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A Life Changed: Imaging USA - PPA Today

A Life Changed: Imaging USA

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By Karen & Lonnie Bentley 
Strawberry Hill Photography
Bremen, GA

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That's me, the "other photographer" as I am now lovingly yet jokingly called.

Professional Photographer- it's a title that I (Karen) dreamed of since I was a young teenager in the mid 90's. A lot transpired to get me safely into my 26th year of life, but for the sake of time, we will start with the facts.  I was a mom of two small children, married to Lonnie, a factory worker who labored on a rotating shift, and the kids and I rarely got to spend time with him. I'm not gonna lie, we struggled...Lord did we struggle,  but in late 2006 I  finally had the courage to take the leap by starting my own photography business. My first studio originated in an old storage building on our property-(oh how I cringe about it now but it was a starting point!)  and things have been slowly yet steadily progressing since then, but this blog isn't about all of that.

A few years went by and my little business was actually a  smooth sailing success, but as a mom, I was sinking. I was overwhelmed, I was overworked, I was burnt out, and my home life was a disaster. My husband and I fought a lot, especially when I came home from a long day of sessions and he'd say "oh gosh, whatever...all you do is click a button". (yes, insert the world's biggest angry photographer emoji right here!) Don't get too mad at my husband Lonnie, he didn't know any better and bless it, he was so tired all the time. One thing I could tell you at that time was that he had absolutely NO interest in photography. In his own words, he was a "grunt laborer" and that was just how his life was.

I don't remember where I heard about Imaging USA the first time.  All I remember was that it was coming to Atlanta (which is only an hour drive from my town), in January 2013 and that I was really excited to learn new things.  Driving in Atlanta is simply not something I can do sanely, so I begged Lonnie to come with me. "Think of it as a mini getaway for us," I said.  He finally agreed. 

I remember being so amazed at how many photographers were at this convention- and how everything was so HUGE to me that year. (Imaging USA 2013):

10312.jpgHere we are at the Social Box booth in the expo that year- poor Lonnie still had no idea what was about to happen to him at this point. 


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I wanted to take EVERY class, but I tried to be choosy as to what I thought would help me most.  Photography in a small town gets really cutthroat- no one shares their secrets, and here I was in a vast pool of open knowledge!

One day I had chosen a maternity/newborn class by Julia Kelleher I think. Lonnie immediately said "oh no, I am NOT sitting through that with you." hahaha. He said he would just go sit in whatever class was next door instead and meet up with me afterward.

Lonnie ended up in a class called "The power of light" by the one and only Jerry Ghionis.  I will never truly know the power of what actually happened in that class...and believe you me, I have kicked myself over and over for not being there. All I can say is that when Lonnie came out of those doors, he was a different man. His first words to me (excitedly) were  "oh my God Karen, I'm a photographer....I can do this...I get it." 
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(of course the one time he gets a selfie with his idol I take a blurry cell pic!)

Now you can imagine that I had the most enormous, super exaggerated,"see your own brain"-kind of eye roll-  I was beside myself with laughter and disbelief. 

And guess what happened after that? Well, within 3 months Lonnie left his factory job and became the full-time lead photographer for Strawberry Hill Photography.  Where I lacked in technical know-how, Lonnie excelled. Crazy, I know, but it's true! He's an amazing photographer and it has truly been a whirlwind. He said Ghionis played a slideshow that used the song "Secrets" by One Republic and we play it a lot on the way to big sessions-  we say it's Lonnie's "theme song" haha!

We talk shop every day about our idols, Ghionis, Dan Rowe, Ben Shirk, Gary Box, Fuzzy Duenkel, Dan Frievalt, and agonize over how we can do better, take better photos, how to save up for even better gear in future.

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We have both been full-time photographers for four years now. We share the load and tag team every obstacle. If you had told me in December of 2012 that Lonnie would be a photographer, I'd have laughed myself into hysteria. If you had told me then that he would be doing it full time, and that our sole income would be from photography, I'd have just screamed "LIES!" and walked away.

It has been an incredible ride- and I know without a shadow of a doubt, that Imaging USA changed our lives. Had everything not fallen into place the way it did, I just don't want to even think about what state our life would be in right now. My husband and I are together 95% of the time, and I love it. We are able to take time off for our girls' activities when we need to, and life is good for us. Lonnie never knew he was a photographer-I guess we just needed Imaging USA and Jerry Ghionis to shine the light for him.

Imaging 2017- San Antonio- we made a few selfies in our awesome Hotel:
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Unfortunately, we won't be able to make it this January -it is KILLING us to know we will miss out after all these years, but we have been blessed with an upgraded studio space that has consumed all of our funds at the moment. Hopefully, we can make IUSA2019 happen!' 
I always hope that the speakers at Imaging know how much they influence other's lives!

Be kind and take epic photos y'all!
Karen & Lonnie

Of course, if you haven't registered for Imaging USA yet, do it today! Find all the different options on the registration page.

See you in Nashville!  


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on October 31, 2017 10:16 AM.

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