I recently received an e-mail from a fan asking me how I got my business going. It made me start thinking that it might be helpful for others for me to talk a little bit about my journey … and yes, it has been a journey rather than a clear cut path! I can remember always loving photography, but things really got going when my grandmother bought me my first Minolta SLR when I was in high school. I will never forget the wonderful exhilaration I felt when I would arrive at the photo counter at the local drugstore to pick up my photos. I couldn’t wait to see those images and would tear open the envelope right there before I left the store! Through the years I used that Minolta to document anything and everything, and especially the antics of my own two children.
But when I found myself raising the boys as a single mom somewhere around the mid 90’s, photography had to take a back seat. Let’s face it … photography is expensive, and I remember that I survived those years saying “if we can’t eat it, we don’t buy it”! Moms know that you just do what you have to do to get your kids raised. So there sat all this passion on the back-burner … but the flame was always alive inside of me!
Right around the time my oldest son was ready to graduate high school I started researching financial aid options for getting him into college. Once I figured out how to get financial aid for him, I decided that I would also apply for myself! So when my son went off to Georgia Tech for his undergraduate degree, I enrolled in graduate school at the University of New Orleans. In 2003 I emerged with an MBA in marketing and a career change was possible. That degree began opening doors for me. I began working as a tourism research analyst, which was not only interesting, but the cash flow boost it provided enabled me to start shooting again! I purchased another camera, a Canon EOS Rebel Ti 35mm (film), and took advantage of the trips I had to make for work to find interesting subject matter.
The more I shot, and the more I read and learned I became anxious to join the digital movement (however, this film capture of the gargoyles over Notre Dame still remains one of my all time favorites!) On the eve of a trip to Italy, I decided to take the digital leap and purchased a Nikon D40 X. And off I went, armed with my new camera and not a clue as how to use it. It was there that I shot some of the best “happy accidents” of my life!
My soul was singing again as I began producing very pleasing images, some of the time, and quickly became frustrated when I had no earthly idea what was going wrong the rest of the time. Nonetheless, I was so pleased with the good results and people’s positive response, that I opened my first business, Shutterbug Diva, LLC, which sold custom photo greeting cards in an online storefront. While a lot of fun, it quickly became apparent to me that it is very difficult to find a target market for greeting cards. In this age of online and digital everything, the handwritten note is a dying art form. I became acutely aware that if I was ever going to go anywhere in my photography career, it was not going to be as a greeting card photographer and that I needed to step up my game. I also knew that that would never happen as long as what I was producing was the result of “happy accidents” and, alas, it was time to become as much a student of photography as I had with every other academic endeavor. And so this is where the story really begins.
In the spring of 2010, I enrolled in the Basic Photography course offered by the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. I spent a week in the Texas Hill Country relearning all the basics of photography, from aperture to shutter speed, the ins, outs, how and why and the results were nothing short of amazing. I learned about using Lightroom for post processing and on day 2 I did the scariest and most life-changing thing ever … I moved my camera dials to Manual and RAW! That felt much like jumping right off of a cliff into a thrashing ocean below, but I somehow managed to swim back up to the surface, and have never regretted that leap. Just that basic knowledge of being able to shoot manual, and of knowing how to set up a shot rather than relying on the camera for what it “thinks” the outcome should be is unbelievably liberating. I had begun to take control of my images and had a grasp on the foundation for taking control of my career, as well. I clearly remember that when that week was over and I had to come home, I cried on the plane all the way home. The flight attendants probably thought that someone important in my life had just died, and that was exactly how I felt. I knew that I had found what I was meant to do, and the thought of coming back to my “9 to 5” was killing my creative soul.
With the camera basics now in my bag of tricks, I next put learning the foundations of photography on my agenda. I managed to get myself enrolled in a documentary photography course at Loyola New Orleans and studied the foundations of documentary photography with Dr. Leslie Parr. I say “managed to get myself enrolled” because Dr. Parr was quite hesitant to let me into the class at first. She found it hard to believe that I would want to spend so much time on the basics, sitting amongst undergraduates, and she thought I had misunderstood the content of her class. She cautioned that her class was not about learning to use a camera … but she couldn’t deter me. Nope, I knew darn well that there were people out there, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange and W. Eugene Smith, and I wanted to find out what they did, why they did it and hopefully how … and I wanted to channel their collective knowledge into my own shooting style. It was a great semester during which I completed a documentary on the St. Joseph Rebuild Center, a shelter that assists the homeless in the New Orleans area. I learned about documentary photography, and so.much.more! I reserve those lessons for another post, but suffice it to say that you can’t spend ten weeks with the homeless population and not come out unchanged!
