Oh no. That did not just happen. I’m so embarrassed.
What originated as an attempt to help my fifth grade teacher, ended in embarrassment. A few days before, I had offered to videotape the school talent show on my family camcorder so that our class could watch it next period. As my energetic classmates eagerly awaited for the videos and academic-free class to start, I brought my camcorder to my teacher’s desk so that we could connect it from the computer to the projector. After everything was plugged in, my teacher watched my camera screen as I prepared to scroll through all the videos until I reached the first one. However, to my horror, the first thumbnails that popped up were far from the talent show videos, but low-quality, humiliating selfies. I was horrified. How could I have forgotten to delete them the night before? With my self-esteem already diminished, I scrolled further back assuming that there couldn’t be that many more. Contrary to my hopes, it was a good, long 15 seconds before the first talent show previews decided to reveal themselves.
My interest in photography began with that measly, pixelated camcorder. I was fascinated by how I had the power to capture anything I wanted. While the color rendition was horrible, the lens was unsharp, and the shutter lag lasted so long I often missed my targeted moment, that camcorder was my most prized possession.
After that year, I begged my parents to get me a higher quality camera. They held out for the first few months, but soon compromised to get a “family” point-and-shoot. Regardless of its designated name, I used that camera so much it basically became mine. From my neighbors point of view, it probably looked like I would sporadically lay face-down in my front yard, stand over pretty flowers for excessive amounts of time, or constantly bribe my pet bunny to hop towards me. But what they didn’t see was the little silver camera that accompanied me. I clearly remember bringing out a spray bottle and spritzing the plants, as well as setting 10 second self timers and jumping to the other side to take self portraits. I’m pretty sure I shot every square inch of my yard and house during this time.
Over those middle school years, my love for photography grew, and by seventh grade, I had saved up enough babysitting money along with some help from my parents to buy my first $700 DSLR camera – the Canon T3i. When I opened up this baby, I was in LOVE. It was a complete game changer. I addictively brought that thing EVERYWHERE. After rephotographing everything in my yard and house, I started reaching out to friends to go on photoshoots. After, I would post and tag the images on Facebook so that others could see, associate me as a photographer, and hopefully reach out for photos. I also made myself a Weebly blog, which was where I began posting these free shoots. After spending hours teaching myself on youtube and reading blog posts, I accumulated more knowledge, skills, equipment, and inspiration. The more I learned, the more my passion for this art form grew. All I wanted was to be able to create amazing, professional looking images like the photographers I was finding.
The idea of starting a business had been in my mind for quite some time, but I was too scared to put myself out there. What if I failed? What if no one asked me to take pictures of them? What if people made fun of me? How EMBARRASSING would that be? Who did I think I was? The fear of not being successful or others judging crippled me for a long time. Finally, at the end of my junior year in high school, I decided that the potential reward was a lot higher than the risk, and went for it. I posted on my Facebook and Instagram that I would start offering photo sessions for $50, and also made an official Angelika Johns Photography Facebook page. Guys, I was SO scared. Like I probably sat and stared at my computer for the rest of that night and the next day just watching to see if people positively interacted with my post. And they did! Slowly, but surely people started booking me, some people that I didn’t even KNOW. That’s not to say I was busy at every second, as I found my busy seasons came in phases. Sometimes I had too much to handle, and sometimes I would check my inbox day after day with no new inquiries. After a few sessions, I raised my prices, and then continued to book more sessions, and continued raising them again and again while demand grew. Then I started investing in workshops, education, and equipment. I put my ALL into this business, trying to make it and myself better.
I could not be more thankful that I made the jump and decided to go with that scary gut feeling. Since that decision, I have been happier than I ever was before. I constantly feel like I’m growing, learning, and making a difference in people’s lives. This business has come further than I EVER thought it would and has completely altered the direction of my life. It has made me discover so much more of who I am and what I want to spend the rest of my life doing. Even though it has been difficult to balance my business with school, the camera has taught me to see life through a new lens and pushed me to take risks and grow. I have not only strengthened my confidence, but have further developed my communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills too.
I wanted to blog a small piece of my journey to hopefully encourage others if they are in a similar place. Some people have emailed me saying “I wish my photography could be like yours one day” and that’s the craziest, most humbling thing to hear because the tables had always been turned the other way for me.
I UNDERSTAND how scary and hard it can be. No one I knew had started a business and plastered their name across the internet. I get how degrading it feels when you’re not booking enough, or anything at all! I’ve endured that discouraging place where I couldn’t get my photos to look the way I wanted when I was trying everything. I’ve had people tell me I couldn’t be successful at this and make fun of me to my face, criticize the fact that I was charging or what I posted, and laugh at my blog post blurbs or Instagram captions. “Ha, you seriously think I’m going to pay you for this?” to “Chances are you won’t make it.” Sometimes those people were the ones closest to me! I know how hurtful the smallest joke is when you’re already uneasy about sharing something or putting yourself out there. But I’ve learned not to care. You’re ALWAYS going to run into people like that, and they will never be worth the potential life and success you can build for yourself.
I also get how dang expensive a photography hobby or business can be too! Besides that first Canon T3i that my parents pitched in for, I bought EVERYTHING while being a full time student, pursuing the IB diploma, participating in Varsity sports, and working side jobs. Through so much time consuming hard work and sleepless nights, I saved enough to buy my two $2,500+ full frame cameras, 5+ lenses, Photoshop, Lightroom, website hosting and design, flashes, online and external storage space, camera bags, memory cards, several expensive workshops and mentoring sessions, among so much more software and equipment.
I encourage any creatives or photographers out there who might be letting fear hold them back to just DO it!! Just START the process. Once you get over the fear, you realize that you shouldn’t have waited so long. Before I put myself out there, I waited for others to come to ME. After I posted a new free shoot of a friend on my Facebook and didn’t get an influx of inquiries, I completely questioned my ability or chance to conquer my dream. How foolish that was! You’re going to get more people when THEY feel less at risk asking you, aka when you put yourself out there first. It might be slow at first, or slow then fast then slow again, but eventually you’ll get to a consistent place. I believe in you, and so do countless photographers out there who LIVE to help others in the industry, and who have personally helped me before too. As long as you are constantly growing, learning, and adapting you are heading in the right direction. If you have already started something up and demand isn’t as high as you want it, it’s OKAY. We’ve all been there before, and with small changes and more education, your business can grow in big ways. The industry is growing towards a “community over competition” mindset, so through perseverance and a little help, I know you can reach your goals too.
“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Nelson Mandela