This post has been a long time coming. I’ve thought about writing this post for months now, and each time it comes out a little differently. I’ve gone through several different titles for this post, including “I Quit,” “New Beginnings,” “Moving On,” “I’ve Decided It’s Time to Say Goodbye,” and so many others. This will easily be the longest, most personal post I’ve shared on my blog so far. I feel like for this to make the most sense, I need to start at the beginning. So here we go!
Growing up, I always had a camera in my hand. It was like second nature to me. I can remember going to Walmart to get my film developed of shots I had taken on my hot pink Barbie camera when I was probably around 6. Almost every year for Christmas, I got a new camera. Not because I was collecting or hoarding them, but because I used them so much on a regular basis that they always ended up dying on me by the end of the year. I remember getting my first digital camera. It was a Kodak point and shoot camera, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever that I could actually see the picture I had just taken immediately. My fascination with digital photography continued to grow throughout the years. I did yearbook and newsletter in junior high and loved taking the pictures for each. In high school, I got my first DSLR- a Nikon D40, which was an entry level DSLR camera. I was in love immediately and felt like I was on my way to becoming a photographer one day. I began to voice this dream to those closest to me, and I was encouraged to continue photography as a hobby, but not to set my heart on being a photographer as a job because “I wouldn’t make enough money” and “I needed to go to college to get a real job.”
I have always loved school ever since I was little, so college classes and course work were exciting to me. I’ve always been the nerd that gets excited about school supply shopping and getting a new planner for the new year. When I started my journey at Auburn, I really had no clue what I wanted to major in. I have always had interests all over the place. My initial thoughts for a major were pre-med, nursing, education, and business. When I was at orientation, I voiced this to my group leader, and I ended up going into the College of Liberal Arts, and I wanted to go undecided and just take core classes until I could figure out what I really wanted to pursue. That wasn’t an option, so I landed on Psychology. I knew Psychology was fascinating to me, and I knew I could take all core classes without having to actually start on the Psychology coursework immediately. I took a class that fall that was intended to help students figure out what their preferences and skills would be best suited for in the work force. All of my results told me elementary education, so I switched my major mid way through the fall semester to elementary education. When registration came around, I registered for all the elementary ed classes that I needed to start with and was so excited to get started. As my love for photography continued to grow and my skills developed, I got my second DSLR camera that year- a Nikon D90. I loved this camera so much, and it was so worn from wear by the time I had to replace it that the lighting meter that you see in the viewfinder was burned in… I still don’t know how that happened haha. This camera captured so many memories for me: from sorority formals, snow days, walks around Auburn’s campus, Auburn football games, and so much more.
Christmas break of freshman year rolled around, and I got some push back from family members who were hoping I would go into something in the medical field or become a writer since that was something I always enjoyed. I’ve always been someone who needs reassurance that I’m making the right decision, especially because I can be indecisive at times, so to not have the full support I was hoping for made me question everything. At the end of Christmas break, I decided to switch to pre-med, and I started those classes the spring of my freshman year. I realized very quickly that while I was fascinated by the medical field, it didn’t give me that spark of intrigue that I was looking for. I remember talking to David after the first week of classes and realizing I didn’t want to stay in pre-med, but I wasn’t sure what to do. He pointed out that I love helping people and giving advice and being there for people, so he suggested why not look into Psychology again since that was what I had initially gone with. I had people also tell me that I could teach with a psychology degree, so I thought, “Why not? I can get a degree in something I’m interested in but still have the option to teach if I want to.” I also decided then to minor in business so that if my dream of ever being a photographer came true, I would at least have some “formal” business education. It seemed like a win-win for me because I loved having options. I started by switching back into the College of Liberal Arts and took an introduction to psychology class. I. WAS. HOOKED. Abnormal psychology ended up being my favorite class I took in that field, and I loved learning about the different behaviors each area can have. About half way through my junior year, I learned that I couldn’t teach in Alabama public schools without a teaching certificate, so I decided that I would need to go to graduate school if that was really my goal instead of going into counseling.
David and I got engaged on January 2, 2014, and I couldn’t wait to marry my high school sweetheart. I immediately knew photography was the most important thing I wanted to spend money on for our wedding, so I immediately reached out to Rebecca Long, whose work I had followed for a few years by that point. Soon after we got engaged, my beloved Nikon D90 died on me, and I knew it was time to get a new camera. Because I so admired Rebecca Long’s images, and I knew she shot with Canon, I decided to make the switch to Canon and start learning that system. Most of the professional photographers I knew of at the time shot Canon, and I was fascinated by the “long white zoom lenses” as I called them then, so I was more than excited to switch to Canon since I thought that would maybe help get me a little closer to my dream of being a photographer.
