I’ve spent over 35 years working as a freelance graphic designer, and even though my business is all about marketing and advertising, it thrives without me formally doing either. I began at the bottom with minimal equipment and no experience. The competition was fierce, and I was too shy for cold sales. But I figured out a method that worked for me and my limited comfort zone. Now graphic design provides me with a lifestyle that I’m grateful for every day. It gave me the ability to raise my three sons and support them through college—all as a single mom working from home getting paid to do something I love.
It’s a simple method that’s never failed me: I look for opportunities—within my comfort zone—to help, and I offer to help when I find them. The experience of making connections and building a reputation is what matters most to me. Getting paid is secondary.
It was through my work as a designer—art directing and styling photo shoots with pros, and years of working with stock photographs—that I became enchanted with photography.
I dealt with a lot of bottle shots for my wine clients, so it was easy to see the opportunity to photograph their wine bottles myself. It seemed like a good place to start, so I offered speedy turnaround and a super-low price in return for giving me a shot at it.
Little did I know how hard it is to photograph glass. I barely knew how to operate a camera. I had no studio, no professional equipment. I shot them on top of my grand piano, at night, with makeshift lights, hanging black sheets from the ceiling and grabbing whoever was nearby to help me hold foam core boards to block unwanted reflections. The learning curve was ridiculously steep and filled with a multitude of fails, but eventually I figured it out. And clients wanted more. As my skills leveled up, so did my rate. After a couple of years, I was shooting in my own studio with decent gear.
And everything I learned from that crazy escapade has been beneficial.
When clients hire me for design projects that require photography, I offer to do it for them. Now my photographs appear on their websites, ads, retail displays, and brochures. I gained experience, new connections, a reputation, and photos for my stock library.
Outside of my clients, but still within my comfort zone, I’ve found great photo ops through my friends and family. My boyfriend got me in as a volunteer photographer for the local Balloon Festival. Not only was it a great learning experience, it was a blast. I took photos there that have sold as stock and—best of all—I got my first (free) ride in a hot air balloon.
Taking photographs at the local farmers’ market resulted in meeting alpaca farm owners who needed photos for their website. I got to experience an afternoon up close and personal with the beautiful animals, and again took photos I’ve sold as stock. They got the photos they needed, too.
My friends’ son is a professional dancer and needed promo photos. I watched him perform and we met in his studio the next day. I’d witnessed physical poetry the night before. I felt so compelled to capture that expressive moment my heart raced during the whole session. He kept thanking me, and I kept thanking him.
Opportunities for getting your photography out in the world are everywhere, no matter what your comfort zone, skill level, or gear. And when you’re doing something you love, you benefit so much that getting paid feels like a bonus.