Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Happy List

Do you ever have moments of clarity?  Those moments where something that your mind has been trying to work through just becomes crystal clear?  I get them periodically...mostly when I'm blow drying my hair (why then, I have no idea) and when I'm running. Oh, and by running, I mean jogging with an occasional run and a more frequent walk. Tonight, during my "run" and somewhere between Jason Aldean and Kanye West on my ipod, it came to me.

Here it is:  We have to make time for what makes us happy.  So simple, really, but sometimes we dismiss the hobbies or dreams we have in order to make room for the things that take over our lives, like work and laundry.

I realized this as I was thinking about a photography job I have this weekend.  I get to photograph a bunch of wonderful high school girls for their annual pageant.  This is my second year to photograph the pageant contestants and I ALMOST SAID NO this year.  I was very worried about time...the time it would take to organize the photo shoot.  The time it would take to shoot, then edit the photos.  The time it would take away from my family.  And then, out of the blue, something made me say YES, I'LL DO IT.  The something that made me say "yes" must have been my heart.  My heart knows that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this particular photo shoot.  I spend the better part of a weekend in the company of girls who have a servant's heart, who strive to be the very best, and who want to give back to their community.  I am blessed to spend just 10 minutes with them.

And I almost said no.

So, take time to do the things that make you happy.  It helps if you make a list...call it your "happy list" and include anything and everything that makes you happy.  I did this little exercise about a year ago and it feels good to pull out my "happy list" again.  Mine includes (but is certainly not limited to):

*A little sunburn
*Clean sheets on my bed
*Really good chocolate
*Watching my favorite TV shows
*When my husband cooks dinner
*Unsolicited hugs from my 6'0" son (and of course, my other two kids!!)
*When my favorite pair of jeans are clean

I could go on and on...but you get the idea.

Be happy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The latest and greatest

Ok, so it's been a few months since my last post....I've been a little busy!  Haven't we all!!?? What with the holidays, then Snowpocalypse 2011and MLK Day, it's been over a month without a normal routine.  Time to settle back in....

My last post told you that I was starting a new job.  I did!!  I made it through the week in Philadelphia for training and met some really cool folks that are now my long distance co-workers.  I stayed in a super chic hotel, ate awesome food (and no, somehow I did NOT get a philly cheese steak even once in that week!!), and learned about my new position as Account Manager on the KFC biz.

I came home from my week away with a big, bad cold and SOOOO happy to see my family and my chocolate stash.  I started setting up my home office, continued learning the ropes of this new position and re-establishing relationships with industry pals in Atlanta...and I was doing it in my blue jeans and bedroom slippers.  In my experience, it's really hard to be motivated if you actually try to work from home in your PJs, so I have found it's better  to throw on some jeans and a comfy sweatshirt AND even some makeup.  I feel much more professional that way.

The job is great. Busy and crazy, but great...and it seems to be fitting in with my wacky life just fine.  I'm still able to do things for my kids during the day, like run the middle-school-carpool, or chat with my 11 year old when he gets home from school.  He likes to come out to the office (it's in a separate garage), grab a drink from the mini-fridge, and rehash his day with me.  He is a welcome break from the computer and he gets my full, uninterrupted attention for a few minutes...something he rarely has.  It makes me happy.  It makes him happy.

I've also found time to continue photographing some amazing kids and seniors.  It's the creative release that my brain craves, so I'm thrilled I can continue my Heartsong work...or rather, the work that makes my heart sing.

I had the pleasure of photographing SIX adorable 4 year olds in tutus this past weekend.  A client of mine is starting a business called Chloe's Tutu Sweet Shoppe with handmade, gorgeous tutus and accessories and she asked me to photograph her spring collection.  Below is my "tutu sweet" daughter, posing and laughing and being silly...these girls were the highlight of my weekend, for sure.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The next chapter

I am counting down the days until October 11th.  That is the day I start the next chapter in the story of my life.  I know, that sounds dramatic, but I'm feeling sort of dramatic today (and for those of you who know me, I'm not really a drama queen!).  Let me explain.

When I last wrote, I was awaiting word on whether or not I had landed a full time advertising job.  A few days after that post, I got the news that yes, I had the job.  I am truly ecstatic about this opportunity for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that I will be able to do my job in my pajamas some days.  I will be working from home and traveling to Philadelphia fairly regularly, meeting with Atlanta media folks, and putting back on a hat I had taken off over five years ago.  It feels good...I loved my former career and I'm excited to be back in a world that was never dull, never lazy.

