Sternberg Studios Photography | Life as a photographer.
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Life as a photographer.

duluth wedding photographer

Life as a photographer.

This is a post about what it really means to live your life as a professional photographer.  I’ve thought about this blog post for a long, long time and it comes with a short preface- so, please, bear with me. (I promise, it’s good.)

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plate no. 1: obligatory cute baby image



This is about one of those really brilliant ideas that generally only happen right around 3:00am.  You start right awake- eyes wide open- staring through the blurred darkness at the ceiling.  Your dogs and boyfriend (Yes- all three are on the bed with you. Subconsciously, you won’t move for fear of waking them, meanwhile lingering in and out of the onset of sleep the entire night while clinging onto your allotted 12+ inches of your queen-size mattress.) are all snoring in unison- deep in their all-too-peaceful slumber.  There you are- startled and suddenly very awake and thinking to yourself; ‘YES!!!’

Have you ever had one of those ideas?  I get them all the time.  The ones that keep you from sleeping appropriately all night- not quite letting you fall asleep, silently awaiting the right time to pop into the foreground of your focus while the rest of life’s business takes a back seat in your mind’s eye.  Some call it an epiphany, a light bulb, the universe calling… They generally come to me during the busiest of busy seasons- while my mind is swimming with the ultimate list of must-dos.  Some ideas have been stronger and grander than others.  I’ve lost so many over the years from lack of writing them down when they happened that I now keep a notepad close by the bedside.  I believe you get these kind of ‘epiphanies’ when you feel really passionate about what you’re doing with your life.

Maybe it’s the creatives out there who will completely understand, while the majority of the population may very well think silently to themselves as they read this… ‘craaaaazyyyy.’  Either way- it’s all good, I’m a little out there sometimes and I’m ok with that.  We’ll call it part of the creative process.



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plate no. 2: cool (but could-be-creepy at 3:00am) abandoned train car & really amazing couple



You may not have had any of these 3:00am experiences yourself, but that’s why I’m telling you this story.  It’s all part of the true and real life of being a professional photographer.  If one googles ‘professional photographer’ you’ll undoubtedly find an array of resources at your fingertips.  You’ll discover blogs, images, pros-turned-almost-celebritographers and educators, how-to instructionals and oh-so-much more.  Occasionally you’ll find an article about the amazing benefits of being your own boss- discussing the flexibility of your schedule, the creativity, the not-having-to-answer to anyone benefits.  Let’s not forget- the many buying and purchasing opportunities that come with all of these delicious ideas.  There’s a never ending supply of ideas and possibilities, and sometimes they all come crashing together in your very own 3:00am idea brainstorming fest.

So here it is.  What I’ve been thinking about for some time now.  I want to talk about what it really means to be a professional photographer.  All the little details the googled-internet-responses won’t tell you.  The things that even the pros won’t always talk openly about.  The true, tangible realities of working with images and the people in them.


