I originally wrote the following post for Arianna’s Random Thoughts blog in March of 2012. I decided to repost it here, years later since it’s been kind of cool to reflect on things again. Also, I wanted to add some additional lessons here that I’ve learned in the past couple years :).
My name is Kelsey Goodwin, and I am a people photographer. Arianna has asked me to share my story, because when you pursue any passion, its path is sure to be discouraging at times. I’m going to reflect on those times, the “lightbulb moments” I’ve gained as a businesswoman and how the support of those around me has always shone brighter than any setback.
When I was 16, my mom bought me a photo shoot with a local photographer. I had always been very interested in photography, I took photos obsessively and had many scrapbooks and journals. During the photoshoot, I asked the photographer about his equipment and history, so he offered me an after school assisting position. His name was Eric Simard and he was the first photographer to profoundly impact my career.
Working with him for a couple years, I learned photoshop retouching, color profiles and shooting portraits. I remember thinking “I could really do this forever”. I still went to university after high school, I was doubtful that I could make a career with photography and I wanted to have a back up plan. I ended up spending more time shooting for the student newspaper than working on my actual homework and I soon became aware that the university setting didn’t speak to me as any direction for my future happiness.
So, I made a pros and cons list. Stay in university or go to photography school? The financial aspect didn’t make either list because my philosophy with that is that I could always make more money if I was driven enough – take out a loan or get another side job. Money wasn’t allowed to hold me back. On the list, there was only one con to pursuing photography and it was “What if it doesn’t work out?”. To that con I made another pros and cons list. There was no cons on that one, and the pros had points like this: -”So what?” I knew that my time was my most valuable investment and I knew that photography would always be a part of my life so I had no qualms investing that energy into developing myself. Worse case scenario, my future children will have awesome baby photos, and I was alright with that.
It’s been three years since I graduated from the Western Academy of Photography and in that time I can outline my major setbacks (due in part to life’s hazards but mostly my own mistakes) and acutely remember the “lightbulb moments” that resulted from them.
Setback #1: I only had a small Nikon D50 camera and a kit lens at the start of school, which rendered most of the technical classes and any hope for growth obsolete. I planned to get a line of credit to remedy the situation. Shortly after, my boyfriend Craig and I were walking by Lens and Shutter when he suggested we go inside. It depressed me slightly because I couldn’t afford anything in there but my curiosity led me to gaze at the (then totally badass) Nikon D300. “It’s nice isn’t it?” said the store clerk. “Yeah but we’re just looking” I said. Then Craig said “actually, we’re here to pick up a package for Goodwin”. I was totally shocked. Apparently, my mom called the school and researched all of the equipment that I would need. The receipt attached to the package read $7000. It wasn’t the first or last time I cried in public, nor would it be the last time my mom would bail me out. Lightbulb moment #1: There were people who wanted to support me.
Side note: This one isn’t a setback but it should be noted. My wedding photography instructor, Christina Craft, is amazing. She recognized my potential and she was the second photographer to impact my career and made me believe in myself. She asked me to second shoot for her that summer, and I was at her studio while she was telling an engaged couple about my talents. It felt weird to brag or draw attention to myself so I humbly declined the compliments. After they left she told me that I had to have confidence in myself or I wouldn’t be able to sell my work. Lightbulb moment #1 (of 500 I would learn from Christina): It’s okay to be confident. This led to my philosophy to be honest and passionate, put yourself out there and believe in what you’re doing. In turn, people will believe in you.
Setback #2: Shortly after graduating photography school, my laptop randomly crashed and I lost everything I photographed while I was in school. Lightbulb moment #2: Back your stuff up.
Setback #3: I was second shooting one of my first weddings. While changing lenses, I rested one on a small table before it rolled off and cracked on the cement. The only other lens I had was a telephoto so for the rest of the day, I was in the trees sniping shots. I didn’t have insurance, and the deductible was $200 higher than the $800 repair cost anyway. I was waiting tables at the time and was super poor so my mom bailed me out yet again! (I’m totally spoiled I know). Lightbulb moment #3: Do not trust any surface with your lenses!
Setback #4: A local hair and makeup stylist didn’t show up to our scheduled shoots twice in one month. She didn’t call or have valid excuses. I was embarrassed and gave my clients discounts for rescheduling. I never used her again but I never told her why. Lightbulb moment #4: When you find good help, don’t let them go. Be honest with your colleagues and it will save resentment in the long run.
