Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012, you've been good to us.

Last year at this time I was struggling with a business plan. I had a dream but no fundamental roadmap to get there. I applied and was approved for a grant from Enterprise Brant. It's not as rosy as it sounds. I had to present to a panel of shrewd looking business men (think Dragon's Den) and try to win their approval of yet another local photography business. (When I conducted my research on competition, I discovered there was at least a photographer on every corner in this city. I know four just in the span of a three street radius to our home.)

They called me young and amateurish and my consultant said the passion in my voice when I spoke came across as flaky. I trembled in anger. Then I came home and cried. Sobbed actually. Then I do what I always do when I get kicked down. I dig deep within myself and find my inner warrior and I figure out how to claw my way out of the mess. She-ra style.

I equate starting, maintaining and forecasting a business in tandem with keeping up with my hours, reporting, courses and the planning that Enterprise demanded to the treacherous years of being in University and trying to maintain a part-time job. You remember those days right? I remember working at Holiday Inn cleaning rooms and trying to study at the same time. All-nighters to get a project done by the deadline, just as the ink would run out on my printer. An hour before it was due.

The business forecast for revenue reflected slow times. errr slow is an understatement. More like bleak and downright scary. This is to be expected in our industry as the bulk of business is in the summer and fall months. I had to explain to the panel that although my revenue for January, February and March was basically $0.00, in September alone I would bring in $10,000. Or this was my forecast. It's difficult to forecast when a bride will call you. Sometimes there is nothing. And sometimes in one day, I'll book three weddings.

The panel looked at me like I was crazy. Their words kept ringing through my head as I feebly tried to explain that Facebook indeed is better exposure than taking out a local newspaper ad. Word of mouth is not an acceptable plan for advertising they told me. Six months later, they were shocked to learn of my booming business and the same people who stared me down, let me know that my business practices were something they wanted me to teach their management team. I believe they actually want people to succeed and are preparing us to deal with the public; which we all know is a mixed bag of personalities.

I spent the winter months taking multiple business courses as well as watching photography related webinars. I planned for giveaways and donations; partly to get my name out there and partly to be a good Samaritan. I said yes to every event with the numbers in mind that I needed to present to the panel in six months time. In order to continue with the grant, I needed to achieve 50% of my projected revenues and things were looking slow. And then the deposits started rolling in. Woo Hoo! We were in the clear.

And then Michael lost his job.

Just like that our world was flipped on it's ass again. No benefits, no steady income and a new business basically hanging on to a wing and a prayer.

I tried to see the positives in this. We hated his job, hated that he drove all around the province in the middle of snow storms and barely got compensated for it. Hated the ten day a year vacation B.S. and most of all the mundane snoring boring salesman life. No disrespect to Willy Loman but I mean, how excited can a person possibly get over selling grout and flooring accessories?

We were hired to shoot a wedding in Mexico and spent 2 glorious weeks in our favourite part of the world. We made amazing friends, reunited with our wedding planner, and got to meet two families and a beautiful gay couple that I believe God sent to us.

We were inspired to write, photograph, live and travel. The summer brought forth a series of weddings. I second shot for some, hired an assistant for some and shot the rest with my very talented and hardworking husband. We started to take notice that working together as a team had it's advantages and that clients started to respond to the fact that we were a husband and wife who worked so well together and had their best interests at heart. He started to care about my business as much as I did. Michael's food blog took off and he was asked to contribute to a cocktail blog called The Boys Club. Weekly we are sent books, gifts and cooking paraphernalia from authors and chefs who want to be featured in Michael's writings.

We put together a cute video and made some changes on the website, blog and tried to ensure consistency across all branding including business cards, letterhead, invoices etc. When I could, I tried to add personal touches, such as hand written notes, little gifts sent and dinners at our home. Our clients were overall amazing to work with and although I had one nightmare experience, I was able to learn greatly from it, present the findings to the panel and realize that in every batch of beautiful apples there is always one rotten one. A rotten one that cannot spoil the bunch if you remove it, discard it and be careful to heed your own inner warning signs for the next time.  For the most part, we have totally been blessed with lovely and generous clients who have treated us like part of their family.

