"I have super exciting news to share about me and some not so great news for [insert company name here] "

These were the exact words I uttered on my one-on-one ZOOM call with my boss at the end of June 2021.

I *finally* was pulling the trigger on what I wanted. I had been dreaming of this day for literally YEARS. Throughout the previous year (July 2020-2021), I tested if HMP could be viable as my main focus & income. I held a full-time agency job during regular business hours (averaging 45 hours per week) as a Senior Video Editor. Nights & weekends were reserved for my photography clients. After working like that for about a year, building a business case, & with lots of encouragement from Ian, I was ready to jump feet first into building something of my own. I've always been someone with a million ideas & I was now giving myself permission to have those ideas for my business. It was time to channel that energy into my own thing. ✨

Ian was supportive every step of the way. He kept telling me "the timing is right, right now. It might not always be right". We carefully planned what we needed to do financially & navigated "how on earth I would get on his health insurance". At previous companies Ian worked for, you only needed to live with a partner for 6 months to qualify to be on his insurance. We could prove that we lived together for 7 years at this point. Unfortunately, his current company needed a marriage license for me to get on his health insurance. We knew if I gave notice & my last day was at the beginning of July then my current health insurance would extend to the end of July. Now to figure out how I'd get health insurance for the rest of the year.

2021 just so happened to be our 10th year together. Since the beginning of our relationship we always said we'd either get married because one of us would need health insurance or when we reached our 10 year anniversary. I always thought that Ian would be the business owner first & would need to jump on my insurance. Welp, turns out I was going to be the independent business owner first and that I needed health insurance. It also turned out we were engaged & it was our 10th year together. Were the stars aligning just so or had we written this into our story very early on? Could it be both? During one of our many conversations while planning our housewarming (finally since we bought our house during the height of covid in 2020), organizing our finances, figuring out how I would quit my corporate job, I wondered out loud, "How crazy would it be to get married in two weeks? Could we fly Jenn in from Colorado to be there?

Then I said, "how cool would it be to get married during our 10th anniversary year?"

Seems like the perfect excuse for a simple backyard legal ceremony, doesn't it? You'd be right because it was!

On July 24th, 2021, we decorated our backyard & our long-time friend Luke performed a Hand-fasting Ceremony & signed some paper work. My good friend Sergio photographed the day. (Surprise!) And then we went & had a fantastic dinner on the Cooper River.

So, this past year as a business owner started & ended with weddings. And they were both mine 😂 👰‍♀️. For someone who never wanted to get married & resisted it for over 9 years, I had more weddings than most. And both to the same person! Roll with me here. I'm my own magical being, having fun with this life (most of the time).

Okay, okay, but what about your business?

Right, right! I did a lot of different things to see what clicked last year. Check out my favorite images from 2021.

First up are images from a photography workshop (Feb 2021, where I met our "big" wedding photographer, Emma). Then, we have a the sweetest newborn session of a friend from high school (they're now expecting their second child). Of course I captured my Momma with her newest puppy, Valentine.

Then we moved into birthday photographs. First with the Spitalieri Twins for their 2nd birthday and my cousin Stephanie for her Maternity session (Michaella is now 1!!). Then, Vivienne's 6 month photoshoot. Toss in a couple of 1st birthday session, a few shore minis, & a communion session.

Add in new clients who found me via an instagram hashtag & now book me every year. Plus, more high school friends wanting photographs of their kids. An anniversary session for my sister, Jenn, & her husband, Sean.

Add some rainy session with the McAbee Family down the shore. Some beautiful sunset sessions with the Norks.

Some magical branding sessions for Nik Holbrook Designs & a "Build Your Own Table" Event celebrating her achievement of opening a business.

A touch of sunflower field minis, a memorial session for a Senior Pup. Some more branding/business sessions for Downtown Cookies & Sweet Treats & More.

Topped with holiday mini sessions & the final session for the Loffredo's first year package.

Beautiful photos, inner turmoil

Darkness creeps in...

