When I was just getting started as a photographer, I felt lost a lot. You could find me crying rivers of salty tears pretty often. Trying to take this hobby that I loved so much and make it into a career that would support me gave me so many hurdles along the way that I considered giving up, many times. The obstacles that each of us come up against when deciding to make a career out of photography are so large and abstract that it can feel like you’re drifting through space alone without any direction. And what’s worse is that no one talks about how hard it is. Which makes you feel like you’re all alone while everyone else out there is “killing it.” No one is willing to open up and shed light on the struggles that each of us have to take on in order to pursue, and eventually reach, our dreams. But guess what? I’m here to talk about it. And I’m here to show you that you are NOT alone and that you can do this.
Building a career for yourself as a photographer is not easy — you have to be willing to pour your whole heart into it and literally build it from the ground up. And this is true for every single photographer out there — there are no golden tickets into a successful photography career. You have to create it with your own two hands. But I also know how it feels to have hands that are callused and tired from hours of shooting and editing with what seems like very little progress to show for it.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard from so many photographers in the Horizon Found community who are just starting out their careers and are completely overwhelmed by the feeling that they’re going nowhere. Who feel like everyone else around them is finding success so easily, but that no matter how much love and dedication they put into their work they just can’t seem to catch a break. So, to all of you who are feeling this way, I know how much it hurts.
There was a long stretch of time early on in my career when I often had to choose between buying groceries and paying rent. Which led to sleepless nights questioning if I needed to get real with myself and find another career path. I thought graduating from one of the best photography schools in the country would bring me jobs immediately upon moving to LA… boy was I naive. When I moved to LA nothing about life as a photographer was coming easy, and each step forward felt like a huge struggle. It seemed like whenever I’d find a glimmer of hope in a really dark moment, it would just end up crumbling to pieces at my feet.
One particularly tough moment happened after a photography agency reached out to me saying that they loved my work and wanted to meet me. Of course, I was completely over-the-moon ECSTATIC. It felt like I was finally going to get my big break, like I’d finally have something to show for the years of work I’d put in. So, I borrowed some nice clothes from a friend of mine and curated my portfolio on Dustin’s iPad. I arrived at the agency full of nerves and excitement. And within minutes my heart was on the floor and I felt a crushing wave of helplessness come over me.
The agent barely even gave me time to present my first pieces before she informed me that, apparently, using an iPad to showcase my portfolio was a huge faux pas and proceeded to rip into me for it. When I explained that I didn’t have enough money to put together a hard-copy portfolio, she quickly informed me that I was simply too poor to be signed by them. I was completely mortified. It didn’t matter that she actually loved my work and was blown away at how young I was. The fact that I had no money told her, and the rest of the agency, that I wasn’t able to fund my own hard copy portfolio, reviews, or advertising and that working with me would be useless to them. She then sent me out of the room to her assistant in the hall who told me to come back once I’d saved up some money.
It was by far one of the most painful and embarrassing moments of my career. I barely made it out of the agency’s office before I burst into tears. And then I had to sit in the parking lot and wait to drive myself home because my eyes were so swollen from crying. I just remember sitting there thinking to myself, “How will I ever get out of this hole I’m in?” All I wanted was for ONE person to just believe in me. Just ONE person to give me a chance to prove myself. I felt defeated. I had just had a huge advertising agency tell me my work was amazing, but that I was too poor to work with. In this moment all I wanted to do was quit. But instead I picked myself up, I let myself cry then I drove home, blasted some Trevor Hall to get in the right mindset then I sat at my computer and I got back to work. I kept pushing. I pushed past the pain, the heartache, and the uncertainty. I pushed harder than I ever thought I could. And within a year, I found myself on a plane to Hawaii for my first paid travel gig EVER and as I looked out the window with tears in my eyes as the plane landed I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and that everything up to that moment had happened exactly how it was supposed to.
The truth is, you never know where the next moment of your life will take you. Sometimes you get a lucky break, and other times you get a pretty crappy break that you thought might be lucky. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t work out. Life is always working for you, not against you. When you think you failed, you’re really being redirected towards what was MEANT for you. You are always being guided. And because of that you can never stop your pursuit of the lucky breaks. Because the right one could be just around the corner waiting for you — but you’ll never find it if you don’t work hard and do everything you can to fight through it.
Luck doesn’t find you — you have to find it for yourself.
Let that sink in for a second. Really think about what it means to you. Because a lot of the time we convince ourselves that just passively posting our work on Instagram will magically bring us work, or clients, or that “big break” we want so badly. But chances are it’s never going to happen that way. You have to make it for yourself, you have to create and find your own luck. And the good news is that you ABSOLUTELY CAN.
It’s normal for things to be hard in the beginning. To be completely broke without any photo work, all while maybe even working three other jobs seemingly going nowhere fast even though you’re working your ass off building your photography business AND working to pay the bills. This. Is. All. Normal. I promise you! Does it suck? Absolutely. Is everyone else experiencing it, too? Hell yes they are (whether they admit it on their Instagram feed or not).
So, to each and every one of you out there in this wild world reading this right now, I want you to know this: I see you. I know how you feel. And I’m with you.
I see you working tirelessly, night after night editing photos while the rest of the house is asleep.
I see you turning down friends and family for afternoons in the park and evenings dining out so that you can put the finishing touches on your website.
I see you investing in yourself spending any extra money on furthering your education and your craft because you know it will come back to you tenfold.
I see you spending hours in front of the computer screen in sweatpants with your dog on your lap working toward the dream that so many people have told you you’re crazy to be pursuing.
I see you putting yourself and your career first, putting your heart and soul into your work.
I know how hard it is to keep working when it feels like nothing is working out in your favor. But, please, do whatever you can to keep yourself from going down the rabbit hole of comparing your journey to other people’s or thinking that you’re not good enough. Instead, remember that social media only shows you one side of the journey: the perfectly curated, glamorous highlight reel that makes it seem like it all came easily. Remember how good it feels to hold your camera in your hands, and how when you do all your worries seem to melt away. Grab hold of that feeling and let it guide you forward. Let it motivate you and keep you fully present in what you’re pursuing. Because being able to wake up and do what you love every day is always going to make the struggle of pushing past the hard parts worthwhile. So don’t give up and never stop believing in yourself, because I believe in you!
AND If you feel like connecting with other female photographers who are on this journey with you, join our Private Facebook Community Group where you’ll be welcomed with open arms. It’s a place where you can share your work, find inspiration, and ask for advice from all of our amazing members. Click Here to join!