As some of you know, I guest-host a weekly YouTube show called Keep Shooting! Monday with Greg Cazillo. Recently, one of our subscribers asked us to talk about how we got into photography, our first cameras, and how we jumped into the pro world and I thought it would make a good blog post. If you are interested in my story, grab a cuppa joe or glass of wine (and maybe a tissue or two if you read the link to my daughter's story) and get comfy.
As far back as I can remember, I've been interested in cameras and photography. I still remember my mom's 1970s camera, complete with flash bulbs. Early on, I got my own camera, a Kodak Tele-Ektralite 600 camera. The case flipped open and became an arm that you could hold. When trying to find it for this post, I saw that it was listed in on Amazon as a VINTAGE camera. Vintage. Something I owned is now considered vintage. Sigh. Around that time many of my friends had Kodak Disc cameras. Anyone have one of those babies?
At the time, photography was film-only and we took our film to the local Fotomat to be developed. Fotomat was a chain of drive-up kiosks in a local parking lots where you dropped off your film and came back a week later to pick up your prints. I was never one to let those prints sit. Before scrapbooking was all the rage, I scrapbooked. I cut out words from magazines and cool shapes and mats out of construction paper and stuck them in sticky albums with the peel-back sheets (which I now know is terrible for your prints, but then it looked cool!)
The next camera that I recall owning was a Minolta Talker. Yep. It talked to me! If it was out of film, it would say, "Load. Film." Too Dark? It would say, "Too Dark. Use Flash." It would also tell me to "Check Distance" if it thought that was a problem. Ironically, I owned a car that once talked to me, too!
After that came a nice Nikon film camera that I got around the time my daughter was born. Shortly after her birth, I leaped into the scrapbook craze with both feet, even becoming a Creative Memories consultant, which I remained for over 10 years. I was prolific in both taking pictures and creating scrapbooks, to the point where my mom commented that my children would have the best documented childhoods in history. You may notice that my photography AND scrapbooking skills improved from the early days. I think one skill begat the other. As I saw how much I was cutting off of my photographs I began composing my shots differently.
When digital became all the rage, my husband bought me a Nikon D50. I LOVED that camera. After scrapbooking with me (Yes, I still PRINT images!) and seeing the quality of my pictures, my two best friends went out and bought the same camera.
So how did I go from photographing my family and scrapbooking the images to getting paid to take other people's photographs? Well, I like to say that when God closes a door He opens a window. Before children, I was an elementary school teacher and an educational technology specialist. I assumed that when my son, who is my youngest, went to school, I'd go back to teaching. Before that happened, however, my daughter, who was 8 at the time, developed FSGS, a devastating kidney disease. Two years ago, I wrote a bit about it here: http://www.katherineazar.com/blog/2012/4/fsgs-through-her-lens. I wish I had better news to share since that post. But I don't. We just had our first meeting about potential transplantation last week. Gut wrenching stuff. A parent's worst nightmare. More on all of that at a later time.
When the extent of Peyton's illness was clear, it was equally clear that there was no way that I could go back to a full time job that required me to be on site for a set number of hours per day. Her health and related treatments required frequent absences from school, many doctors' visits, more hospitalizations than I'd like to remember, and lots of home-schooling/homebound instruction/cyber schooling - varying on the year. (The picture to the left is from one of many Kidney Walks we've done. Peyton has raised over $30,000 for the National Kidney Foundation.)
Right around that time, my son became involved in baseball. I took my D50 to every game and photographed not just him, but all of the kids in action as well as fun details of the game. I didn't know then that that is considered a photo-journalistic or documentary style of shooting, I just knew I wanted to tell the story of the game. I wanted people who saw the images to feel the game, to experience it through pictures. I'd then post the pictures on my MobileMe site and invite all of the parents to download whatever images they saw fit. I started to get a lot of positive feedback and have people say, "I really need to PAY you for these!" (Picture below is of Keagan high-fiving dad/coach after his first home run this summer.)
After moving from Pittsburgh back to the Philadelphia area, my hometown, I continued taking baseball pictures but also did a some freebies for friends who asked me to take their family photos. These folks, as well as my sister, who is my biggest cheerleader, kept pushing me to turn this hobby, this passion into a profession. "You should DO this," was the frequent call to action. So, finally, with much trepidation, I decided that I would DO this. But first, if I was going to charge people to take their photos, I wanted to learn how to do it right. I wanted to take my camera off of Auto. I signed up for classes through our community's continuing ed program and that's how I met Greg Cazillo. He taught the Digital SLR class that I took as well as an off-camera flash class. Shortly thereafter, I found out that one of Peyton's softball teammates' sisters was in college studying photography. I approached her and asked if I could pay her to sit with me once a week that summer and help me learn and grow. She did and I did! She also designed my logo. Additionally, I read and watched whatever I could get my hands on to learn more about photography, lighting, and editing. Oh, and I upgraded my camera to a D7000 and bought a 70-200 2.8 lens. (Since then, I've upgraded again!)
At the end of that summer, Renee, owner of Flowers and More, Inc, came to my house to do some landscaping work. She asked, "So what do you do?" I told her that I was in the process of starting a photography business. (Truth: I was dragging my feet because I was scared and was having a tough time deciding upon which web service to use, how to set things up, etc.) She invited me to LeTip, a business networking group, saying that their photographer had just left, but if I was interested, I should hurry because they'd already had one photographer visit the group who was thinking about joining. (It's a category exclusive group. If that other photog had joined, I could not.) That was a Thursday. By Tuesday's meeting, I had set up a website (through Zenfolio), designed business cards, and had them printed at my local Fed Ex Office store. Nothing like motivation! Joining LeTip was the best thing I did for my beginning business. Those folks referred clients, taught me about business, and cheered my successes. I am still a member and am now the Vice President.
And there you have it. That's the long version of how Katherine Azar Photography, LLC got its start in 2011. How did I grow my business? Well, that info. is here: http://www.katherineazar.com/blog/2014/5/marketing-your-photography-business-ways-to-start-the-conversation