Getting out of the box.

Four years ago I was working at a photography studio. I was photographing events on the weekends and people in the studio during the week. I was in management and doubling as a sales associate, a photographer, an editor, and a receptionist. Small, family owned businesses require a lot of hats to be worn, so our team of 7 became jacks of all trades. One day, my boss came to me and gave me a stern, much needed photography critique. Then she asked me if I wanted to be a photographer or a manager because I couldn’t do both, and my photography was lacking what I made up for in management skills. In her defense, the company was growing larger and positions were becoming more specialized. She needed a manager. I wanted to be both. I went home feeling like I sucked as a photographer, and there was no hope for me to be a creative individual. I felt defeated. I felt stuck. I parked my car at my apartment, went upstairs, and cried.

The next day I walked out to my car with a heavy heart. It was then that I noticed a small postcard under my windshield wiper. The postcard advertised a company looking to hire photographers to take candid photos of the night life downtown. All that was required was a camera, and the willingness to work from 10pm-1am. I made a decision that day. You see, despite my hurt ego, I didn’t give up on my dreams. I knew I needed to be creative, and that I needed something for my left-brain as well. I made a choice to take responsibility for any lack of skill that was mentioned in the critique and to work towards improvement. This was an opportunity to further my photography skills, to learn how to better use flash lighting in dark environments, and a way to make some extra cash and save up for a new camera.

After one year of photographing drunk people in bars all over town, I had had some pretty wild adventures, and some pretty exhausting nights. I had been given free access to Fashion Week, Local festivals, and even concerts with front row VIP passes. I had met celebrities. I had made new connections and gained new clients from people I met while working. The guy who owned the business even passed along a few weddings to me. I had also been puked on, spit on, dumped alcohol on, and kicked out of bars. I sacrificed my Friday and Saturday nights to make 25 cents per photo with a cap of 40 photos per bar, per night. That’s $10. If you work fast, you can hit about 10 bars a night and make $100….IF it was busy. It wasn’t all glamorous let me tell you, but there were perks, and all the while I stayed focused on my goal…the reason why I took the job. Improvement, growth, and my love of photography. I ended each night around 3am sweaty, or freezing. Sometimes soaking wet from rain. I would edit and upload all the images at Waffle House while eating free leftover blueberry waffles from my friend, the waitress, Shariffa. In one year I had saved up enough money to buy a Canon 5D MarkII. At the time, it was the ‘best of the best’ camera.

Fast forward 3 more years and here I am. I realized that if I started my own photography business, I wouldn’t have to choose between management and photography. I didn’t choose. I started a business. This morning I photographed a health coach who reinvented herself after a divorce left her idenity-less. This evening I get to photograph a woman who started a 50+ women’s group. Right now I sit here writing on my blog in a coffee shop. Exercising my creative juices in a way that is fairly new to me: writing. You don’t have to stop growing and learning and trying new things- EVER. You don’t have to fit into a mold and be something someone else tells you that you should. You don’t have to be something just because you’re good at it, and you don’t have to miss out on something else just because you aren’t good at it. You are never too old, or too young, or too inexperienced, or too ANYTHING to do what you want to do and be who you want to be. Not if you make a decision to commit. Not if you are willing to get your hands a little dirty and work hard. Not if you are ok with making some sacrifices and getting over your ego. Not if you have faith.

Two weeks ago the guy who owned the night life business referred me to another guy who works for a high-end liquor distributor. He asked me to photograph Rock Fest. Imagine this, I am back stage with Breaking Benjamin and Halestorm getting ready to go on stage with Potter from 98ROCK (the radio station) and I run past this lady standing in line to get Ben’s autograph. She stops me and says “How in the world did you get this gig?! I am a photographer and love this band and would kill for this opportunity!!” I didn’t have the time to share this story….but in the off-chance that she maybe looked me up, here you go. There’s the story. 🙂

www.melissamileyphotography.com

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