Setback #5: I had some gear in the trunk of my car, I left it alone on Herald St. for 5 minutes to grab my cell phone from a friends place. When I came back outside, the trunk was busted open and someone had stolen my lighting gear. I always thought that common sense was the best insurance, and the deductible was always too high for what I owned anyway, so again I didn’t have insurance. Lightbulb moment #5: Don’t leave anything in your car and get insurance.
Setback #6: Groupon. This one is a touchy topic because I really don’t regret offering a groupon deal. It was my first off-season and though the upcoming season was promising, I needed a way to get my name out there and make money in the meantime. If you contact groupon yourself, you are considered a warm lead and they negotiate with you more than usual. They told me that they never did photography deals over $100. I told them that I’m not a wal-mart photographer and people will recognize the value in what I’m offering. The deal was off. Two weeks later they called me back and agreed to $125 for a 45 minute boudoir photo session which included a small photobook. The up-front money was tempting as I was desperate to buy a new camera (I had outgrown the D300 at this point and the D3s had my name written all over it). They also offered exposure to about 30,000 subscribers that just wasn’t possible with any other marketing platform. When my deal ran, it sold out at 300 within 4 hours. I bought the new camera and I was armed and ready. The problem was, they take 50% as well as 2.5% for the credit card fees, then I pay out about $10 per shoot for my editors (outsourcing the editing was the only smart thing I did here), $12 per photobook, $5 in DVD materials and gas money. After email correspondence, scheduling the hotel, hair and makeup appointments for everyone, uploading and organizing the images, designing the DVD and photobook etc. not to mention actually doing the photoshoot. At the end of the day, I was lucky if I made $30 for 3 hours of work. At times, I was doing up to 7 groupon shoots per day. I did about 60 of them in 3 weeks. I could say plenty more about this experience, which I will outline in another blog post. I do want to wrap this up here by saying that even though this endeavor led to a couple breakdowns, and lower customer service and creative output than I was happy with, it was a very fulfilling opportunity. I got really really good at posing people, and the women I was able to work with are incredible. They were appreciative and it felt really good to make them feel special. The exposure led me to other amazing job opportunities as well. Lightbulb moment #6: Never operate from a point of desperation – or you will be working “in” your business instead of “on” it.
Sidenote: Enter third photographer to influence my career, Michael Tourigny. He believed in my work and was kind enough to let me use his studio space to streamline my groupon sessions. I owe a lot (including my sanity) to his commercial insight and generosity.Lightbulb moment (one of many from Mike): Run your business with longevity of relationships in mind. Don’t burn bridges.
Setback #7: I received an unsolicited phone call from a company in the states offering a good deal for SEO services. Enter me: Gullible dummy. After my google searching turned up only good reviews, I agreed to do business with them. Within an hour of this, I discovered that the reason I wasn’t able to find anything bad about them is because they had changed their name 7 times in the last 3 years. There were hundreds of reports about them. I filed my own and following that was 6.5 months of harassing phone calls and bank appointments. I won the dispute but I couldn’t disregard the harassment until I could get it in writing. Lightbulb moment #7: Trust your instincts and not unsolicited phone calls and if you need something done, go straight to your bank manager.
Setback #8: While I was shooting a wedding in Mexico, I jumped out of our boat and one of my lenses flew out of my bag and into the ocean. Lightbulb moment #8: Treat your gear like an infant because ironically, fisheye lenses don’t like water.
Setback #9: This is the largest setback of my career, aka “the incident”. October 2011, I was on my way to shoot a wedding in the Okanagan when I made a quick stop at the Metrotown mall in Vancouver. I had to meet a client quickly and figured the car would be safe in the large well-lit parkade with security guards and cameras. A Nikon D3s (my brand new badass camera), a canon 5D Mark II, Nikon D300, 8 lenses, 5 triggers, SB-900, a speedlite, iphone, tripod, macbook, 8 memory cards,lowepro backpack and a backup drive. 30 minutes later and it was all gone. I’ll never forget the feeling of disbelief and regret. I had never had that much gear in one place, nor had I ever been so negligent. It was everything I had worked for, valued at around $30,000 and not one cent was insured. Luckily, I had another backup drive at my office so it could have been a lot worse. I remember hyperventilating for a couple hours while I waited for the police to arrive and a nice old lady kept me company. I couldn’t sleep that night and the next day I dropped my savings of $10,000 in two hours on a new camera and the basics. The wedding went off without a hitch but I felt violated and ashamed. Within a week I was happy again. The support I recieved from friends and family was amazing and I gained a new sense of perspective. It’s material. It is not the foundation of my business and everyone I cared about was healthy. I went back to being a girl with a camera, but this time I had a hard earned lesson under my belt. Lightbulb moment #9: Don’t leave anything in your car and get insurance. (Look familiar? Sometimes it takes more than one setback to ingrain the most important lessons).