However....and this is a BIG however....as I type this,  I'm only six days from the start of this new job for which I have to travel to Philadelphia and spend the better part of a week away from my family.  My mind is wandering in a million different directions (which is causing me to consume a great amount of chocolate).   I feel like I have to accomplish a year's worth of cleaning/appointments/etc. in these last few days at home.  You know how we (and by "we" I mean "moms") are...trying to plan every minute detail of life.  I mean, for example, I am seriously thinking I might pack 5 days worth of lunches for my 13 year old son (minus the sandwich, because that would be gross) so my husband won't have to think about that each morning at 6am while I'm gone.  Really?  I'm pretty sure I'm not giving my husband enough credit and he can throw a bag of Doritos, a Little Debbie brownie and a Gatorade in a lunch bag just as quickly as I can.  Or can he?  Will he also put in the extra love that no one really knows is there, but me?  Will he think to himself "hmmm, I sent Doritos yesterday, so today for a treat, I'll throw in Cheetos instead..."??  This is the stuff that bothers me.

So now I'm spending this week trying to neatly wrap up my "stay-at-home-be-a-photographer-and-mom" life.  I'm taking the 10 year old to the orthodontist. I'm editing photo sessions with adorable children.  I'm volunteering at the school because God knows when that will happen again. I'm lunching with friends.  I'm cleaning out closets and switching the summer clothes for fall clothes.  I MIGHT mop the floor (or I might not get to that one).  And the whole time, I'm thinking to myself "OMG, I don't know if I can do it all again!" in between bouts of extreme happiness, anxiety, joy and sadness.

But I can do it and I will do it because I have a family that I love and who loves me back.  And I have chocolate.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The summer of change

Well, it's been two months since my last post.  I vowed NOT to let that happen when I started this blog, but then life got in the way.

I'll bring you up to date quickly.  I had all three of my children home with me this summer, including my wonderful three year old that requires minute-by-minute attention.  For a while, I tried to stay current with my postings and work.  It wasn't working though...I needed to walk away from the camera and computer and embrace this summer of 2010 for what it is:  potentially the last summer with my kids at home, enjoying my small photography business without the worries of a REAL full-time job.  So that's what we did.  I spent my days at the pool, going to putt-putt, watching movies, playing "grocery store" and "school," making cupcakes for no special reason, cooking dinner and loving my family.  Afterall, these are the pleasures of life, right?!

It was wonderful, except for a few tiny details...I was going CRAZY not working.  I'm not really a "type A" personality, but I do always have some kind of project that I throw myself into and love it when I'm completely immersed in it.  The other small detail (ok, actually it's a really large detail) was that no sessions equals no money.   Because of this lovely economy, my family has been very conscious of every dollar we spend for the past few years.  We also started to realize over the course of this summer, that even when the photography business is good, it's not good enough for our little family of five with two growing boys to survive on...so what now?!

After many gut-wrenching discussions and lots of soul searching, my husband and I decided that there was really only one answer:  I had to get a REAL job.  By "real" I mean a job that gives you a W2 at the end of the year and provides health insurance and, whoaaaaa, a salary!!!  Fortunately, I spent 14 years in a rewarding Advertising career that I loved and I could always go back.  And the time came to go back.  When I wasn't entertaining the kids this summer, I was busy reconnecting with old friends from my advertising days and doing some serious networking.  I think it might have paid off, as I am currently waiting to hear about a job that I've been interviewing for...it's perfect, so I really hope it comes through.

So what about my photography business?  It's still here and it will always be here, because it lives in my heart.  It's a part of me and it will always be a part of me.  Whether I am booking 10 clients a week or 10 clients a month or 10 clients a year, it'll be here.  I love the camera and I love how I feel when I pick it up and look at the subject on the other side of the lens.  Forever, as long as I can see, I'll have it.  The business may take different shapes and forms, but it's still my baby.

I had the pleasure of photographing one of my dearest friends and her fiance last weekend and it confirmed to me that, yep, no matter what, I'll always be a photographer...because that's who I am in my heart.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My heartsong reminder

This week, I was reminded of the reasons that I love this job so much.  It's the people.  It's the connections. It's the relationships and the new friends that make my heart sing with joy each time it happens.

