On this very day (October 30th, 2020) FIVE years ago, I graduated from Hallmark Institute of Photography. I first have to say how insane it is to me that 5 years have already gone by. It seams like just the other day that I was walking the halls of Hallmark, camera in hand, living one of the best years of my life!
To help make you understand how amazing that experience was I feel like I need to give you a little back story. I have to take it back to 2013 when I graduated from SUNY Broome with an associates in Visual Communication. At the time I had been working in the office of a local convenient store chain as their graphic design intern. Not only did I create signage for their stores but also did weekly store audit paperwork and other miscellaneous things. I also had the job of putting on the mascot costume and visiting stores. Yes, I was the girl inside a giant cartoon “M” standing outside of a gas station waving to people in downtown Binghamton. Not one of the finer moments of my career.
To make a long story short, another company bought the chain I worked for and I was left without a job. As a 19 year old who just graduated college and had her work position dissolved, I was freaking out. It was actually during that graphic design job and after interning in Colorado for a Summer, that I realized I didn’t like graphic design. I’m so thankful for community colleges and their lower tuition. It’s the perfect way to test drive the career path you are on the make sure it’s really for you! Well… graphic design was not for me.
After getting the news that in a few days I would be out of a job I stopped at a local bakery. Because sweets make everything better! It was around Mother’s Day in 2014 and I wanted to get my mom a little sweet treat. While I was there I randomly asked if they were hiring. I left that bakery with a new job that started on Monday the following week!
After less than a year working in that bakery I felt that something was missing. Photography was always on my heart but I never thought I could actually make a career out of it. Until I started talking to an alumni who went to the school. After asking her about a thousand questions about her experience at Hallmark and her current business I decided to set up a tour!
You know the feeling when you’re shopping for a specific jacket and you finally find exactly what you are looking for? Or if you’ve ever bought a house. Touring homes endlessly until you step into a house and know instantly that’s the home for you? Well, that’s what it felt like when I walked through the halls of this school. The feeling is really indescribable! I just felt like I finally knew exactly where I was suppose to be! That tour took place sometime in November of 2014 and I was to pack up and move to Western Massachusetts on January 1st, 2015!
Hallmark Institute of Photography was an extremely unique school. Some may even consider it a trade school. For ten months. Monday through Friday. 8am to 5pm. Plus extended work night hours and working with other photographers all over New England on the weekend… It was INTENSE! We literally ate slept and drank photography from the first moment of our orientation!
This school taught us everything from how to see and manipulate light, both natural and artificial. How each function of a camera works, to video recording and editing, to different editing software. We even learned how to run a business the right way, how to keep track of our expenses, all the different types of photography. They taught us posing and portraits, commercial photography and everything else you can possibly imagine. It was incredible!!
We had strict guidelines and deadlines to follow. And at the end of each quarter we went through a brutal critique of our portfolio. When it came down to our very last assignment of creating our portfolio the critiques were more intense than before. They brought in professional photographers to scrutinize our work. In front of EVERYONE. This final portfolio critique decided if you passed and were able to graduate or if you failed and were asked to leave immediately. That’s it. Pass or Fail. There was no in between. No grey area at all. You passed or you failed, point blank.
Thankfully I passed and was able to graduate! Standing in front of my classmates along with all of our families giving a speech at graduation was one of the proudest moments of my life. I have goosebumps as I type this because I can vividly remember looking out into the crowd and having all of our teachers and staff behind me on stage and feeling the biggest sense of accomplishment! To be honest though, I wasn’t ready to graduate. I wanted to stay in school and keep learning from the instructors and the people around me. Being surrounded everyday by insane talent and so much creativity gave me so much life!
The other part that I hadn’t anticipated was the overwhelming sadness that I felt as I said goodbye to the people I had grown incredibly close with over the last ten months. Everyone was moving back home which meant they were now going to be spread out all over the country. Not all together in the small town of Turners Falls, Massachusetts. I miss those people every single day.
I had no idea that 5 years later I would be sitting here in my home office typing this as a full time wedding photographer. It’s truly blowing my mind! It still doesn’t feel real when someone asked me what I do for work and I respond “I’m a wedding photographer!”. On the inside I’m screaming I HAVE THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD!!!
I have so many incredible memories from my experience at Hallmark which you can read all about here! Some of them are quite hilarious if you ask me but most of my stories are the “you had to be there” kind. I would go back to this school in a second and go through the entire curriculum again if I could! It was the best 10 months of my life! Unfortunately, about a year after I graduated, they made the decision to close the school. I remember hearing this news and crying. I wept for all of the alumni who knew what this school meant. I sobbed for the prospective students who will never get the chance to have this experience. I’m sad for the instructors and staff who put their heart and souls into that school. Only if you are an alumni of Hallmark do you truly know how much this place meant to all of us. To this day I still tear up at the fact that it’s just gone.
That being said, I feel that all of us alumni of Hallmark Institute of Photography owe it to the world, and to the school, to do our absolute best! To have careers creating photographs filled with meaning. To display our skills and knowledge and share what we know with other aspiring photographers who want to add to the beauty of this world by documenting it. It’s our job now to carry on the Hallmark legacy and make our other alumni proud!
Here’s to being a photographer and a small business owner for the last 5 year!
What a difference 5 years can make!