Setback #10: I was commissioned to shoot a commercial campaign with a local advertising agency. I wanted to make a good impression and I was weirdly nervous. During the shoot the photos turned out great and I was getting more comfortable. In between shoots, I uploaded them on my computer and to my horror, I had accidentally had the settings on the wrong image quality. Even though I had it set to camera RAW, it was on the lowest raw setting and the photos were useless for print. Before admitting my mistake, I wanted to do everything I could to rectify the situation so I called the models and did the re-shoot the same day. I didn’t charge the client for any of the work, and I was so embarrassed the next day when I had to go to their office and explain what happened. Luckily the client liked the re-shoot images but the damage to my ego was done. The last time I felt that bad was “the incident”, I could barely sleep that night. The next day, I was doing a personal video project with a terminally ill father. I recorded as he left behind a message for his wife and three young children. This was a painful dose of perspective because I hated myself even more for thinking I had real problems. Weirdly, the agency and their client ended up hiring me again and I know I will never make that mistake again. Lightbulb moment #10: Double check your settings and focus on your blessings when you’re down.
There are many other setbacks and lightbulb moments, each significant in their own way. And there will be many more – hopefully focused on the latter. Photography is not just my choice of income, it’s a lifestyle, and through it, I have been able to travel to places around the world and in my head that I never thought possible. It has connected me to people and given me purpose in how my work can affect others, and it’s allowed me to create my own destiny. If something is not filled with setbacks and hard lessons then it’s not worth doing. It’s like avoiding love for fear of heartbreak. The most important lightbulb lesson I have learned from all of my setbacks is that it’s so important to count your blessings. Your perseverance will come straight from your willpower to make more mistakes and the strength of your support system. I wouldn’t be able to learn anything without the guidance of my relationships with other photographers, family, friends and clients.
Since the writing of this article, the photography school I went to has gone out of business sadly. Fortunately, lots of fun things have happened as well! I have been able to travel even more – shooting an amazing wedding in Africa (I boarded that plane thinking I was actually never coming back – I thought it was a scam but it ended up being amazing!), spending time abroad with family, taking a two month hiatus to travel South East Asia and volunteer at an orphanage in Haiti among other things.
All things I really need to delve into with an individual blog post I’m sure!
Mistakes I’ve made in the past couple years? Lots! Last summer I photographed Simon Whitfield in my studio and poured a bucket of water on him – nailed the shot but didn’t think to put a tarp down since I am not always logically minded. The water leaked through the floorboards of my studio’s heritage building…and onto the ground floor nightclubs atm machines. Guess how much one atm keypad costs? $2,300! That’s a dam monopoly if you ask me, and not so fun since that same month I had to replace my brand new 64 gb iphone 5 that I threw into the ocean during a shoot for Harbour Air.
The art director and I watched calmly as it floated to the bottom of the ocean, I was reassured by my expensive anything goes replacement insurance – soon to be discovered useless unless I had the physical iphone to trade in (my friend who owns a dive company tried to get it back for me but no dice).
I can definitely think of a few more mistakes if I try, but off the top of my head, things I’m looking forward to coming up : Photographing amazing clients as usual. Finishing my fitness competition I have been training for for the past 5 months (one month to go!) Hosting my first workshop next month, moving into the new house this August that my boyfriend and I bought. Speaking at the Canada Photo Convention and my sister’s wedding next year!
Now that’s just a quick update. Bottom line, things can be hard. It’s not easy to run a creative, reliable successful business. It’s not easy balancing a healthy lifestyle, to raise good kids, to make time for your favourite people. No one really tells you that,so accepting this is kind of a relief really. Luckily, life is a just employer (one of my favourite poems) and will gladly pay you any wage.