This is a very personal blog post for me, and I hope it doesn’t offend any of you. It is meant to tell my story only, not to pass judgement on anyone for their career and family choices.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved photography and wanted to be a photographer. Ask my high-school self what my dream job was, and I would say, “I want to be a photographer for National Geographic.” Funnily enough, though I’ve owned a multitude of point-and-shoot cameras over my lifetime, I didn’t own an SLR camera – much less a DSLR – until I was pregnant with my oldest child, 10 years ago. I was so excited to learn everything about that camera that I bought two manuals for it and read them both cover to cover in addition to the manual that came with the camera. I also signed up for some night classes to learn about photography and quickly became a serious mamarazzi to my baby boy.
I was working at a wonderful company, CQ Roll Call (formerly Congressional Quarterly) at the time as an account manager, and I loved my job. Throughout my career there, I was promoted twice and worked closely with C-level staff. I am proud of the work I did there, and I gave it my all. However, before I started working at CQ, I was a music teacher, and way back then before I was even married, I decided that I didn’t want my children to go to after-school daycare. Both my husband and I would have loved if I could be a stay-at-home parent, but living in the DC area isn’t cheap, and to be honest (this is where you may think bad things of me), during my maternity leave, I realized I wasn’t cut out to be stay-at-home mom. Frankly, it’s hard (I know, I’m a horrible, lazy person), and I missed talking with adults… and peeing by myself. There are plenty of moms who lean in to parenting, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to lean into my photography.
I started researching and found a 3-day class held by photographer, Liana Lehman Hall, that focused on helping photographers reach their business goals (she no longer teaches this class). My goal was to go full time in photography. She helped me lay out a plan, get my finances in order, re-structure my pricing to reach the minimum needed to support our family, and help me think of marketing ideas to promote my photography. That was in January of 2011.
I went home and started putting all of this new knowledge into practice, and slowly but surely, my business picked up. Unfortunately, it was very slow. For two and a half years, I continued to drop my kids at daycare in the morning (my second child, a daughter, was born in 2009), work my hardest at CQ during the day, pick them up at daycare at 6pm, make them dinner, give baths, read books, snuggle, edit photos or do CQ work at night, schedule weekend photo sessions, and repeat. In 2012, I also started doing freelance photography for Arlington Magazine and Bethesda Magazine.
Also in 2012, I remember sitting on the front steps with my husband and crying. I was so overwhelmed, so exhausted, so determined, and yet so sad that I was being such a horrible mom and wife. I felt like a failure. I remember my husband asking what I wanted to do. He could see my desperation and, trying to help, he suggested I give up the photography for a while, but the thought made me sick to my stomach. I asked him… “Then what am I doing? Showing my children that it’s okay to go to a job every day for the rest of my life just because it pays the bills instead of pursuing my dreams?” It wasn’t an option.
I kept leaning in. I was only getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep every night for a year and a half. I remember one night while editing photos at 1 a.m., starting to dream with my eyes open! Totally freaked me out.
Finally, in spring of 2013, it all clicked. Everything I had done started to pay off. I started to get significantly more emails for sessions, and I started turning more people away because I didn’t have time to take them all.
Come July of this year, I will have been a full-time photographer for three years, and every day feels like a blessing. I love it. I love it SO much, and I feel such tremendous gratitude to my family and friends who supported me on this journey and to the wonderful people who hire me to help tell their family’s story. At the risk of sounding vain, I’m also grateful to my younger self for sticking with it and seeing it through.
The day after the blizzard this January, when we got 30 inches of snow, I recorded the below video on my cell phone of my daughter crawling her way back from her friend’s house. I showed my husband, remarking how proud of I was of her incredible determination. I said, “I know who she gets that from.” (My husband started as a project manager at his company 7 years ago, and after several promotions, he is now the president of the company.) After only a second’s pause, he looked at me and said, “She gets it from you.”
Being a full-time photographer won’t earn me any mom-of-the-year awards. My children have been berating me over the past year for “never playing with them” and “always working.” However, I’m there to meet them when they get off the bus every day, I help them with their homework, and I make (or buy) them dinner… and I play with them plenty, thank you very much! Here are pics of them I took in the fall…
Are you living in the Northern Virginia region and looking for a newborn, family, or maternity photographer? Please visit my website at www.rebeccadanzenbaker.com to go through my portfolio, read about photo session packages, check my availability, and contact me to schedule your next photo session!
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P.S. I’ve used photos I took of family and friends for the “then” photos above in the hopes that they’ll understand and not be insulted! LOL!