How it Started and How it’s Going: My Journey as a Professional Photographer
It all started with a wind-up camera.
Do you remember those ones? You had to crank the gears, flip up the flash, and then wait weeks and weeks to get your photos back from being developed.
Since childhood, my love for photography has only grown. It took years of trial and error, pushing myself, and honing my craft to get to where I am now.
Today, I’m grateful to work with clients from all over, capturing their most beautiful life moments.
I talked all about my photography journey on Episode 1 of the Cameras and Coffee podcast. Go have a listen or read on here to learn more.
The Early Days
I loved photography from a young age, always taking pictures of my dog or barbies before maturing to things like the school dance. Documenting life around me through the lens was always such a joy.
My grandma was also a huge inspiration for my photography. I have so many memories of her, camera in hand, taking photos of me and her other grandchildren.
We’d always try to get her in the photos with us!
“I still, to this day, remember my grandma winding up that camera and getting those developed. And that’s just where I remember my love of photography started.”
When I graduated high school, my grandma gave me a photo book of all the pictures she took over the years. These hold some of the most precious memories I have, especially now that she’s gone.
So, I’ve always loved photography. But I can trace my career in it back to 2008, when I was a new mom with little income. I received a $500 stimulus check and wanted to use it for something meaningful.
I bought a Canon Rebel—my first “real” camera. And so it began.
Eight Long Years: What I Learned
I loved that first camera. I used it to take photos of my family and friends, just for the joy of photography.
Then, people started giving me gifts of money and something clicked in my head: “Hey, maybe I can make some money from this.”
Photography became a side hustle for me for the next eight years. I set up my business, “Kara Hanes Photography” and started charging $50 for a session.
Yep, just $50.
And that didn’t even include the cost of putting all the photos on a CD… back when those were still a thing!
I advertised my services on Facebook and networked through my preschool and church connections to find clients. I used Photoshop to edit each picture one-by-one, a time-consuming and not-so-effective way to do it!
I wasn’t making a lot of money at this time, and I just didn’t see myself as a “professional.”
Instead of seeing it as a business, it was just my side thing for so many years. Other people saw my work and valued me as a professional, but I didn’t—not yet. Looking back on those years, I wonder, what took me so long?
Am I Professional Yet?
Then, something shifted. I realized that this was not the right way to do things and it was time to invest in myself and my business. I was working part-time and decided to use the other half of my time to go all-in on photography.
I started an online photography course to learn more about my craft and business. From there, I made other changes too:
- Created an email list (which came in SO handy when my Facebook page was hacked)
- Started charging more for my services
- Diversified my contracts to more than just weddings
- Learned how to set up my business and protect myself legally
- Switched to Lightroom Classic to make editing more efficient
- Opened a website and gallery platform to sell digital files and prints
Talk about leveling up. These changes made me a better photographer and business owner, bringing my career to the next level.
“I opened up a website and gallery platform to sell digital files and prints and that’s when I started feeling, ‘Okay. I think I’m a professional now.” Coming to that point, feeling like a professional, that’s really hard … You get that imposter syndrome for so long.”
And, slowly but surely, I started seeing myself as a professional. This really became my identity once I bought a full-frame camera and realized I was shooting 100% in manual mode. That, along with starting a website and going full-time as a photographer, allowed me to see what others already say: I was a professional photographer.
Today, I’m lucky to work with my ideal clients—weddings and seniors. I love my work, love my clients, and am grateful for the journey that brought me to this point.
And here’s the thing: we’re all on a journey. We all start somewhere. I look back and wonder what took me so long to make the leap, but it’s what my journey had to be.
If I can leave you with one takeaway, it’s this: invest in yourself. It wasn’t until I took steps to level up that I actually was able to level up! So, invest in learning, education, and knowledge to hone your craft and reach your goals—you’ll never regret it.
“We all start somewhere. But the biggest takeaway I hope you receive from this podcast today is the fact that you need to invest in yourself … You don’t get farther from where you are right now until you invest in yourself.”
Thanks for being part of my journey! If you want to hear even more about my photography journey, make sure to check out Episode 1 of the Cameras and Coffee podcast!
Big thanks to CloudSpot for sponsoring this episode. CloudSpot is the gallery platform I use to showcase and organize my client images. Sign up using my CloudSpot affiliate link for 20% off your subscription to CloudSpot Studio where you can send and organize your contracts, questionnaires, and invoices in addition to your gallery.
Mentioned in this episode:
- The Lawtog: Legal resources for photographers, including a huge database of contracts you can use in your work. They have a resource, The Legal Roadmap, that gives you a step-by-step guide to setting up your photography business.
- Rachel Brenke: Provides legal resources for entrepreneurs. Listening to Rachel’s podcast helped me learn what I needed to cover legally with my clients and contracts.
- The Legal Roadmap
- Lightroom Classic: What I use for editing and, in my opinion, the best option!