When a Dream Becomes Reality: Guest Post by Cindy Harter Sims

Introduction by Skip Cohen

One of the fun things about SCU and previously Skip’s Summer School is the strength of the community. As sappy as it sounds, everybody becomes part of the family. On the Skip’s Summer School Facebook page everybody watches each others backs. They simply help each other. It’s reminiscent of the way the bigger forums first started, but without the trolls. Or, as Levi Sim, one of the founders of the page along with Brent Watkins, “No meanies allowed!”  (There’s the difference between me and Levi – I’d just drop a few four letter words – but you have to love somebody who still calls them “meanies”.)


Well, meet Cindy Harter Sims who’s a member of the SCU family.  Last week she put up a shot of her store front on the Summer School page and announced it was the second anniversary of her Main St. studio. Within thirty seconds of seeing the image I was begging Cindy to do a guest post about opening her own studio.

Having your own studio is a dream of so many photographers. Well, Cindy made the jump two years ago and in this post she’s done a terrific job of taking us on her journey.   Reading her post reminded me of a quote of Eleanor Rosevelt’s:

                                  “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”


Cindy’s studio as it is today, but it didn’t start out this way!

If you were to walk down main street in my hometown, the first thing you would see after the railroad tracks and before the next red light, is Cindy Harter Photography Studio. That quaint little shop is the result of two years of effort. I spent a lot of late nights pouring over thousands of photo edits and early mornings consoling brides over hairdos and last minute wedding changes. I’m a successful small town photographer, and I’m proud of what I’ve built, but the key word here is “built”.  It sure didn’t happen overnight. 

It didn’t start as very much – just a vision and a dream. Lots of work, great colors and the dream started to become reality.

Like most small towns, I know someone at every stop light, when I go grocery shopping or stop in at my local sandwich shop for lunch. My accountant’s office is next door to my studio and when I work in my beautiful studio, anything can come in my front door: maybe a walk-in client, or maybe someone from the local bakery down the street bringing in some delicious ginger bread for me to try.

Well, with the help of all this quaint charm, I’ve made it to the two year mark of an open thriving business with NO debt. I was able to go from a full-time teaching job as the primary school music teacher to full-time professional photographer in less than five years. I knew the dream was to have my own little shop, but I had to make sure it was possible to live from my earnings as a photographer, before I made the leap. 

The only way to overcome fear is to have sufficient planning in place. Here are some guidelines that helped me in my first couple of years, as I transitioned into a full-time career of photography.

  • Find online communities to learn.
  • Seek out a mentor whose skills you admire.
  • Read everything you can get your hands on.
  • Enter images for honest objective critique from your peers.
  • Invest what you can afford in the very best camera and equipment.  If you want to be a professional, you NEED professional gear.
  • Learn your equipment! Shoot everyday in manual mode, until all aspects of the camera and equipment are something your fingers and brain do on their own.
When I felt my skill set was on the level that I could begin the journey of making photography a full-time career, I put a plan in place. I saved my teacher salary for a certain period of time and lived off of my photographer income. When I was finally living on what I was making as a photographer, I put in my resignation and quit my day job with the savings from planning ahead for this day.

I had paid for all my equipment as I went along, and had my eye on my adorable main street studio. The economy in my little town had taken a turn for the worse and it had been empty for a little while, so I called the owner to check on the monthly price.  My sweet owner gave me her price-per-month and it was more than I was willing to risk paying out every month. I told her “When and if you think you could come down to my number, please call me.” One day, she took me up on the offer and I knew my stars had aligned. I was going to be living the dream soon.  My savings paid for all renovations for my space, and I was able to open Cindy Harter Photography Studio with no debt and move forward with my dream. 

I have always been interested in relationships. I have always valued and believed the best gifts we receive are the people we call family. My main goal with all aspects of my business is that families see what a gift that they have in each other. I want my photography to help their relationships become stronger because of their experience with me in the session and their enjoyment in the images we create together. 

I photograph people every day. Relationships happen from birth until death, and I don’t want to miss any of it!  I have worked very hard to improve my skills, so that I can stay in business and bless others. You know you are doing the right job when you can hardly sleep, because you’re excited and thinking about the next day’s work.

Every day I walk down Main st. with my little green key to my studio in my hand, about to open my very own shop for the morning, and I can hardly believe it! Sometimes it still feels like I am playing store, but it’s real! I’ve put a ton of planning and pleasure into living my dream, and now that it’s a reality, I can’t imagine doing anything else!


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