The answer is simple. I needed money.
But my story is long. Stick with me.
I have always loved photography and loved seeing beautiful photos. It wasn't until my second daughter was born that I purchased my first D-SLR camera. I bought it because I was spending so much money going to photography studios to have my kids' photos done that I figured I might as well save a few bucks and have fun doing it myself.
I taught myself how to use the camera and played around with Photoshop. I participated in a ton of Flickr groups (a photography social media website) and that really helped me to learn my camera settings. I eventually took a few courses at the local community college to gain more experience as well. I posted my fun photos on Flickr and on my personal Facebook page and my family and friends were loving them!
During this time, I went through a divorce. It was really hard going down to just one income. I am a teacher full time and my teaching salary was not enough to support me and my two daughters. I was making $35,000 with 8 years of teaching experience here in Arizona, but I couldn't even afford to go to the grocery store and buy anything except the bare essentials. I was going to Goodwill for sweatshirts for my kids and asking my ex-husband to buy them shoes because I didn't have an extra dollar laying around. I knew I had to get another job, but I didn't know what I could do that would bring in enough money, yet also have a flexible schedule so I could work when my kids were at their dad's house.
It started with a mutual friend...an attorney who needed a headshot for his website and business cards. I had no idea what to charge, but I was so excited! I wanted to do a great job for him!
From there I had lots of friends ask me to take their family photos for Christmas cards, maternity photos, or senior pictures. My business had slowly began!
I maybe had one or two jobs each month, but every little bit helped! I started my website here www.chrystyclarksonphotography.com and started my Facebook photography page www.facebook.com/chrystyclarksonphotography. Friends of friends began contacting me for photos. I had never taken a business course, but luckily I am very organized and detail driven. I set up spreadsheets for my client information, made template emails, set up billing accounts and a business bank account, got business cards made, and stayed on top of everything. I started my business all by myself without any help and it was slowly growing and bringing in additional income.
My big break came when Living Social (similar to Groupon) contacted me about running a photography ad with them in September of 2012. I immediately said yes because it seemed like a great idea to get a few more clients in the door. The coupon would be for a $39 photo session for one hour that included a free 11x14 print. I would keep $19 of that $39 and then Living Social kept the rest. I was not expecting the hundreds of inquiries I would receive because of that ad! I had a ton of people purchase the coupon and start contacting me immediately to set up their photo session. It was so exciting! I went from 1 or 2 photo sessions a month, to 5 or 6 a week! It was amazing!
Looking back, I am thankful for Living Social because it really boosted my business. However, it was for very little money. To receive less than $20 to drive sometimes an hour to meet a client, spend an hour shooting them, then driving back home, spending 2-3 hours editing the session, spending 1-2 hours uploading images, blogging, adding some to Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest, emailing clients, and paying for the 11x14 print myself and then also paying to mail the print to the client's home was definitely not worth $19. But I wouldn't have expanded my client base so quickly without it, so I am forever thankful for the opportunity!
With my check from Living Social, I remember the first present I bought myself was a Keurig coffee machine! God knows I needed that extra caffeine for what was coming....
Those months following were the busiest of my life. Besides working full time as a 7th grade math teacher and being a mom, I was also tutoring multiple times a week before and after school, driving my kids to various sports and activities after school, in charge of putting together my school yearbook, and also coaching the girls basketball team at my school. I was working my butt off to make sure my bills were paid and I was able to finally purchase things for my daughters.
This busy lifestyle has continued since then. As I have continued to grow and gotten more training, I have been able to raise my prices and thus take on fewer clients. I have gotten a little bit of free time back, but not much. I was able to stop coaching and working on yearbook. I finally cut back and stopped tutoring this past year as well. I have been able to not only start saving money, but also have hired a financial adviser who has set up additional retirement resources for me. I have been able to afford to take my daughters on vacations and trips and make lots of memories with them!
Photography takes a lot of work. People sometimes think it's just fun and you go out and take some photos of people and it's easy. I'm not going to lie. It IS fun! And when it's fun, it does come easily! However, it takes a lot of time. Between teaching full time, doing photography at what could be full time, and also being a mom, I am getting burned out. I spend all my free time in front of a computer editing, responding to emails, or out doing photo shoots. During the busy part of the year, October-December, I have ZERO time to spend with my own family. This last October I didn't even have a free weekend to take my daughters to a pumpkin patch or do those fun Halloween-type activities (and Halloween is my FAVORITE holiday!) I had little time to decorate for any of the holidays. Even by Christmas, I didn't have time to do my Christmas shopping until just days before Christmas. I have missed my oldest daughter's soccer games on numerous occasions because I am at a photo shoot. I don't have time to read to my youngest because "Mommy needs to get back downstairs so I can get some more editing done before I go to bed." My daughters are 8 and 10 years old and I can't afford to miss these special years in their lives!
And my body aches! Carrying my camera equipment on photo shoots and standing and bending constantly with little ones, and chasing them around during a shoot, makes my back hurt. After a newborn shoot my body is so sore for a day or two from being constantly scrunched over the little one and keeping them safe.
My family and I have decided that photography needs to take a backseat for awhile. Maybe forever. I want to spend time focusing on my main objective, which is my family. I want to spend October driving up north and going on a hay ride at a pumpkin patch or going hiking in Sedona while the leaves are changing colors. I want to spend November planning Thanksgiving and just enjoying the cooler weather here in Phoenix. And I can't wait to spend December making cookies with my family, decorating the house, and getting into the holiday spirit!
I am so incredibly thankful that God blessed me with this photography career. I am thankful for every single one of my clients, especially those who have come to me year after year. I have loved getting to know each of you and seeing your children grow up over the years! Photography not only helped my family financially, but it also helped me personally. I have always been a very introverted person with severe social anxiety. I hated meeting new people and I always felt like I had nothing to say in conversations. Photography pushed me to break out of that shell. If I wanted to be a successful photographer, I was going to have to be friendly with strangers and make small talk and do those types of things that had scared me before. I'm happy to say that now I can strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone and I don't worry about it! Small talk doesn't bother me because I love talking with clients! I feel like I have made so many new friends over the years!
Thank you for your continued support!
Lots of love,