In the mid-90s, I was attending college at Kennesaw State University. My major was psychology, and I was a 19-year-old senior quickly approaching graduation. My father was a doctor (a primary care practitioner), and I wanted to be one, too. Then something happened. One day, I was racing to my next class, and suddenly, the ground felt like it had shifted from beneath me. It was like I had fallen while standing up; it was the scariest feeling I had ever felt.
Much later, after numerous tests and scans, I was finally diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus (mono) and was sick for about six months. That was pretty tough, and it left me with permanent chronic vertigo. It was terrifying at first, but with a dedicated neurologist and specific medication, we are able to keep it under control.
When I went back to school, I decided to try something fun and artistic. I had really enjoyed photography in high school. So, I took a photography class. It was honestly a bit boring learning about basic camera functions and technical things. One day, my teacher (who never gave a compliment) looked at me and said, “You need to be sure to take Photography 2.” Unsure of her intention, I asked why, and she mysteriously answered, “Just trust me,” and winked. Okay, so that wasn’t exactly a compliment, but I sure am glad I trusted Professor Barbara Swindell. Not only did she become one of my closest friends, but she knew that once I started photographing people, I would fall in love with photography. It was the connection that sparked my interest.
The ability to utilize fashion, props and locations to turn an idea into reality was absolutely thrilling. Dream it up and then create it — the work was fascinating and satisfying! One day, I was standing in the darkroom printing photos at the school and it hit me that this — capturing moments and developing memories — was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
My major changed to studio art, and I never looked back. I had always been indecisive about a career path. This was a strange feeling because there was just no doubt in me at that point. I was certain that this was what I was born to do.
College isn’t for everyone, but it helped me discover who I was. Dealing with the condition of vertigo for life was tough, but it directly hurled me into photography; without it, I would have never found my true calling. It’s funny how life’s struggles often lead to the best discoveries. The older I get, the more I see how there really is a reason for almost everything.
I opened my studio in 1998 in my parents’ sunroom, and we used the closet there to build a darkroom. I spent hours and hours in that tiny room, printing entire wedding albums and such, and I have been doing photography full time ever since.
In 2006, I made the switch from film to digital. That opened a massive door in photography, presenting a vast array of possibilities. Instead of shooting a film roll of 24 images, with digital, I averaged 350 images during a one-hour session. I didn’t have to worry about wasting film, and I had much more opportunity to capture a special moment.
My job is amazingly wonderful and fulfilling. I absolutely love photographing people of all ages.
The newborn babies are incredibly precious. Often, they sleep through the whole session. Yet those slumbering baby photos are just as heartwarming as the ones when they pop one eye open, wondering where they are now and what is happening.
The little ones are adorable, twirling around in their dresses in the she-shed studio light. Styling, fashion and set design are right up my alley. We plan outfits ahead of time, and most of them wear the clothes I provide in my studio. It is basically like playing dress-up every day!
When taking shots of high school senior girls, encountering their fun and fresh energy invigorates me. They have the whole world ahead of them, and that hope sparkles in their eyes. They feel beautiful at their photoshoots, and I love showing them that beauty once their pictures are ready to view.
I have always loved fashion and interior decorating. During the pandemic, I worked through the shutdowns, touching up pictures and refining my art. Like every other setback in my life, photography pulled me through yet again. Business during COVID has been slow, with occasional bursts of activity. During this downtime, I finally ventured into doing something I had always dreamed about: starting a fashion and home blog. I thought I was perhaps too old at 46, but it’s now my side hustle, which I’m really enjoying. I’ll admit: It is a ton of work and time, but it is something that builds with persistence.
My life has not been without disappointment or heartache, but God’s grace and the fulfillment I’ve found through photography have helped me weather the storms. I remember the day after my dad passed. I had a shoot that morning. I was going to cancel. But that little voice inside told me, “Do this, Karen. It will make you realize how you can continue on. You have a purpose.” I think that’s big.
We all have things that floor us to the point where we feel unsure if we can regroup and stand up. But discovering purpose for our lives … well, that’s powerful, and it will endure through the storms. One day at a time, one photoshoot at a time, my heart heals. Art truly does heal the heart. Creating beauty is pretty fabulous; it is the best therapy.
My personal life positively fuels my profession. I have a wonderful, talented husband, Greg, who enthusiastically supports me in my work. As a gift for our 20th wedding anniversary, he built me my fantastic she-shed studio. He has such a gift for design and constructs the most beautiful spaces. I also have two grown step-babies who have been an integral part of my life. Getting to nurture them and see them grow is a gift unlike any other. As I was never able to have my own children, I am so thankful for the time I had with them when they were little.
“And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling.”
I also have two little fluffers (Maltese) that have become quite Instagram-famous. My little guys, Sailor and Salty, are my heart. They model for several companies and lately have promoted some really cool movies like Channing Tatum’s 2022 film Dog. Four-year-old Salty is a total mess — he gets into anything and everything, steals undergarments and devours celery. Six-year-old Sailor, on the other hand, is the sweetest little guy, wanting to please everyone. We enjoy spoiling them both rotten. I dress them up in their little outfits and sunglasses and take pics “for the ‘gram.” Having them is like having two live teddy bears. They love to help in the studio but get a tad jealous when it’s not their photoshoot!
For studio options, I have a downstairs studio plus an upstairs natural-light studio in our house. The she-shed studio is a small haven with a transparent roof. We bought antique windows, which my husband framed into the shed. This 12×12-foot space is magical. I love how rain can be pouring outside, yet the light is still beautiful in there. I change my scene in the shed about six times throughout the year: seasonal sets, of course, and a few neutral boho sets in between. The wood on the walls and floor was provided through a collaboration with Best Laminate Flooring. We recently added the mermaid above the door, a fitting ode to my business logo. The space is so dreamy — featuring abundant light and warmth, even in the winter.
My photography journey has been amazing. I am right where I want to be, doing exactly what I was meant to do. I hope to continue to do photography as long as I live. I feel blessed to have found this career path. I remember considering set design, fashion design and psychology while choosing which college studies to pursue. This job encompasses all those things, and it is wonderful to set my own schedule.
The little studio shed built out of love has become a light in my life, and I am delighted to share it with my clients.