I am writing this from 10 years in your future.
You’ve just bought your first ever proper camera, after spending some time travelling around South-East Asia last year. You really enjoyed taking pictures on your point and shoot camera and so you decided that you might quite like to learn about photography. As you take your first tentative steps on this journey, it’s amazing to think that you have no idea where your new hobby will take you.
In the coming days, weeks and months you’ll take your new camera with you everywhere you go. You’ll walk for miles along rivers and through urban landscapes, taking pictures of things you see along the way. You’ll slowly start to master your camera’s settings and you’ll begin to establish a photography practice that largely focusses on abstraction, architecture and street scenes.
In around six months time you’ll take a picture while walking the streets of Camden, which will end up in an exhibition by Londonist. You’ll be pretty flippin’ excited about that and it will further ignite your passion for photography.
You’ll start a fine-art photography a-level in the evenings, to learn more about the medium. You’ll enjoy it but it will co-inside with a period of poor mental health that makes you doubt your ability and suitability to follow this path further. You keep going anyway and after about a year of you taking pictures of everything and anything, a friend will ask you to photograph their wedding.
You’ll be hesitant but when they insist they won’t be having a photographer otherwise, you decide to use it as an opportunity to grow and you’ll buy every single book about wedding photography you can get your hands-on, so you can do the best job possible. You’ll hire equipment and back up equipment too, as you appreciate the absolute importance of having the right tools for the job.
After your first wedding you’ll be hooked and you’ll want to find a way to do more of this, for more lovely couples. You set up a very basic website and advertise your services on gumtree, shooting weddings for couples on a budget to gain experience. Your fourth wedding will also be for a friend and it’ll be pretty quirky, taking place in a pub. A blog called Rock My Wedding will feature it and you get a whole load more amazing bookings as a result.
You keep working and shooting and marketing and building your business and, eventually, in 2012 you’ll quit your day job to pursue photography full time. It won’t all be plain sailing and you’ll need to get a temp job over the winter that year, to help make ends meet, but you’re happy and excited about what the future has in store.
In 2013 you’ll go over to the US to attend an anti-conference and it will inspire you to start your own festival for photographers in the UK. It will be one of the most rewarding and also infuriating things you’ll ever do and the constant stress of ticket sales and the practical side of running a big event will frustrate the hell out of you. On the flip-side the community that comes together as a result and the way they support each other will be one of your proudest achievements.
You’ll learn some really hard lessons, including how closely your work is tied to your self-esteem and how much you use it as a means of avoiding feelings you don’t want to address. These lessons will take time to process and will leave you feeling raw, confused and demotivated at times but you always come back to your love of making pictures and creating a visual legacy for the couples who choose to work with you.
There will be crushing lows. Your mental health will be delicate at times and you’ll have some periods of depression and anxiety that knock you for six. Luckily these almost always happen in the winter, when you have a break from shooting and can focus on looking after yourself.
If I could tell you to change one single thing about your journey I would tell you to listen to your intuition about what you need to do to keep yourself on an equilibrium. In hindsight, I can tell you that, like many people, you know what you need to do to take care of your physical and mental health. Listen to yourself!
There will be amazing highs, like being named one of Rangefinder Magazine’s 30 Rising Stars or speaking in front of 150 people on stage at The Photography Show and events everywhere from the US to Ireland. You’ll enjoy speaking and teaching because it’ll mean you get to meet some amazing people, but you’ll never stop feeling so nervous that you might vomit at any moment!
You will feel enriched by every SNAP and the connections you make with people as a result of the SNAP community. There will be wonderful new friendships, trips overseas, parties, retreats and the chance to be surrounded by a whole load of people whose energy and passion continually inspires you. The SNAP community will be a huge support to you and you’ll be endlessly grateful to them.
You will also be endlessly grateful to and in awe of your couples. There will be couples whose stories move you to tears because of the hurdles they have had to overcome. There will be weddings that also celebrate lives that ended too soon or lives that carried on in spite of all the odds. You will be there when same-sex marriage is legalised and you’ll be so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of celebrations with your LGBTQI+ couples. You will hear speeches that tell stories of love, loss, heartbreak and illness but there’ll also be so much joy.
You will start every wedding season feeling invigorated and excited about what’s to come and you’ll finish each wedding season feeling exhausted because of how much of yourself, your heart and your soul you poured into your photography, your business and documenting such a historical day in your couple’s lives.
You’ll feel fatigued because of tax returns and marketing and blogging and SEO and all of the things it takes to run a successful business. You’ll feel joy each time you create an image or a set of images you’re particularly proud of. You’ll agonise over editing style and developing the way you shoot and investing in your creativity, skill and equipment.
You’ll feel bereft when you have to say goodbye to many of your couples, knowing that you were a part of one of their most special days but that your relationship with them, for the most part, won’t last beyond delivery of their final gallery of images.
You’ll feel sad about missing so many weekends with friends and family, summer BBQs and parties because you’re almost always working. You’ll lament that you love your job but it does involve sacrificing bits of your own life.
You’ll start off feeling hungry and driven to grow your business and be the best you can be. That fire will dull to embers and your driving force will become being the best photographer you can be for your couples, while prioritising your own health and self-care above everything else in your life. You will absolutely be at peace with that position.
You’ll start your journey feeling sick with nerves at every wedding. 250 weddings later that fear will be replaced with excitement as you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you know exactly what you’re doing.
All in all, it will be quite a journey and you’ll learn a lot about yourself along the way. You will often reflect on how amazing it is that a simple act, like the purchase of a camera, can change your life entirely. Keep shooting and keep shooting and keep shooting and enjoy the next ten years.