Previously published in Success Magazine by H&H Color Lab, 2020
This year, with the pandemic and its impact on the photography industry, we have found out how difficult (and sometimes wonderful) change can be. Ariana Falerni originally wrote this article prior to the pandemic, about dealing with change. Due to a change in location for her husband’s job, she had to move both her family and business from New York to California. With grace and wit, Ariana shares her personal journey about navigating this time in her life. We feel the lessons learned are just as timely for our lives today. Enjoy!
When I first realized that we would need to move from our sleepy little suburban town on the Hudson River in NY to the Los Angeles area for my husband’s job, I was flooded with so many emotions—fear, sadness, and a general sense of being overwhelmed, but also a little bit of excitement for the adventure that lay ahead.
I had grown up in the county in NY where we were raising our three children. We were living in our 1920s dream home, full of vintage character with a pool, giant yard, and stunning view of the Hudson River and the new bridge we would watch being built from our bedroom window. My husband and I had lived places other than this before, but this was our home, the place where we started our family with our son and then welcomed our twin girls into the world four years later, along with all the chaos that followed. This was where I had first picked up my camera to document my son’s life and then eventually started a photography business and found a dream natural light studio—not five minutes from my house, in a historical building with the most gorgeous, giant picture windows. Not to mention all the friends we and our children had made, as well as my parents, who lived a few towns over and were such a source of support to us in raising our three little ones.
What got me through those first few weeks of sleepless nights worrying about the huge transition we were about to make was searching out all the cool locations I would get to shoot in California year-round. I scoured Instagram for location tags—beaches, flower fields, even a Christmas tree farm (in California?) and bookmarked them all in Instagram, imagining all of the gorgeous families frolicking on the beach at golden hour that I would get to photograph. “I can do this!” I thought to myself.
What I didn’t know was that it would take eight long months to sell our dream house that we had put up for sale at the slowest time of year (November), and that we were about to have the worst winter ever for snowstorms. My husband started commuting from NY to LA for his new job immediately, which meant I was solo-parenting my three children while also trying to keep an immaculate house for showings, as well as doing all the driveway and walkway shoveling and weathering of the snowstorms with the kids, in the dark and with no heat.
When the kids and I finally joined my husband in our new hometown of Agoura Hills, CA, it was such a relief to be reunited, but it was also then that reality set in—this strange new place, a new school schedule, a rental home (we couldn’t buy until we sold our NY house), and the isolation.
I didn’t throw myself into photography the way I had imagined I would. We were in survival mode, just navigating everything that was so new, and the last thing I wanted to do was drag my cranky kids around during golden hour (also known as dinner and homework time) to scout locations.
I also quickly realized there were 10 gazillion portrait photographers here, and I didn’t have the advantage of being well established with repeat clients like I did back in NY. Nor did I have that gorgeous, natural-light studio that I’d paid a song and dance for.
I can count on one hand the number of times I picked up my camera in those first six months. Inspiration came rarely, and if it did, it felt too overwhelming to even shoot for myself, let alone others. It took me almost nine months to realize that what I was feeling was situational depression. It was not something I’d ever experienced before, which is probably why it took so long for me to name it. When my twin girls turned six the following fall and I didn’t even take them out to do a birthday shoot like I had done every prior year on their birthday, I knew something was not right. I had lost interest even in the things I loved most.
It wasn’t until my girls were playing softball that following spring and I needed to do the team banner photo that I had the spark of an idea that inspired me. I wanted to do one of those cool photo sports photo composites of all of the girls looking super tough and cute, like they were standing in a stadium in the rain.
The only catch? Up until this point, I had never used studio lighting.
In NY, I shot on location at least six months of the year, and in the winter months I shot in my studio, which had so much natural light it would have been almost impossible to block it out to use strobes.
I knew nothing about artificial lighting—what kind of strobe to get, what kind of modifier, should I shoot on green screen, use strip lights? This was a whole new and strange world, but it was so exciting to learn something new and tackle a huge challenge. Could I really get all the girls here to shoot individually, pose them all in a way that would look good in a composite, and then do the Photoshop work to make it look realistic? I had no idea, but I wanted to try.
The resulting image was fun and adorable, but more importantly, it set me on a path to learn a completely new technical side of photography that opened up so many more possibilities for me.
I realized that while I still didn’t feel quite myself, I wasn’t really up to all the logistics and effort of organizing on-location shoots. But shooting in my home studio was something I could do with minimal effort, and the process of learning how to achieve the beautifully lit, almost renaissance-like portraits that I wanted to achieve was a journey that slowly started to lift my mood.
We have now been here for one-and-a-half years, and I can’t say I’m 100 percent back to my normal self. But, I did just take my twins out to Santa Monica to shoot at the pier at sunset in rented dresses—something that a short year ago would have felt overwhelming and impossible.
I have also found inspiration in a few local and not so local places—a neighborhood sidewalk lined with pretty flowering bushes, another neighborhood street where the California-native purple Jacaranda trees made a lavender carpet of petals. At another location 10 minutes from my home, the sunset bathes Agoura’s namesake hills and turns them from brown to dazzling gold, and shooting there makes my heart happy in a way that only beautiful light can. I was also completely inspired by the beauty of the natural landscape in Joshua Tree, where we went glamping over spring break and did a quick photo-shoot one evening.
When I look at those images, I don’t see perfection. I see a work in progress, both photographically as well as personally. I see myself embracing the scenery, locations and landmarks that are uniquely LA into my work and into our lives.
As far as my journey as a professional photographer, I am not back to where I was in NY. Not yet. But I do think that that the personal journey I have been on will be reflected in my client work. The classic fine art portraits that I am trying to perfect are not something that is offered by hundreds of others in my area like family beach portraits are. And it is in that uniqueness that I think I will eventually carve out my professional niche.
That is my hope, anyway—check back with me in a year, or follow along with my journey on Instagram! www.instagram.com/arianaf
PS, I did eventually shoot at that Christmas Tree farm, and also a frolicking family on the beach at sunset.
About the Author: Ariana Falerni
Ariana Falerni is an award-winning child and family portrait photographer based in Agoura Hills, CA. Her images have appeared in numerous publications, including book covers, magazines, national ad campaigns, and packaging for brands like Canon and Toys ‘R Us. She is also the creator of the Shoot & Sell and ProofShare apps for iPad, as well as the Photographer’s Wall Display Guides, which are tools designed to help photographers sell more wall art.