my primary provider and I can sit at my computer at home at 11:36am on a Wednesday drafting this blog post.

 Shelby Rae Photographs

Shelby Rae Photographs

So let’s fast forward a little bit..it’s circa 2013 and I’m stalking Kaitie Bryant’s website almost daily and learning as much as I can.  If you know me, you know that when I get interested in something, I will research it till no end.  Around that time, I worked up the courage and asked Kaitie if I could shadow/ follow her around at a wedding just to see what it was like… and she said yes! And it was awesome! At this point though, I still never considered that this could be a job or even a side hustle for me.  It was just a fun hobby.

At the end of that year, I was in my friend’s wedding.  The photographer for that wedding was Chloe Giancola, whose husband was one of the groomsmen.  At the reception we got to talking and I asked to second shoot with her and she said yes! I ended up second shooting with Chloe for the greater part of 2014.  I learned a lot from Chloe and was able to see how the flow of a wedding day went.  I learned to shoot in RAW and in manual that year.  It was an excellent year of growth.  During this time I was also going to workshops and doing more research and toying with the idea that this could be an actual business.  Still I never dreamed it would be a full time gig, but could be a hobby that paid for itself because let’s be real - photo gear is expensive.  I made a really terrible Wordpress website, which hopefully the world will never have to see. I really hope it’s not still alive somewhere in the depths of the internet.   I made some homemade business cards - also pretty embarrassing - and continued to invest in learning this trade.  

 Shelby Rae Photographs

Shelby Rae Photographs

Things turned when I booked my first weddings during the later months of 2014.  I had been told, “If you’re going to shoot weddings, you need to have a business license.” So that’s what I did.  I did more research and learned everything I could about business licenses, taxes, and all that other nasty legal stuff that if you’re going to have a company, you need to know. In October 2014, I officially launched “Holly Von Lanken Photography”.  

Also, can we give a quick shout out to the first weddings - the couples who trusted me the most and decided to take a risk?  Thank you Andersons and Timmons!  The Timmons booked me first, but the Andersons were the first wedding I shot that was “mine” in January 2015.

 Shelby Rae Photographs

Shelby Rae Photographs

From there, things grew.  During all of this, there was a lot of prayer.  I prayed and asked God if this was really something I could or should do.  I prayed that I would do a good job and that the couples would love their photos.  I prayed that God would send me the “right” couples - not the couples who had the most aesthetically pleasing weddings (although that’s always a plus), but those who were excited to get married and weren’t going to sweat the small stuff and who I genuinely liked.   These are prayers I’ve prayed many times and will continue to pray along with many others.  

God kept answering my prayers.  I remember praying to shoot 5 weddings in 2015.  I thought that was a pretty good goal for having shot zero in 2014.  I ended up shooting 12.  

 Shelby Rae Photographs

Shelby Rae Photographs

I may also need to mention that during this time I was also working full time as a teacher, teaching high school Spanish.  I really did enjoy teaching and I loved my students (most of them ;)).  However, it became really difficult to do both full time teaching and photography.  Plus, I was driving about an hour to school and back every day.  More prayers were prayed about what I should do and probably for another year of prayerful consideration and meeting with Shanna Skidmore, a creative business consultant, I decided to make the switch to full time.  I finished out the 2015-2016 school year and then jumped into full time photography life.  

This summer marks the completion of the first full year of full time photography and I’m so thankful for the clients, vendors, and friends I’ve met along the way.  It’s been good to reflect on various things about my life and my career being one of them.  The Lord is ever faithful.

I wanted to share this story for this anniversary of sorts, but also for other creatives because I’ve been there.  I know about the long hours, the considerations, the one million resources out there that everyone tells you that you “need.”  I’ve found some of my most helpful encounters came from being able to sit in front of another human being and just talking.  Don’t get me wrong, there is value in webinars and online courses and there are great ones out there.  They are perfect for reaching the masses, but there’s still nothing like a face to face meeting over a nice warm cup of coffee or working with someone in a hands on environment to learn.  

 Shelby Rae Photographs

Shelby Rae Photographs

If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate you.  

With all that said, I want to give creatives starting out more opportunities for one-on-one, face-to-face meetings.  This is why I decided to start offering mentoring sessions for small creative businesses.  This could be a one hour conversation over coffee to figure out the government side of a start up.  It could be to get clarity or work on action steps to achieving your goals.  It could even look like setting up processes to make your business run smoothly.  I also realized that there are those out there who need some practice with using a DSLR camera whether simply for themselves, to hone their skills, or because they run their own businesses - maybe not even a photography business, but want to know how to take better images of their products.  

If any of this sounds like you, I’d love to chat and help get you where you want to go.  Thanks so much for reading and being along for this crazy ride. 

Word to your mother,

Holly