Today I am bringing you a little insight into my photography journey. I think it is really important to share where I began and some of the hiccups I hit along the way. Hopefully someone out there who is just starting out can relate and hopefully learn from my mistakes! This is a long five year story, friends, so we are going to break it up into a two week series. This week we will talk about the VERRRRRY beginning.
All throughout high school and into my freshman year of college I was always the girl with the camera. I had multiple point-and-shoot digital cameras and I have a whole entire hard drive full of the memories I captured. When I was photographing back then it was literally to capture my memories. To remember those days & the people I was with. I wasn’t being technical at all & at that time photography as a career wasn’t even on my radar.
The summer of 2011, in between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I got the most amazing phone call from one of my best friends. She and her sister were going to Spain to house sit for their uncle and they get to bring two friends….she wanted to bring me! It was the biggest opportunity I have ever been given. My parents gave me the option to either study abroad one semester or a plane ticket to Spain for this trip. I took the plane ticket to Spain.
Weeks before we left for our month long trip in Spain my little Nikon Coolpix camera died. I HAD to have a camera for this trip and had tossed around the idea of buying a big fancy camera a few times. But I was a broke 19 year old who wasn’t totally responsible with her money. After some pleading and a loan with my Dad, I bought a $300 Nikon camera kit. The one I bought was discontinued but it was super similar to THIS! It came with two lenses and a DSLR camera. I also bought a camera bag & researched editing programs online. The camera came and I seriously felt like the coolest person on earth with it. I took it to Spain and had the time of my life with that camera. We have some really amazing photographs from that trip thanks to my happy fingers & my beautiful friends.
One night in Spain we decided to get dressed up and go take “professional” pictures. It was so much fun!! That night I uploaded them to my computer and edited them on a long ago editing site called Pic Monkey. You could change peoples hair color, skin color, eye color…..in photography standards it was the worst editing program EVER, but for my amateur heart it was AMAZING! I created a stamp logo with the program and called myself MCKaercher Photography. Uploaded to my personal Facebook and hit post. People went wild! I couldn’t find the posts, and boy did I scroll, but I bet it was like 20 likes which was crazy in 2011 😀 Here are some of those photos from that day.
When I returned home, my mom suggested I take some of my little sister’s senior portraits. We did and they turned out pretty good! She got them professionally done as well (thank goodness) but two of the photos I took even made the wall! After her session, a friend of hers who couldn’t afford senior pictures asked if I could snap a few of him. I did, and it was SO much fun. Then another friend of hers was disappointed in her senior pictures by another photographer and asked if I would take some of her. I did, and it was FUN! It was after that shoot when I thought, “Man, I am doing a lot of work for these shoots, along with editing them, uploading them to CDs that I bought, and then mailing them to them. It would really help if they would pitch in $20.” And thus I began making a profit.
I was to emphasis that I had NO idea what I was doing. I was having fun & was probably making $60-80 a month off of these shoots that remainder of the summer. When September came I went back to college in Washington. There I focused more on college things than photography but I did get a hand at photographing a budding model….who now is actually like a super awesome model – Hey Wade! I’m totally the reason you are such a big star 😉 TOTALLY KIDDING! But it was fun then, and fun to see him killing it in front of brand name photographers now!
Later that year I transferred back to Montana State University – Northern to finish my sophomore year. It was then that I really started taking myself more seriously as a photographer & I started reading and learning more about what I was doing. I read my camera manual & watched A LOT of Youtube videos and invested in Photoshop (& some actions because I didn’t know how to use Photoshop). Then for some crazy reason this sweet couple asked me to photograph their wedding. I was floored and super nervous, but I did it. And it wasn’t terrible. I was then asked to photograph another wedding. And it wasn’t terrible. I was doing the very best I knew how to do on that day. I was/am proud of those images because I know how much blood, sweat and tears went into those images. Then some strike of fate happened and I was asked to shoot a couple’s wedding in HAWAII. I wasn’t even a “real” business yet (totally should’ve been, but that comes later). It was a super amazing trip & I am so lucky they took me on it. Please keep in mind I was doing all of this with the same camera and lenses I bought for the Spain trip…and hopefully paid my dad back for at this point….but who knows 😉
I came back from Hawaii with this sense of wonderfulness. That people actually DO this for a living. I was about to be a junior in college and had declared a major I had no interest in. I was scared for my future because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew I hated working my part-time desk job at the school & waitressing at Pizza Hut. Those weren’t careers for me. But after Hawaii, I knew I wanted to be a photographer.
It was later in that summer when I got a letter from the State that I was reported for making money without reporting it to the state. Still not even sure that was a legit thing, but I give huge thank you to whoever reported me because I went and got my business license, I got business insurance, and I upgraded my camera. This also means I had to pay taxes. Looking back I would jump through burning hula hoops to pay what I paid that year in taxes. It was close to $800 and when you are 20 and aren’t very good with money or owning a business that is a HIT. But it was one of those “fall off the cliff to learn” kind of deals & I knew to start saving for my taxes year round. (Don’t get me wrong, I save year round/pay quarterly, but I cry every year when I write that check…..LOL)
It was also around this time I was feeling like I wasn’t standing out from the other photographers who were budding at this time. Everyone was starting a business called “their first initial and last name” and I felt trapped. So I decided to brain storm ideas for a new business name and literally stumbled on Merry Character and laughed so hard I almost peed. And it stuck.
So it may have been 2012 when I became a legal business & officially became Merry Character Photography and so that year was one of the best of my life! I found a goal & I found a purpose. I started learning more than ever and photographing more than ever. I was so excited about my job I wanted to just photograph everyone!! Thankfully, people let me. Looking back I am almost embarrassed at the photos I was taking and giving people, but I have to remember that I was doing the absolute BEST I could with what I had. I was giving my 110% to every single person and I was serving them and loving them the way I knew how. So they might not be what I want to deliver to my clients now…..but that’s the best part….I don’t have to because I continued to learn and grow – and still am!
Here is a little comparison. Miss Maddy on the left from this past summer in 2016 & my sister on the right in 2011!
Until Next Week!
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