You may have wondered where the name "Heartsong Photography Studio" came from, since most photographers use their personal name for their studio name (ie, Laura Reese Photography).   Remember that workshop I told you about, with Heather Bookout in Huntsville?  During our time together, she talked about how her heart would "sing" when she saw certain photographs.  That's exactly how I felt too.

During the course of most sessions, I'll take a slew of photos, but it's only a handful of images that will make my heart sing.  I can't always explain why and sometimes, other viewers of the images may not get it.  The image may not be technically perfect, but there was a connection made in that moment that touched my heart and makes me want to look at the image over and over again.

In the past couple of weeks, I've deliberately not scheduled many sessions so my kids and I could get into the swing of summer.  One of the sessions I did put on the calendar took place yesterday morning and it was pretty much a perfect session, in my opinion.  The weather was NOT perfect...it was 9am and already 85 degrees and ridiculously humid.  But, the family was perfect...very relaxed, so friendly and easy going.  The subject of the session was a 9 month old baby girl.  She was simply amazing.  Happy and smiling, this rolie-polie baby had beautiful eyes that the camera loved.  The photographer loved her too.  Oh, and I can't forget the dog, who was also fantastic, even in the crazy heat.

We were all sweating about 5 minutes into the session, but it was so easy to get the shots we needed.  The shots that make my heart sing weren't planned, they just happened.  Those are my favorite kind...sort of accidental beauty.

Believe me,  not all sessions go smoothly and the accidental beauty is harder to obtain.  I can still find it and capture it, but it takes a while to get there.  This time, the magic happened right away.  I think that sometimes, God knows I need a little reminder of why I LOVE my job and HE pushes me forward, despite my worries (financial worries, creative worries, etc.).  In the midst of my doubt, he gives me the accidental beauty I need to make my heart sing...do you see it too?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Beginning the Business - Part 2

Ok, so I've created a photography business, complete with a business license and a really nice DSLR. Now what? The questions buzzing around my mind were many. How do I attract new business? How to do I get my existing clients to place bigger orders? What is the best way to advertise on a small budget? And the biggest question of all: How can I learn more and make myself FEEL like a REAL photographer?

At this point, I was still so excited and just thankful every time the phone rang or someone sent an email to inquire about a session. Outwardly, I was confident...I set up sessions, invited clients to the studio, spoke at length to clients about what they could expect at our session. But on the inside, I was still struggling with that very important question...WHO AM I as a photographer?

I didn't even realize that this was an issue until one night as I sat with my kids and watched American Idol. Don't laugh, but seriously, this is how my transformation into a confident photographer began!!

So, I'm watching American Idol and the performer sang, then waited for his critique. Randy, Paula and Simon started speaking, and I realized that their words were speaking to me and could be applied to ANY artist, not just to a singer's voice. They were saying things like: "Dawg, until you figure out WHO YOU ARE as an ARTIST, you'll always struggle" or "You were really connected to that song...it came from your heart" and "A real artist FEELS the song and doesn't apologize for who they are."

Over the next few weeks, I watched AI and listened intently as the judges spoke to the artist. I took their words to heart and began the internal search of WHO I AM as an ARTIST. Some individuals feel that photography, especially digital photography, isn't an art anymore. I couldn't disagree more. It's a creative gift, it's subjective and, in my case, when I connect with a subject it touches my heart and fills me entirely. Singers, dancers, sculptors, painters, etc. would all tell you the same thing. They are wholly happy when they are immersed in their art and that's how I feel when I have a camera in my hand.

I did a ton of soul searching and it sort of consumed my every thought over those weeks. Slowly, it started to appear to me...the pieces started to fit together. I started to understand WHO I am. This realization felt incredibly good.  I felt relief and comfort and could finally say with confidence "I AM A PHOTOGRAPHER!!!"

The process will be different for everyone. Maybe you are fortunate and already know who you are as an artist or maybe you are not. I believe it's critical for your success to know the answer to your individual question: WHO ARE YOU AS AN ARTIST? You can't force the answer...you have to be open minded and let ideas flow through you as you put the pieces to your puzzle together.

