Catherine Conner

My Journey So Far

Catherine Conner
My Journey So Far

I just want to start this out by saying I am by no means an expert photographer. everything i’ve learned this far about photography has been through youtube videos (shoutout Jessica Kobessi) or trial & error. that’s my first and most important piece of advice i can give anyone. some things you try just won’t work or look good. that’s okay. move on to the next thing until you try something that does work. repeat for the rest of your life. so now onto the blog post, which started as a Year In Review and somehow turned into a whole life story so I apologize but not really.....

 

If you don’t know by now, here’s a brief summary of how I got into photography. When I decided to move to Philly early 2015, I picked up a Nikon D3200 and a kit lens to document my move and the new city I was about to call home. For the next 10ish months, I took photos of everything around Philly, from cool buildings to street art & more. At this point, the only people who were willing to model for me were my sister & my dog, Brooke. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with taking photos of strangers on the street. Capturing portraits of people doing mundane things fascinated me. I ended up wanting to explore more into portrait photography so I bought myself a 50mm 1.8 lens and thought I was now the shit. That depth of field had me believing I was going somewhere with my work so I set up a website. At the time, it was a great investment but looking back, I really had no work worth putting in a portfolio but no one could tell me anything. One afternoon, my sister had been browsing around on Craigslist and found an ad for a fashion blogger in need of a photographer. I decided to take the opportunity and reach out to her. We met up at a Starbucks & just clicked. In December 2015, we did our first shoot together and I was a nervous wreck. Every thought of self doubt and lack of confidence ran through my mind. I was awkward, didn’t know how to pose anyone and if I remember correctly, I was still shooting in auto. Somehow, the photos turned out pretty good and the feedback I received pushed me to keep going.

 

 

After posting my photos from that shoot on twitter, two of my favorite artists reached out to ask me about shooting their upcoming show. I felt on top of the world. I felt unstoppable. The photos were mediocre at best but I loved them at the time. In my head, I was like wow someone take me on tour because these are amazing. Sadly, no one took me on tour. If you want to read the post on this show featuring way too many photos, check it out. As we moved into 2016, Tomarra & I shot several more time throughout the year.

 

 

Although I continued to practice and learn, I quickly felt like I was plateauing. I wasn’t working with any new models and the ones I tried to reach out to never actually materialized into a shoot. I felt stuck. Was I just wasting my time and, more importantly, my money by continuing to invest in photography? In early August 2016, I got to shoot with two of my favorite artists briefly. If you follow me closely on any social media, it’s easy to tell I’m a bit of a fangirl & I tend to become really invested in some of the artists I listen to. Moosh & Twist were throwing an album signing/release party type thing and my sister and I attended. After chatting for a little while, I built up the courage to ask them if I could snap a few photos before I left and they were down. We all headed outside and I PANICKED. Like my palms were sweating, I suddenly forgot how to work my camera, it was a mess. I tried to remain calm on the outside but only about 4 photos were in focus and usable. I was so mad at myself for completely blowing that opportunity but it was still an amazing feeling to do something I’ve seriously been dreaming of for years, even if it was only for five minutes.

 

 

Later on that month, one of my favorite photographers hosted an Instagram meetup in NYC and it honestly changed my life. You can read more about it & see photos from the meet in this post but it truly opened opened my eyes to what is possible through photography. My passion for portraits was ignited once again and I was determined to push myself even harder. Then one day in September, I tweeted about how nice the weather was and how i wish i had friends to shoot. The lovely Lara Witt, who I had been following on social media for only a month or so at the time, volunteered to shoot with me. We set up a date a week later & created some of my all time favorite photos, even to this day. Honestly, without Tomarra & Lara giving this short, awkward wannabe photographer a chance, I have no idea where I would be right now. I owe them so much. 2016 was also the year I upgrade my camera body. In November, I traded in all of my current gear for a Canon 6D body and a 50mm 1.8 lens. I was starting over but I had dreamed about this camera from the very beginning and the fact that I was finally holding it in my hands blew my mind. To this day, it is still my baby & I cherish that camera. Everyone will say that gear doesn’t matter blah blah blah but it definitely helps. I no longer felt held back by my gear, instead I was motivated to grow into it and learn everything I could do with it.  