The summer was fabulous. We had parties, went to parties, and shot weddings which felt like a party.
I saw the Beach Boys with my mom,  I chopped my hair off and dyed it bleach blonde and had 25 people surprise me for my birthday at a nightclub. We went to the drive-in.  We made some new friends and lost some old ones. Some neighbours on our street moved. Some divorced. Some friends stayed together. Others did not. I met a girl who is my soulmate. We are literally the same person and she has become my very best friend. Michael and I took a roadtrip to Ottawa where I finally got to see two of my idols: Madonna and Natalie Spencer. For three years we have been communicating online and she was the sole reason why I started my career in photography. She had a difficult time getting pregnant and when she was, I received the following text: Both our dreams are coming true. You're getting a D800 and I'm getting a baby. Photographing her maternity session was probably the highlight of my career. We spent the weekend in the Laurentian mountains recharging and being inspired. We drove to Montreal and soaked up the french food and scenery.

At the time Michael just lost his job, two of my maternity clients sadly let me know that they lost their unborn babies. I usually offer a no-return policy on deposits but I said to Michael, how on earth can I do that in this instance? Furthermore, how can I give them the money back that we don't have? I would have found a way. Except both became pregnant again and told me to keep the money. They were positive this time they would come to term. Faith. It's a beautiful thing.

We bought some pro equipment and probably spent more than we made this year. We had our photos taken by The Last Forty Percent and discovered what it was like to be on the other side of the camera.

The fall came and went. We shot two beautiful weddings in one weekend and I was above honoured to photograph my cousin and her amazing bridal party. We made lifelong friends with another and are spending New Years Eve with them. There were several family photo shoots and engagement sessions for next year's weddings. We were honoured to photograph four weddings of one particular family to whom we are forever grateful for their business and friendship. We came in the top ten for a wedding image we submitted for a cover contest. We spent the summer with my parents at their place on the lake. We've stayed in over 20 hotels and inns. We photographed 67 events. We had 3 couples lose their deposits with other photographers and book with us. We were only in the hospital a couple of times. Michael had a great year with his Addison's and I had a couple of minor mishaps requiring stitches and splints. We had a wonderful Christmas with our families and were saddened by the quick downward turn of a dear Uncle's health. At dinner, we all held hands and prayed. A dear friend's father passed away and I was reminded of my own mortality and our still healthy but aging parents.  We prayed for the lives lost in Connecticut. On the same day we celebrated a bride and groom's nuptials. Death and life and death and life again. I'll never understand it.

Overall, 2012 has been great to us with a few hiccups along the way. We said no to a particular client because of the red flags I described above, some said no to us and 13 have now booked with us for 2013. We are fortunate enough to be shooting in Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Mexico for three destination weddings. We've raised our prices to $5,000 and are forecasting 20 weddings for next year.
If this happens I will be outsourcing my editing and Michael will be working with me full time. I've arranged a client appreciation party at a cool loft space complete with DJ, appetizers and drinks for early spring next year. I sent a Christmas card to my mentor at Enterprise Brant and let her know that what was once a nuisance has now turned into a blessing and I am thankful for her belief and persistence in me.

I never foresaw my life turning out like this. I'm reading a book on an introvert living in an extrovert world and I now in hindsight realize that was what was plaguing me all these years. But photography has helped me. I still get to hibernate when I edit instead of going to an office and being forced to participate in social committees that I dreaded. I get to express the creative passion I have in my soul, both in my photography and writing.  I'm truly blessed to have a loving husband, great and loyal friends, a wonderful family on both sides and a booming career; none of which have come easy, without challenges, strife and struggle but all of which are proof when you live with passion, heart and conviction, you'll get where you always wanted to be. Somewhere in between miserable and content, I have found inner peace, happiness and have the life that I always dreamed of, but never knew I wanted.

2013 brings some exciting changes to our business and personal life but for now, I want to remember this year as one of the best in my life. Ever.

