A Humble Beginning: How I Got My Start
It was a simple snapshot of a bright yellow flower.
That was it. I hadn’t lingered over the flower for hours waiting for the perfect shot, I hadn’t stressed over achieving good lighting, or worried about composition. I had simply picked up my little red camera, aimed it at what I thought was a pretty object and pressed down on my shutter button. I was excited that I had taken my first photo on my first digital camera, but beyond that, I didn’t think too much about what I had just done.
Such a simple action.
How could I know that with the click of a button the course of my future would be changed forever?
If you haven’t already guessed it, the photo mentioned (and pictured) above, was what gave me my start into the wonderful world of photography. Sure I had taken pictures before (using a 1/10 camera), but this time was different.
After taking dozens of pictures of the same flower bouquet, I took my SD card to Walmart and inserted it into a Fuji kiosk machine. I typed in the required information, selected my images, and stood around waiting for them to print. When it came time to pick up my photos, I approached the older gentleman behind the counter.
His face was serious. He looked down at me (I was only eleven or twelve at the time). I gave him my name and asked him for my prints. I wasn’t prepared for his reply. He told me that he was sorry but that he couldn’t give me my photos. He explained that he wasn’t legally permitted to allow customers to make copies of professional images without a consent form signed by the photographer or the business manager at the company from which the prints belonged.
I was confused. I had heard about companies like Olan Mills giving their customers release forms, but me? I needed one? I tried to explain to him that I was the photographer behind the photos. His face revealed his doubt. Handing him my SD card, I watched as he inserted it into the kiosk machine. With a few taps of his finger, he brought up a selection of floral prints mingled with a few casual family snapshots. All of which, I had taken. He looked from the images to me and from me to my Mom. He showed her the photos. Having seen me take them, she confirmed that I was responsible. After a few minutes of discussion, the man was finally convinced that I was in fact the photographer behind the lens.
He handed me my prints and said the words that would alter my future: “Ashley, you have an eye for photography. That’s not something that can be learned.”
His words were simple. His words were kind. Their significants didn’t register in my mind until after he told me that he himself was a professional photographer- a man who had taken hundreds of photos, and should therefore know what he was talking about. He went on to inform me that he felt I had potential as a photographer, that I had talent, and that my “eye” (as he put it), was a gift. He even told my Mom she should enroll me in photography classes.
His words impacted my life.
I was stunned by the fact that this professional was viewing my photos as something of worth- even to the extent of mistaking them for “pro shots”.
What that man couldn’t have known was the feelings that had lain within me for so long. Being the youngest of three girls, I felt the pressure of comparison. It was hard to measure up to sisters who were smart, sweet, and capable. As much as I loved my older siblings, I felt far beneath them. I wanted to be good at something, but didn’t think I ever would be. I liked taking photos, but the thought of people one day paying me for my prints had, at that point, never crossed my mind. It was no secret that I struggled academically. I didn’t assume I would ever become a scholar, so, instead, I prayed that God would give me a talent. Something that I could be good at. Something that I could use for Him.
As the man spoke to me, something stirred within my heart. This stranger had offered me the answer to my prayer: I could be a photographer.
I remember wanting to hug this dear man (dressed in Walmart blue), but instead, offered him a smile and a polite, “thank you”.
He was one of the first people in my life to tell me I was good at something. He saw me as set apart from my siblings-for he had yet to meet them. He saw potential. And he assured me he was qualified to know.
Over the next few years, I would speak to this man regularly. He would critique my photos, recommend equipment to me, and sometimes he would show me photos that he had taken. When he stopped working at that particular location, I missed him. But, I am thankful that God placed him in my life to offer me a bit of hope and a boost of confidence.
Although I am still far from the professional photographer that he hoped I would one day become, I have experienced many joys while staring through the lens of my camera. Joys that I may never have known had this dear man not told a young girl that she was good at something.
I have been taking photos for several years now. I love experimenting with new things, but botanical photography has remained my favorite genre. I have also had the privilege of conducting two wedding photoshoots, an engagement and graduation session, and several baby photo sessions. I’ve tried my hand at still life photography, pet, holiday, memorial, landscape, school, and portrait photos as well.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that a simple yellow flower held within its beauty a special opportunity.
Besides my “Walmart Friend”, I also have many others to thank:
My Granddaddy: for passing on his talent and love for photography.
My parents: for buying me my first two cameras, for supplying interesting subjects for me to photograph, for driving me to various locations (so I could take pictures), for driving me to Walmart (frequently)-to get prints made, and for financing my hobby for many years.
My siblings: for encouraging me in my new found interest. For posing for me. And for not getting too embarrassed as their little sister photographed everything in sight- from all different positions (including lying down in the middle of the street while wearing a dress).
My clients and friends: who encouraged me along the way by buying my photos, by sharing my prints on social media, and by offering me kind words of praise.
But, most of all, I have my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ to thank. He not only created me (and everything I photograph), He blessed me with a very special gift: eyes. Eyes that can view the beauty in the world for which He created. He gave me the ability to take “good photos”, and He placed within me a love for His creations.
God didn’t just do that for me. He’s done the same for many of you.
If you are a professional photographer reading this blog: encourage those around you to take up their cameras and test their skills. You know the potential and joys that lie behind a camera lens. Not everyone you speak to will go on to sell photos worth thousands of dollars, but some will. Others, will be motivated to preserve the memories of their youth or their children’s lives. Some will capture the era in which we live- simple photos that might one day make their way into a history textbook or at least be seen by a future generation.
If you are an amateur photographer, just starting out: You’ve taken your first step, now keep walking. There are many genres to explore and many adventures that await.
If you have never taken a photo: Start. Pick up a camera, aim it at something that “catches your eye”, and snap the shot. Once you start, you won’t want to stop. The more you practice, the better you will become.
It is my belief that no two photographers are alike. We each have a different “eye”. We each perceive the world around us in a slightly different way. Don’t be afraid to capture the world “your way”.
Photography is an art, just like painting and drawing. And like other artists, you must discover your own style.
Let’s fill the world with beautiful images. Images that will be passed down to future generations- as were the photos given to us by our great grandparents.
Be adventurous, bold, and daring. Be creative, unique, and artistic. Be a photographer!