 

 

Moving onto 2017...

In January, I attended another Instameet, this time in Philly. Instameets will always be terrifying to me because as much as I love meeting new people, socializing with strangers is not in my comfort zone. However, my friend, Tiana, agreed to go with me & it made me feel a lot better. This meet was kind of the tipping point for me when it came to FINALLY growing. I met & shot with several models that day and kept in contact with a few. As overwhelming as Instameets are, they’ve helped me grow so much because they are a great networking opportunity & you can choose how much you want to get involved.

 

 

A week later, I shot with Khayir who I had met at the IG meet and his stylist at the time, Charles (and one more person but I have the memory of a peanut and can’t remember her name). It was my first time working with a mini team instead of just one on one with the model and I loved it! Directing and posing are two things I’ve struggled with from day one because I feel so weird telling people what do to but having other people there to help was awesome.

 

 

A month later, they reached out to me to shoot again, this time for Urban Outfitters. This time we shot on a playground with Kristin and it was my first time shooting with more than one person in frame. I had no clue what I was doing but as always, I just winged it & I was beyond thrilled with how they turned out. Growing up, I was always too broke or chubby to really shop at Urban so to have the Philadelphia Instagram eventually feature my photo, I geeked out a little. It was definitely another motivator along the way that reminded me that I was on the right path and my photos weren’t as awful as I made myself believe sometimes.

 

 

After a few more shoots here and there and a few months later, another really cool opportunity came my way. I ended up getting the chance to shoot Moosh again, this time with Tiana there with me. We roamed around Old City for about an hour or so and I remained a lot calmer this time. Moosh ended up posted a handful on his Instagram and I felt like that was my chance to redeem myself. I also could look back on the growth I had made from August 2016 to May 2017. One thing that stuck with me during this shoot was a comment Moosh made. I cant remember his exact words but he said something about the fact he’s watched me go from my first shoot ever to our current shoot and it just really hit me. No matter how big or small, achieving goals you’ve set for yourself really puts things into perspective.

 

 

This month was also pretty cool because it was my first time shooting in a studio. I’m so thankful that Charles, Fatimah & Alex allowed me the opportunity to test it out even though I had no clue what I was doing. Natural light has always been my favorite because it’s just there, you can either work with what you have or you can move. With artificial studio lights, you have so much control and that’s so overwhelming. I didn’t know how to position them or what to do with them but I learned as I went. 

 

 

The summer began and the temperature began to rise. I am the most miserable person when it’s hot. Not only does it spike my anxiety, I despise being all sweaty and disgusting. I try to avoid leaving my apartment as much as possible when it’s above 80 degrees but that also limits me on how often I shoots during the summer. This summer I decided to push myself and despite how much I wanted to stay inside, I continued to book shoots. In June, I set up my first shoot with Keiko and it was the beginning of a great friendship. Sometimes you just immediately feel comfortable with someone and it definitely reflects in the photos. A week or two later, we shot again. This time we hiked up the Ben Franklin Bridge with a bundle of sunflowers and this shoot is still one of my favorites. It was another moment that took me out of my comfort zone because I knew everyone who passed us had their eyes on us. It’s neat how something that used to terrify you was now inside of my comfort zone. Over the last year or so, I’ve gotten so comfortable with shooting in public, it’s no longer even a concern. Oh there’s a bunch of people passing by? No big deal. As long as I’m not in someone’s way, I’ll keep doing my thing. 

