In my novel-in-progress, Sycamore Dawn, three characters find themselves at turning points in their lives. Michelle Thompson was at such a turning point when I first met her. She describes herself as "broken after her divorce," but the person I met was already actively regrouping and creating a new life after what had been a particularly difficult experience. Her handling of a difficult transition so inspired me that I often tell acquaintances about some of the tactics she employed. Now she has an opportunity to tell how she built a life in which she strives to create art and encourage others through her photography.
Michelle Thompson, in Her Own Words
I have to smile to myself a little when someone comments on one of my photos or cards and says how creative I am. Growing up the youngest of three sisters, I admired my sisters' creativity. My oldest sister, Cristi, was talented with hair and makeup. She could make anyone look good. She could have been an interior designer. She could go to a thrift store, buy a few things, and make a simple home look beautiful. My other sister, Lisa, could draw anything. Our dad, a minister, would sometimes ask her to draw something to illustrate one of his sermons. Her drawings were filled with great detail. In addition to their other talents, they could both sing.
And then there was me… I could play any sport and ride my bike for miles and miles. But as far as being creative, I was not blessed with one shred of creativity.
I always had an interest in photography. However, we grew up without extra money for frivolous items, so I did not spend a lot of time dreaming of having a nice camera and learning to take pictures.
Michelle Strives to Realize Her Dream
Thankfully, my current husband, Ed, saw the value in capturing moments with our kids and from our trips. Ed purchased my first digital camera shortly after we were married. My son, Gene, was eight when Ed and I got married in December of 2002. Gene and I had lived in a rural farm community in Kansas, where we knew everyone, and everyone knew us. Marrying Ed meant moving ninety miles away to a larger community where neither of us knew a single soul.
I signed Gene up to play on a football team that was in its first year of existence. The coach asked for a volunteer to take pictures of the games and post the pictures on the team site. I volunteered. At the time, I had no experience of taking action shots. Thank goodness for the sport setting on digital cameras. From then on, whatever team Gene played on, I was out there taking pictures and sharing them on the team or school site. It was a great way to interact with the boys on Gene's team and to connect with the parents and coaches.
For a long time, I kept my digital camera set to auto. Sports mode was the only creative setting I would use. There were times when these two settings would fail me, and I didn't know why or what to do. If the sun went down, and I was still on the football field trying to take pictures they would come out blurry, so I would just put my camera away.
After we moved to Colorado in 2010, I began to take photography more seriously. We purchased a new digital camera that came with two lenses. I was hungry to learn more and take more pleasing pictures. I had read good things about a correspondence photography course called The New York Institute of Photography. Ed and I decided it would be a good investment, so I signed up to take the course in the spring of 2012. It was a great experience, and I learned a great deal. Eighteen months later I completed the course, received a diploma and was no longer only using two settings on my camera.
I still have much to learn. Every day, I read articles or watch videos on ways to sharpen my skills. I have a passion for capturing the beauty that is in this world. I have always wanted to do more than just take pictures.
Taking First Steps to Build a Business
Through the years, I have bought and sent cards for all kinds of occasions or no occasion at all. I decided to make homemade cards using my photos. I purchased cardstock at Staples actually meant for being printed to make invitations. I taped my photos on the front with double-stick tape and folded them over to make a card. I used the computer to print the appropriate message of Happy Birthday or Happy Anniversary. Thankfully, I finally discovered a company, Photographer's Edge, that specializes in beautiful cardstock specially made for inserting pictures. I have made and sent hundreds of my own cards that I am proud to send.
Finding a Purpose
I found an avenue for my photography to have a purpose. Creating cards is a way to share the beauty I see in this world. My goal is to inspire through uplifting words and pictures. There is so much heartache and darkness in this world that I want to be a point of light.
While I love to take pictures of my kids, grandkids and my dog, my main focus is on taking pleasing photos of landscapes and wildlife. I get excited when I spot a moose, buck, bald eagle or a fox den. Going out before dawn and moving quietly is key to being able to spot wildlife. I have come home empty handed, and I have made discoveries that I did not expect to find.
The summer of 2015, we experienced a rare phenomenon of wild yellow daises creating a carpet of yellow in the pastures in Colorado Springs. One evening my husband and I took a drive down the back roads just to take in the beauty. I took pictures of the flowers but unexpectedly came across five bucks relaxing in a field. I was sure when I got out of the car to get a better angle, they would run. To my great delight, they stayed put and let me take their picture with the sun setting behind them. It has become one of my favorite pictures. I even entered it into a contest for a calendar, and it was selected for the month of August.
I love that in different seasons I can focus on different kinds of animals. In the winter is the best time to photograph bald eagles. In spring and through summer is the best time to photograph hummingbirds and look for the young of foxes, deer and elk.
I prepare for each season by studying the habits of the species that I would like to photograph in their natural habitat. I find it interesting to learn which animals both parents participate in the raising of their young. As a photographer, it is a benefit to know that certain species of birds, such as barn owls, mate for life and return year after year to the same nesting place.
I am thankful that the websites I use to create calendars are very user friendly. In the beginning, I made calendars as Christmas gifts to give to family and friends. After a couple of years, people started to request my calendars. I just needed to know if they want a desk calendar or what size wall calendar.
Promoting my own work is the hardest thing for me to do. I love sharing my photos with people. My motivation for taking pictures is not to make money. I give away more cards and enlarged pictures than I sell. It is not that I wouldn't like to go further with marketing; it is just uncomfortable and not something that I am good at.
I submit photos to contests and magazines from time to time. I have had some success, which is always fun. Some online contests post some of the contest submissions while the contest is still open for submissions. Sometimes I make the mistake of viewing the other photographers' submissions and judge that mine are not as good. I end up feeling discouraged. I'm learning it is best to look at the competing photos after I submit my photos.
I always regretted not going to college. I had this idea that if I had a degree, somehow that degree would give me amore meaningful identity. I used to feel bad that I did not have a career and was just a waitress. I like being known as a photographer. In the process of identifying as a photographer, I have learned a greater lesson. It is what I do with my photography that is important, not being known as a photographer. Photography is a tool in making the world a brighter and better place. In life, there are many tools to make the world a better place. If I were still a waitress, I could lift the spirits of people I come into contact with on a daily basis.
I met Michelle while she was still waitressing. She recently revealed that she now keeps encouraging cards with her at all times. When she and Ed go out to eat, she leaves a tip, but she leaves much more. She leaves an affirming card, personalizing it by writing the name of the person who waited on them on the envelope. That's the kind of person she is.