Brainerd Photographer – Leading a Double Life of Business and Photography

In the past couple of years, I have gotten to know a lot of new people through my photography business, people that I hadn’t had the opportunity to cross paths with in my twenty years in the community previously.  It has been such a fantastic experience, and it reminds me that in some ways, I lead a sort of double life.  My husband and I have lived in the Brainerd, MN area since the mid-90’s – he was transferred here with his company and I quickly landed in the automotive industry, which is what I had been doing prior to our move.  I have met so many great people over the years through my business connections – my involvement with the Chamber of Commerce, the Blandin Leadership Program, and a variety of non-profit organizations.  Because I have been so involved in the business community, I actually started to believe that I knew a lot of people in the community at large.  I have since found out how many people I don’t know.  It’s amazing how many people you come to know when you start hanging out in different circles.  Try hanging out at a football game or a gymnastics meet – there’s a whole different crowd!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I still know a ton of people at those activities, but there are so many more that I’m just getting to know, and I’m loving it.

So, are you wondering how I came to lead this double life of auto industry vs photography?  And, in truth, it’s not one or the other, it’s both.  As I’ve mentioned many times, I’ve always enjoyed photography, and even took a photography class in college, where we got to develop our own photos in the darkroom.  It was a neat experience, but I never considered it as a career choice.  I went to college to be an accountant, and graduated with degrees in business and accounting. I quickly learned that the “bean counting” wasn’t really my cup of tea – I enjoyed people more than numbers – so I focused on the business side of my profession, but having that accounting background has been a very useful tool to have in my bag of tricks.  It helped me get my foot in the door to the auto industry, and it has been very helpful in running my own business.

I’ve now spent over twenty years in the auto industry and still love it, but I am also eagerly looking forward to the next phase of my life.  A few years back I found myself working crazy hours with essentially no life.  Everything I did from morning til night revolved around my job.  I decided I needed to find some balance in my life (yep, that word that we all talk about, but seldom achieve), and decided to enroll in a weekend photography workshop.  I had recently joined the local camera club, thinking I would like to reconnect with my camera.  I had been an avid scrapbooker in years past, but hadn’t done that for a while either.  With no kids of my own, one day I thought about all those scrapbooks I was creating, and wondered why I was doing it.  Who was going to want them when I was gone?  That ended that obsession!  Anyway, back to the photography workshop…  I convinced my sister in law to join me.  She had just gotten a new camera and didn’t know how to operate it, so thought it would be a good opportunity for her, too.

That little weekend workshop in the Cities began a path that I didn’t see at the time, or even for quite a while afterwards, but as I look back now, I see that it was the catalyst to starting the photography business that I have today. I started rediscovering the manual settings on my camera, and the joy of capturing a beautiful image.  I quickly learned that there was so much more to learn, but I was energized and made a point to start enjoying my life again instead of just living to work.  In all fairness to my day job, I need to be clear that my work obsession was all on me -no one  really expected me to be working night and day, but with a position where the work is never done, I had come to expect it of myself!  Up to that point, other than snapshots of friends and family, my photographic subject of choice was the outdoors – mostly flowers, wildlife, and landscapes.  The thought of portrait photography didn’t even enter my mind, nor did the thought of having a photography business!

But, as luck would have it, divine intervention struck, and on a whim when my nieces were visiting one weekend, we decided to head outside and do a “photo shoot”.  Honestly, I don’t think I really knew what that meant, but we played around in my backyard, and came away with some pretty great photos.  Of course, looking back now, I would do many things differently, but that’s how it all started. I realized how much fun I was having with the one on one interaction with my nieces.  I loved being behind the camera and the rush of adrenaline I felt in the moment.  Once we got the photos downloaded and were able to see all the fun and emotion that we could relive by looking through them again, I think I got a little hooked.  I certainly didn’t fancy myself a photographer, but I got a little confidence, and did some ‘photo shoots” for friends and family.  I learned to work with the editing process, and quickly learned that I would never ever learn everything there was to know about photography, and quite honestly, that was some of the excitement.  I have always said that in life, as well as in business, if you think you know everything there is to know about something, it’s time to hang it up.  I strongly believe that we should always be learning and striving for improvement in our lives, and photography definitely provides me that constant challenge.

At some point with all of the photos I was taking, I decided I needed to have a website to share my photos with friends and family, since they weren’t all on facebook, and so began the birth of Deb Mitzel Photography.  I was fortunate to have a couple of connections from my business life help me get officially started by allowing me to do headshots for their company’s employees.  I decided early on that doing senior portraits would be a fun gig.  I had had a great experience with my senior photographer, and knew that the one on one interaction would be right up my alley.  I have always enjoyed young people in their high school years – maybe I’m reliving my past through them or something, but I genuinely love knowing what they’re into and what they want to do with their life.  I think everyone has insecurities at that stage of the game, whether recognized or not, and I think part of me just wants to lift them up and help them succeed, even if they don’t see it in themselves.  Working one on one with them during the photo session allows me to get to know them a little more personally, and I love to follow them after the fact, and continue to cheer them on.  I’ve been able to cheer on my seniors at triathlons, soccer, football, and basketball games, gymnastics meets, see them get ready for and attend proms and Christmas Balls, attend their graduation parties, and watch them head off to college and pursue their dreams.  Something about that just makes me feel good – it’s a feeling I can’t explain, but I absolutely love it, and can’t imagine going back to my life without portrait photography in it.

So, this double life keeps me busy, to say the least.  By day, I head off to my career with a local automotive group, and in the evenings and weekends, I am pursuing my photography passion.  They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life, and that’s how I feel.  I enjoy both worlds of my double life, and wouldn’t have it any other way!

Until next time, look for the love in what you do and it won’t feel like work!

I’ve gotten to know these young ladies and their families over the past year. I love this double life I lead!

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