Just a warning, this is going to be a long read. If you know me or are interested in hiring me, I feel it is important for you to read this. For those of you who don't know, I started my portrait photography journey (seriously anyways) at Jcp Portraits. When I went in to interview I had been jobless for 5 months and I was tired of doing work that didn't motivate me to be there and fulfill my creative desires. I knew I wanted to be a photographer at that point but I did not think it would be people. I thought that if I got the job it would be a stepping stone to my next photography adventure. I was thinking I wanted to photograph landscapes. I had not yet found the joy of photographing people. My first couple months at the studio were very hard. The rules were - Photograph a session in 10 minutes - Get 20 visually different images - Get 2 backgrounds- 3 different eye directions - $85 dollar sales average. Believe it or not.. the sales average part was the hardest. They sent out coupons constantly for free session fees, free prints and $3.99 per standard print. I felt a lot of pressure.
Four months into being there I started falling in love with the people. I had just started photographing on my own and instantly I was being told by people I had photographed just once that they would be sure to use me again. Those people kept their word and I had a hundred or more regulars for the almost 10 years I was there. I watched people get engaged. I watched people go from engaged to married to pregnant. I watched those same families go from 1 kid to 2 to 3 and 4 etc. I photographed large groups of people who only saw each other once a year. Seeing them so excited to see each other was such a joy. Photographing large groups was the most intimidating thing to me in the beginning. After about 2 years I was fully confident thanks to people I worked with that had plenty of experience. I photographed people for their obituary photos. I did business headshots. I photographed families of all sizes and people of all ages.
With my own business, it was very hard for me to narrow it down to photographing a specific age range because I had been taught to do it all and did not know any other way. I always hear "jack of all trades, master of none". Yes I can do any age and most occasions. I won't shy away from admitting that I am my best and I'm happiest when I'm photographing newborns- toddlers. I did not have that option at the studio. I had to deal with whatever was thrown at me.
I remember a family who had brought in 2 disabled children in the beginning of my Lifetouch career. One did not have legs and was only 2 or 3. The other could not sit up and did not have arms. I was so terrified at first because I didn't know how to pose them. I wanted to give their parents images that they would be happy with. This family continued to come to me year after year because they knew I was patient and cared enough to do something different than what we did with other sessions to accommodate them.
I had countless families with rambunctious children that I built a bond with. I ended up being the only photographer that could get them in their spot and catch images just while playing and talking to them. Everyone knows my rule was "Don't say cheese!" Sometimes I had to kick parents out of the room and sometimes they would see themselves out without me saying anything. They knew my approach worked better than the traditional "sit here, pose like this, and say cheese"
I dealt with the death of a couple customers. One who was a mother and came in all the time with her 2 children for years. I was heartbroken when I got the call at the studio from a friend of the mother. The other customer was actually a friend of mine.
Four months into my career with Lifetouch, I knew I was there for life. Even just last year I felt the same way. The customers I built relationships with were the biggest thing keeping me there. The feeling I would get every time someone walked in and said " Oh my gosh you're still here!! I am so glad!" would make me so proud. I hope that I can still find ways to be in touch with all of those people whether I photograph them or not.
I loved our Santa days. He was amazing to work with. People got so mad if they couldn't grab a session in time with him. He taught me a lot to. I would distract scared kids as he snuck in behind them for a photo in the case that they did not want any interaction with him.
My son has always love him (with the exception of the time he was 18 months.. you can't expect too much with that age!) He was great at coming up with pose ideas. He always knew what pose was appropriate for certain ages. He always knew where to stand or sit. He always had to perfect expression.
I became invested in peoples lives. I would hear intimate details of their lives as if I was a friend they could always count on to not judge and to keep a secret if needed (which is true)
There are so many reasons why I am not going back.
I do not want to put the company I loved down.
I also can not lie about my experience. You have to really love what you do to put up with the stress of the studio.
