Celebrating 35 years as a Wedding Photographer!
Andrea Cleghorn owner of Cleghorn PhotographyFind your passion and celebrate life by using it to your fullest potential!
Few people can say that they went to high school for a specific career and then carried that same career throughout their life. I feel very fortunate to say that I am one of those few, and at 14 years old I knew I wanted to be a photographer. It happened by accident really, although I would love to take credit for making that career choice all on my own. As a young girl growing up in New England, I had the amazing privilege of going to a vocational high school, Shawsheen Tech in Billerica Massachusetts, for my education and to learn a trade. At the time I was an aspiring artist and loved to draw so naturally I chose classes to help me pursue that career path. I was accepted into the "Commercial Art/Technical Illustration" department and to say I was excited and anxious to start would be an understatement. Fortunately for me, I had a brutally honest teacher and he pointed out one minor detail flaw in my plan: I sucked at drawing.
Now I'm a big believer of the "everything happens for a reason" theory but when you're 14 years old your brain does not reason this way. I'm not gonna lie, I was really offended that my teacher (who I looked up to) didn't think I was a good illustrator or even an artist. But he had a plan and although I didn't see it at the time, it was genius. He convinced me to construct a pinhole camera and experiment on making paper negatives. I had no idea how to do this, or even WHY I had to do this because to me it was stupid. It was NOT why I was in school and definitely not in my career path plan. Against my better judgement I made the camera shoe box, brought it outside, took my finger off the pinhole and counted to 10. Easy enough. Task completed. Now what?
At this point in my daunting task I was completely unimpressed but not wanting to fail an assignment, I was determined to see it through. As the final step, I needed to process my paper negative to see what my shoebox camera captured and obtain a grade for my assignment. In a photo darkroom with only a red light to help me see what I was doing, I took the small piece of exposed but undeveloped photo paper out of the shoebox and dropped it in a tray of liquid developer. What happened next changed my life. As small as that moment sounds, it completely captivated me and changed me forever. In an instant, and almost like magic, that little plain white piece of photo paper held an image of nothing but a walkway and some trees but to me it was so much more than that. I was hooked, I was going to be a photographer, and I had NO IDEA what to do next! Writing this now I really wish I still had that symbolic piece of photo paper.
As time went by I took photos whenever I could but still couldn't find that "career" purpose I was longing for. I bought a camera, shot sporting events, recorder several vacations, and photographed family and friends, but none of these things seemed to click with me as a way to support myself and evolve into a career. I was a teenager doing life, going to school, playing sports, and really wasn't stressing on my career anymore, just having fun like most kids that age do. Looking back I wish I was more focused on figuring out what kind of photography I wanted to do. What I didn't know was that once again, by chance, my future would be spun in a direction that would carry me the rest of my life. Let me explain...
Now in order for you to understand how this all played out I need to explain to you the kind of high school I went to. Back east, specifically New England, there were vocational high schools that focused on teaching kids a trade that they could use after graduation if they chose not to go to college. But, in order for you to graduate you needed either a college acceptance, military acceptance, or job in you trade of study. These trades were broken down into "shops" and each shop was designed to look like it would in the real world to simulate a working environment. There was a cosmetology department that looked like a hair salon, an automotive department that looked like a mechanic shop, a culinary department that looked like a bakery and restaurant, etc... All together if my memory is correct, there was 22 shops to choose from so the choices were vast.
Along with students learning in a working environment, the school allowed the general public to come to the school to use their services at a fraction of the retail cost. You could order your wedding cake in the bakery, get your hair colored in the salon, order business cards from data processing, get you car fixed in the auto shop, and so many more things at significantly lower prices. Knowing this, one of my photo teacher's former students came back one day and asked him if he had a student that was good enough to photograph her wedding in a few months. Her budget? $300 and that was more than I made working part time in a month! Without hesitation he chose me and although I wanted to temporally freak out, I also didn't hesitate at this amazing opportunity. I had never shot a wedding but something inside of me knew I could totally do it and I jumped at the chance. I was 16 and this was my very first wedding.
After shooting that wedding my career purpose was so clear it has carried me through 35 years and served me well. They say most wedding photographers become burnt out after several years but not me. I am proud to be a wedding photographer and proud to say I have become a master at my craft. To this day I am still going strong shooting upwards of 50 weddings a year and traveling all over the United States doing it. I want to give a big shout out to the teacher that made me a photographer, Mr Gene Hailson, for he is 100% the reason I found my way. Without his faith and guidance I can't say that I would ever have become a photographer or even picked up a camera for that matter. From the bottom of my heart I thank him and I know he knows exactly how I feel. As for that bride that gave me the amazing opportunity in capturing her big day, well I'm ashamed and a little embarrassed to say I cannot remember her name or her hubby's. I would love to know that they are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary this year and I would love to find them someday for a little reunion and maybe even a photo shoot. I have started my search and hopefully I will find them soon.
In final thoughts, if you are able to turn your passion into a career, DO IT! There is nothing better than working at a job that you love rather than one you despise. I consider myself so blessed I was able to create a life I could enjoy rather than work, work, work, only to retire and then try to enjoy whatever life I have left. I was able to stay home, raise 4 kiddos, and although we didn't live in a mansion we did alright. Life is tough but if you enjoy what you are doing and who you are doing it with it can be so rewarding.