My Story: How I Got Here, Obstacles + Challenges, My Work and Who Else Deserves Credit
An editor from VoyageAustin magazine recently reached out and asked if they could share my story. They interview local entrepreneurs, creatives and community leaders for their Inspiring Stories section.
I was honored and happy to share, but quickly realized this meant I would need to sit down and reflect on the past couple of decades to piece together the story. Can’t believe I haven’t taken the time to do this yet. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. (As most things worth it are…)
Here’s what I came up with.
When I was growing up, photo shoots with friends were one of my very favorite things to do (usually on a Kodak disposable camera!). My mother and grandfather (on my dad’s side) were also very into photography. Mom had more of an artsy style while Granddaddy was very much a documentarian. I have found that over the years, I sort of blended their styles to develop my own.
Growing up, I never had a lot of extra money to spend on fancy things, but I always had the best camera I could afford, and it was good enough for me!
Just like playing the piano or painting or playing outside, photographing has always been a creative outlet for me. I shot what I wanted to shoot. There was never a real goal or purpose, it was just an experience. It was my way of telling stories.
I have always been driven to capture life as-is, never wanting to alter the natural state of people or things – but only to bring out their very best. I love discovering the little pieces and moments that make up a big picture and capturing them all.
In the early 2000’s, with the dawn of social media, I was able to get my work out there! The world could finally see what I was working on and soon enough, friends and family began to ask me to document their moments. I was flattered and super excited! And so it began… one project led to another and I began spending so much time working on projects for others that it made sense to charge a fee to cover my time. Before I knew it, I had a pretty legit side hustle.
Over the next 15 years, I would throw myself into the development of my craft. I studied other artists who inspired me, invested more money in quality gear, learned more about editing and began to market myself as a leading lifestyle photographer in the Austin area… which I truly believed I was then and still do to this day.
(Side note: If you don’t have that innate ability to believe in yourself – there is a whole lot of truth in the old adage, FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT!)
When I lost my sales & marketing job in the custom home design/build industry in 2014, shortly after the birth of my first daughter, I came to a fork in the road. I could either look for another promising opportunity in the industry or take everything I had learned about business and jump headfirst into my goal of becoming a full-time photographer. If you know me, you’d already know… I took the road less traveled by. Best and most scary decision I ever made.
Over the last 7 years, I have been fortunate to develop a solid client base and am able to create and collaborate on seriously amazing projects with some pretty amazing human beings!
OBSTACLES + CHALLENGES
The struggles I have faced are probably typical of any artist, especially when you’re walking away from a solid corporate job with great pay and benefits to fly by the seat of your pants and live on a prayer. Gotta be honest, I didn’t ever mind livin’ on a prayer. Some of my most questionable years are the ones I hold closest to my heart.
The first challenge was the dreaded, initial and likely significant pay cut. There have been months/years when I went into the red and others that I barely broke even. I have learned to save when I can and live responsibly as far as finances go. If you can make it through the first few years, you might just find that your income will eventually catch back up to what it was before and at some point, even surpass it… but this time it’s better because you’re doing what you love. Just today, my mom said I should write more. I told her, “Mom, I don’t try to make money doing what I love. I do what I love until I’m so good at it that I start making money.”
Finding clients in the beginning was another significant challenge. Building a solid client base did not happen overnight. In fact, the first year was pretty dang slow. It has taken over a decade to build that base of loyal clients that I was looking for. However, it would have been much more difficult before social media – Facebook, Insta, Pinterest and YouTube have been monumental for me. But learning how to use social media effectively and get in front of the right people, with the right words and photographs is a learning experience of its own! In the beginning, you have to experiment and see what works. It’s exhausting, time consuming and frustrating, but it’s part of it.
You need patience (read that again). And faith. Faith that you have a gift and that if you keep doing what you love, it will move people and you will pave your own way. Being an artist isn’t about following a path, it’s about making your own. Blazing your own trail can be scary and confusing and weird and shitty and great and all of the things in between. But, if it’s the path you know you’re meant to take, you stick with it… come hell of high-water.
There are a few things that I believe have separated me from others. 1) Pure grit. 2) My ability to connect with people by any means necessary regardless of what is going on in my personal life. 3) Absolute love of the craft.
In the words of Ashley McBryde [Girl Goin’ Nowhere], “it took a whole lot of yes I wills and I don’t care”.
When I’m working with clients, connection is the always primary motive. As a photographer, f you can’t get someone to feel comfortable with you, in front of your lens… very quickly (you’ve essentially failed), you’ll never get an authentic display and therefore will not be able to accurately tell their story.
One thing that I already had a natural gift for but have seriously developed over the years is the ability to dive deep and bring out the best in people. It’s what allows me to capture photographs that make you feel like you were actually there… like you know these people’s hearts!
As an artist, you must completely understand your subject in order to accurately translate their life.
As for me, my direction is clear. I know what’s important to me. New experiences, spending time with the people I love, knowing my truth, living my truth and creating beautiful photographs that will forever tell the stories of the people who have graced my lens and crossed my path. This wild job allows me to live the way I want and fulfills my deep need to create. I truly can’t imagine doing anything else.
I am a purveyor of the photographic arts. I am inspired by connection and adventure. My work captures humor, love, truth and kindness. I do not photograph because I can, I photograph because I must.
I work primarily with entrepreneurs, couples and families.
My work has been published in Forbes Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Yoga Journal, Texas Monthly, Austin Monthly, MAXIM, Austin Woman Magazine, Luxe Magazine and more.
WHO ELSE DESERVES CREDIT
My family and the people I have chosen to keep in my close circle have always believed in me and supported my dreams, wild as they may be. I was never discouraged from following my heart. I was questioned, warned of the challenges, knew there was no one to bail me out (so-to-speak) if it didn’t work out… but never discouraged by them.
Just last weekend, my 80-something-year-old grandfather asked me how the photo gig was going. I told him I was keeping busy and having fun! I asked, “did you ever think I’d turn this thing we love so much into a career?” fully expecting a no. He said, “oh, yeah!”.
They believed in me then and they believe in me now. MY PEOPLE.
Haven’t worked with me before? Learn more!
Follow my journey on Instagram. @melanieapplegatephotography
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