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Portraits, Wildlife and Nature: How the Adventure Started

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

I want to take this as an opportunity to dive a little deeper than the "About Me" page on my website. If you have explored it at all then you know I am Cooper Graham, a photographer and well, many more things. I set out on a journey of owning a photography business and realized that the occupation has opened so many more doors than I had ever thought possible. From capturing musicians in a studio to being face to face with wild animals. I have kept my mind open to every direction photography has taken me. My focus in starting this blog is to expand my knowledge by teaching, my confidence by showing, and overall remembering the great experiences and people along the way.

I want to share a little of the path that lead me to owning a photography business. The very beginning of my interest in photography, all the way through some lengthy detours and a bit more. The first photographs I ever remember taking were on an old Nikon 35mm film camera at a racetrack in Middle of Nowhere, Iowa. From there my first "real" camera was a Canon PowerShot in the 8th grade. Every Friday night I was on the sidelines capturing what I thought was Sports Illustrated level images of the high paced world of MidWestern high school sports photography. I loved photography in a way that nothing ever felt right the way it did. I was going into my junior year of high school when I decided that I wanted to be a professional photographer. There was a lot that happened in that last year and a half where I ended up taking a bit of a detour and spending 5 years in the military. Although my camera found a few years of dust layered on it before I picked it up again, my interest and fascination with photography stayed with me. After getting out of the military and working a number of random jobs in vastly different industries, I ended up going to school in 2019 at a local community college in Iowa. One of the art courses required for my original area of study was Introduction to Photography. My wife had an old Canon EOS Rebel t5 that I brought to my first day of class. That was the biggest turning point I remember ever going through. Falling back into a passion that was at one point just a lost dream from a younger me. That was when everything kickstarted for me. That feeling of love for what I was doing had finally come back in a way that excited me for my new path.

So to back up a bit, I met my wife at the end of my time in the military. She was with me for all of the crazy career paths I found myself on before inevitably ending up here. From diving in the San Diego Harbor to molding 3D archery targets in a small Iowan town. We have lived a lifetime of adventures, and failures, before even starting the biggest and most exciting journey we are on now. We had moved back to the MidWest after staying in the San Diego area for a few years after I left the military. She had just graduated and starting a new career, so we were set on a new start in a new place. I was originally from this area, so it was at least somewhat familiar. After a few years in a few different places and a couple different states in the MidWest, I was ready to take photography full time and start my business. I remember she was on a trip back to San Diego, visiting her parents, when we were talking on the phone and we just decided that we needed to move back to California. It was such a terrifying decision that felt like it came so easy.

As soon as we moved I immediately went through all the monotonous details of starting your own business. I learned a lot and was frustrated about things I never knew existed. Most importantly I was setting up something that reflected me and who I was as a photographer. At the time it seemed extremely important to define myself as something. After going back to school and focusing on photography I became drawn to portraiture. I loved capturing people. Whether they were posed, in costumes or candid street photography.

There is something about capturing human emotion that I fell in love with. It is the foundation of my photography and how I learned to start looking and seeing as a photographer. This was how I defined myself, but learned that being open to doing more was very important. I wanted to shoot any and everything with people and by keeping an open mind in where photography could take me instead of where I was going to take photography. This mentality, although intimidating for those who are self-critical, lead to an opportunity in music photography. I got to assist amazing photographers that inspire as well as they teach. From there I took what I learned and got to start combining two things I love, music and photography. I was getting to capture musicians on stage in the rawest of their forms. One opportunity kept leading to another.

At the beginning of the year we had the opportunity to travel as we continue to do what we love. Thinking about keeping an open mind to where photography can take me, and also knowing how amazing and supportive my wife is, we left home in California and made our way to Tacoma, Washington. It has been such an amazing experience to be able to live here. I was able to capture

some amazing musicians here, but there was one disadvantage with music photography, and our travel that lead to a new opportunity for me. One thing that has always been a big part of my life is the outdoors and there is more than an abundance in the Pacific North West. From childhood I have been drawn to being in nature and having access to such iconic scenery so close, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to capture it. This has lead me down a path of actively dedicating more time to to being in the wilderness and appreciating it. I had forgotten how peaceful being surrounded by nothing but the sounds of nature was. It is impossible to get off your mind and even harder to not get addicted.

There are so many times I have doubted the decisions I make. If it will be profitable, will it effect bookings, will it generate growth? I forget that the reason we chase our dreams is to enjoy the process of our passions. I have always let it lead the way, force me to try new things and hopefully allow me to discover new passions or uncover lost ones from my past. The biggest reason of all that I want to start this blog is to have a place to come and tell my story as it unfolds and maybe get to hear some stories unfolding alongside mine!


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