 

 

One of my worst fears came true during a shoot this July. After working all day, I went over to Keiko’s apartment for a sunset shoot and while I go to snap the first shot, my camera just dies. It would flicker a little then die again. Despite switching batteries & wiping off the lens connectors, nothing seemed to bring it back. I was freaking out. Not only did I feel like I was wasting everyone’s time, what was I going to do for future shoots if my camera was broken? I sure as hell didn’t have the money to fix it or get a new one. Thankfully, Charlie (Keiko’s roommate and fellow photographer) offered me her camera without hesitation and we continued on with the shoot. That gesture of kindness still sticks with me and reminds me that as photographers, we have to have each other’s backs. It shouldn’t be the cutthroat, competitive industry it is, we should be there to support and help one another. 

 
 

July was also the month I upgraded my lens from a 50mm 1.8 to a sigma 35mm 1.4. I never thought I'd be able to afford that lens, or at least not any time soon but after working a temp job on my days off for several weeks (I was working close to 60 hours for about 3 weeks straight and I Wanted to cry almost every day but that's beside the point), I used the extra money I earned for this lens. When it came in the mail, I teared up a bit & I know that sounds super dramatic but it finally felt like things I had been working towards were materializing. Everyone says gear isn't that important but it definitely doesn't hurt. I could write a whole post on just my opinion on that but I'll save it for another day. The next few shoots with my new lens made me feel so confident. The momentum was building and bless Charles and Keiko for putting up with me because I definitely bugged them the most to shoot as much as possible throughout the summer. I seriously appreciate them so much more than I could even explain because still to this day, I know I can count on them and they constantly inspire me to shoot outside the box. These two have helped make this year as great as it was and I don't know what I would've done without them. 

 
 

September was the month of girl power. After working together during our shoot in February, Kristin and I finally reconnected and set up several shoots over the next month or so. Working with Kristin is always a good time because her energy is so electric and she goes from her usual silly self to fierce model in seconds. We can create amazing photos in no time at all and I love it. Also during this month, I met up with Dina for lunch and a shoot around Rittenhouse Square. Have you ever met someone through social media then once you meet in person, they're nothing like they are online? Well, it was the complete opposite with Dina. We clicked right away and it felt like we had been friends for years. Next up, I shot with Ariel in September as well. I have an entire mental list of models I stumble upon on Instagram who I'd love to eventually work with but rarely do I ever reach out to them because either I push it off for later or I get inside my own head and tell myself they wouldn't want to work with me so why bother. Ariel was definitely on this list so when we set up a shoot, I was so excited. We had originally planned to shoot outside of the Barnes Foundation but as we were heading to the location, it starts to pour. I'm not talking a little sprinkle here & there, it was coming down heavy so we had to think quickly. Both of us were already on our way so canceling seemed like such a waste of time but then I remembered there is an adorable little bookstore right across the street. It was midday during the week so the place was practically empty and no one seemed to mind us wandering around. Thankfully the rain finally let up and we took a few more photos over at Logan Square. If I have learned anything from photography, it's the importance of thinking on your feet. If things don't go as planned, there's always plan B. 

 
 

September was also the month I shot my first engagement session! It's something I've always wanted to do but just never knew anyone getting engaged. Thankfully, friends of Charles & Fatimah's were newly engaged and I was offered the shoot. I was nervous to say the least. Most of my shoots are just collaborations with models so if it all goes wrong, yeah it sucks but there's not much at risk. With this one, it is a special time in a couple's life so I really didn't want to mess that up. However, everything went so much better than expected. I definitely want to shoot more couples in 2018. 