Towards the end of the summer, along the peripheries of my mind, I could feel the darkness taking root. I ignored it as I've done so many times before. Kept busy as best I could. Work usually kept it at bay, but with the pandemic raging & isolating at home for over a year the toll was weighing on me. As I stared down the slow season (October-March) for the first time, I didn't know what I was going to do with myself. If I wasn't working, I was nothing, right?

WRONG. However, I wouldn't learn that lesson for another 8 months.

This part of the last year is hard for me to publicly acknowledge and I believe it'll help a lot of people out there who may have experienced the same thing.

As my annual Tree Farm Minis approached, I felt awful inside. I knew I had to push through & be bubbly for my clients who were so excited to get their photos taken by me.

My internal dialogue went a little like this:

"Why did they book me?"

"I'm a fraud. I'm not a photographer"

"They're just doing me a favor because we're family"

"What was I thinking? I have to sell over and over again"

"It's going to always be a grind, just a different grind than the corporate jobs"

"Anti-corporate Youtube lied to me"

"I'm worthless"

"I'm nothing"

"I'm pathetic"

"I'm unlovable"

"What would happen if I didn't wake up"

"Would anyone miss me?"

"Maybe my dogs"

And on, and on. And darker, and darker. I went to my doctor crying to say something was wrong. I was told to call a hotline. I tried some medication. I had such an adverse reaction, I was bed ridden for 5 days. Any time I tried to get up I shook violently, rocking back & forth. I couldn't explain it. My mind was at war with itself. I called a crisis hotline. But because I wasn't suicidal or homicidal, I was turned away.

This was the first time in my life that I knew there was something extremely wrong mentally. I was screaming for help (literally & figuratively). It felt like every turn the medical professionals brushed it off. "Lots of women your age feel this way". Great. More shame. No validation. Until I found my therapist.

She helped me discover that I tied my entire self worth to my job, like many do. I was also working through a tremendous amount of grief & heartbreak leaving one of my favorite places of work a year prior. I wasn't expecting it to take a year for me to fully process the feelings of leaving a job I cherished & loved until it all went sour. Mentors & co-workers I worked alongside of, cried with, celebrated with for 5 years, who I loved, vanished. There was 1 small announcement to the entire team before I left over Zoom. There was no celebration of my time there, like so many people who have gone before me that were of the "stature" & "tenure" within the team. That's the part that kills me the most. It was the final signal that my worth was solely built on my work/job. Because I no longer worked there, I was now nothing. To every single person on that team. What a crushing & heartbreaking realization.

During this time, I had to cancel on 3 clients session without a plan to reschedule. I was humiliated. Gutted. I refunded their money & prayed they wouldn't hold it against me. I found a freelance editing gig that gave me the flexibility of working hours, so if I couldn't get out of bed due to crippling anxiety that was okay. And I started fighting for my life. I got off of social media & effectively closed my photography business in October 2021 with the plans of never going back to it.

Slowly, I created a new routine. I met my friends at the rock climbing gym every Monday regardless of whether I felt like it. They let embraced me even if I was a gray cloud. They built me up slowly. I told the closest people around me that I was in an extremely dark place. That was really hard, too. Instead of isolating, I told select people I was in a dark, dark place. You know what they did? They checked on me, let me lay on their couch under a blanket when the anxiety crept in, let me crying in their arms when they came over for a visit, & sat with me. During the darkest days of winter my people showed up for me.

I did a genetic test for mental health medicine & finally found a medication that worked for me. I was finally about to eat, again. When my anxiety gets out of control, I can't eat. That's how it manifests in me. It's been like that since the 6th grade.

Pretty dark, huh? Don't worry. The light is coming. Thank you for hanging in there with me during this. I truly appreciate you reading this.

Deep breath 😮‍💨

I find the sparkliest people often have the darkest storms hidden. Maybe that's what makes us so sparkly. We know how bad it can be for people inside their brains. Maybe that's why we're so sparkly when we feel good. I like the sparkly version of myself & I'm learning to accept my darker demons, too.

