"I came home from Imaging USA with my soul rejuvenated. I was finally on my remarkable path. A road that no one could possibly repeat or compete with because it was my life, my experiences and my "why". For the first time, I confidently loved declaring that I am a professional photographer because I am proud of what I am creating. Not just gorgeous heirlooms, but creating healing in hearts and homes."
This guest article was written by Michelle Ellsworth
At 10:10 pm on April 20th, 2006 my oldest son took his last breath after a fall from my second story window. Eighteen hours previously in the wee hours of the morning, I found myself sitting at my computer starting my photography business. I personally thought I was crazy because I had two children under the age of two years old. Little did I know that photography would be the thing that healed my broken heart for the next ten years.
My photography style was developed by pondering, "if I could go back one more day what would I want to remember?"
Not so much the perfect portrait but the soul behind the smile and the love within the laughter. My mission became to capture the connection of my clients from behind the camera and to give to them what I so badly wished I could give to myself, the priceless gift of memories.
You don’t know how priceless something is until the opportunity is lost. There is no dollar amount I would not pay to have another day. That was what I wanted to give to my clients. The gift of ‘today’ for all of their tomorrows. After all, heaven only takes a few children, but time takes them all.
I quickly found I was embarrassed to admit I was a photographer because it felt like everyone’s moms, sisters, aunts, grandma had an iPhone which qualified them to capture keepsakes. I told myself the reason I wasn’t getting inquiries, bookings or calls was because my market was oversaturated.
The idea of in-person sales was laughable because, in Utah where I am from, there are about as many cheap humans as there are church houses and ‘everyone just wants digitals’ (Not true). I had been in business for twelve years and still felt like an amateur, even though I was really proud of my work.
My business was stagnant and stale, not growing one dollar in all the years I had been in business. I observed other photographers who had raving fans as clients with calendars packed solid for the year and creatives charging what seemed to be an outrageous amount of money for their work. It seemed their businesses were built on referrals of devoted customers.
I didn’t know how to get those kinds of clients. It felt like I was an imposter fighting tooth and nail for every $400 shoot-and-burn client who often ended up being high-maintenance humans I didn’t enjoy working with.
Owning the title of "professional photographer" or better yet, "expert photographer" seemed far from reach. I knew it wasn’t talent that separated me from the successful photographers, I just couldn’t place my finger on where the problem resided.
Twelve years into my photography career I found myself sitting in Ryan Estis’ keynote speech given at the 2018 Imaging USA conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Feeling underpaid and unwanted with only enough money to survive, I contemplated jumping ship from the oversaturated photography industry to pursue my career in speaking and mentoring those in grief.
Everything changed in one moment as I heard the speaker Ryan exclaim, "To become memorable you must do something REMARKABLE!"
Those words resonated within my soul a hundred decibels louder than how he delivered them through the mic.
For years I had heard the advice that you have to do something different than your competitors. Comparison is the killer of creativity. Every time I would start looking at the sheer number of wildly talented photographers in my area my creativity would die within me and I’d revert back to how I was doing business; hit and miss, taking what I could get, being taken advantage of, feeling undervalued with just enough money to stay afloat.
The idea of doing something remarkable shifted my perspective on how to set myself apart from the multitudes. Remarkability had nothing to do with what my competitors were or weren’t doing and everything with what makes me, ME.
Showing up in authenticity, owning what I pursue for the reasons I pursue them is remarkable. The problem was identifying my "why" so that I COULD be 100% authentic. I questioned myself, "WHY am I so passionate about photography? Why am I still here? What makes me, ME? What about ME is remarkable?"
My foggy lens of uncertainty was hiding my remarkability factor. I sat down and brainstormed it out with my close friend and fellow photographer Jaron Horrocks, owner of Saans Photography Studio and my brilliant husband Seth during the three-day Imaging USA conference.
I found myself in conversation with Mike Hanline, co-owner, and CEO of WHCC as well as presenter/speaker Keith B. Dixon at the Imaging Expo. In conversation, Keith challenged me to find a personal project that lit me on fire and do something with it to unveil my remarkability factor. He followed that challenge up with, “If I see you back here next year and you haven’t done anything I will consider this 45 minutes a waste of my time, don’t be a waste of my time.”
The only things that got me out of bed for five years following James’ passing were my photo shoots. I would leave the deafening sound of my silent home in tears of grief and return with tears of gratitude for the opportunity I had to make someone smile. Photography pieced my shattered heart back together and healed me in a way I cannot explain.
I started asking myself, "what would I drive six hours to photograph without getting paid, simply because it lights me on fire?”