David graduated from Auburn in May 2014 and was headed to the University of Alabama for Law School. Because we got engaged at the very beginning of 2014, we had discussed which graduate schools and law schools we wanted to look at that would have the programs that both of us wanted to pursue. I earned my Bachelors of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Business in December 2014 from Auburn. David and I got married June 5, 2015, and I moved to Tuscaloosa to begin graduate school immediately after we returned from our honeymoon. When I was first applying to graduate school at UA, I was planning on just doing elementary education, but I was told about another program- an alternative master’s degree that would certify me both in general education and special education for kids preschool age through third grade. This appealed to me both from my psychology background but also from my desire to have- you guessed it- options. I was enjoying my time at UA both as a graduate student and as a graduate teaching assistant, but I still had not set my camera down.
David and I got our puppy Harper after we had been married for about three months, so I had a constant subject to take pictures of. David and I talked more and more about our hopes and dreams for the future, and photography kept coming up, but not just from me. Since David and I had been together a little over seven years by this point, he knew how much I loved photography and how my ultimate dream was to be a photographer one day, so he started gently encouraging me to start trying to pursue photography as more than just a hobby. Because my program was an alternative masters program, I had a lot of classes with undergraduate students. As I started getting to know them, they started sharing with their friends that I was a photographer. I started out shooting graduation sessions at UA for the graduating seniors, and people started recommending me to their friends. That year, I shot so many senior sessions, and even a proposal on the field at Bryant Denny Stadium! I officially started my business, Chelsea Morton Photography, in February of 2016. And when I say officially, I mean I went and got a business license for the city of Tuscaloosa for a sole proprietorship. I shot my first wedding September 2016 in Florida, and I was on cloud nine. It gave me such an adrenaline rush, but I just loved getting to capture that special time for that sweet couple! It was such an amazing feeling, and I knew it was something I wanted to keep pursuing.
As I completed my master’s degree at Alabama, I continued capturing graduation sessions, couples portraits, and a couple of weddings. Shortly after graduation, I accepted a teaching position at Leeds Elementary School as the third grade special education resource teacher. I was so excited to be starting this career that I had worked so hard for, but I was worried if people knew I was also a photographer, that they might think I wasn’t as fully invested in teaching or my wonderful kiddos, so I stayed pretty quiet about it. Eventually, once I got more confident in my job and comfortable with my coworkers, I started sharing with people that I was a photographer. I had several co-workers do mini sessions with me that year for their Christmas card pictures, and I was so excited I was able to have a little bit of overlap between my job and my dream. That first year of teaching was such a year of growth and learning as an educator, but also as a photographer. I had started advertising with the Engaged Wedding Library in Homewood at the beginning of that school year because I knew with starting my first teaching job, I was going to be so busy, and I really wasn’t sure how to market myself well since I was a new photographer to the area. I got so many leads that first year advertising with Engaged, and had the privilege of working with one of the sweetest couples that year for their engagements and wedding!
At the end of my first year of teaching, my administrators approached me about changing positions within the school. I was nervous it was because I hadn’t done a good job with my current job that year, but after some reassurance, I agreed to move. I still got to stay in third grade, but instead of being the special education resource teacher, I was now a general education teacher that taught all of the subjects. Everyone else in the school was on teams of either two teachers or three teachers, so they shared students and swapped throughout the day. My classroom was unique because I had my students all day long and taught them everything. I was so excited to “officially” be a part of the third grade team, especially because I had learned so much from them the past year and gotten to know them so well. I was nervous, but so excited to start my second year of teaching. That year of teaching turned out to be one of the hardest years of my life. I struggled with a lot of anxiety, health issues, and questioned my ability as a teacher weekly, if not more. But I loved those kids, and I still do. And they knew that, and at the end of the day, that was the most important thing to me. I am so grateful for the relationships I made with those students, and I’m grateful to them for all the things they taught ME that year. I am so grateful to my team that year who helped me DAILY with advice, lesson plans, and helped cover my class when I was sick. They were always there for me, and words don’t do justice to how much I appreciate them.
On the photography side of my life, my bookings were picking up, and I was getting busier and busier. It was getting harder and harder to balance both teaching and photography, but I knew I wasn’t ready to make the jump to full time yet. I always told my brides I was a teacher as well so that they knew if I didn’t answer their emails immediately, or I could only do certain times and days for engagement sessions during the week, they would know it was because I was at school teaching. I will say, I have been blessed with some of the most thoughtful, encouraging, and understanding couples in my time as a photographer. They truly have shown me so much support both in my photography business, but also as a teacher.
I knew by about spring break of that year that something had to change. I knew I wasn’t ready to make the leap to full time, but I also remember clearly looking at David and saying, “I can’t do that for another year. Mentally, physically, emotionally, I just can’t.” I went to my administrators and voiced my concerns, and I was so grateful that they heard me and moved me to another position. This position was still in third grade (which I loved), but instead of teaching all the subjects by myself, I got to just teach math and science and have a partner teacher who taught ELA, reading, and writing! I was so excited when I found out that things had worked out where I could teach the subject that I loved (math) that I bawled my eyes out as soon as I found out. I had been so nervous about going into year three in the same position and feeling inadequate as a teacher. This change lit a fire inside of me that was so strong- I couldn’t WAIT for my third year teaching with a partner!
