“I Love What I Do!” We interview women who find creative work that makes them feel fulfilled without sacrificing their personal or family lives. They’ll share what their jobs are really like and how other women can find something they love to do.
Atlanta-based photographer Anne Almasy turned a childhood hobby into an award-winning career. She shares with us the story of her first camera and how her passion became her vocation.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you end up where you live today? What has your career path looked like?
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia (except for a brief diversion to Oklahoma City when I was a kid), so I consider myself a true southerner. Because of the school selection in the community where I grew up, my parents chose to home educate me. When I finished high school, they encouraged me to pursue photography.
My dad gave me my first camera when I was 8 years old, and I took pictures pretty much every day from that time forward. I have boxes and boxes of photographs from when I was younger! When I decided to go to Hallmark Institute of Photography in Massachusetts, my parents were supportive. It was a 10-month, fully-accredited program—sort of like a tech school for photography. All we studied were photo-related topics, from Photoshop to darkroom to marketing. One of my classmates calculated that we’d spent 1400 hours in the classrooms by the time those 10 months were over!
I wasn’t really sure what to do when I finished school, though, and spent a year working at a boutique in NYC, then bartending and waiting tables in Atlanta for a couple years, and working for a small software company for another year after that. I even worked as a photographer at a horrible little mall kiosk for a few months! I graduated in 2001, but it was 2006 before I quit my “day job” and pursued photography full time.
Why did you want to become a photographer?
I just did. Haha, I honestly don’t remember a time when I thought, “This! This is what I’ll do!” In fact, my mom was the one to say, “You know you could do this for a living, right?” I just always loved making pictures, particularly pictures of people.
How could a young woman follow your career path? What kind of skills did you need to get started? What does it take to do a good job? What kind of training is involved?
Only 12 years have passed since I finished photo school, but so much changed in the industry. I would honestly no longer tell someone to go to a photography or art school. There’s just too much freely-available information out there for people who want to make great pictures. Instead I’d recommend getting a bachelor’s in business or accounting or marketing—something that would really help you to start and build a business. It’s also a lot cheaper than going to art school! You can learn photography through classes at colleges, camera shops, and photography studios; there are also only about a million photography forums online!
Digital photography has completely revolutionized the industry, too. It used to be that no one wanted to photograph weddings or babies. Now everyone is doing it. So the market is pretty flooded. If you want to stand out, you really have to be on your game. Not only do you need to understand the intricacies of operating a camera, but now you need to be able to use Photoshop and Lightroom; you should be familiar with different kinds of lighting equipment; you need to have killer customer service skills, and be able to deliver what you’ve promised.
Many women I meet who want to be photographers are particularly out of their league when it comes to setting their prices. A lot of them are married with a partner who makes a good income. So these women started photography as a hobby, began charging a few bucks here and there, but never had a grasp on what it really costs to do business. If you’ve never had to pay bills with your photography income, you tend not to take the money part seriously. I think, however, that every woman owes it to herself and her family to run a legitimate business, even if photography is a side job. Don’t count on your partner’s income to buy your equipment or pay for your classes. Act like you’ll be supporting yourself with the money you make (even if that’s not necessary), and it will make you a much better businessperson.
What does a typical day look like for you? How do you fit a job with unusual hours into your routine?
One of the reasons I love my job is the flexibility it affords me. I tend to sleep late and work late, so I might get up around 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning, have breakfast, spend a couple hours answering e-mail, then move on to editing or shooting for the rest of the day and evening. Because I work with people (and most people have 9-5 jobs), I work a lot of weekends. This means I have to keep a really detailed calendar because my schedule is always shifting to accommodate my clients. I’ll often take off work on Monday and Tuesday because I’m working on Saturday and Sunday. Since I’ve chosen not to have children, this is easier for me than it would be for a family with kids. But I know several photographers with children who have worked their flexible schedules to their advantage, and incorporated their kids into their businesses in some fun ways.
What is the best part of being a photographer?
I’ve truly met some of the best people on the planet doing what I do. Some of my best friends started out as my clients. And even if a relationship doesn’t grow into a personal friendship, I still get to enjoy a lot of laughter and beautiful moments with really wonderful people.
The worst is the fear of someone not being happy with what you’ve created. Photography is really personal. If someone isn’t happy, it’s not like she bought a necklace from me and wants to exchange it. Instead it feels like a very intimate rejection of myself as a person, because my photography—my art—is such an extension of myself. I’ve had to learn to really listen to my clients’ concerns and not freak out.
