How I Ended up Behind the Camera
There was never a time when I ever had a burning desire to be a photographer. I mean, I always liked taking pictures as much as the next girl - especially when the selfie game started, #noshame - but there was never an aching inside of me to pick up a camera and become the next big thing. I didn’t even know what a DSLR was until a few years ago. Photography never crossed my life radar.
Growing up, my parents thought I would become a teacher as I held class with my two younger sisters in our basement playroom - keeping them hostage as I wrote on the dry erase board, graded their papers, and bossed them around. When high school neared an end, I decided to go the nursing route, for all practical purposes, as I’ve always been a reasonable, concrete thinker… easy, short school with no debt, guaranteed job security, and decent pay. I nursed for a while, hating every second of it (again, WHY do they think 17 year olds have the mental capacity to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives?!) until I met and married my husband, begging him to let us have children so I could become a stay at home mom and live happily ever after. Oh, how life is funny, and how God loves to stir our self-created pot…
A couple years into stay at home motherhood, with two babies 15 months apart on my hip, the whole happy wife/happy life thing started to not work out as well as I had envisioned. Boredom, monotony, and depression set in, and I began to look for something to give me a feeling of purpose and identity, separate from changing diapers, sucking snot out of tiny noses, and visiting countless library story times.
During these endless days, my Feedly was on fire, and I read blogs like it was my day job. One day, a post popped up from a mommy blogger putting out a call for writers to contribute to her new website she had created, Daily Mom. I hesitated, and thought, “I can write.” I did, after all, have several poems published in elementary school (the local newspaper does count!), spent hours creating fairytale stories with my childhood best friend, complete with self-illustrated pages and stapled editions, and I attempted a diary in high school, although all I can remember writing about were my boy woes. Feeling ultra-confident, albeit a bit desperate, I replied to the blogger, and I started writing.
I wrote well. Very well. So well, in fact, that I made my way to a non-paid team member almost instantly (I should say that Daily Mom was run on a "volunteer" basis, no money was ever paid to us). And I was hooked. Writing gave me an outlet, a way to separate myself from being “just a mom”, even though I was ironically writing for a mommy website; it gave me joy and distraction during bad days, and made me feel important, like I had a voice that was being heard, and it instantly funneled me into a community of like-minded women and fellow moms who I was able to virtually share life with. I poured out article after article with passion and perfection, so when I was told that in order to go further in the team I had to learn how to take pictures in a somewhat professional manner, I didn’t miss a beat in saying yes.
My husband bought me an entry level Canon Rebel t3i and a “nifty-fifty” hundred buck lens, and as soon as I pulled it out of the box, I put it on AV mode and started shooting, never looking back, and never once - even to this day - have I ever shot a single photo on the auto setting. I scoured Pinterest and the internet for every article and piece of information I could find on photography, as well as followed the guidance of the Daily Mom girls who had gone before me, and I self taught myself the basics, plus some.
I loved it. It was another outlet, in addition to my writing, that gave me control over something in my life when I was barely hanging on raising two tiny babies; it gave me an excitement to learn something new besides how to treat excoriated, urgent care worthy diaper rash and how to pop clogged milk ducts.
So I shot. And shot and shot and shot. Mostly for Daily Mom, shooting car seats, baby products, and my kids dressed up in free, too-expensive-for-regular-people-to-buy clothing; as I moved up in the team and became editor, I began shooting travel features. I got better. I learned more. My hobby was fun and rewarding, and I enjoyed the challenge and creativity that presented itself every time a new box showed up on my doorstep. For me, at that point in my life, photography was never going to be anything more than taking pictures of my kids, using it to document my travels, and as a method of securing the latest Keenshoes and Diono car seats. And I was perfectly content with it being just that.
But then it happened. One of my worst nightmares came true. My marriage crumbled. To me, it felt like it came from out of thin air, but after the months that followed that surreal day of discovery, months spent full of self-reflection and peeling through the last ten years we had spent together with a fine-tooth comb, I realized that it was just a slow leak that finally exploded.
One day as I sat in the therapist’s office, panic started to creep in. I was slapped in the face with the realization that, whether immediately or a few years from now, I would no longer be provided for by my husband. The lifestyle and tangible pleasures that I took for granted would soon be gone. I hadn’t worked - in the capacity of making an income - for almost four years, half of our marriage. I truly thought that I would always be a stay at home mom, even when the kids went to school full-time, because that was how both of our parents did it, and we were blessed with the income that my husband made to financially be able to. Now, all of a sudden, life was upside down and didn’t make sense, and I panicked.
I was terrified that I would have to go back to nursing - and spend 12 hours of every day miserable, stressed to the max, never seeing my kids. I was terrified that I would have to move back in with my parents and spend my 30s the way I spent my teens. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to go to Clean Juice, get a massage, open up a Trunk Club box, or frequent Target on my usual schedule ever.again. (Hyperbolic, much?)
So, I did what I do. When I hit rock bottom, I tend to wake up the next morning and make a list of all the changes that need to be made in my life to move forward in a more positive way. And I do them big time, overboard, passionately, diving in head-first without looking back - for better or worse.
I needed to make money. Even though as the months passed and I realized that I would be taken care of - from a legally financial standpoint, sans a Trunk Club box or two - in those first few days, I thought the rug of middle-class wealth would be pulled out from under me at any moment. So I needed to be prepared.
That’s when I looked over at my camera and thought, “Ok, I’ll be a photographer.” I told my friend I was going to be a professional photographer so I wouldn’t become homeless, and she rolled her eyes and said, “You too?” Yup, me too - I was going to be the cliche stay at home mom who picks up a camera and becomes an overnight "professional photographer". That’s who I was going to be - and only so I didn’t end up back inside those hospital doors or in a cardboard box crayon decorated by my kids.
I went home, designed and created a website and an Instagram account, picked a business name (my full name is Danielle Nicole - yet everyone at Daily Mom calls me Dani, so…), called a CPA to see what I needed from a legal standpoint, and booked my first family session, all within the span of one month from the “day of discovery” (what I unaffectionately call that day now). I went from four years of not working, and never thinking I would “need” to again, to opening my own business in a day. That’s what happens when life happens.
That was a little over a year ago (in August of 2016), when Dani Nicole Photography was born.
And I love every.single.second. I’m behind that lens.
Needless to say, I still can’t believe I am where I am. If you told me five years ago when I first held that foreign camera in my hands that I would be going through a divorce and photographing weddings for thousands of dollars five years later, I would have laughed in your face, and probably slapped you.
Yet, here I am, and although my personal life isn’t exactly how I envisioned it at 30 years old, I can’t tell you how lucky and honored and beyond thankful I am that a camera made its way into my life. To be owning my own business, to be bringing in money through an avenue that doesn’t feel like work in the least, to be able to remain at home with my kids, to make people smile and provide them with beautiful images that capture their real life moments, and to know that I’ll be able to provide for myself long after the alimony runs out is a good feeling.
It's good that I ended up behind the camera.