#029 – Making Pictures + Business USED to be Fun? This helped.

If you’re 100% OVER THE MOON, ELATED with photography and are happy as a clam working towards big goals in your work and / or business, this episode is NOT for you and doesn’t apply.

If you’re loving it, but it feels a little different than it used to, it’s gut check time.

Highlights of this ep:

  • A little history + a couple mistakes I made and have heard similar stories from photog buddies that sparked a feeling of RESENTMENT towards our cameras and this GIFT we have.
  • Then, what’s been my anchor, my home base – what’s kept me grounded, true to myself – and helped me maintain that documentary state of mind (the love affair in shooting)
  • Finally, I’ll wrap with some GUT CHECK questions

Here’s the backstory:

I had no photography knowledge until I had a baby. You probably know this already, but I jumped in with a 365 (photo a day) literally the day she was born.

My 365 project lasted for 3 years and 3 months straight. In that time, I couldn’t get enough of all of it: the learning + growth, the shooting, editing, sharing, and the mental shooting even when I didn’t have a cam in hand. I was addicted in a good way.

I think what I loved was that I was doing something for myself that made ME feel good. The pictures were a bonus.

I find this interesting, because I should’ve been feeling good regardless – wonderful life, health, my direct sales biz kept me busy and financially secure, we moved to the United States.

Life WAS good.

Internally, I didn’t know what was next for my life (career-wise). I never wanted to be a stay at home mom. I was terrified to become a mom at all, because I was afraid I was too selfish.

My direct sales business wasn’t in my heart anymore. I didn’t have a college education (long story, I’m a drop out. I had made plans for retirement at a job I was at, but then God laughed at those plans as I hit my rock bottom known as foreclosure by 22 years old)

Point being: in this time when photography was weaving itself into my life, there were a lot of thoughts about WHO I was going to be + what I was gonna do swirling in my head. My pride had taken a hit and I felt out of control of my life as a new mom. I believed my options in what I could do were limited.

Photography was something I could control and do for me. It was fun.

It was fun, my escape – the world around us fades away when we’re behind the lens, ya know? PURE LOVE.

But, shortly after I discovered this love for making pictures, I made 2 big mistakes that robbed me of that initial spark + joy…

Mistake #1: I dismissed the MARIE in my work.

I had a belief around what being a Photographer meant – what THOSE pictures needed to be like and tried like HELL to be that.

I created tunnel vision for myself – and even what this looked like evolved between my prop + Pinterest days (where I worked for creative, flawless, and cute) and into being a documentary photographer (where I worked to make pictures that told a story – I talk about this in ep 005 with the whole “you must make pictures that elicit emotion from the viewer” rant, that’s been THE most “thank you” commented on episode).

I was trying to fit into a box – a list of criteria I told myself was THE way it had to be. It was like I had to be THAT in order to have a legit identity as a Photographer.

The cost of this mistake:

I lost MY unique view on the world. Well, I never allowed myself to explore it at first, because I was trying to fit in with everything I saw.

I got great, meaningful, very Marie-y photographs along the way too, but I could have done more / better / faster. Instead, I’d beat up my images so much that I stopped shooting / keeping what really mattered to me. I dismissed the MARIE in my work.

The FUN felt different. It never totally went away, but looking at my pictures was more like a killjoy, because of the judgement I was putting on them.

EXAMPLE:

I have this vivid memory of being in my son’s bedroom. I’d recently noticed pictures with soft, muted highlights – a picture that stood out, had bright sunlight pouring in through window blinds onto a wall.

Being new to all of this, I was IN LOVE with the vibe and somewhere between consciously and sub-consciously I sought to find that in my real life. I didn’t hunt for it, but I noticed it. So, in Levi’s room, I saw the light pouring in through the blinds and I made our daughter sit in the light and tried making a portrait like the ones I had been seeing.

But if you know me, at all, as a photographer, you know I don’t care for directed portraits much. So why was I trying so hard to make this photograph?! 

No offense if you love portraits. To each his own.

MY whole heart is in pictures that represent a true story in my life.

The thing was, I was so in-tune with the photography community (by means of social media) – and wanting to “be better” (or, to keep up I think is what that really meant) and hit that list of qualifications I was telling myself – that I dismissed MY unique way of seeing and exploring THAT.

Yes, I still got some Marie-y photos.

But FAR more, the story was like: I’d see, say, a gorgeous photograph of a child with a polar bear at the zoo – full of curiosity and wonder – and then I’d go to the zoo with that image imprinted in my head, because it made an impact. It was a great photo. So then, I’m looking for an opportunity to make that kind of photograph (meaning: something that embodies those emotions, not blatant copy, come on now).

