Being good enough

April 20, 2012



I thought the last post might be the finish before I take leave, but this seems more appropriate and it’s ready now to go out there to you. When I come back I hope I can start fresh.


This blogpost has been in the works for months. I keep adding to it and amending it. I’m almost afraid to publish it, because of my own insecurities. I’m breaking mirrors here. Some of my friends and those I follow dearly have spoke of this so it encourages me to open up and to do it sooner rather than later. Do you know what worries me some days? The constant blogposts. The putting out there and then… not knowing what people might think of it. It’s like giving a big presentation to a room full of people, finishing and then walking away, shuffling your papers in the deafening silence. Never knowing how that went down. Oh well, anyways, here goes…
I wouldn’t want anyone visiting this blog to go away feeling their life isn’t good enough. That they are not working hard enough. They haven’t got it all together yet. Too many times I visit blogs and wonder at the amount  people can pack into a day. Into a life!!!! Jeez. How they can have it all in their careers, all that confidence, and still have time for craftmaking, homecooking and mountain climbing with the kids. In 2012 online, life has to be packed full with a successful career and weekend activities or else you fall short. I have to say, from my own experience, it’s not easy being a full time mum and a full time photographer. You can’t have it all without some sacrifice.

I envy photographers with no children who can concentrate solely on their career, and I envy mums who can concentrate solely on their children. There’s no way I could keep up with either. And I feel bad for even saying that. That’s my struggle right there.
I’ve been a photographer with kids for a few years now, but I know what it’s like to work a full time job and be away from the family all week too. I take my hat off to people who can do that. I know I have it easier than most that have come before me in my family. I come from a working class background. We never had anything as kids. An outside toilet. A packet of crisps and a bottle of lemonade on Saturday nights was a treat. I know I sound old but it’s taught me. You learn from those around you in life, the difficult times they’ve faced, when the money dried up, and you learn that great rewards come from hard work and sacrifice. And working on through the tough times.

So many people want to be photographers these days. I can understand that. It can be such a rewarding career. Making people feel their lives are special. Creating memories. But you need to ask yourself why you want it. If it’s for attention then you can be pulling your hair out waiting for people to ‘like’ your photos. This leads to an awful insecurity. The path to good photography is long and hard. It’s filled with mistakes and hard work and practice. So much practice. There is no downloadable, all fulfilling answer to getting it right and being popular. If there is, please let me know because all this while, I’ve been doing it the hard way. And I’m still a long way off. But the rewards don’t come from having a hundred people online ‘sort of’ following you. They come from making an impact on just a few.

I’d like to tell you what it’s like to be a working photographer and a mum. Photographer’s have a talent for making the very ordinary look extraordinary. We are selective in what we choose to show the world. About ourselves, about our work. We omit and edit at will. It’s part of our skill. A lot will tell you only of their achievements and how good they have it at home and at work. I can’t help but feel this is not the full picture.
They don’t tell you of everything they have yet to do. Sometimes I wish there was more honesty on the internet. A place where we can truly say how we feel, reveal our struggles, support each other, and stop pretending it is always ‘the good life.’  But humans want to feel happy. They want to read things that make them feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ and I might just be shooting myself in the foot for even posting this.

This week of all weeks, amidst a ton of weddings and preparation for our trip to America next week, we got thrown a curveball. Niamh got chickenpox. I’d been catching up on work really well. It did mean working flat out but at least I’d nearly reached the end of that forever ‘to do list’. But poor Niamh’s chickenpox made me stop and think. None of that matters when you have to sit up at night watching your child cry her heart out in distress. How lucky I am to have normally happy, healthy kids and how quickly life can change in an instant. How neglectful I’ve been to think it would always run smoothly and to take them for granted.

I can’t remember the last time I had time to print out a personal photo. I have been so busy ‘doing’ for everyone else.  I’m still, after all these years as a photographer, looking at empty walls and empty shelves waiting to be filled with frames and albums. I promised myself I would this winter, but now its Spring and I didn’t get the ‘time’. Those walls also need a fresh coat of paint. But that’s the least of my concerns. Somedays I don’t even have time to brush the floors.

