Today marks 8 years since I began my journey as a full-time photographer. On one hand, it feels like yesterday when it all began and on the other hand it feels like I've been doing this my entire life. This "job" doesn't feel like work. (I guess that's what happens when you find a career that fills you with so much happiness and joy!)
In May of 2009, I was teaching Kindergarten. Looking back I can see that I was completely miserable. But as it goes, being human, you never really know how bad it is until that chapter has passed and you look back. I loved my students and their families, but I hated the politics that came with teaching. It was easy to unplug when I was with my students. I was always happy and fulfilled when I was teaching my babies. I loved the way their little minds worked and learned. However, I loathed all the paperwork, documentation, state standards, staffing issues... and let's face it: Dealing with miserable administrators and gossip destroys morale, your soul, and your drive to teach.
I had been searching for a job in another district for over a year, as were many other teachers I knew. We were all struggling to find open positions. After the holiday break in 2008, I decided that the current school year would be my last. With the urging of my mom and my best friend Amber, I decided to drum up some photography jobs over the next few months to make sure I had some extra money in the bank in case I didn't get another offer. I had been photographing friends, family and co-workers for a few years on the side so that I never had to teach summer school. I had a base of "clients" at the time, but wasn't even remotely aware of what was ahead of me. (I say "clients" because I had never EVER thought of them this way.)
Through a wild few weeks at the end of April 2009, I found myself without a contract renewal for the next year at the school I had been at for over 6 years. I also didn't have a job offer anywhere else. I also had plenty of photography jobs that I had booked and several weddings I had contracted coming up, but that was just to keep me afloat during the summer. On May 4th, 2009, I found myself in tears realizing that I could become unemployed in a matter of weeks. I went to bed that night scared of my future and terrified of what was around the corner.
I woke up the next morning feeling calm. I remember that the sun was shining so brightly that day. I took a deep breath and remembered I had a photo session booked that afternoon. I felt excited. I felt happy. I felt at peace.
After the photo shoot that day, I ran home and jumped on my computer. With $364 to my name, I went online and filed my paperwork with the State of Missouri and registered a fictitious name, filed for an LLC, a business license and a sales tax ID. I also signed up for my first of many photography workshops. I didn't look back. I wasn't scared... I was excited. I felt alive and happy. I knew, deep down in my soul, that I had to give this "photography thing" a try.
Within a matter of weeks, I had established Abbie Takes Pictures. I had one film camera and a whole lot of spunk. I also had no social media at my disposal because it wasn't mainstream yet. It was no easy task. That first year was terrifying. I fell on my face more times than I care to mention. But you know what? Those moments of fear and doubt made me who I am today. The entire journey did.
With all of that being how ATP got started, let's talk about where ATP is today:
As of May 5, 2017:
I say all of this not to boast. I say this because I'm proud. I spend each and every day doing something that I love. Yes, it's bonkers at times. Yes, it's more work than I've ever done in my entire life. But I'm happier than I've ever been. ATP has led me down a path that has made me proud of who I am. This is not something I've always felt. I still have days, moments (heck - even weeks!) where I struggle and don't feel at my best. I have to remind myself that I'm only human and that things won't always be hard. There are peaks and valleys in this life, right?
I would be remiss if I didn't take this blog post to mention how I survived the past 8 years of being a business owner. This path has been full of so many incredible people. From other photographers who took me under their wings (you know who you are), to wedding vendors that appreciate my art and share it with their prospective brides and grooms. I've had the honor and privilege to become friends and find a family with the tight network of photographers here in Saint Louis. I wouldn't have the skill set I do today if it wasn't for their open arms and willingness to share techniques and ideas.
I learned the power of sharing from these photographers - which led me to want to share the skills I learned over the years. I developed an intern program that brought me some of the most talented, hard working women I've ever known. Amber (who was there from the very beginning), Tyler, Cassidy, Bonnie, Elizabeth, Karissa, Danielle, Megan, Sara, Jen, Heather... I owe a lot of my business' success to these women.
Most importantly and most significantly, the joy and fulfillment I have comes from photographing the most incredible people on the face of this planet. The ATP Family is second to none. You guys are loving, hilarious, laid back, kind, and giving, welcoming people. The way you tell others about my work, the way you welcome me into your families, the way you love me like family... it's so humbling. I hope each and every one of you knows how much I appreciate and adore you.
I'll never know how I got so lucky, but I do know how grateful and proud I am of what Abbie Takes Pictures has become. Thank you all for your faith in ATP and taking a seat while traveling this journey with me. My humble gratitude for an amazing 8 years. Here's to a lifetime of more memories captured together!
Also - here's a photo that I feel truly captures how I feel about the past 8 years. LOL! (Photo taken by Spencer Pablo in San Diego, California. December 2016. And yes - this is a truly candid moment less than a second after I had been dive-bombed by a very large bird!)
Earlier this year I travelled to Atlanta to attend Imaging USA, the annual conference for the Professional Photographers of America. I attended intense classes for 3 days and was able to really up my skill level, as well as leave there being more inspired then I have been in a long time. In one of the classes, a speaker was talking about how important our jobs are. He was driving home the significance of the images we create and how they will be cherished for many generations to come. It was during this class that I had the realization that I have spent my entire career capturing so many families, but I rarely take the time to capture my own.I left Atlanta with a vision. I came home and immediately called my Maw Maw the very next day. She and my Paw Paw have been married for 40 years this year. My mom's mother passed away when she was 16 and my Paw Paw remarried 5 years later, which was 4 years before I was born. My Paw is now 97 years old and is quite the treasure. He's hilarious, intelligent, stubborn, strong, loving, and literally a living time capsule. My Maw Maw is loving, patient, kind and gentle. I've photographed them before, but this time I wanted to take it to a new level. With their 40th wedding anniversary right around the corner this year, I knew I had to take the opportunity to honor them. I also knew I wanted to surprise my family with these images, so keeping this entire process a secret for so long was incredibly difficult!!
I called up some of my favorite people here in the St. Louis wedding industry and together, we executed one of my favorite sessions I've ever shot. Shelli Alred (Alred Wedding Consultants) took my vision to another level. She was the mastermind behind bringing all the elements of this sessions together. Kelly Jurotich (The Crimson Petal) created some of the most stunning, creative florals I've ever seen. Trisha Davis (Salon Dacota) provided the gorgeous hair and makeup for Lorraine. Stallone's Formal Wear donated a tuxedo for Paw that day and I "Rented the Runway" for Maw Maw. The Chase Park Plaza graciously allowed us to use their Side Car Bar as the setting.
Surprising my family with these images was an emotional experience. Please know that there's nothing more special then having photographs of your family together. Life is too short to wait. Don't skimp, either. Go all out and gather everyone together. The experience will bring you closer and will even create new memories! Hire a professional and get the best photos you've ever had! You won't be sorry.
My incredible team of contributors:
Planning & Design: Shelli Alred | Alred Wedding Consultants (assisted by Julie Fiedler)
Floral Design: Kelly Jurotich | The Crimson Petal (assisted by Garret Skupinski)
Hair & Makeup: Trisha Davis | Salon Dacota
Venue: The Chase Park Plaza
Tuxedo: Stallone's Formalwear
Dress: Rent the Runway
Flatware: Premier Party Rentals
Chairs: Premier Party Rentals
China: Premier Party Rentals
Photography: Abbie Rudolph | Abbie Takes Pictures (assisted by Jen Jarrell)