Christmas time was rough every year. November and December we could do anywhere from 30-60 sessions in a day depending on which studio I was working (one had 1 camera room and the other had 2). During November and December, most days we did not get a lunch break. We would work 12 hours. We would order pizza and take a few bites here and there if we even got the chance. (Usually while loading photos or talking to a customer). Almost every work shift even if it wasn't peak season, we could end up staying late by an hour or 2 due to someone showing up late to their appointment, being extremely picky during the appt or taking too long to order their photos. (keep in mind we also got in trouble for staying later than we were supposed to) The past few years we were expected to do 15 minute sessions. This was no problem for me as it was 5 more minutes than I was used to! People showing late and taking too long to get ready and or choosing images would always set us back.
Even during non peak times, I would have customers keep me busing during my lunch time and not even care.
With my own business I don't have to worry about that. I am not trying to squeeze 5 people into and hour to photograph and show images!
This past Christmas season I had to run 2 of the busiest studios in our district alone without an assistant. We had 11 of us between the 2 studios in the beginning. About 5 or 6 people that we hired for seasonal quit right before we got busy (beginning of November). We would have 1 or 2 people working when we really should have had 4 or 5. Then there were times when we should have had 7 or 8 people and had maybe 3. I did not make enough. Plenty of retail cashier jobs are hiring people for several dollars more an hour to start than I was making.
When the shut down happened I had more time to think. Why would I continuously work long hours, holidays and weekends to capture moments for thousands of other families while I miss out on all the moments with my own family.
I missed most birthday parties for years. I missed sports games. I missed saying goodbye to 2 grandparents because I was not allowed to leave work.
I remember breastfeeding my son and not being able to pump enough milk to be at work very long. I had to feed him right before leaving, do a 4 hour shift (2:45-7) (he had a bottle while I was gone) then I had to be ready to feed him as soon as I got home at 7:25. Many times he screamed starving because a customer kept me too late and I'd get home at 8 or 8:30. Many times I had to flat out say to people " Sorry but I have to go breastfeed my son" I had one man say that was more than he needed to know - insert eye roll emoji -
Overall, I learned so much in my decade with Lifetouch. I learned that patience is one of my best qualities. I learned that I love photographing people (newborns-toddlers especially) I learned that I like to get a job done quick and not mess around. I learned that I care for people I only see once or twice a year. I find myself still thinking about all the families and wondering how they are doing. I am so thankful for everything I learned and how tough I became.
My coworkers and employees made a huge difference in my job to. I learned so much when I first started from people that had been there for years. Our company had their own social media site for Lifetouch people all across the country to keep in touch. We would vent to each other. We would share photo ideas. We would give each other constructive criticism. We would keep each other in the loop with company announcements etc. I made so many friends through there that will last a lifetime. I will never forget meeting a guy last year after years of talking online. He walked into my studio and I felt like I met a celebrity. That is how much we adored each other within that company.
On August 5th 2020 I made the official announcement to my district manager that I am not coming back to the studio when it reopens next week.
I chose to homeschool my son instead of dealing school going back and forth and us worrying about health.
I was not given enough details on the safety procedures for the studio but whatever it is I don't think it will be enough.
With my own business I am photographing outside and staying a farther distance than I would be able to at the studio. The only subjects I handle are newborns because I know best how to wrap and pose them. Everything is washed and sanitized before and after a session. I wear a mask. With families I am a good distance away and expect parents to guide children how I tell them to.
No matter how much I say, I still feel like I can't say enough about my feelings towards the studio. I never thought I would leave.
I hope that you all will support me in my personal business that I am just now able to invest more time into as of this year. Photographing people means the world to me. It is not an easy gig, something just for fun, a side job or easy money. To me this is so super important.
I need clients that will appreciate the hard work I have put in the past 10 years to photographing people and the past 2 years that I have worked on things outside the studio.
I only want people to come to me if they value my work and my time, love my personality and respect my creative eye.
I am moving on. I am at peace with my decision. I am excited to see what this next decade brings. No matter what happens, I know I will always be photographing people.
I love people.