I’m fortunate to have really terrific clients who love what I do, but, especially when I first started out, I had a few people come to me who weren’t 100% happy with what I’d created for them. Customer service is probably the most important part of what I do. I’m always learning how to better serve and care for my clients. Even if they’re completely happy and there aren’t any issues, I still have a responsibility to let them know how much they mean to me.
What advice would you give to other women interested in following the same path you have?
Just do it. Shoot, shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Learn.
Don’t buy new equipment until you’ve outgrown the equipment you already have.
Don’t charge money until you feel confident that you can deliver what you’ve promised. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. Over-communicate with your clients about what they want and what you’re able to give.
Love what you’re doing, or move on and do something else.
Do you have any great stories from a photo shoot you could share with us? (I know you have a great series of photos from Dragon*Con.)
A couple years ago, I was asked to make campaign photos for Senator Jason Carter. I had no idea who Senator Carter was, and when I showed up early I was talking to an older couple there to participate in the shoot. I asked where they were from, and the gentleman said, “Plains, GA.” I’m very distantly related to Rosalynn Carter, so I replied, “Oh, that’s where Jimmy Carter is from!” And the man looked at me very patiently and said, “Yes, Jimmy Carter is my father.” I was SO embarrassed! Thankfully Chip Carter and his wife Becky are very kind people, and they just laughed. And when I met Jason Carter and his family he was equally fantastic. But I learned to do better research before going to photograph someone!
I love that you brought up my photos from Dragon*Con. For those who don’t know, Dragon*Con is a fantasy and science-fiction convention that takes place in Atlanta every year. The photo series wasn’t intended to be Dragon*Con-centric, though it has turned out that way since it’s so easy for me to attend Dragon*Con. The inspiration for it, however, was, well, just that: inspiration. I was feeling pretty burnt out a couple years ago, and started actively thinking about a project I could begin that would allow me to just make pictures for fun—no clients to please, no money to make, just shooting for photography’s sake. My husband and I were planning to go to Dragon*Con that year, and I started thinking about how funny it is that all these people in amazing costumes go back to their boring hotel rooms at the end of each day. So my series is “Checked In: Cosplayers In Their Hotel Rooms.” It’s allowed me to meet some incredibly talented, creative, inspiring people in a subculture that I didn’t really understand before. And this project inspired me to start sewing again! As a direct result of my “Checked In” project, I made 6 costumes last year and took a group to Dragon*Con dressed in my version of sort of post-apocalyptic fairy tale heroines. I was Snow White. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life! (This is where my sister would punch me and say, “Nerd alert!”)
For many years you and your husband co-ran your business. What was it like to work with your husband? Did you learn anything new about each other?
Oh, gosh, working with your partner is pretty intense! We’re fortunate to work well together, but I know a lot of couples who admittedly would kill each other if they had to work side-by-side every day!
When Dan and I met, he was doing freelance graphic design work, and working a day job he hated. He moved from Ohio to Georgia so we could be together, and when we started shooting together, it just felt natural. He added a lot to my business, and really gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get things up and running. I never would have started shooting weddings if it wasn’t for him!
I’m sure we learned a ton about each other while working together, but it’s hard to pinpoint… I guess the biggest thing would be communication. When you build a business with someone, you better learn how to communicate fast!
Has being a photographer made you a better woman or wife? How?
I think any time you passionately pursue something, you grow and evolve. I know that has been true for me with photography. I’ve learned more about myself, about other people, about what makes us all tick… Photographing couples and families really helps bring home the importance of sticking it out with the person you married, too. Fifteen to twenty times a year I see couples commit to share the rest of their lives together, and, internally, often without even realizing it, I wind up renewing my own vows to my husband.
My mom once told me, “Marriage is not for the faint of heart.” And that’s so true! But it’s wonderful to see love at the very beginning of a marriage, to repeatedly see couples who are just starting out, who think they know everything and feel everything and could never encounter any obstacle they cannot face together. My husband and I have been together for more than a decade now, and we’ve been married for 8 years, so we’ve learned that things can get really hard at times. But having those reminders of how simple love can be… that’s really healing and inspiring.
Do you have a job you love you’d like to share with the Experimental Wifery community? Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d always love to hear what you have to say about the things that make you a better woman or wife.