On Monday, after my shoots and appointments, I came in to last nights dishes, the breakfast dishes, the lunch dishes… and I still hadn’t made the dinner.  When all that’s done and the kids are in bed, finally I get to start my work. There are not enough hours in the day. There never will be. I need to work late to finish everything that I have to do. It’s always been this way for me.

Increasingly, I’ve found that my most valuable commodity is not my skill. It’s not my vision. It’s not the thousands of pounds worth of equipment.

It’s my time.

There is nothing more important than this time, right now, especially when your a mum with young children who need you to be there.

To end this post, I want to say also, how grateful I am for clients who trust me to document their lives in my own special way. I do sincerely love this work. At times I wish I could switch off my photographer head. I am that passionate about it. I forget sometimes the things I have to do daily because I’m thinking about the next album that has to go out. I don’t have the time to take on a ton of clients but it makes me more grateful for the few, and the stories they have shared with me. I put my heart and soul into every session, every wedding. If I am giving up my time, with my family, it has to be worth it and it has to be meaningful. I have to be making a difference. I am thankful for those who are patient and understanding, and give me the time I need to do this and to have a life of my own. The ones who have become lifelong friends. I realise how lucky I am to have you. Just today, when I was at a low point, I received two emails. One from a bride who had just received her slideshow and another from a portrait client, just keeping in touch and keeping me up to date with their lives. Both emails made me cry. I am grateful to have been a part of your lives and hopefully will continue to be. I am grateful also for having the income you provide so that my kids can have a life filled with art and books and holidays and cinema trips and a nice home. I am grateful for my family who support me. I am so grateful.

But right now, I’m going to get the dishes done. Who knows where I can go from there. I’ll carry on and it’s going to be great.