 
 

October was a rollercoaster month for me. I suddenly left a job I had been with for a year to start working as a social media coordinator for a different company. My schedule went from having a day or two off during the week to a firm Monday through Friday. The days I had used for shooting were suddenly gone and it felt like the weekend wasn't long enough anymore. I began stressing myself out if I didn't have at least one shoot scheduled a weekend because then I knew it would be another whole week before I'd have the chance to shoot again. At the same time, I felt so focused on making time to shoot, I didn't have any time on the weekends for the other things I loved, like farmers markets, thrift stores and sometimes just doing nothing. Looking back, it was ridiculous how worked up I was over it because taking some time for myself here & there wasn't going to kill me or somehow destroy all the work I had been putting in over the last few months. I did make time for one of my favorite shoots though. Halloween always signals the beginning of the best time of year so I wanted to set up a spooky Halloween shoot. I hadn't shot anything new with Lara since the very beginning of the year but I knew she was the model I needed for this shoot. We started building a mini team and had Keiko style the shoot for us. Lara wore a long black dress with lace sleeves and the location was in front of a butcher shop in the Italian Market. Needless to say, we definitely stood out but it was so much fun. 

 
 

Oh, I almost forgot! So mid-October Bria, the editor-in-chief of Day Dreamers Magazine, reached out me and asked if I had any unpublished work to submit to her magazine. Me being the impulsive person I am, I definitely didn't have anything unpublished because as soon as I take photos I'm proud of, I have to post them immediately. However, I did have a shoot scheduled for later in the week so I asked when she needed them by. The answer was Sunday. My turnaround time is usually pretty quick unless I get backed up but was it less than 48 hours good, all while working full time? I was about to test it out. The shoot was with Charles and his friend, Drew, who I had briefly met at the Instameet in January. Fatimah popped by too and there was just so much creative energy flowing, I knew the end result was going to be magical. I ended up submitting the photos a day early and about a month later, I had a copy in my hands! It was such a memorable moment to see my photos published like that. It definitely won't be the last time though.  

 

 

November was the beginning of a breakthrough for me. After a solid month of feeling overwhelmed with making time to shoot, I scrolled over an Instagram post by one of my favorite photographers, @PhoByMo, and noticed she was doing more and more lunch break shoots. First of all, if you don't follow her, go do it because she's one of my biggest inspirations and is so incredibly talented. Second of all, I thought to myself, "Okay why am I not utilizing my time like this???" so that's what I did. My first lunch time shoot was with Khayir and we shot between City Hall and Reading Terminal Market. It was chilly but we made the most of the thirty minutes we had. I felt so recharged and exhilarated when I came back to work, I knew I had to keep doing it. My next lunch time shoot was with Ariel and this time we explored Washington Square West. When it's 60 something degrees at the end of November, you make the most of it. 

 
 

Now here we are in December. Two more lunch time shoots were done with two great ladies I met for the first time. The first one was with Safi along JFK Blvd. The second one was with Monica at Christmas Village. Neither shoot lasted more than thirty minutes and I was on my way back to work. Sadly, lunch shoots have kind of been put on hold because it's so damn cold but I'm going to try to keep up with them as much as possible throughout the winter. Also this month, after months of thinking how cool it would be to shoot there, Keiko & I finally shot at the art museum! As I said early, I had gotten over my fear of shooting in public places but this was a whole new level. Between the crowds and the museum staff wandering around, I was nervous. Was someone going to say something? Were we going to be in everyone's way? Would they make us leave if they figured out what we were doing? All of those scenarios were made up in my head because no one said anything in regards to us shooting. They stopped us for things like our oversized bags and telling us to keep backpacks only on one shoulder. To incorporate some of the most magnificent works of art and design into the photos was an incredible feeling. I'm definitely going to start shooting at the art museum more (well, only on Pay What You Wish days because I definitely don't have money like that but still). 

 
 

2017 was a great year of creating art but it was an even better year of making friends that will last way beyond these last 12 months. I truly can't thank the people who have supported me and stuck with me enough. I know I missed some shoots and people in this post but just know, if you've shot with me, shown support, or shared my work, I appreciate you so much. When I first picked up my camera and moved to Philly in 2015, I never ever could have imagined it would change me as a person and create a doorway for so many amazing people to enter my life. 

 

Until 2018,

Cath