Two years ago, on April 1st 2016, and just 2 months after my dad passed away, I began my journey with photography. Just 2 years ago I saw how quickly life could pass one by and how fragile our human lives really were. I realized none of us had as much time as we thought we did, and if I was going to live my life with as much joy and peace as I wanted to live it, I needed to make a drastic change.

So I left my office job.

And then I left my 10+ year career as an actress behind.

And then…I bought a used camera off of Amazon.

The Beginning

I took my first few portraits of my boyfriend, Alex, in Herald Square and Grand Central Station in New York City. In the moment that I opened the package of my first camera, I instantly fell in love. I knew in that moment when I opened the packaging that a new life was about to begin for me. I wasn’t sure what kind of photography I would pursue or what exactly I would do with this camera body, but I knew I wanted to own and start my own photography business, and I knew I wanted to creatively work for myself as an artist. I couldn’t imagine living 80% of my life in a windowless office, staring at a computer screen and completing simple administrative tasks with my manager constantly barking at me to make more photocopies. I couldn’t imagine not being creative or telling stories or making some sort of art with my time on this planet.

What I Didn’t Know When I Started

What I didn’t know was how much time and money I would eventually spend on my business. (Hello credit card debt)

What I didn’t know was how much time and hours I would still be staring at my computer screen.

What I didn’t know was that buying that first used camera off of Amazon was my one-way ticket to finding joy and purpose and meaning in my life. It was my ticket to freedom.

 

What I Learned

Take the Time to Play

I had to play in order to find what I loved photographing. I had to keep data collecting, taking free sessions to experiment and learn what brought me the most joy. I relied on my intuition to tell me what I had the most fun doing. Asking my inner voice “what is the most fun thing I can be doing right now?”

Discover Your Personal Style

What I discovered first was that I loved photographing people more than anything else. No amount of picturesque landscapes or beautifully architected skyscrapers could excite or interest me as much as humans could. I did a few engagement sessions, a few actor headshot sessions and they were all super fun to photograph! But I learned after just over a handful of session that photographing children and families was my true passion. I loved the spontaneity that kids brought to every session – of their curiosity and the way they could light up when you chatted them up about firetrucks, Frozen and their favorite New York subway train. I loved the boundless energy of toddlers, the soft coos of babies and the endless questions from children. I also loved how silly (and if I may be honest, quite embarrassing) I could act when I photographed children. I could make kids laugh over the silliest of things (there is nothing quite as funny as imagining a poopy diaper on dad’s head – am I right?!) and I could totally get away with it with the parents! #score

Because although I may not have children, I am a total kid at heart. I connect with kids on an innate level; I just get them. And I like to think they instinctively know that I also am a kid like them…even though I may be considered a “big kid.”

Make Mistakes in the Beginning

At the age of 21, I leapt head-first into learning everything I could about the art of business of photography. Over the years I’ve made technical errors and business mistakes. I may not have paid my taxes in the first few months, and I learned that certain weather conditions (ahem: intense winds and rain storms) do not make good family photo days. But despite the bumps along the road that first year, the lessons I’ve learned running my own business have been invaluable. Making the mistakes in the beginning allowed me for to be ready for the future when my business became busy and my work more sought after. Make the typos and keep the pricing low in the beginning so you can learn, adapt and grow from it.

What Brings You the Most Joy?

What colors are you drawn to? What words, sounds, smells, experiences pop out to you most? Where do you love to create?

These are things I am always thinking of, even now after running my business. I am constantly reinspired. When I first started my business I wanted to be a sought after New York City urban family photographer. But what I’m dawn to now is totally different! I find the most joy photographing adventurous and joyful families in new destinations around the world, surrounded by the natural elements. I learned that I would most rather photograph a family on the beach, in the fields or surrounded by mountains and forest than in a city. But this took time to develop; it didn’t happen overnight, but it took experimenting, traveling, and having a wide variety of sessions for me to learn this.

Lessons in My First Year

I’ve learned more about human psychology and entrepreneurship than I ever could have possibly learned in a traditional classroom setting. I learned how to deal with sales tax and high-maintenance moms (No, you cannot cross out every item in my contract and then expect me to work with you!). I learned more about business and branding than any marketing book. I became sensitive to shadows and depth and contrast and light thanks to my new passion, and I began taking greater notice in human expression. I learned when it was right to capture moments of my life behind the lens and when it was better to stay present and put the camera down. I learned when to say “yes” to clients and on the rare occasion, when it was time to put my foot down.

But most importantly, I learned how to find courage and when it was okay to turn your life completely around in pursuit of a dream.

It’s been my first 2 years into photography, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.

 

Below are a few of my first portraits in those first few months with my camera.

Comment Below!

Did you ever quit your line of work to pursue a new career path in pursuit of a newfound dream? What was it and are you glad you made that choice?

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What Helena Woods Learned in Her First Year in Business as Photographer

My first portraits

Alex

 

Alexis

Friends at Coney Island, May 2016

One of my favorite photos taken. It was captured during my first month learning photography and completely over exposured. But it was a beautiful lesson and an even more beautiful moment.

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What Helena Woods Learned in Her First Year in Business as Photographer

A Used Camera from Amazon: What I Learned My First Year in Business

April 3, 2018

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Helena Woods is a destination family photographer currently based in France but travels worldwide. She lives for diving the world's oceans, recording her experiences traveling the world on her blog, and documenting moments of joyful and magical human connection. Her style is modern classic, emotive and honest. She believes in wild adventures, laughing too hard, and most importantly: capturing genuine moments that evoke feeling over perfectly posed photographs.

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