Around that same time, David and I had decided we were as ready as we would ever be to try to have a baby- because let’s be real, no one is ever “fully ready” to have a baby. Because of my health conditions, I knew that we might face some challenges, so we went into it trying not to stress and worry about it too much. In November, we found out I was pregnant. We were thrilled, ecstatic, overjoyed, and so very grateful. Our conversations about my photography business and teaching began to change. We had talked for a couple of years at this point about if I would want to continue teaching when we had kids and send our kids to daycare, or if I would want to stay home with the kids and work my photography business full time. When we had talked about it the previous year, my answer was oh, stay home with the kids and do my photography full time. But this year, it was so much harder of a decision than I ever anticipated. I knew that being a full time photographer and a mom were two of my biggest dreams, but I had fallen back in love with teaching, loved my teaching partner and my team so much, and loved being a part of the team at LES that I was so torn on what I wanted to do. I love getting to see when kids have that “A ha!” moment when the concept clicks for the first time. I love when kids feel comfortable enough with me to let me know personal things going on in their lives and want to talk to me about it. I love seeing the progress my kids make, even when every student is making progress at different rates, it’s so incredible to get to celebrate their learning with them! So yes, all of these things made my decision so much harder. At the end of the day, David and I decided that I would finish out the year teaching, and I would go full time with my photography business in the summer, and we would welcome our little girl in July. I was so excited to have the opportunity to finally be full time mommy and full time photographer, and couldn’t believe these dreams were actually becoming reality.
In January, I knew I wouldn’t be returning to LES as a teacher the next year. I had started thinking about how I would tell my kids- both current and former- that I wouldn’t be back the next year. I had so many plans I wanted to do for my kids from then until the end of the year. But then, COVID19 hit. We had no idea what all COVID19 was going to bring, and I had no idea that day in March when we said goodbye to our students that Friday that it would be the last time we were all together at school. The decision to close school for the rest of the year was a hard pill to swallow. I had anticipated that was the decision that was going to be made, but I didn’t realize just how emotional I would be. I found out while I was shooting a bridal session and remember telling myself to keep my composure and I would read all the texts from my team once I was done with the session. On the way home from that session, I called both my partner teacher and David, sobbing. I knew it was going to be my last year teaching, but I didn’t expect it to end like this. I had so many things I still wanted to do with these students, so many lessons I still wanted to teach, we still had a field trip to go on, and I was so looking forward to our class party and handing out end of the year awards.
After I took some time to process the situation, my partner teacher and I came up with a plan to video chat our classes each week to stay in touch, and since the school decided to go with virtual learning, we still got to stay in touch with our students. It wasn’t how we wanted it to be, but it was better than not communicating with them at all. A little bit into the quarantine, I started to see some positives of the situation: I wasn’t having to take off work all the time to go to doctors appointments, I was able to get plenty of rest, I got to spend so much time with David as we were both working from home, and I got to see what it would be like to be working from home running my business day to day. I will always be grateful for this time. I hate how it happened, but I’m grateful that we were able to see the positives in a not so great situation. Because my pregnancy is high risk, I got bumped up to going to the specialist every two weeks. David has been able to go with me to every single appointment and see every ultrasound we have had of Hallie Kate, and those moments will always be so special to me. He got to feel her kick for the first time while we were laying on the couch watching a movie. He got to feel the first time she had hiccups. So many precious milestones happened during this quarantine time, and I’m so grateful we got to experience them together.
COVID19 really messed up many of my brides’ wedding plans, but working from home allowed me to be so much more flexible for them to accommodate their new plans. Originally, my March, April, and May were completely full of weddings and engagement sessions. Once plans started changing, I only shot two full weddings and several “partial” weddings during those entire three months, and none of which were the full duration of time or the amount of guests the couples had intended. Nevertheless, these weddings were some of the most intimate, influential weddings I have had the honor of shooting. The couples who got married during this time truly realized what the most important thing was to them, and that was that they get to start their lives together, no matter who was there.
Now, it’s June 1st. Just under eight weeks away from Hallie Kate’s due date. Just under eight weeks away from officially becoming a full time mama. But today, I get a new title. Today, I become a full time photographer. I have officially gone full time with Chelsea Morton Photography, LLC, and I am over the moon!! I’ve had so many “pinch me” moments because it almost doesn’t feel real that this dream is actually happening. I’m so grateful to David for his constant love and support and encouragement to not give up on this dream. I’m so grateful to my teaching family who has supported me throughout this entire journey- both teaching and photography. I could not have done the past three years of teaching or photography without them. I absolutely CAN’T WAIT for this next chapter to begin, and I can’t wait to see how this business grows!
If you’ve read all of this, then wow, you’re a trooper, and I appreciate you for taking the time to read basically my whole life story haha. If you just scrolled to the bottom to see the big announcement, then here you go:
I’m going full time!!!!! 🙂
I can’t wait to start this next chapter, and I look forward to sharing it with all of you!!