amy grace 02:46 April 20, 2012
your candor, reflection, and grace are welcomed. i can feel the gratefulness and love in your words, for what you do and for the world you capture. i've only just discovered your really beautiful and powerful work, and wish you nothing but the peace and time and joy you are owed. blessings...many of them.
Ciaran 09:00 April 20, 2012
Hi Paula! Being good enough will never be your problem- you are good enough already, and much more, as a photographer, a parent and a decent human being. Much of what you have said resonates with me, as I made the mistake some years ago of not saying no often enough, of taking on too much, working late into the night week after week until my system finally cried enough and I was forced to take 6 months off work as a teacher. Things nearly went too far- I know that now, looking back 10 years later. But that time off taught me a lot of valuable lessons. Firstly, I had too many demands on my time. I resigned from committees left, right and centre. I started to say no more often. I started to put myself and my family at the top of my list again. Work got put into a different compartment, allocated a certain amount of time daily. If something didn't get finished today, it could be completed tomorrow. The roof didn't fall in as a result. I spent more time at my other passions in life- photography and music, on a regular basis. I got balance back into my life again. Four years ago, I took leave of my old career, and started a new one as a freelance. There are busy times and slack times, ups and downs. But my family are still at the top of my list of priorities each day. However, it is still alarming for me to see people in my old profession, and photographers as well, making the same mistakes I did. At the end of the day, we all have one go at this life, and we need to make the most of it. Getting the balance right is the most important thing, and putting yourself first is an essential part of that. Delighted to hear that you're heading off on a wee holiday- forget about the work and enjoy yourself! The internet is a strange place- I suspect that some bloggers write what they think others want to read, as opposed to how they really feel. Your honesty (and bravery) stands out a mile. So, once again, take it from me- you are more than good enough. All the best to you and yours.
Erica 09:28 April 20, 2012
Beautifully written Paula. Never regret putting this out there. People need to know. We're not robots - we are people, wives, mothers, friends-we need to make time in our own lives for our own families. Thankyou for your comment on my wee blog. I felt like I was just making excuses but it really is the truth. Comforting to know that we're all in the same boat. Much love. I'm off to shoot a wedding xx
Lisa O'Dwyer 09:38 April 20, 2012
Thank you so much for this post Paula! You've put into words what I've been thinking for some time. I too started my business around 5 years ago when my first son was born. it was a way for me to be home with my children, but also have a career and a creative one at that. But working at home and being a mom is tough because the two are never separate. If I'm editing on the computer, then the kids are in the background trying to get my attention. So I turn the tv on to babysit them. Then I feel bad, and tell them mommy has to work...please go play. But of course they are little and just want to spend time with mommy. As more demand has been created for my work over the years, I've found it harder to find the time. I wish I could be like my husband: leave for work in the morning, come home for a cooked dinner, take the kids and play and not have to think about work in the evenings. It's so hard to separate our work as mom and photographer/worker. We're expected to do it all. Then we see how much more single people can do, and we get jealous. Or we get angry when they make fun of mom-photographers as some of them do because they don't take us seriously. Last summer when we just arrived in the States for our month's holiday (I'm American), my son gets chicken pox. He had caught it in his montessori in ireland the week before we left. No worries because the American kids are vaccinated against chicken pox. 3 weeks later his 2 year-old brother gets it just as we are ready to leave for Ireland. I can tell you this, our children/family/photography career is much more precious to us than it is to the photographers without kids because we know it ain't easy. It's really tough. But you are doing a fine job and you don't have to do everything. I'm trying to transition a bit more over to film now to cut out the dreaded editing. All family shots are done strictly with film and I get them printed and put into albums. Unfortunately I have loads of digital ones on hard drives waiting to get put into albums for the past 2 years! I also have been shooting 3-4 film rolls at weddings. I'll let you know how I get on, but maybe this is something you can try?
JULIE 09:41 April 20, 2012
<3 Thank you so much for taking the time out to write this! This article alone, has made a difference to me. As always your images are a pleasure to my eyes. <3
Tara 11:10 April 20, 2012
Paula this blog post is getting a standing ovation in my home! x
admin 11:50 April 20, 2012
Thank-you, thank-you so much friends. I can feel my shoulders starting to relax just reading your stories and feeling your support. Ciaran, you said it exactly. It's like finally giving yourself permission to live your life and take time to enjoy it. I'm such a people pleaser but I'm learning to please myself now too sometimes. Lisa you've put the idea of film into my head. I always thought photographers used film for the quality but I never thought of the simplicity of it. Taking the editing out of the equation. I'm intrigued now. Must chat more to you about it soon.x
Aisling friel 15:08 April 20, 2012
Paula I love your honesty and about your insecurities and about how u feel juggling a profession and being mammy! I love my job it doesn't feel like a job, I just hope some day I will be a mammy too so I get the chance to try juggling both! But most of all I hope to find true love just like the love you tell in your photos!!! X
Sona 10:22 April 21, 2012
Great personal post! I am the photographer with no kids, but with another full time job (hopefully only for another while) so I know what u mean by not having enough time! But as u wrote, just carry on and it's going to be ok;)
olivia 08:49 April 24, 2012
Hi Paula, I'm your big fans but I never leave a comment. I love your photography. They are always full of love and inspiration. And I love this post. It makes me love your work than ever. Although I believe many of us are expecting more brilliant work of yours, we wish you and your family are happy first. I just want to say thank you and enjoy your time with your family.
Juanita 19:35 April 29, 2012
Hi Paula I so so understand all your amazing words. Being a mother of two and a full time photographer / cinematographer and dealing with a mother who is so ill with cancer I feel just like yourself but I have this year promised to not beat myself up any more about not having enough hours in our days it's not until u suffer with an illness that u really have to except what life throws at us enjoy ur children and each day u have with ur family as those times are worth more than any disappointment we can ever feel about career xo love juanita.
admin 03:02 May 12, 2012
Thank-you so much to all those photographers, local and international, who have shared their support and experiences here. Life is so much better and easier when we help each other. I hope you will call on me when you need the same
Greg 12:06 June 7, 2012
A facebook friend (Ingrid) had a link to your site on her page. I was blown away by the Wedding shots (american on Golf course). Your work is fantastic and then I read this blog entry! I agree with so many of your points. I love photography from two angles. I love looking at great photography and I love learning to take better photographs. I would however never dare call myself a photographer unlike all the amatures out there setting up their "Joe Bloggs Photography" sites and Facebook pages! Rarely trained and I'm guessing if you handed them a film slr and took away their photoshop they would be well and truely lost. I too find it hard to balance work, family and other hobbies to allow the time and effort it takes to imporve photography skills but instead of beating myself up about it I relish the time I have with the camera when I get it! Anyway! Love your work and I think I will be reading future posts!

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