Rewind – 10 Years in the Life of a Husband/Dad/Nature Photographer

Just yesterday I picked up an SLR for the first time.  It was yesterday right?  Not a little over a decade ago…Holy crap, I’ve been a photographer for over a decade!

It was a little over ten years ago that I sold my first image.  Ten years ago that the light bulb went off and I thought “Hey people will pay me to do this, how cool is that?”  Since that moment, it’s been full steam ahead, rarely looking back.  But every so often it’s good to take stock of what you have done, how you have grown, and how you have handled all the crazy stuff life has thrown at you along the way.  This is my timeline.

Over the past decade my son, Adam, has grown into a teenager.  I got started in photography through taking bike rides with him in a carrier on my bike and snapping photos when he was a baby.  Those bike rides turned into a hobby and the hobby into a small photography business.  My wife, Nicole, quit her corporate job to become the business manager. We turned that small photography business into several family business.  I have the best business partner I could have asked for, my beautiful, smart and amazing wife.

My son is now taller than his mother now and we now wear the same size shoes.  He has grown up never knowing me as anything but his father and a photographer. We made a conscious choice to live the life we wanted and walked away from the corporate workplace.  We have never looked back or regretted that decision.  We have struggled at times; financially, physically, emotionally.  It’s a tough business with a lot of competition.  I have seen others in this business close up shop.  I have sworn a promise to myself that I would not be one of them.  There have been many lessons learned throughout this journey.

My son Adam paddleboarding at sunset in Alaska.

My son Adam paddleboarding at sunset in Alaska.

I gained 20 pounds, I lost 20 pounds.  I cut off all my hair as a preemptive strike against the receding hairline that runs in my family.

I have created half a million photographic images.  I was a bird photographer, a wildlife photographer, a landscape photographer, an adventure photographer, a travel photographer.  I am still all of those things, just in a different way.

I loved color and thought I would never shoot black and white.  I have come to love black and white and shoot it often.

I started out thinking only of capturing the moment.  I’ve now learned to be a story teller of many moments.

One of my favorite black and white images from our trip to Montana.

One of my favorite black and white images from our trip to Montana.

I saw my Digital Rebel replaced by  a 20d, 1d, 1d mkii, 1 d mkiii, 7d, 5d Mk iii.  My first lens was a 70-200 2.8.  I sold it to get my 100-400, and when that wasn’t enough I got a 500mm.  My newest lens is a 70-200 2.8, a Tamron this time.  I wonder why I ever sold my first one and how I went so long without this lens.  Just as I grew over time as a photographer my needs for more capable equipment grew.

One of the first photos I took with an SLR, my first Digital Rebel, of a dragonfly in our front yard.

One of the first photos I took with an SLR, my Digital Rebel, of a dragonfly in our front yard.

I have had every GoPro.  I have managed to lose every version of GoPro doing something crazy/awesome/stupid/fun.  My first digital camera was a point and shoot Olympus 3030.  I still have it.  I just shot a Canon point and shoot, a G1X.  I love it.

Photographers are often more than just photographers, we have to be designers, programmers, and a host of other titles.  On the software side of photography, Breezebrowser was my first image organizing software.  I beta tested Lightroom 1, hated it.  Started using lightroom 2, thought it was okay and then came Lightroom 3.  I took a class from Scott Kelby on Lightroom, and it changed everything I thought about digital workflow.  I dove into Lightroom, taught classes on it, converted more people than I can count to it.  Now on Lightroom 5, I hardly use Photoshop for any of my developing.  And I have had every version of Photoshop since PS5, all the CS versions but CS4, and now onto CC.  I have learned a dozen Adobe titles; Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere and many more.

I have redesigned my website 5 times.  I started with 60 images and plain old HTML written in notepad. Today I run a WordPress site with image hosting on Photoshelter.  I do all my own coding and design.  I learned HTML, PHP, JavaScript, SQL and a bunch of other alphabet soup.

I still write all my code in Notepad.  Dreamweaver is the one program I refuse to use or learn.

My first external hard drive to store images was 10gb.  I thought it was huge.  Today I have over 10 terabytes of storage, a thousand times larger than what I started with. My first memory card was 128mb. Today I only carry 32gb cards.

We made a choice early on that this was going to be a family business.  One of the things we wanted was to give our son amazing experiences while capturing those moments. He has been to 30 states, Nicole has been to 36 and I am up to 46. We have been to dozens of national/state/local parks, monuments, historic sites.

We often go white water rafting, rappelling, canyoneering, rock climbing, caving, paddle boarding, kayaking.  We went snorkeling in Alaska last month.

My son has bottle fed wolf puppies.  How cool is that.

We have been on the highest point in the Appalachians.  We have gone back roading 4 wheel driving up into the Rockies.  We have tent camped all over. We bought a pop up camper.  It’s name is Moe..

I had sinus surgery.  I broke my toe three times.  I was diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope.  Fancy words for my heart and brain not talking to each other as they should.  It took 6 doctors to figure it out.  I have it under control with diet, drinking loads of water, and eating lots of salt.  Pass the bacon please.

For a year Nicole drove me to every workshop I ran and kept an eye on me until we got it under control.  I gave presentations holding onto a monopod so that when I got light headed while standing in front of the group, I wouldn’t fall over.

The Everglades were the toughest on us.  We would leave at 2 am to get there for sunrise.  We would get home at midnight.

Nicole has been diagnosed with RA.  It sucks, I wish I could take it away from her, I would give anything for it to be me not her suffering through it.

I’ve been to every one of her doctors appointments.  She has been to every one of mine.

I spent so much time with my face jammed into a camera viewfinder that I managed to collapse the sinus cavity over my right eye.  This condition is actually pretty common among photographers and filmmakers, guys back in the 30’s used to get this same thing.

None of that medical stuff matters when you have someone who loves you beside you through it all.  I’ve learned that this business, being a photographer, has not only allowed me to tell stories but live ours as well.

My wife Nicole rappelling in Moab, Utah.

My wife Nicole rappelling in Moab, Utah.

I almost lost my brother to cancer.  I lost my dad to alcohol and Agent Orange.  His body is still alive in a VA hospital but the man I knew is gone now.  My son has never really known him.  Adam’s remaining three grand parents have great relationships with him.  Nicole’s parents are the best in-laws I could ask for.  My son has grown up with them and my mom being an important part of his life.

My mom and Adam have the same birthday.  He has gone to visit her every summer to spend time with her.  It’s good for both of them to have this special time together each year, although, it usually takes us two weeks to unspoil him.

I have read countless photography articles and written quite a few myself.  We ran Groupon specials for photography classes before everyone else did and have taught classes to thousands of people.  We got out of Groupon before it imploded.

I have met some amazing photographers in my travels.  Clyde Butcher, George Lepp, Mike Moats, Kevin Adams, Bill Fortney, Dave Black, to name a few.  I hope someday to inspire others the way they have inspired me.

My best moment as a photographer came during the “Great American Teach In” at Mort Elementary. Mort is an underfunded, overcrowded, inner city school.  The kids were so entranced with what I did and the photos I showed them that my half hour presentation went for almost two hours.

At the end a little boy came up to me and asked for my autograph.  I still tear up just thinking about that moment.  I hope somehow that my talk helped one of those kids chase their dream, even if it begins as a hobby… just like I did, a little over a decade ago.

Damn, I love what I do.

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