5 Year Photography Anniversary!

Today marks 5 years since the day that I decided to become a wedding photographer. It was a friends wedding that initiated this wild dream deep in my heart to shoot weddings (of all things) for a living. I must be in a reflective mood because I spent an hour on the phone today telling a bride the whole story! I had to stop halfway through just to make sure I wasn't monologue-ing. She assured me that she was interested and that she enjoyed hearing how I began.

For those blog-stalkers that love to get the inside scoop here are the details. I will try to stay short and sweet, but I cant promise anything, its been five-whole-years!

It actually started the summer I turned 16. I left America for a European missions trip where I traveled to over 8 different countries in 6 short weeks. I brought my mothers point and shoot camera which was her K-Mart-Special Christmas present from the year before. I suddenly loved taking pictures! I shot everything that moved, especially people. I came home that year will a fully documented trip of a lifetime; as well as 13 rolls of undeveloped film! Oh, and on the last week of my trip I incidentally lost my mothers $30 camera at the Palace Theater in London. I still need to get around to buying her a new one (12 years later).

Photography had taken root into my core and I needed to keep shooting. My grandfather happened to be a hobbyist photographer in his younger years and in his prime had bought a top of the line single lens reflex camera. A sweet Contax RTS (I dont know what that means). Ironically while I was in Europe falling in love with photography my grandfather passed away.

Soon after my Aunt caught wind that I had the photo-bug she mailed me my grandpas camera with a sentimental letter about how she thought I should have his camera to carry on his legacy. Something like that. Well, I didn't know much about legacy and I didn't know anything about photography but I knew that I needed to learn. So I enrolled in the best photography program that Paso Robles High School had to offer, Yearbook. I could care less about football games and pep rallies but I would happily photograph anything with people just for the chance to take pictures. I wrote a pretty horrible article about school spirit and did an amazing pre-Photoshop hack job involving scissors and scotch tape. Lets just say yearbook was not my passion.

As soon as I enrolled in the local community college I signed up for a real photography class. Black and White Beginning Photography. I couldnt wait for day one. I still remember my teachers words that first day of college. {Photography is one of the most expensive electives offered here at Cuesta College. If you cant afford to invest in equipment and supplies leave now and give your seat to someone who wants it more than you do.} I felt a rush of nervousness flood through my body. I didn't have money! I couldn't afford to buy equipment and supplies on my part-time paycheck from Sears Automotive. But I also couldn't ignore my love for photography. I was in.

Wow! I haven't even arrived to the part when I shot my friends wedding 5 years ago. I guess this is going to be a long one after all.

Our first photo assignment was a portrait. Take one person and shoot 2 rolls. I was thrilled at the challenge! At the time the most interesting human being was my friend Toby (now brother in-law) who happened to wear sharpie eyeliner, black nail polish, a black trench coat and fishnet stockings on his arms. Since he was going through a full-blown Goth phase I thought it appropriate to photograph him in a cemetery. Truthfully I was afraid that my teacher would be offending by the images I was pulling out of the darkroom.

"Ingalls, lets see what you got." I gulped as I handed him my tray with a freshly exposed Gothic Toby. "Wow, this is good; real good!" my teacher exclaimed. "I love the composition," he continued "and look at the depth of field here with the gravestones in the front and back of the subject." I had no idea what he meant but I was on top of the world!

I learned that year one important thing from my B&W photo class, that I loved photographing people. Unfortunately, by the end of the year my camera began leaking light, which is fatal in the world of film. Sadly, I gave up my love for photography because in reality I was just a poor college kid changing tires and waiting tables who really couldn't afford such an expensive hobby.

It all changed when I came home one day from work and noticed something out of the ordinary sitting on my dinner table. A brand new Canon Rebel G (the Andre Agassi version). It had a note attached that read, "God told me to buy this for you. Love Chris." I don't know about you but when God tells me to buy things for people its normally like a bag of groceries for a family down on their luck, a tank of gas for a traveler passing through town, or even a Christmas present for an orphan kid in India. Not a brand-new Canon rebel camera for a community college student/waiter/grease monkey. I called Chris to tell him that I didn't think he was that (tuned in) to the voice of the Lord.

Check out the Andre Agassi cutting edge ad campaign for what would be my first of many Canon cameras. Do not despise humble beginnings!

Fast forward 3 or 4 years and we return to my friends wedding 5 years ago. Darren and Jessie were both from England and due to their wedding budget being blown on international flights they asked me to shoot their wedding. I had shot some random weddings before for people that were friends and who either didn't care or couldn't afford a pro. I never knew how the pictures came out because I would literally shoot the wedding with 4 rolls of film and hand them the canisters before they left for their honeymoon. I didn't care as long as I got to take pictures!

So, I'm shooting Darren and Jessie's Santa Ynez wedding. and we haven't even gotten to the ceremony when I take a second to breathe it all in. The sun was shinning, the bride was nervous as hell and I had my fanny pack strapped to my waist with about 15 rolls of film and I'm having the time of my life. And then I hear it. A small whisper in my heart that I can only believe was Gods voice, "I want you to do this."

I would say that it was a divine moment but that would imply that most ordinary moments are not divine, when in fact every day is filled with hundreds of divine moments that to us appear as normal life. So, lets just say that this was a monumental (and divine) moment! I digress.

Its safe to say that I was not prepared 5 years ago for my life direction to turn from working with foster kids to wedding photography, but a lot can happen when you listen to voices.

Darren and Jessie's wedding turned out amazingly. We were blessed with such a perfect day finished off with a glorious sunset shoot of the bride and groom near a pond surrounding by green vineyards. I was hooked! I turned to the girl shooting next to me and asked her if she wanted to start a business with me and she agreed. Truth is, I didnt have the confidence that I could do it myself. Shawna was so good at giving instructions to the couple and organizing group photos that I figured if I didn't get her on board then my ship wouldn't sail.

Our pictures came back from the lab and I really thought we had potential! All we needed was a business name, a logo, a website and weddings. We found an ad at the Cal Poly bulletin board for "Wedding Photographer Needed: $600". Our first paid gig! After we shot this wedding Shawna decided it would be best if we went our separate ways because we were getting all of the same photos and cutting our profit in half.

I was devastated, depressed really. My camera might as well have been leaking light because I gave up the dream right there and then. I think a day or so passed and I heard The Whisper again, "I want you to do this." I proceeded to have a classic Moses and The Burning Bush conversation with the Almighty. He gave me the calling, I complained about my shortcomings, he told me to get over myself and just have a little faith for crying out loud! I finally said yes and I'm so glad I did.

I honestly cant believe all of the amazing people I have met and photographed over the 5 years since I became a wedding photographer. Each couples story is a part of my story. Their love has sown into my dream and their investment has made my dream a reality. I have learned a lot about having faith and trusting an amazing and loving God who has bigger plans and dreams for my life than I could have on my own. And just when I think I have learned something I get another lesson about love, faith and humility. Through it all I have thousands of pictures that tell story after story of the awesome commitment that a couple chooses to make to love each other till death do they part. Marriage is a divine thing. Not to say that everyday isn't divine, its just there is something deeply sacred in the heart of God when it comes to marriage and I am thrilled to be a part of capturing and displaying these moments of intense friendship, passionate love and divine romance.

I have been blessed with so many friends and family who have rallied alongside me and believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself. I have been blessed with so many clients who are now friends. I have been incredibly blessed with a best friend who has become my wife and now business partner. And most of all, I have been blessed with knowing the God who created love and marriage and who knows me better than I will ever know myself.