I wish you nothing but the best for the new year and I want to thank everyone who has touched me in so many ways. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful have inspired me beyond measure to keep going in these sometimes mad and confusing times.

Happy New Year! Stay safe and love madly.



Saturday, December 29, 2012


Find the beauty in endings. A post to wrap up 2012 coming soon.

Stay dry and warm.



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jen & Casey....wedded bliss.

The day had finally arrived for Jen and Casey's winter wedding. We were overjoyed that the weather was just right; afterall it's difficult to time that perfect December weather. Too much snow and it would be a blizzard and too much rain or wind and we would get soaked. Sun reflecting off snow can also cause an awful blue colour cast to the bride's white dress so we were excited that the temperature was above zero and the sky was slightly overcast.

We met Jen and Casey through her sister Lesley. We photographed her wedding this past summer. Lesley and Jen both married Chiropractors who just so happened to be best friends. Both Les and Jen work in the health field and they all have moved North of Toronto. The four of them have a special bond that is enviable for those who are around them.

When we photographed Jen and Casey's engagement session in Toronto, we had never met. The two of them came bounding across the Sunnyside bridge, hand in hand, gorgeous and smiling. We hit it off as instantly as we did with Lesley and Matt.

Throughout the year we would see each other at functions and their other cousin's wedding whom we also photographed and have I mentioned her sister has hired us for her June Punta Cana wedding? What a whirlwind year for these families and I truly cannot express into words, how lucky we were that we formed the bond we did and that this clan trusted us with their memories.

Jen is a lady. She is gorgeous, classy, smart, funny and honestly so so kind and soft spoken. When she walks, Casey's eyes adoringly follow her. This is the stuff not only wedding photographers notice, but it is also apparent to anyone who is lucky enough to be in a room with them. Casey is a riot. He's got the moves on the dance floor, a smile on his face every single time we see him and a heart of gold. There's only one thing we've yet to figure out, and to quote Jen's stepdad Vito....what exactly is the Casey face? 

Just teasing. This blog post is not a roast. Those who know Casey know what the face is anyways!

Back to the day....December 15th. The girls were ready on time and rocked our portrait session! As a woman who walks into a room full of other unknown women, it can be daunting at times. Usually I'm sized up in a few seconds, I tell a stupid self deprecating joke to make everyone laugh and cut the tension of the strange female in the room. And in a short while, I'm no longer the one that doesn't belong there.

There was ample amounts of food for everyone to munch on prior to the ceremony. These families have been so generous with us, supplying accommodations, snacks, gifts, cards and always making us feel like we are one of them. I can honestly say that 2012 is going to be difficult to top and I'm sometimes not even sure I even want to.

The guys were amazing to work with. This was Jen's little brother Matt's first wedding party and he was so excited about it. There were four Matt's in the wedding party and by the end of the night I just referred to them all by that name. Even the one's who were not.

The ceremony was beautiful and simple. A string quartet played as Jen's dad walked her down the aisle and was greeted by her stepdad. Afterwards we all left for photos to Niagara on the Lake and then to Chateau des Charmes. Dusk descended quickly and we headed back to the gorgeous reception.

Queen's Landing was so beautifully decorated for the season in shades of metallics, silvers and golds. There was no red and green tacky decor for this bride. The speeches were given, dances completed and meals served. The party continued well after the event and the staff were so kind as to let everyone into the library to keep things a-rockin'. I have polaroid pictures of a certain room full of people jumping on the bed and having a blast!

I truly did not want the weekend to end. As always, this family has been amazing, kind, wonderful to work with and we hope this special friendship we have formed is not over. You can't be friends with all your clients but in our case this year, I mostly say we can. And some will remain that way for a lifetime.

Jen and Casey, what can I say that I haven't already? We love you so much, are honoured you allowed us to celebrate and document your day and we wish you all the love and happiness in the world. Two people could not be more suited for each other and your families have done a wonderful job raising you both!

We hope you had a great time in Costa Rica!

Love forever and a day,