During that same semester, I also took a workshop on working with non-profits through Momenta Workshops, which further reinforced my love for documentary work. It is thanks to the amazing instruction of photographers Jamie Rose and Chris Usher, that the phrase “moments, moments, moments” forever resonates in my head and always leads my eye, no matter what kind of shoot I am on. People often describe my work as capturing “emotion” or peoples’ “personality” … I like to believe that what you’re seeing are captured “moments” – beautiful, precious little moments that speak huge volumes.
They say that if you shoot a little bit of everything, your genre will eventually emerge. I’m not really sure who “they” are, but I decided to take their advice and try my hand at portrait photography. Photographing people had always appealed to me, but I found it extremely intimidating. The documentary work was helping me to break away from those fears, so I was up for the challenge. Right about this time, which would have been late summer of 2011, just about one year ago, I also discovered WPPIU, (Wedding and Portrait Photographer International University) a 2-day workshop and much smaller version of the WPPI Tradeshow and Convention that takes place every year in Vegas. WPPIU focuses on best practices for emerging photographers and touches on everything you need to know about running a successful portrait photography business, from shooting to sales, and everything in between, including posing, pricing, marketing, post-processing, legalities, you name it! It was here that I met some of my best photography networking friends and my favorite celebrity crushes (yes, that would be you Sal Cincotta, Sue Bryce, and Jasmine Star … to name just a few). It was also here that I was introduced to Clickin’ Moms, an online community of photographers from across the globe that provide support and any kind of educational resource one can need or imagine. These were the two key resources that served as the primary launch point for everything I would ever need to begin growing my current portrait photography business. On December 1, 2011, I walked away from my “9 to 5” and photography by Marianne Hawkins Sabrier was officially born! Some of my first official shoots still remain some of my favorites, but what I see, and what others have started noticing is that my style is emerging and my work continues to improve every day.
The fact that my work does continue to change and improve is by no means a “happy accident”. It is a conscious commitment to myself and my business that keeps me constantly growing and improving. I take every opportunity I can find to learn and improve, including workshops on business and technique, the most helpful by far being a business mentorship with Amii Wroblewski (via Clickin Moms) and the Kitchen Sink Workshop with Amanda Holloway. I have also spent the last year assisting wedding photographer, Collin Richie, who just so happens to have photographed my wedding. Yes, I am that committed that I have spent the last year carrying bags and setting up lights for someone half my age, in order to have the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the business from someone whose work I admire so much I trusted him with one of the most important days of my life! And I get to shoot a bit, as well!
As I look back over my photographic journey, my mind is sufficiently blown as I realize that although the journey began long ago, the bulk of it has happened within the last year. My style and ability have grown by leaps and bounds in the last year and I am dying with anticipation to see where I’ll be even a year from now! There is a common thread that runs through every single aspect of this journey, that being education. It is my firm belief that no matter what you are trying to do in life, educate, educate, educate yourself, then make a plan and follow it. Not having the money for education is no excuse … read that again … NO EXCUSE! The advent of the Internet has put free educational resources literally at the fingertips of anyone and everyone. In terms of photography, CreativeLive is an absolutely free resource that is there for the watching. All it takes is a desire to learn and a commitment to follow through. I have spent the last year inhaling the mass quantities of information that are available online, networking and practicing. I woke up the other morning and realized I was dreaming that I was shooting a beautiful young girl in a meadow at the “golden hour.” I may have taken that day off, concluding that perhaps I was working a little too hard!
Nonetheless, I will conclude by saying that on the flip-side, the abundance of Internet resources available can also make it easy for someone just starting out to get discouraged when comparing themselves to others. It is easy to fall into the trap of never thinking that you are as good as others, and its easy to get frozen in that place of uncertainty. Just as important as making a plan and following through with it, is to remember to be happy with where you are now. I have heard it said that the only photographer you should compete with is the one that you were yesterday. (I’m going to attribute that to “They”) I have finally begun to accept and understand that there is always going to be someone better than me, and someone else will always have better equipment than mine. As long as I continue to make the journey the goal, meaning that if I can commit to continually moving forward and striving to get better, I will continue to have fun along this amazing journey AND end up with one amazing portfolio!