And so it begins...

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

For a little over a year and half now, I have had lack of clarity in the direction of where I want to gravitate toward within the next step of my career. At the age of 15, I started to build a portrait business photographing anyone who knocked on my door. Literally saying yes to anything and everything. It was great, it was exciting, and it was a lot of dedication and hard work. I loved it!


An entire decade flew by, and seven of those years, I enrolled in as many photography classes as I possibly could including my higher education. As a sophomore in college, I was able to go completely full time with my portrait business, Photos By E. My skill in photography and understanding of how to run a successful business grew exponentially during the following years. The year after going full time, my portrait business doubled in size. The next year it doubled again. Then for my last semester of college, I moved out to the Boston area for an internship with Sofft Shoe. This was the opportunity I had always hoped for! I finally got the chance to see real life commercial shoots and work in a real commercial studio. I was taken on business trips to New York City, helped out with on location shoots, learned how the commercial industry operates, and be surrounded by so many amazing shoes! The greatest part of it all though, was the amazing people who I got to meet and work under. It was an incredible experience, but I found out about half way through it, it wasn't for me.

Captured my friend Zach for my fashion study while interning in Massachusetts with Sofft Shoe.

As much as I loved working for Sofft, I had missed the creative freedom I had with my portrait business back home. Once my internship ended, I made the decision to move back home to South Dakota and continue my fast growing business as well as travel for months at a time out of my car. That next fall semester, my portrait business doubled again. And the year after that, it tripled. For many, that is the dream! At one point, I thought it was mine as well. But my excitement in portrait photography quickly started dying out. Many consider this, "the burnout phase," which I use to never think I would ever deal with that. Of course with everything there will always be something you don't like. That's just life. I completely accept and embrace that. But when the bad starts outweighing the good, it's time for a change of pace.



 

Lost and uncertain


By the end of 2017 I was on the fence of sticking it out another year. I knew so many people who were looking forward to hiring me to be their photographer in the upcoming years. One of my worst stressors is letting people down or knowing that I did them wrong in some way. Saying no for the first time ever in my career scared the shit out of me. But this stress was eating at me on so many levels on top of all the other things I was unclear and worried about. It was down right stupid.


I kept pushing out my final decision of whether to take on new clients for the upcoming busy season or not (summer through fall). I conjured up countless of ideas to find a way out of the business I worked so hard to grow without putting anyone out. I thought moving away could be the best escape route and would somehow fix the weirdness I dealt with. I began the development of so many new business ideas, too many that I couldn't even start to execute because the ideas were so scattered and unclear. I tried to diagnose the weak points in my portrait business and find ways to fix my system, but that wasn't working out either. Everything just continued falling through.


March came around and I got a call from my former boss from Sofft Shoe regarding the need of a second shooter for Born Shoe's fall campaign. "Yes!" I thought, "a new opportunity that could help me discover a more clear direction on where the next step in my career should go!" Three days later, they flew me down to Moab to be their second shooter. This experience was life changing. I thought weddings were difficult, boy was I wrong. HA I got a serious reality check the first day on set.

One of my favorite shots I took during the Born Shoe fall campaign outside Moab, UT

This experience humbled the eff out of me. To work amongst Blasius Erlinger, a world renown fashion photographer who literally travels to a different country just about every week to shoot models and celebrities in the most exotic locations with his amazing wife and fantastic crew was astounding to me. Then there was me, this small town portrait photographer from sweet innocent South Dakota thrown into the mix of all these extremely professional and very talented strangers who were all incredibly well versed in this line of work. You bet your ass I was a nervous wreck!


That first morning of shooting, I was being watched and critiqued by a large portion of the crew. The only thing I could think of was everything I could be doing wrong in their eyes. I was literally shaking in fear, my confidence was lacking dramatically, and all I could think of was how obvious my unstable emotions were. Those thoughts were holding me back from what I knew I could do because of the fear of what they thought about me. How stupid right?! Yeah I know! After the main production finally began, I had a lot less eyes on me and started to kinda relax. I had to swallow my pride after that first hour and realize this isn't about me, its about serving this company, their consumers, and this crew to the best of my abilities. I was hired to showcase their products and story in the best light, just like I'd do back home with my seniors and subjects. That whole week put all things in my life into some serious perspective. To have met such a dedicated and real group of people who slayed so hard in their careers and to see how a big production fashion campaign unfolds was mind blowing. There were so many wonderful things that came with this experience and I am beyond grateful to have had this opportunity as well as being asked to follow up with the video campaign later that next month. In the heat of it all, I thought I wanted that. But after coming home and looking back on it all, I came to the same conclusion as I did when I chose to not take the job with Sofft Shoe. I didn't want anyone above me or directing me over my shoulder and making my creative choices for me. How selfish and unrealistic of me.



