So... I have some news. I've been putting off writing about this, but today I booked my very last beach session for the summer of 2016, and maybe ever.
A little backstory: for the past five years, I've had a really cool job. I photograph kids and families on one of the most beautiful stretches of beaches in the United States, and I get to tell people that my work is basically just chasing around small children in the sand every evening. Of course that's not exactly true; the vast majority of being a professional photographer entails sitting in front of a computer editing photos for ridiculous spans of time. Regardless, I would say beach photographers have a pretty unique profession.
I did the math today. Once this summer is over, I will have photographed 530 families and portraits for Cocoa L. Photography since I set up shop. Please feel free to roll your eyes at this cliche, but it's true- I've put my heart and soul into this business. That being said, 2016 is the last year I'll be taking photos on 30A.
It's kind of hard to believe considering Cocoa L. Photography has been my life for a long time. I fell into this gig when I was 16 years old and living in Florida for the summer to work at a children's store for a good friend. While there, I realized that there was a huge demand for family photos on the beach, and I had a knack for taking them. It was the first time I was able to make money off of this hobby I so deeply loved; I ended up doubling the amount of portraits I booked the following summer (while conveniently glossing over the fact that I was still in high school to my clients) and established an LLC. Things continued to grow from there.
Until about halfway through college, I genuinely believed I would move to Florida permanently and continue on this path for the rest of my life. But then art school happened, I grew up a little, and suddenly I realized that the plan I'd made for myself didn't seem to fit me anymore. Don't get me wrong; photography is still my reason for getting out of bed in the morning, and I can't see myself doing anything else. However, I know myself pretty well, and I know that I'm really not cut out to be a small business owner long term.
At the end of August, I'm going to be leaving to live in Florence, Italy for the next two years earning an MFA in photography (and yes, I'm still totally in shock over that entire situation). Currently my long term goal is to teach photography at a college level and to continue with the documentary-style work I started in undergrad. Before getting serious with photography, I wanted to be an English teacher, so it feels like things are coming full circle in a strange sort of way. Of course, those plans may change and I'm keeping myself open, but the more I think about this direction, the more excited I get.
I've realized that the thing that draws me to photography the most is the element of human connection. Thanks to this job, I've made connections with hundreds of families from across the United States. I got to watch families grow and change with each passing year, and I had the privilege of capturing so many children at a fleeting and tender moment in their lives. I am so grateful to my clients for allowing me to tell their story, and the saddest thing about moving on is that I won't get to continue to watch it unfold with the passing years.
This job has taught me patience, compassion, and responsibility. It's also taught me the consequences of procrastination thanks to one particularly horrific summer at age 19 where I underestimated the amount of editing I had left before returning to college. Long story short, I'd fallen 30 sessions behind and had to spend the first month of school holed up in my apartment and editing photos at any moment where I wasn't in class or asleep. That incident wasn't exactly the highlight of my career. On a brighter note, I've been able to save up to go on some incredible adventures. Because of photography, I've been able to visit 10 countries by myself in the span of 2 years. I wouldn't have ever thought to go to school in Italy if I hadn't gone for the first time my sophomore year of college, returned 3 more times before graduating, and fallen in love.
Still, it's the people that have made this thing worth it. I'm so endlessly thankful for my clients and for this job and for everything that came along with it. I still have a month and a half left so it's not over yet, but booking that final session made me realize for the first time just how quickly things are coming to a close.
So, to my clients: 530 sessions later, thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me be the one to document your family. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you, and I still maintain that I've photographed the coolest people on 30A. This new adventure is exciting, but I'm going to miss my life in this little beach town, and I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.