One of the most popular questions I get asked as a wedding photographer is either, how long have I been a photographer and often they want to know how I got started as a wedding photographer! And so, I decided…I should probably write a blog post about it because there wasn’t one thing that led me to this. I had a lot of dreams, and career paths, even a masters degree in Higher Ed. Then I met David, and things changed yet again. It took almost 10 years from my high school graduation for me to get to where I am now. So pull up a chair, grab a drink, and get comfy!

I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be a wedding photographer. It might have crossed my mind at some point, but the idea of how I could actually make a living probably scared me off. I loved kids, so teaching was on my mind. Believe it or not I had this idea of starting my own early childhood education center. I also loved architecture (until I learned that it was 90% math) and had drawn out floor plans for an early childhood education center and even dream houses. I still have those tucked away somewhere!

I settled on Graphic design, when my high school art teacher, Mrs. Galbraith, encouraged me to pursue something in the art field. I figured Graphic Design, or Visual Communications as my bachelors degree was called, would provide me with good job stability. This was 2008, the year of the recession, and so being able to make enough money and find a job out of college was important to me – So I joined the College of Art at Ball State University.

Being an art and graphic design major, photography crossed my path on several projects. I had learned film photography from my mom who was a photography hobbyist. When it came time for me to take my first photography elective courses my sophomore year of college, she let me use her old Canon AE-1 film camera. I was hooked! The whole process from conceiving an idea, to processing the film in the dark room, scanning it, and getting my work critiqued by classmates. I signed up for as many photography courses as I could possibly squeeze into my already busy schedule. I studied the greats, Dorothea Lange being one of my favorites. And I was greatly encouraged by Bruce Mau and his Incomplete Manifesto. I started using my own photography in a lot of my graphic design projects.

I took portraits of my friends, with some of the nicest cameras and equipment in the world. Little did I know that I was taking all of this for granted, and renting this equipment in the real world was not free! Neither would I ever be able to process my own film again. I seriously miss those days. I would have done so much more and taken advantage of every thing if I had only known! Here’s some of my design and photography work for various college projects.

Navy Pier Chicago Film

Chicago film scan
35mm film images taken on my first visit to Chicago in 2010!
How I got started
These are photos I took in my own time on vacation and with friends! 2009-2011

How I got started

My friends all knew that I loved photography, and they would ask on a regular basis if they could be in one of my projects one day. I couldn’t understand why any of my friends would want to be in one of my projects. Time passed by, I was doing athlete ministry with Athletes in Action, and at one point was really passionate about following this as a career. Then David and I became serious, we got engaged, and married a week after I graduated college. Ministry kind of sat on the back burner for a while. A few months before I graduated and got married, I had decided to get my masters degree in Higher Education of all things, sort of on a whim. However, around this time a good friend of mine from college, Mary Kate, had just gotten engaged and had asked me to be her wedding photographer. WHAT! She insisted even after I tried to scare her off with all the things that could possibly go wrong. And so, all of a sudden I had my first wedding. I don’t even think I had a contract. I asked her what she could afford which was $500. I rented the camera equipment, A Canon 5D Mark II, a 24-70mm lens, along with a 50mm, and we rent from there. After having just gotten married myself, and having an amazing family friend photographer, I basically did everything she did for us at our wedding. I read blogs, and studied beforehand crazy. Katelyn James and Jasmine Star were my two go to’s for all things education. And of course the random channels on Youtube for the first time wedding photographer. Their wedding went off without a hitch, although having never ever used Speedlight flashes I was taken for a little bit of a turn. I still can’t believe this was how I got started as a wedding photographer.

My husband, who I lovingly refer to as my PR Manager, had a friend planning to propose to his girlfriend around the same time, and had volunteered me to be the photographer. Mark had planned to surprise Kayla with all of her closest friends at Monument Circle in Indianapolis and pop the question. From there, they asked me to do engagement pictures, and then their wedding. After this, my best friend from Columbus had just gotten engaged and after she saw my pictures from these other weddings asked me to be her engagement and wedding photographer. Then her bridesmaids asked, and I was off to the races. David was my assistant on the day of, and if he was in the wedding, I flew solo! By this time, I had raised my prices but was still flying around that $1,000 mark.

My first wedding - How I got started!
My very first wedding I solo photographed with Mary Kate and Zack!

My first wedding - How I got started!

My second couple, and the first to go full circle with me from proposal to engagement and then wedding!
How I got started as a wedding photographer
A screenshot of the homepage of my first ever custom HTML website circa 2012!

Throughout graduate school I was taking professional headshots for friends, family and child portraits, doing graphic design projects for friends, and shooting the occasional wedding. The name Amber Renee Design came up somewhere in the middle of all this. It actually started as Amber Renee Designs, and I changed it a couple years later. It was a brand I had created for myself back in college for a graphic design project. I had already designed the logo, website mockup, stationary, colors, everything. So I used this and ran with it, thinking design and photography could be a great side business while I primarily worked with college and high school students. I was passionate about both! And so that’s what I did for almost 5 years. In that time I had photographed 6 weddings of my own, and I second shot with some photographer friends.

Still the idea of turning photography and design into full time thing was so daunting, and I put it on the back burner. However God had another plan for our life!  You can read more about the decision to go full time on another blog post here. And so, that’s how I got started as a wedding photographer! It was the gradual slope really! It wasn’t an overnight realization. I hope you enjoyed the story and some of these images from the beginning of things! I’d love to hear how you came to be in your chosen field. Did you always know that was what you wanted to do? Was it by coincidence? Leave a note in the comments below. I can’t wait to read it and hear your story!