University of Georgia - Bachelors in Journalism, Emphasis in Photojournalism
Taxes? Business plans? Health insurance? Photographer Jessica Lowry understands firsthand the terror of going into business for yourself, especially when your passion is the creative part of your job, not the number-crunching or paperwork filing. But having taken the risk and made the leap to working full-time as a freelance photographer, Jessica can also tell you all about the rewards: freedom to work on projects she's passionate about, more time for family and friends and getting to photograph some of the most intimate moments in a person's life — whether it's their wedding day or their life's work.
"'No' sort of has to become your new best friend, but eventually someone will say 'Yes,'" she explains. "And you just have to make the most of opportunities when they present themselves."
I feel lucky people trust me with moments like that.
What is your typical day like, and what types of things do you do in your job as a photographer?
I feel like there isn't a typical day. Many days I spend at my computer, editing photos and pitching stories. Or budgeting production on upcoming jobs. But there are some days where I catch a flight, reach my destination, pick up my lights and am shooting for 12 hours straight the next day. It all seems to go in cycles.
What was the path you took from graduation to your current job?
Long and winding? Kidding. Sort of.
I started doing internships while in college in photography. First at Lake Oconee Living magazine as their photo intern and then at The State in South Carolina after graduation and The Chattanooga Times Free Press. I ended up getting a full-time job as a staff photographer there. I also met my husband there; he was another staff photographer. I left newspapers to pursue graduate school in London, but it ended up being too expensive. After my now husband and I took our flight back from England to Atlanta, we decided to move to Montana, his home state. It was a big jump, but it seemed like the right move.
I decided to take a break from photography and worked several different jobs, from personal assistant to a company manager at a regional theatre and manager of a contemporary art gallery. I learned a lot of business skills during that time, but realized that photography was something I couldn't walk away from. I worked slowly to build a body of freelance clientele and took the leap last year to working full-time as a freelance photographer. It was the best decision I've ever made (besides marrying Lido).
Tell us about the process of going out on your own as a freelancer and starting your own businesses. What lessons learned would you share?
In the beginning, I really was terrified of working for myself. Taxes? Business structure? Health insurance? Where do I even begin? But slowly, I spoke with other business owners to figure out the right structure for myself (LLC) and found a great accountant who's made tax time less frightening. Educating myself about the things that scared me was the best way to move forward and beat those fears.
In the world of freelance, there really are periods where when it rains, it pours. And at the same time, sometimes the phone might not ring as much as you had hoped. But learning to be calm, stay focused on what you want to achieve and slowly but steadily moving toward your goal really works. If you had asked me at 21 if I'd be working for myself, I would have answered no. But in the current climate of photography, I think working for myself is the best thing possible. I love the freedom it gives me to work on projects I feel passionate about and the ability I have to spend real time with friends and family. It's a tricky balance and sometimes you just have to go where the phone call says, but I've been lucky and am always able to work in time to visit with friends and family.
Along the way, have there been moments of self-doubt? If so, how did you push through them? And conversely, have there been moments where you've thought "I've made it?"
Umm, absolutely. When I first started seriously pursuing freelance, I remember flying to New York to meet with editors. I was so terrified and was asking myself, "Should I even be here?" But just knowing that it couldn't possibly feel like that forever and that the worst thing that could happen is that someone hated my photos or told me no is pretty sobering. "No" sort of has to become your new best friend, but eventually someone will say "Yes." And you just have to make the most of those opportunities when they present themselves.
I don't know that at any point I've "made it." There will always be something new to learn. Only when I started working for myself did I really feel a sense of accomplishment. The reality is that making it happen every day is an endless process and as soon as you think you're done, you will be. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Meeting great people. Taking photographs. Seeing people in love. It's amazing.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
To-do lists. Budgets. Why I can't predict the future!
Is work-life balance ever a problem for you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
It might seem simple, but going for a run. If I can carve out just 30 minutes of time running, I'm immediately a better person for it. Work-life balance is a continuous juggling act. You just have to keep trying your best. My husband and I try to take at least one real/unplugged/honest-to-God vacation each year. And I think it's one of the best things for us both ever.
What qualities does one need to be successful in your line of work? What advice would you give women who want to have a career like yours?
Tenacity. When I first started out, I literally had people laugh at my work (and not in a good way). But I think that in photography, if you show up every day, you're ahead of 80 percent of the folks out there. It's exhausting and unpredictable, but the payoff is that you have the privilege of seeing some of the most intimate moments of a person's life -- the day they get married, what they do for a living, their relationship with their children. It's humbling, really. And people really are so happy that you're interested. That's what makes it all worth it to me. I feel lucky people trust me with moments like that.
As far as being a woman and working as a photographer, I think it's really all the same no matter your profession. There are sexist assholes in every field. F*ck them. If you do a great job, no one can argue with you. Just be a great human.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Start with the end in mind. Laugh at yourself. And be honest.
Photo Credit | Lido Vizzutti