  1.  Photographers are generally going to create some amazing memories and have some really heart-warming, heart-pounding, intense experiences.  The people we get to meet and the places we’ll go and the stories that go with them will blow you away in more ways than one.  Some will be so beautiful it’ll be hard to handle, and others will teach lessons that will undoubtedly come in handy a little further down life’s road.
  2. Photographers can be tough to travel with.  Packing along more camera gear than any other gear, making sure to carry-on their camera bag, and being thrilled the airline has lost ‘only their clothing’ and not their precious lens and memory cards.  It’s cool- we can wear the same clothes for three days straight.  No worries.
  3. Photographers have a lot more ‘friends and family’ than other people do.  It becomes really evident once their phone starts to fill up with their client’s contact information, and a year or so later when the client calls with the latest good-news-update (as they generally do) you’ll see your photographer friend squeal like a silly little girl at the sight of their client’s moniker as it pops up on their screen.  Because they’re such awesome people.  Photographers take note: *You may be labeled a social butterfly, but seriously- your clients are cool people, right?!  A side note here- If you’re not a social people person, then maybe product photography or landscapes should be your thing. (Just saying…)
  4. Photographers don’t hear music the same way other people do.  That’s right- ‘At Last’ by Etta James will be emblazoned upon our memory as the all-time first dance song that so very many of our clients will use at their wedding. (At least 5 a year- minimum)  It’s beautiful, no matter how many times it’s played- it still sounds pretty.  We’ll be able to sing it in our sleep- assuming our brain lets us tune out for a night or two- and chances are pretty good we’ll probably try!  Certain songs will actually stick and resonate deeply for reasons most would never have imagined.  *80’s hair band music now has a much deeper place in my heart after dancing with Kim and Scott at their wedding last August, and I can’t listen to Major Lazer’s ‘Lean On’ without picturing the most adorable Dad- dancing with his daughter on her wedding day in a dance he choreographed for the two of them.  It’s just impossible NOT to see them dancing and laughing together- she with her million dollar smile and Dad with his caution-thrown-to-the-wind dance moves.  Just. So. Perfect.
  5. Photographers generally cry more.  This goes equally for the guys.  It’s just one of those things- you get emotionally invested into your work- the people- the places- the experiences.  I was never really a cryer – but seriously, all of these non-tangibles are soaked up- absorbed like a proverbial sponge.  So when something heart-wrenching happens, we find ourselves crying more.  Happy: A new baby is born, you witness a proposal and they both cry like babies- you cry too!, your friend of many years finally meets mr. right and calls you first thing- tears.  Sad: Same friend of many years doesn’t get to live out her marriage in the way everyone had hoped, a bride and groom call you saying they’ve moved their wedding due to an ailing family member- can you do it next month?, you witness a beautiful ceremony just days before your grandfather passes- knowing he will not one day be able to hug you at your own wedding.  Tears, tears, tears…  These are all real, real things people.
  6. Photographers get a one-of-a-kind education.  No, I’m not talking about knowledge of our gear- or the best poses- or the most creative locations.  This education is about emotion, personalities, people, and the many, many ways they all intertwine together.  Photographers learn how to work with all of them, some will come easy- and some will take practice.  From dealing with the friends asking you to bring your camera along- which you probably will anyways- to dealing with getting from point A to point B with your gear safely.  Photographers have to learn to say ‘no’, even when they need the money, because they know someone else can do the ‘xyz’ random job better for that client.  We learn humility, patience, and perseverance in a way I don’t believe a person can in any other field.  Fierceness and focus are a must in order to stay working in the photography world.
  7. Photographers will make money, and they’ll be broke at the same time.  It’s all part of the growing up in this world as a creative person- in any creative field, I believe.  Photography is one artistic profession where I firmly believe you should make sure to intern and learn from someone who’s willing to teach you the real ropes so you can skip the trial and error part of the job and hop right to the being responsible and profitable part. This is a field that relies on creativity and savvy.  It’s a right brain-left brain thing, and some are more equipped than others.
  8. Photographers miss out on family stuff.  Friend stuff too.  Heck, we miss our own stuff.  Our cousin’s wedding- missed because of a pre-booked event; our sister’s birthday party – an out-of-town retreat; our holidays become precious gifts of time which is why it can be difficult to find a professional photographer for your holiday event without some serious pre-planning.  These things can be part of any job really, but as a photographer you can’t put in a request for time off- get someone to cover for you- etc.  We are guilty of missing our own birthday, and probably won’t realize it until at least two days after if it’s during our busy season…  Sorry folks.
  9. Movies are brought to a whole new level for photographers.  Forget the entertainment factor- we’ll be busy admiring the digital capabilities, thinking about that gorgeous Rembrandt lighting and how brilliant it was to use that combination of short and broad lighting in the scene with the rain and the window, and we’ll marvel at movies filmed on real, actual film.
  10. Daily hikes and walks generally turn into an idea for a photo shoot or a great location for so-and-so’s session.  We’re always scoping great locations.


sternbergstudios_markbeth (6 of 72)

plate no. 3: beautiful Northwoods, great people

All of my experiences as a photographer have taught me many lessons.  This life has given me much to be thankful for- family, friends, our beautiful little home tucked up here deep in the north and so close to Lake Superior.  I believe that the experiences I’ve had with my clients- both as an outsider and an insider- have taught me to love and appreciate my family and friends in a way that I may have otherwise never considered.  Not that I haven’t appreciated them, but through all of these experiences, I now have a different- deeper understanding of what that appreciation truly means.  Both to myself, and to those people I now understand better.  Being a photographer teaches you observation on a truly remarkable level.  You truly see the beauty, the story, and the connection in places where others find it difficult to notice.

It’s interesting, all the things you see and absorb as a photographer.  Thanks for being a part of this photographer’s journey.  I love that I get to be a part of yours.



Thought for the evening:  Whether you’ve been kept up at night thinking about your future, your new baby- wondering if your monitor is broken- it’s just too quiet, that job interview in the morning…  We all have something that keeps us up- drives us and stays on the verge of our consciousness throughout the day- that silent force that keeps us going from the inside.  What is your something?

Michelle Sternberg
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