 

Going dark


After it all, I went dark on all my social media platforms for a couple months. I didn't want anyone knowing anything about me anymore. I was embarrassed and ashamed. That one week away from my portrait business put me so far behind in my work. I was becoming more and more angry with myself, my stress continued to build, my lack of clarity in what I wanted got worse, and my well being just really went downhill. One thing I did figure out through all that though, was that I was done with Photos By E. I finished all the remaining sessions and events I already committed to, but for anyone else, I turned away. I realized, it was not fair to my future clients who were excited to work with me and were ready to invest in my services if I was not able to genuinely reciprocate the same. I couldn't force that. Because if I was going to take on a client and charge what I charged, I wanted to serve them far above their expectations and create an amazing, seamless experience. I knew that if I continued taking on more, I couldn't serve them the way they deserved or the way I knew I could. To be quite honest, I personally wouldn't want to be "served" by someone who is only half there at heart or is empty in their purpose of their line of work.


Time continued, my moving plans didn't work like I had hoped, I deleted any and all traces of my portrait business. And for the first time in my life, I straight up had no idea what the hell I was going to do next. Yes I had ideas, but none of them were clear. Bits and pieces were there, but to really figure out another option for making a living, I didn't exactly know how or where to begin. I got no where since January 2018. I was all over the place with ways to make a buck. My obstinance of only wanting to be my own boss was quickly getting ready to hit a brick wall. So I started to just go outside. I hiked everywhere I could with just me and my camera. I literally just sat in nature for hours sometimes just thinking, observing, and clearing my mind in hopes to spark some great and realistic way to love what I do for a living again. I worked on fine tuning my style of photography as well as myself.



 

Light at the end of the tunnel


During all this instability, a new opportunity was presented. A shoe company by the name of Bionica had reached out to me and wanted to hire me to take lifestyle imagery of myself in the outdoors, wearing their shoes. At first, I really didn't know what to expect. I've worked with a couple companies before this, but this was different. I was compensated in more than just product and some online exposure. I had not a single person lurking over my shoulder telling me what they want to see different or demanding how I should go about shooting it or hearing what they don't like about it. Bionica trusted me. They found value in me and my work. I actually cried tears of joy! For the first time I had complete control with everything. The styling, locations, the time of day I wanted to shoot, the freedom of not having to rely on other people. It was all on me. I was able to spend more time shooting and less time in front of the computer. More time doing what I loved and crafting the entire production to its full potential. This was the beginning of some clarity.

An image from the first assignment I did for Bionica

My assignment with Bionica eventually finished. Spring was coming to a close. I was still pretty lost, but I at least had some time to think and reflect on what a great opportunity it was to work with Bionica the way I did. Summer went by and in previous years this is the time when my busy season began. However, this year, it was different for obvious reasons since I was no longer taking on new portrait jobs. My thoughts ate at me every day questioning myself whether I made the right decision or not. I had lots of doubts thinking that I really blew my chances at ever making it again being my own boss and all. But through all the questions and doubts that constantly raced through my head, one thing I knew for sure was, I have no one or nothing to blame but myself. I have and always will believe that my happiness and well being is determined by the choices I make. But something I've always known but never actually gotten myself to do until recently, is stop dwelling on things in the past. What's done is done. I can't take back what I have already chosen to do. The only thing I can do, is focus on being proactive instead of reactive. Make decisions that will help me progress instead of regress.



Eventually, I began to start posting again on Instagram. My style of work switched from super light and airy to more dramatic, dark and moody. I chose to include myself within my images, but I never wanted to show my face. The confidence was still lacking, but I wanted to somehow showcase my love for unique fashion mixed with my consistent desire to explore outside. Soon after, another door opened. A brand that I have worn for so long and stand behind on so many levels direct messaged me on Instagram. Fabletics. I was shook! They asked me to join their team and capture lifestyle imagery, wearing their clothes, while doing what I love doing best in them. I couldn't believe it! I accepted right away and now every month I get to capture myself wearing two super cute new outfits from Fabletics while doing everything I love and have complete creative freedom! That was when I realized, this line of work actually does exist and it was something I could start picturing myself doing full time.

September came, and Bionica reached out again! This time they wanted to work with me more than the last round! I was so happy they had a positive experience the first go around and this time I wanted to really push my creativity to the next level for them.


My first assignment I did for Fabletics

Through the fall I worked with both these brands and started to understand more about how I could fit in this industry. I researched and followed influencers and people alike. I began to engage more with them and my muddied direction started clearing up. My days of feeling lost and ashamed were slowly becoming less frequent. About three or four weeks ago, I finally found enough clarity to begin designing a new website. A domain with a focused direction of where I want to take this new lifestyle and line of work. A place to just grow and share and to be fricken real.


2018 wasn't my best year, but it was a necessary and important year. I came to terms with myself that I am human and no matter how great things may go for however long, it's crucial to be brought back down to earth. I took a pretty big risk putting aside something I worked on building for a whole decade. Even though the transition really sucked, the first time in a while, I was feeling happy again and clearer with how and where I wanted to take my future goals. I am fully aware that these coming years will bring good and bad and I take full responsibility for it all, I'm not perfect. So with that, I'm going to continue doing what I can and simply add to my collection of successes and failures as well as share about the things I find work and the things that don't.


This is me, this is my story, and I invite you to learn and grow with me and try to figure out this journey of life together.

Cheers to 2019,

-Ellen




P.S. I want to give a huge shoutout to all my friends and family who were there for me during this strange and interesting chapter of my life. Whether you knew about it or not, you guys are really what helped me stay grounded. Especially my sister Remy and friend Mike. I don't think I would have made these strides without you two.


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