FAQ: How I Got Started

About four years ago, I sat in my cozy, red living room in Cincinnati scrolling through professional photographers' blogs on my laptop. I had become obsessed with editorial wedding and family photography and I just … wanted … to learn … how they made those beautiful images. It was yearning I was feeling. I've always loved taking photos—I was even one of the photo editors of my high school newspaper—but it wasn’t until I stumbled across a Cincinnati wedding photographer’s website and became enamored with her sun flares and the real emotions she captured that I truly became obsessed with photography. Every chance I got I would get to know new photographers … their stories, their styles, their clients.

I should note here that at the time I was just a year or two out of college and working in communications for the fraternity. I really liked my job, and I never had any intentions of starting my own business (mostly because I wasn't sure I could do it). At that point, photography was just an extracurricular.

So, I bought a DSLR camera, a Sony (obviously I had no idea what I was doing), and started practicing. I would walk around my Cincinnati neighborhood and take pictures of flowers and trees and benches and tried to get that blurred background that I so admired in professional photographers' work.

Some of my practice. I only had shoes as subjects!

I signed up for an online course through the University of Cincinnati. We got homework assignments every week and would post our photos on a dashboard so our classmates could critique our work. That was hard. Looking back I know it would have been so easy for me to quit then, but I wanted it so bad that I pushed forward.

Learning how to frame my subjects ... quite literally! Haha.

I signed up for another class, but this time in a studio with a real teacher, not a virtual one. Steph Carson (now Steph & Dave Photography) taught me so much; most notably something that wasn’t about my camera. One day after class I asked her how I could break into the market. I knew I wasn’t ready yet ... and I still didn't really believe in myself ... but I felt like I was at a dead end and I wanted any advice I could get. She said, “You really need to do an internship before you start advertising that you’re available for sessions or weddings.” Dang. How was I going to make THAT happen?

I had some friends and family that let me practice on them (thank goodness!). I cringe looking back on these photos but know it's so important to remember how far you've come.

You should know that I'm a very by-the-book girl. If someone tells me I should do something, I'm going to do it. I wasn't going to rush into a photography business until I was 100%, completely and utterly, ready.

*This next part has to be divine intervention.*

I was sitting in that same cozy living room not a month later scrolling through a new (to me) photographer’s blog: Amanda Donaho Photography. The first blog post read “Internship with Amanda Donaho Photography.”

You guys, I know that's way too easy. I know photography internships don't just fall out of the sky, but I guess I had some luck on my side. So, despite my already busy schedule, I applied. Amanda got quite a few applicants, but I was available to shoot a wedding with her the next weekend and so I put it on my calendar. This was my chance.

Or so I thought.

The morning of the wedding, I woke up extra early and left extra early to make sure I had plenty of time. I had my outfit planned, my camera charged and the addresses ready to plug into my GPS. I drove and drove out to the west side of Cincinnati. And drove. And drove. I couldn't seem to find the hair salon that my GPS was supposedly taking me to. My heart sunk. I was going to be late. A HUGE no-no in my book and any photographer's book, I was sure.

After a phone call to Amanda and more driving back the way I came, I arrived at the salon ... way late. I knew Amanda wasn't super excited about it and I really thought then that I had ruined any chance I had of working with her past that day. Thankfully the wedding went way more smoothly than the drive in and I learned a TON. I can't imagine agreeing to photograph a wedding before doing at least one with a professional photographer, and I'm so, so, so glad I had the chance.

A photo from that first wedding with Amanda. :)

Amazingly, Amanda picked me to be one of her two interns for 2010. I got to assist her at 12+ weddings that year and my photography skills (and even business and communication skills) shot through the roof. (I also upgraded to a Canon camera before 2010!) I learned SO much working with Amanda and I will always be indebted to her. I continued to assist Amanda through my wedding in 2011.

After getting married, Nathan got a job in Cleveland and we moved up north. I knew that if I wanted to continue with photography, this was my time to go out on my own. I was still scared but I also still wanted it badly, so I took a leap of faith. I had no expectations and continue to be blown away by your loyalty.

To anyone out there in the same position I was in four years ago, I encourage you to practice, to network with other photographers and even ask if you can shadow them at a wedding. In my opinion, getting experience is the most important thing; it will set you on the right path.

Thankfully the yearning I felt four years ago still continues, which is how I know I'm doing the right thing at this point in my life. I still just want to create beautiful, emotion-filled images that mean something to my clients. Thanks to you all I get to stretch my skills every day.