If you know me, you know who I am: I am authentic and warm.  I value family, good humor and happiness. I am enthusiastic and natural, organized and reliable. These are some of my personal core values and talents. Once I discovered that these personal traits were the same traits that my business clients valued, I started to understand the REAL me as an artist.

In this process, I read an amazing book that helped me understand myself, as a woman with a business perspective. While wearing my "Office Manager" hat and buying file folders in Office Max one day, I stumbled on the book called "Make a Name for Yourself: 8 Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy For Success" by Robin Fisher Roffer. Read it. You'll discover youself and the keys to success in the process.

My transformation took place in the Spring of 2009.  I can see a vast difference in the photos I took before this time and after I became comfortable with the type of artist I am.  Before, I wanted to emulate other photographers because I believed I needed to do work that was similar to theirs since they were (are) successful.  After, however, I don't want to be like them.  I want to be like me and find my own path to success.  It's my journey and it will be different from everyone else's...and that's just fine with me.

Below are images taken in the Summer of 2009.  These make my heart sing and my clients were pretty darned happy too.  Knowing myself as an artist made all the difference in the world.  I'm still growing and learning and will always be a work in progress.  But now, I'm true to myself...always.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Beginning the Business - Part 1

I started this blog to talk about the roller coaster ride I've been on for the past two years.  The "own-your-own-business-and-take-it-seriously" ride.  Maybe you've been on it, or maybe you're thinking about hopping on and taking a ride.  It's crazy, full of amazing highs and treacherous lows, but I absolutely love it and hope to keep riding it for many years.  I'll tell you how it all began for me....

In February of 2008, I attended a FABULOUS workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, hosted by a truly gifted photographer named Heather Bookout.  I randomly found her website one day while Googling "child photographers" and was struck by how different and beautiful her work was.  She spoke openly about her faith and beliefs, which made her and her work even more spectacular to me. After the workshop and spending two days with her and many other talented photographers, I came home and told my husband that I was tired of just taking pictures for friends and a few paying clients...it was time for me to take it seriously and invest everything...my time, talent, money and energy into opening a real studio.   I was certain I could do it.  I needed a passion for photography...check.  I needed a good business background...check.  I needed a business plan and a creative vision for what I wanted my studio to be like...check.  Surely, if others had done it, so could I.  I actually believed it wouldn't be too hard to get my successful studio up and running.  Ah, I was so naive and innocent!

I started the process:  Finishing an upstairs garage loft on our 10-acre property, coming up with a company name, designing a logo, building a website, setting up pricing, securing financing, creating mailers and marketing pieces...the list goes on and on.  There was a ton of work to do, but it didn't feel like work at all.  I LOVED every minute of it.  One of my best friends found a quote that fit me perfectly:

"The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion.  He hardly knows which is which.  He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing.  To him, he is always doing both."

This quote by James Michener spoke to me...I feel deep in my heart that I'm doing what I'm meant to do when I pick up my camera.  What if I could actually earn a living at this?

I worked through the winter and spring and by summer, I was ready for my big studio launch.  I sent out beautiful mailers, announced my grand opening and waited for the phone to ring.  And waited.  Sure, there were a few phone calls, but how come my calendar wasn't filled up instantly? What was I doing wrong?  And oh, by the way, did I mention that the economy tanked in August of 2008?

After the glorious, creative high of bringing this business to life...MY business, MY baby...I was starting to get my first taste of reality.  I had poured my heart into this concept.  I did it largely by myself, with the help of some amazing friends who listened while I worked through this beginning stage.  This business is an extension of ME and only me.  It's MY vision, MY hopes, MY work, MY dream. No one else, just me. Unless you've been through the process before, it's tough to understand.  Those of you who have been through it, know it can be lonely and scary and thrilling and exciting.  I'm telling ya', it's a roller coaster.

In those first months, I learned that it takes a lot of work, with many long days and nights, to establish a business.  But I was still so naive.  I still thought it was just as simple as a good business plan and some good photography.  But it's way more than that....so much more.

To be continued next week...

P.S.  I want to hear from you!  Tell us your stories because I know others that are in the same position want to hear too.  Tell me what inspired you to start your business?  How did you feel when you opened your doors and had your first clients?  Did your phone ring right away or were you, too, left wondering what else needed to be done?  Did you scour other websites for knowledge, read books, etc. in search of answers?  I know I did.  Tell me...