I pondered on the idea when I discovered I would drive anywhere to photograph a family who has lost a child if I could ease their pain. If there was a way I could use photography to heal their hearts, like it healed mine, it would be worth it.
One of the hardest hurdles a family faces after their child passes away is the family portrait. Within one week I implemented the Good Grief Project. For every client who hires Pink Rose Photography, we gift a Good Grief Photo Shoot to a family who has lost a child. My clients sponsor these families and together we shine a ray of light on heavy hearts to lift them and heal them and share their journey of turning something so terribly difficult into something a little bit better.
The remarkability of the Good Grief Project is it is a four-way win.
My clients win because they get gorgeous heirlooms and have the feel-goods about blessing a family in need just by choosing Pink Rose Photography. People often say, “I wish there was something I could do for my brother, sister, aunt, friend, neighbor…..who lost a child but I feel so helpless…there is nothing I can do.” The Good Grief Gift is something someone can do for a family who has lost a babe.
Families who have lost a child win because it is a different way of approaching family portraits with a family member in heaven. This session is entirely designed around their angel, comforting their hearts knowing that you may not be able to see them, but you will be able to feel them. One of the greatest needs a family has after a child passes away is to assign purpose to the pain. Recipients of the Good Grief Gift have the opportunity to assign that purpose by helping other grievers with ideas of healing.
I win because the doors to heaven open when I am serving and it keeps me connected to my Sweet Baby James.
Last, it is a win for the world with the resource we are creating by documenting ideas of what to do with grief when you find yourself in the world of life after loss.
I was browsing the products at Photo Flash Drive when I laid eyes on the keepsake box Brian Campbell and Olivia Pritchard designed with a baby face printed on acrylic. In a split second the thought of my son's locket of curly hair being stored in such a sweet space with his face printed on it filled my eyes with tears.
Brian without hesitation gifted me two memory boxes upon hearing my story and my newfound project. I knew we had to find a way of gifting these boxes to my Good Grief recipients for a place to keep their angels' treasures safe and special. Brian truly demonstrated his remarkability factor with his generous gesture of giving along with his ability to create for the consumer in the moment of conception. That moment of kindness taught me a valuable lesson. Giving is good for business. While he didn’t do it for the intention of gaining a loyal customer, that is what he got because that kindness is never forgotten. At that moment, I decided I wanted to follow his example and give to others that feeling he had given to me of deep appreciation for generosity.
I came home from Imaging USA with my soul rejuvenated. I was finally on my remarkable path. A road that no one could possibly repeat or compete with because it was my life, my experiences and my "why". For the first time, I confidently loved declaring that I am a professional photographer because I am proud of what I am creating. Not just gorgeous heirlooms but creating healing in hearts and homes.
Six months after attending Imaging USA I have tripled my yearly income where I was stuck for twelve years. We are now a full-service studio. I work less and make more. My clients have something to talk about when their friends and family ask who did their family portraits, creating a natural stream of referrals. Clients rave and refer me to everyone they know, even after spending two-to-three thousand dollars on their family heirlooms. My calendar is booked months in advance. This project and my talent attracts clients with the BIGGEST hearts and are the humans on planet earth my heart rejoices to work with. Above all, we are changing the world one photo shoot at a time, lighting the world of grief with compassion and empathy.
Three things I learned you have to achieve to succeed.
I stuck around after Ryan’s speech but he was off to the races of his next gig. I felt a little hole in my heart not being able to thank him for his enlightened message that I intuitively knew would shift everything. Upon returning home, I messaged Ryan with zero expectations of a response. Eighteen hours later we found ourselves organizing a time I could join his team in Minneapolis to do some branding photography work because he wanted to be a giver of the Good Grief Gift. Ryan went above and beyond with his own remarkability in his desire to support the one person among the hundreds of thousands he speaks to in his audiences who heard his message and did something with it. To meet someone who changed my life, my business and set me on course to fulfilling my life's mission in such a profound way was truly a remarkable experience.
PPA altered the course of my photography business in a dramatic way. I was on the verge of throwing it all away, simply because I did not know what made me remarkable. I will forever be grateful for the Imaging conference, Ryan Estis, Keith B. Dixon, Brian Campbell with Photo Flash Drive, Jaron Horrocks and my husband Seth and the choice I made to invest in my business, talent and passion by taking a few days of my year to attend. Thank you PPA for your conference and changing everything and taking such fine care in choosing your speakers. Attending your conference propelled me into living my life's mission and purpose.
My question for photographers out there, what sets your soul on fire and how can you use that to make YOU remarkable?
Pink Rose Photography
Brian Campbell with Photo Flash Drive offered a 50% coupon for the acrylic keepsake box I referenced in the article. Coupon code "GoodGrief50"