But remember, my truth isn’t in seeking curiosity and wonder.

My truth is in making pictures that represent an honest story that I’ve already anchored in as a VALUABLE memory. See the difference?

I can only imagine how much we can grow if we focus more on ourselves – how you see and exploring THAT without judgement.

Mistake #2 – I began to race.

I caught the business bug. I lived in the Shoot + Share factory – like I was the conveyer that couldn’t slow down. I wanted to grow my skill and be acknowledged for it. I wanted success in my business.

When you seek out learning – especially in business – there’s so much noise to grow, grow, grow, get more clients, master your craft, “to speak to the viewer,” and to be profitable.

There’s this unspoken vibe for the desire of fame and I felt it.

In that growth-centered environment, I’d do more of what I thought I *should* do.

I’d try to write in the way I thought clients wanted to hear. I focused on talking about the benefits of having pictures (documentary), etc. I curated pictures that felt relatable rather than what moved ME inside.

There wasn’t MARIE in any presence and interaction with potential clients. She was trying to keep up and move the needle.

The cost: I dimmed my own light.

I was so busy arguing for the value of the type of pictures I was selling while simultaneously wearing the judgement hat where I’d only show my technically flawless or funny / chaotic, shock-value photos (in my opinion anyway, for whatever that’s worth), that I lost connection with my audience AND myself.

Along the way, I got a case of biz-brain hurricane, where I couldn’t cook dinner, take a shower, or drive to the damn store without thinking about my business.

That’s definitely not how I want photography or business in my life and I’m sure you feel the same if any of this sounds familiar.

So those are my two, big mistakes:

  1. I dismissed the MARIE in my work.
  2. I began to race.

The biggest ah-ha that I’ve had is that (and I’m almost embarrassed to say this in what feels like a room full of focused artists) I don’t necessarily want to be an “artist,” much less, at the top of my craft.

Maybe I’ll change my mind eventually, who knows. Life is funny like that.

It’s felt wrong to say that out loud – especially in a community that’s filled with those invested in growth and making great pictures.

And if THAT is you, you want to grow your work + your business to the top – then DO that. Go for it. If it lights you up, that’s fabulous.

For me, I was doing actions on this path to greatness, because I think I got caught up in the moment – the thrill of loving what I was doing, wanting to be included with our peers who were growing (and growing past me, faster than I!) so beautifully, so I kept pushing it and myself farther.

Resentment set in.

But now, this undeniable wave of peace has come over me.

I feel content where I’m at today, but am still open + growing as slow as I wanna grow.

I don’t look at non-growth (being stagnant or staying the same) as a BAD thing. I don’t feel RUSHED and in the hurricane biz-brain anymore.

What’s got me here is literally so simple:

Keeping what matters in my fore-sight.

How am I doing this?

By giving attention to MY own Preservation Project.

What is it?

In a nutshell, it’s documenting your life from a lens of what matters to you and DOING something with what you’ve documented.

It’s looking at the WHOLE picture in documenting.

No, I don’t just mean printing them out. There’s so much more you can do – and it’s not limited to using your camera.

There’s a 4-part framework to tend to the WHOLE picture of documenting.

It’s been my checks & balances system per se.

When I discovered this framework:

  • I felt alive behind the lens again, but better. I felt as FREE as I did before I ever learned a single lesson about making pictures and social media algorithms. Can you remember shooting without perfection and judgement! SO fun!
  • I’m content in where I’m at in my journey – no longer feeling bad or guilty about where I’m NOT at yet.
  • Even when I see peer through the lens of “oh this could’ve been better,” I feel PEACE for the pictures I made.
  • I SEE more opportunities for better intentionally documenting my life << that’s the MARIE in my work.

So, next week, we have a guest convo + new Mini Mag with Ashley Manley, so in two weeks, I’ll share the 4 parts of your own Preservation Project, so you can try it for yourself.

But, I don’t want to leave you hanging until then, so here’s some reflection prompts…

Gut check questions:

  1. Who are you trying to be? (as a photographer and in general)
  2. What do you believe your pictures “need” to be like? Why? Is this a checkbox or a label? Is it holding you back or propelling you forward – and why?
  3. How is the influence of others playing a role in how you see? Where does this influence come from?
  4. What do you want out of photography – from shooting to business?
  5. If you’re in grow, grow, grow mode: What’s the rush? Is the rush depleting the fun?

Enjoy the story.

More goodness:

My Subtle Ask:


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Making pictures and growing a photography business

Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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