My biggest concern in Jan 2022 & Feb 2022 was "how do I make a come back?" "Do I need to address my social media absence?" "Who do I need to apologize to?" "Who have a wronged". Man did I torture myself. Even though I had no plans on continuing with photographing, I purchased some more used gear to build out my kit.

I found yoga to pair with my therapy Tuesdays. I started feeling more like myself. And I started take clients again even though I didn't feel great. Once I got to the sessions, it was like these clients were sent from the Universe telling me this was what I was meant to do.

As I gained my confidence, I booked more & more sessions. I planned my first mini sessions in Dalton's Tulip Field last minute. And they were incredible. I was learning who I was when I followed my intuition & cheered myself on instead of tearing myself down.

Take a peek at the Spring photographs from this year!

The light shines brightest after the dawn

And then the light burned off the shadows..

Then, slowly, I started networking & building back up my business.

I put together the first collaboration of the year with Cara of South Stems Flowers. We wanted to create mini sessions in our local park & boy did Cara pull out all the stops. She had a vision for flower garland that was 👩‍🍳 💋 (chef's kiss). I photographed my first weddings, my cousin, Ashley's wedding. And I've photographed a hand full of maternity & newborn sessions, which are capturing my heart. I can't wait to continue offering First Year Packages to new parents.

I added albums to every single package I sell, so my clients can forever remember their journey. Technology doesn't get in the way of a book & it's the perfect way to view your story.

We end with a wedding (ours, again 😂)

And, we capped off this year with another wedding...

And like the story teller I am, we ended this first year being full-time Photographer with another wedding. This time with all of the people we held dear.

I did my own hair (because no one but Erin from Fringe Salon touches my hair).

We hired local businesses like Rent-a Chef for catering.

We hired our friends & family to support their businesses.

Emma Dallman did an insane job capturing the day & it was everything we could have ever wanted. Peep her sneak peek photos below & hire this talented Momma.

Cara of South Stems Flowers balled out our flowers. She lives up the street from us & is incredibly talented. Hire her!

Shout out to Ian's Sister, Brigid, for the whamming cookie favors from her company Sweet Treats & More. You can now order from her & get your delicious order delivered to you!

Julianne, my cousin, helped with our Welcome Sign & Seating Chart. Let's persuade this talented Momma to open an Etsy Shop while she's off in the summer. She customizes incredibly sweet things for her children's bday parties. And she did such a great job on my wedding items.

Brittani & Ben created our wedding cake topper through their woodworking shop called The Theoretical Wood Worker.

You've made it this far!! After these photos you'll find what I have planned for the rest of the year.

2nd half of 2022

What can you expect for the rest of 2022?

Well, we have some exciting things cooking!

Recording for my Build Your Own-Pod starts this week! We have some really amazing guests lined up & I can't wait to get this out in the world.

Please note the important dates below!

This weekend 7/16 we have our first OCNJ Sunset Mini Sessions. Fur babies welcome!

I have a dog friendly beach available & the landscape is incredible. You can still sign up for a session.

October 8th: Cara (South Stems Flowers) & I will team up for Barrington's Fall Harvest Festival. It's going to incredible.

We also plan to host another holiday themed mini session in Haddon Heights Park!

October 22nd & 23rd: Will be my THIRD annual tree farm minis at Exley's Tree Farm.

November 6th: I will be teaming up with the Mother-Daughter team, Robin & Angelica, of Norma Jean Vintage Machine for Holiday Themed Mini Sessions in Doylestown, PA. Very Limited spots, so make sure you sign up right away.

If you're looking to team up for future collaborations, please head to my contact page & submit an inquiry form. I can't wait to work with as many local businesses as possible.

I can't wait to meet you!

It's truly an honor that you made it this far. Thanks for reading about my last year. I cannot wait to meet you & capture your journey & story. Whether it's a family, love, or business story, I'll bring our your inner sparkles & capture them forever & always.


Helen M.