Diana Zapata of Blue Spark Photography shares what she wish she knew in her early years as a photographer. The "What I Wish I Knew" blog series share some of the best tips from the top photographers in the industry. We hope you find inspiration in these stories!
No one said it would be easy
I used to wish my story had started with a gifted camera at a young age and falling in love with the art of photography. In reality, it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I went to school for three years to study Biology. Then I switched gears completely and enrolled in an art school to study Advertising. But after graduating I quickly learned that the Ad life was not for me.
I had taken a Photography class in school and was working at a Photography studio. One thing lead to another and I ended up photographing a friend’s small wedding celebration. Some years passed and even though I was working a full-time office job, I knew that photographing people was the career I had been looking for. I didn’t know where to start. I wasn’t “adequately trained” in Photography and all I had was my own life experience, so taking the leap into yet another career change wasn’t the natural next step I should’ve taken.
Something in me was yearning for the type of lifestyle that would give me my time back, the type of work that would build on my own efforts and give me the creative outlet I needed.
There have been valuable lessons in this process. From the intricate details of setting up a business, believing in myself and my work and keeping a steady pace in what I believe is growth necessary for success.
Setting up a business
Now, of course in my mind the main struggle in starting my own business would be building a portfolio. Little did I know that within the next few years I would become the one woman show featuring a web designer, bookkeeper, sales director and marketing manager of my own company, on top of everything else I was doing with my life.
But since my beginnings the one thing that has never stopped me is not knowing something. If I don’t know it, I’ll research it and make it happen. Making business decisions when you are a newbie happens in the same way. And if you make a decision that doesn’t work, you have to learn how to cope with the results and move along. Starting a business while holding a full time job was not easy and I’m sure many creatives in the same position as I was will agree. I didn’t always feel motivated and it took me years to even start to polish what I knew I needed in order to get to where I wanted to be.
One of the important lessons I learned early on was how important it is to have systems in place to help you manage your business. Being a trustworthy professional starts with the first email or call you receive from a prospective client and learning all the ropes when it comes to sending a quote, pricing correctly and making the user experience a memorable and (most importantly) effortless one, is crucial. Building trust is crucial.
As I built my business I also learned that creating relationships and networking are one of the most important aspects for growth. Most of my clients come from referrals, whether it’s someone I’ve worked with or someone else in the industry, it’s important to surround yourself with people who believe in your work.
Believing in yourself
And speaking of believing in your work…I have to admit that it took me a while to defend my place in the industry. Not because of anyone else, but because of myself. I always thought it to be healthy and informative to find inspiration online, inspiration from other photographers. The one thing that I didn’t consider is how I was really focusing more on other people’s work instead of building my own style and finding my own voice. Inspiration comes from everywhere, really.
Being a portrait and wedding photographer makes you an observer, and if you pay attention, you’ll find inspiration in places you never thought you’d find it. I have found inspiration in books, movies, podcasts and places… I’ve found inspiration riding the subway in NYC. I now see how couples hold each other, how they talk, how people have a poetic and nostalgic look about them. During this time of growth, I’ve learned to believe in my work, believe in my vision, know that it’s a process, my process. I’ve learned to own up to my style and all the choices I make.
It’s natural to feel fearful. Fearful of the unknown, fearful of failing. We all have fears, but if we step out of that state, we can allow ourselves enough space for discovery and for growth, because we accept full responsibility of our thoughts and actions. Or as Isaac Lidsky would put it “Hold yourself accountable for every moment, every thought, every detail. See beyond your fears. They are your excuses, rationalizations, shortcuts, justifications, your surrender. Choose to see through them, choose to let them go. You are the creator of your reality, with that empowerment comes complete responsibility.”
Steady wins the race
These days it feels almost impossible to slow down, to give it time to learn and grow. We are expected to be overnight successes and we measure this success in one way only. I’ve been victim to this epidemic by rushing into things, quickly and mindlessly scrolling through social media, and worse, believing other people’s ideas of where I should be if I were truly successful. What does success mean to you? Am I not successful because I don’t have thousands of followers on Instagram? I’ve come to find that success to me, means celebrating the small victories, success means that with every day that passes I master and hone my craft even more. Success to me means that I am currently doing what I love, it means that there is no way I’m going backwards because I have already learned and grown so much in my process.
It has been over 7 years of work, but I’m not giving up because in my own personal race, steady and ease are in first place. Being responsive to change and constantly adapting is my best advice to anyone starting out. Stay curious and track your growth, these are more important than fame and perfection. Growth, learning and staying in the game are the true reward. I became a photographer not just because I know how to use a camera. I became a photographer because I have a vision. I see beyond moments and create collections of these moments in stories that truly matter to the people I photograph.
Diana Zapata is a Wedding and Portrait Photographer currently residing in New York. She’s been in the Photography industry for over 7 years and works to offer her clients images that will be timeless, elegant and true. Her company, BlueSpark Photography was born out of her desire to bring a little more kindness, a little more love to her client’s lives through photographs that would be treasured for years to come. Check her out on Instagram, Facebook, and Vimeo!
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