There are times I love Project 365 (almost all the time), and times when I enjoy it a little less. We happen to be at the intersection of the two times I really struggle with it: the gray doldrums of winter, and the midst of a crisis. The photos themselves haven’t been the problem, but right now, the very last thing I feel like doing is trying to sum up the last three months in words. But here we are.
At the beginning of November, my mom had an x-ray that showed a mass on her pancreas. The doctor said it was most likely cancer. We read the Internet; we freaked out; we stopped sleeping; we started revising last wills and testaments. A few days later, the gastro specialist and the pancreatic surgeon advised us to back down from the panic, that it looked like a cystic mass to them rather than a tumor. We calmed down for a couple of days. The doctors got her scheduled for surgery one week after detecting the mass, because they are amazing. They were able to completely remove it and saw no evidence that anything had spread beyond the pancreas. We exhaled.
Then they ran a pathology report and discovered that not only was it cancer after all, it was an incredibly rare adenosquamous tumor, which basically means two types of cancer got together and decided to have a party. We read the Internet; we freaked out; we stopped sleeping again. We assumed we had maybe six months left with her, so aggressive are these tumors. Then we met with her cancer doctor, who said they were going to recommend chemo and give it their best shot given the amazingly early diagnosis, the complete removal of the tumor, and her otherwise good health. She will start chemo this week, with the hope of besting or at least staving off the cancer for a significant period of time. It is better than it could be, that’s for sure–but knowing that she has to go through chemo again, given how low it laid her the last time, is upsetting. I hope it’s less terrible this time. Hope hope hope.
So that’s where we are. We have been up and down on an emotional roller coaster so many times over the past five weeks that I barely have a concept of space and time right now. (I think the full-throttle resurgence of my insomnia has something to do with that, but melatonin has started giving me aggressive spider dreams, so I’m at a loss.) I sometimes think I’m dealing with it well; other times I wonder if I’m dealing with it at all. At first, I was crying all the time. Now, I’m trying to keep from thinking all the dark thoughts whenever possible. But at the same time, I don’t want to get too comfortable because I don’t want the shock to be as horrible if and when we get bad news again. I don’t think anything could really make this easier, the idea of losing the most important person in my life. But carrying around a sense of imminent doom every day is no way to function, so we just soldier on. I think we’re mostly doing okay, most of the time.
Here is the other thing.
It’s time for a major change in my photography business. I had an incredible year with photography. When I decided to try my hand at shooting something besides trees in 2008, I never expected that I would be regularly photographing families, couples, babies who are less than a week old, and most significantly, the milestones in the lives of people I just adore. It is a gift to be able to do this, and when I take a step back, as I have over the past month, I realize the magnitude of it. I’ve loved telling stories since I was five years old and my kindergarten teacher gave me a fuzzy rainbow sticker for a book I drew. Now I am taking photos of my kindergarten teacher’s five grandchildren and helping her capture her own story. That’s the warmest, fuzziest thing ever! I want to keep doing this so, so much.
But…I can’t keep going on the path I have been. The other side to the coin is that I shot so many sessions in 2013 that I spent the majority of the year in a state of near-total burnout. I just don’t have spare time, because I’m editing photos around the clock. (I haven’t even blogged my last fifteen sessions. Crikey!) This means I haven’t been as present as a friend or family member as I want to be; I haven’t been able to serve like I want to (I would dearly love to be a Big Sister again, and it’s just not possible); I don’t exercise and I eat my feelings (my feelings are conveniently loaded with sugar!); when on Earth would I ever have time to go on a date?; etc. It took the idea of having only a few months left with my mom to get me to start taking better care of myself, and that just shouldn’t be.
But throwing myself into doing photography full-time isn’t something I can do immediately. It’s a process. Part of that is so awesome it makes me want to do a happy dance (that’s the rebranding part that I’ve been doing with a wonderful designer I’ll introduce you to…on my new, improved website debuting this winter!). I’ve been thinking through all the nifty things I can do with my new logo and packaging, my shiny new website, and all the cool little gifts and fun things I can do for my clients. I went to a workshop this summer with the incredible Michele Anderson of Pinkle Toes Photography (shockingly, I never got around to blogging about that either, but she did!). I came away feeling so inspired and full of ideas. It opened up windows I can’t wait to peek through with my own work.
It also splashed a cold dose of reality on the part of this process that’s not so fun: reconfiguring my pricing. (I hatehatehate talking about money, so this is probably the one and only time I’m gonna do it. Buckle up!) When we were talking about prices, Michele called out a number that you should be charging only if you’re shooting your images and then immediately burning them to a disc: no sorting through to choose the best ones, no color-correcting, no blemish removal, no fixing flyaway hairs or bruises or stained shirts, or doing any of the million things I do to make a photo “sing.” She said “If you’re doing all those things and this is what you’re charging, chances are you’re headed straight for a burnout, and you won’t be able to shoot for much longer, period.” I raised my hand and admitted that was my exact pricing and my exact experience. It’s now the end of 2013, and for many months I shot just as many sessions as Michele shoots–I’ve secretly been working two full-time jobs! That is sort of a weird thing to discover. Ha!
And so when I looked at the possibility of concentrating solely on photography, I did the math on what it would cost–what taxes I would have to charge and pay, what insurance I would need to carry, the cost of backup cameras, software, professional memberships, office supplies, memory cards, repairs, web hosting, and a metric ton of postage. I’ve been paying for a lot of those things already, of course–but not with the money I make from photography. Because for the year 2013, I lost $6,500 on my photography business. At my current prices, I can’t finance taking photos without my day job. Which means I definitely don’t come close to being able to live off photography.
That meant I had to make the difficult decision to increase my prices for 2014. It’s been almost 3 years since my last price hike, during which time I’ve invested considerable time and money into becoming a better photographer. Even with the new rates, I’m still at the low end of what I mathematically should be charging to be sustainable full-time according to my Handy Excel Spreadsheet, but I want there to be at least some chance that my wonderful, amazing clients will stick with me. I’m going to do whatever I can to keep them happy, because if this weren’t a necessary change, it’s not one I’d be making. I never want or need to get anything approaching wealthy doing photography. I do need to be able to integrate it into my life at a level that keeps me from sitting at a desk for eight hours a day at my job, and then another four or five hours when I get home every night. However this shakes out–if I get lucky enough to do photos full-time, or if my paying clients slow down and I have time to focus on shooting for things like the Magic Hour Foundation–it’s a move I needed to make. I hope that everyone understands it for what it is–the very opposite of an ego- or money-driven decision. What it is, is the only way I can keep doing this thing that I love so much.
If you made it through this post, bless you. It’s been a hard few months of soul-searching, and that’s not always fun to write (or read) about. But everyone I know has been so supportive and wonderful about everything I’ve been going through. I don’t know how I got so blessed with the people in my life, but I truly am. I hope I can spend much more time with all of you next year, under happy circumstances. Merry, merry Christmas, dear ones.