how a lady in walmart convinced me to be a photographer


Four years ago when my boys were tiny and I spent most of my days cleaning drool and spit and rice cereal off the floor. Back when I was doing good just to get everyone fed by 8 pm and keep the laundry basket from overflowing. It was then I decided to take up photography as a hobby. As if I didn’t have enough going on I wanted in on a skill that most people go to school to learn.

You see, I’d realized I was dissatisfied with the pictures I took with the little 4 megapixel point and shoot camera we owned. My kids were growing up faster than I could grasp. I wanted photos of them that I would treasure forever. Ones where they looked like themselves. Ones where they didn’t have red eye.

Problem was, digital photography was a pretty expensive hobby and I didn’t have a very good track record with hobbies. I’d gone through a ton of them in the past year. There was crochet, scrapbooking, painting, making cards with stencils and ink dabbed on with a stiff bristle brush (I’m not even sure what you call that hobby). I didn’t stick with anything long and the stack of supplies from all my interests was growing at an alarming rate.

So when the urge struck me to become a photographer, I dismissed it immediately as a whim that would take too much time to learn and too much money to start. But the whim didn’t leave me alone. I thought about it all day. I dreamed about it at night. And pretty soon I was desperate to give it a try. I pulled our point and shoot camera out of the closet and for the first time I learned how to use it. I devoured information on the internet and my pictures got better, but my confidence never grew. All I saw were the imperfections that bogged me down and made me believe it would take forever to learn photography.

One day I had a few of my pictures printed at Walmart. I left the guys circling the parking lot in the car while I ran in the store to retrieve them. The lady behind the counter at the photo department riffled through a box of envelopes before she pulled mine out. She quickly read the sticky note stuck to the front and gave me an awkward look.

“Do you have a copyright release from your photographer?” she asked. “You know you can’t have these printed without a release.”

I stared blankly for a minute while I tried to comprehend what she’d just said. “I took those.”

“You did?” she opened the envelope and flipped quickly through the contents. “Are you sure? They look very professional.”

“N-no,” I sputtered in disbelief. “I really did take them.”

“Okay,” she smiled and handed me the photos. “Nice job.”

I think I said thanks but I don’t really remember. I sort of stumbled out of the store and into the car where I cried happy tears the whole way home, babbling the story to Caleb between sobs. I didn’t know I needed that confirmation until I’d received it from a total stranger. That night we purchased a digital SLR camera.

What I have isn’t talent. It’s passion. I didn’t grow up loving photography. I didn’t produce amazing images at the age of four. In fact, I didn’t know the difference between shutter speed and aperture until just a few years ago. I learned photography. Slowly. Sometimes painfully. I poured over thousands of photos. I invested many hours in learning light and composition. My pictures weren’t great in the beginning, and I was truly my worst critic.  

To all of you who have at one point or another complimented my photography, I am guilty of not believing you. I am guilty of looking at every photo and only seeing the flaws. I went through a phase of over-editing and a phase when I didn’t edit at all. I hated that my photos weren’t “vintage-y” or super saturated, but that wasn’t what I was good at. I may be the only photographer in history to find their style… and then take years to embrace it.

But four years, today, since the Walmart lady was the first to tell me my photos were worth something, I finally believe her. I’m happy with the photos I take, of being able to capture the relationship between two people, of a hobby turned passion.

Always follow your dreams. Every triumph starts with one decision to try.


Caleb said…
You ARE talented and exceptionally so. This is evident not just by your ability to capture amazing photos, but to see in your mind's eye the same thing before. While it can turn into a grind sometimes, I know this is your calling. You'll always have your biggest fan in me. I love you.