“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton
I’m 48 years old and my mom still tells me that there is nothing that I can’t do. When I was a small child, I would take off big bites of life and do amazing and wonderful things – while being consistently encouraged instead of dismissed. I was raised to sparkle and shine. Then life happens and you find that not everyone is prepared for the best that you have to offer. Others may be challenged because that might mean that they need to be more than what they believe they are. So I learned to dial back to fit in.
The ride of a lifetime
When I decided to follow my dream to become a photographer I knew that there was a lot of education available that I wanted to learn. Little did I know the best tool I have is that little girl that still lives within me that knows to listen to people, to see them and hear the story they want to tell. I encourage every person on the other side of my lens to be all they can be.
I had the opportunity last week to attend a conference in Phoenix, AZ being mentored by the titans in the industry that I’ve chosen to learn from. Just like Gordon Ramsay is a celebrity chef, these are celebrity photographers. The leaders in my industry were now both over my shoulder, and in front of my lens. Imagine if you were a singer, and you do karaoke and are pretty good, but now are singing a duet with Adele… that was my week.
My dream was accessible to me and I shed the fear of doubt and imposter syndrome and decided to go outside of my comfort zone. While this was happening, I felt that spark re-ignite. I’ve attended the Portrait Masters Conference before. I loved every moment of my previous experience, but I remember coming home wishing I had “asked the questions”, “introduced myself” and “made more connections”. My last time (in 2019) I was worried I would bother the mentors, I didn’t want to seem incompetent among my peers. So I dialed myself back. This time was different. Different because I made a conscious choice. A choice that made me uncomfortable – but I knew that uncomfortability is where we grow. This time I introduced myself to the people I had admired from my Instagram feed. The instructors I have learned from for the last seven years. Photographers who are world renowned and have work that literally takes my breath away. This time, I broke free and was just me. I made the choice to choose being grateful instead of starstruck.
For the first time as an adult, I had the confidence to not worry that people thought that I was being an “ass-kisser”. This is something that has been a hold back for me for my whole life. It’s caused my life to detour in the fear of my intentions being misunderstood. Countless times throughout my life, people have labeled me a “brown-noser” – thinking that the reason I was pouring into someone, or something was for personal gain and not what it authentically is. The reality is that I don’t have an endgame, I’m just grateful and I wake up each morning and unzip my heart – ready for anything that may enter. I chose to be vulnerable and available to all this gathering had to offer. And I am so freaking proud of myself for it.
Here are some things I learned in Phoenix last week:
1. I am a connector and networking is my superpower
My biggest goal last week was to meet and include everyone that was there. The Portrait Masters has a wonderful program called the “red ribbon”- if someone has a red ribbon on their name badge it means that it is either their first time there, or they were traveling alone. My main goal every single day was to find those red ribbon people and make sure they knew that they had at least one friend. If they voiced fear of approaching one of the instructors, I walked them over and introduced them. No one was left out. I genuinely love people and connecting them with each other, and adding them to the flock. That makes me happier than just about anything. My mom calls me Little Bo Peep lol
2. All of the attendees are dealing with fear of the unknown
Before it started – in the event’s private Facebook group I noticed many people saying they were nervous about it. I got that – in my core, I got it. There is a real concern that people won’t get you, or won’t think you’re good enough, or won’t want to hang out with you. We all feel that on some level. Once I realized we all felt this way, I shared that I promise no one is worrying about what you’re doing, because they are planning what they are going to do. When you’re in line to photograph a model at a photography shooting bay, no one is being critical of the pose, or the coaching, or the photo you took. They are mapping their own plan so just let it go!
3. I authentically care for people in front of my camera
I found myself having incredible gratitude for the models and mentors that didn’t dip their energy, expression or approachability EVER. This can be a tiring job, and sometimes, because we only have 3 minutes with a model, some of them weren’t even getting an introduction to who was taking their picture. I made 100% sure that every model I walked up to knew that I was grateful and honored to have them in front of my camera, and that I cared that they were a human being. I offered to bring water, asked where they grew up, asked how long they’d been modeling. I gave non-physical compliments. I have a feeling that a lot of these models hear pretty often how gorgeous they are – so I switched to “You have a 1000 watt smile!” or “I love how graceful you are” or “you’re so engaging” – this seemed to do wonders! I found myself creating friendships with them too!
4. When I create a connection, the photos show it
When the magic listed above happens, the photos show it. When you genuinely care about the subject, they feel it! They fall into the camera a little more, they look forward to having you be at the front of your line, they know they can talk to you about how their day is going, they want to do a selfie with you! That little tick in caring matters. Fall in love with the people you photograph.
5. Everyone is approachable
Now when I talk about the celebrity photographers – there are stars in the sky with a rainbow of personalities and gifts to offer the industry. Among the stars there are some that no matter what can seem just out of reach. During this time I learned that their hearts are as open to us as ours are to them. They are willing to share all of the steps in their path to success so that we can follow. They hold nothing secret.
At the tippy top of my perceived ladder at this event was the beautiful soul that is Sue Bryce. She is willing to share her vast talent and imagination, she guides us in our everyday journey to become a successful photographer. I realized that some rungs in the ladder are so steep that I have to stop thinking with my head and lead with my heart. As much energy as I had put into not being “starstruck” I found myself terrified to approach Sue. Not because of who she is, or how she behaves, but because I didn’t want to sound canned and trite in the “I’m so grateful for you” that I”m sure she hears often. I wanted to respect her private space, but wanted to convey to her what she had taught me and how I’ve grown because of her teachings.
Staying true to my “all-in” attitude, on day three I annihilated my comfort zone and just told her from my heart how I felt. And being who she is, she received it with grace, beauty and a little bit of wisdom. She told me not to apologize for taking so long to listen to her teachings, but to honor that journey. It was all I had in me to keep my mouth shut and not cry as she was speaking. That moment right there knocked down my final wall of fear and I just got to revel in the moment. For that I will be forever grateful.
I have been changed for good
So to Sue, George, mentors, attendees, crew, models, hair and makeup artists, vendors, and all of the Portrait Master team, you leave a daily impact on me that makes me a better human. You create an environment of safety, of creativity and of growth. I am a better person for having met you all.
Ready to take the leap?
What better time than on the heels of this experience to book a consultation! I am ready to honor you in front of my lens.
This post is so beautiful and heartfelt. I’m inspired by your vulnerability and want to be on the other side of your camera 🙂
Thank you so much – I truly appreciate it!
I love how beautifully you put your experience into words! You honestly brought so much joy to everyone around you at that event!! You are awesome!! Keep it up.