I Had NO CLUE I Would Become a Photographer!

February 1, 2021

No CLUE! None. No idea I would become a photographer, at least not professionally.

            I remember being in high school, not at all sure what I wanted to do with my life. I went to Iowa State University because I’d won scholarships through Future Farmers of America that required me to study agriculture. I finally settled on Agriculture Education because it would give me a broad set of skills, I could use however I wanted to. (Off topic: Anyone remember learning LOTUS 123?)

            During my Junior year, I met the coolest young woman, who went by her last name, carried a GIANT fish purse and was my birthday buddy (ok, 1 day off, but close). AND she was the photo editor at the Iowa State Daily student newspaper! We got to talking and I said that I’d taken a couple fun photography courses in high school. Guess what? I got my first paying gig as a photographer. The Daily would PAY me $10 whole dollars if they used one of my photos and $12 if I made the front page! That was a TON of MULAH to a college student back in the early ‘90’s! LOL! I later became the assistant photo editor and quit my serving job.

            I was hooked. After graduation I decided not to get my teaching certificate. To my surprise I managed to land an internship at the Mason City Globe Gazette in Mason City, Iowa. My first assignment was a basketball game, and I didn’t get one single photo in focus. DOH! (No autofocus back then. It used to be easy to tell the difference between a pro and an amateur just because a pro’s images were tack SHARP!) I thought my career was over, but it wasn’t. I got great encouragement and pointers for improving!

            That led me to my new position at the Ames Daily Tribune. I was THRILLED as there had been a long history of excellent photographers. I arrived for my first day and the gentleman who hired me had quit the week before. The other photographer on staff quit a week after I left. The editor called me into his office and offered me the Chief Photographer position. SHOCKER. I spent the next two years learning a LOT the HARD way! LOL.

            Next stop was a staff photographer position at the Amarillo Globe News in Texas. I moved myself down there with no family or friends, ready to take the world by storm. Here’s where I learned that adulting was going to be hard. Long story short. It was a fantastic experience and I met MANY amazing people. I LOVED photographing all the feature stories and “fluff.” I did not like hard news. I did not like photographing people on the worst day of their life. Sometimes it was the last day of their life. This was not exciting to me. It eventually wore me thin and I decided to hang up my press credentials. I knew I would miss the ladies’ teas, food page, business features, fashion section and generally getting to meet all sorts of people, though.

            Now what? I decided to head off to the Art Institute of Colorado to formally study photography and finally learn how to light and pose. We learned how to do everything, including how to use Photoshop! I got introduced to digital photography there, too (those pro cameras had much lower resolution than our cell phones do today). I started waiting tables again at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in downtown Denver. It was two amazing years of slinging beer and school!

            After graduating art school, I moved back home to Iowa, transferred to the Des Moines Rock Bottom and started freelancing for local magazine companies. I was having a lot of fun, but by now I was 30ish and tired of being poor all the time. I learned first-hand that I would need to upgrade all my cameras to digital and invest in proper computer and lighting equipment. I didn’t know how I was going to pay rent, much less start a business. I met my husband around this time and when I got offered a management position with Rock Bottom, I took it. I’d always thought it would be fun to start a restaurant, too, so this seemed a great opportunity to get paid to learn how to run a business.

            My intention was to manage for 5 years, have 2-4 babies and start my own business. Well life did not go that way. YEARS of fertility treatments, heart ache over the loss of our son, Henry (lived 11 hours) and all the problems that come with all that. Suddenly 14 years went by and I’d barely picked up my camera. I’d forgotten all about my dream of owning my own business.

            One night in early 2016, I was suffering from the long shift I had worked and wondered out loud to Craig, “I don’t think I can keep up with this new restaurant I am working at.”

            Craig replied, “You know, I thought I married a photographer. Why don’t you shoot anymore?”   

            I’m not really sure if I even answered him before I went down to the basement to dig out my camera. I spent that winter practicing reaching out to old photojournalism contacts and sketching up my plan. I went to a couple conventions and was hit with the realization that THINGS HAD CHANGED over the last 14 years! It took me over two years to get caught up and prepare for this new adventure. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. What a blast!

I Had NO CLUE I Would Become a Photographer!

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