hi there! i'm michelle, southern california based photographer and curator of the coco gallery.

welcome to my blog where i share my life, my latest adventures, photo projects, random nuggets and the occasional stray thoughts.

for clients: to view my portfolio just click on this link - theCOCOgallery.com. to book sessions please send me a message through theCOCOgallery.com or contact me via michelle@thecocogallery.com | 949.734.0604

Thursday, January 7, 2010

mila | zero to 60 in a blink

How the hell did I get here?

May 2009, just 8 months ago we were flying back to the US after a 9 month sebatical from life.   I was living the dream.  After years of grinding my teeth in the retail industry and then jumping into the frying pan that was the IT world I was burn out, spent and at wits end.  A “life break” was the only solution.  So Curtis and I travelled thru the Philippines and countries close by for 9 months.  It was the best decision of our lives.  Then we came back.

Reality has a way of setting in and taking over even when you don’t want it to.  I battled the idea of going back to the corporate world.  I really did love that job but it ate me alive.  Curtis encouraged me to start anew.  Photography was just a hobby but it showed so much promise.  It was time for another plunge, a new chapter and a new career.  As with any major change, I was a fish out of water, feeling lost, alone and intimidated by the little that I knew and everything I didn’t know.  There was so much to do, so much to learn, so many different directions I could take and nobody to help me.  All this was JUST 8 months ago.

Today I am surrounded by a warm circle of friends, a welcoming family and a battalion of comrades.  I look back now and I’m in awe.  How DID I get here?  Social skills were never my forte but somehow I got my foot into a few welcoming communities and the rest is an amazing litany of experiences, love and sharing.  If I can do this, anyone can.  Let me tell you how it all started.
I found a group of 4 friends that were like minded.  We share the same goals, same challenges, experiences and although we are in varying degrees of success in each of our individual business endeavors the gap isn’t too wide.  We lunch, meet, bounce ideas off each other, vent, gripe, push each other forward.  It is a group that supports me and that I support.  These people are my “office mates”.

Outside of my core group I joined several communities to help me grow.  Being in southern California has its advantages.  Its true that this is the hub of so many photographers.  It’s true that competition is stiff but it is also true that we are good at building communities.  But this can happen ANYWHERE!  if there isn't a group in your city then it's a spot waiting to be filled.  Start one of your own!  Here’s some of the groups I joined that have really helped me develop my photography to what it is today.

FEO – For Each Other
·         Started by dane sanders and fostered by amazing leaders, there’s bound to be one in your city.  It’s a circle of photographers gathering to discuss every aspect of the photography business.  It’s an open forum, round table discussion.  It’s a no judgment zone and a perfect haven to ask even the silliest questions.  You’ll be surprised how many people share the same thoughts as you.  Here I learn about the business aspect of photography.  Find one near you.. http://blog.fasttrackphotographer.com/localgroups/

·      Need to practice your shooting skills?  These groups set up photo shoots with models, themes, makeup artists in different locations.  From novice to expert, the experience is a fun one.  Group leaders are available to help you with all your shooting questions.  Meet some amazing people in the industry to share ideas, tips and tricks.  Lectures from industry leaders are sometimes available.  The best part is that no matter where you are in your skill level you will ALWAYS be welcomed.  A nominal fee is charged to pay for food and the artists’ tools. 

             Find these groups on facebook
o   Photog Shootout Group – find one in your city (http://www.photogshootout.com/)
o   For socal photographers
*  Photo Sharp Shooters
*  Shoot This LA group
*  Shoot Around

  • Again, if there isn’t one in your neighborhood it’s a great opportunity to start a group.  Just think, if you’re looking for a group like this there are other people out there that are looking too.  All it takes is one person to start it and it's not that difficult.  Email me if you need ideas. 

MUG to MUG (smug mug gatherings) and PUGS (pictage user groups)

·         Not a Smugmug or Pictage user?  It doesn’t matter.  The doors are wide open.  Join the group as they listen to amazing industry leaders and their inspiring stories.  Meet your idols and shake hands with fellow photographers.  Don’t forget to connect with at least 3 people before you leave.  There’s a smug mug or pug group in your city I’m sure of it.  Just visit their website to find them.

This is where I started and let me say that my calendar today is full and my photography has blossomed!  8 months ago I didn’t know anyone.  I was afraid, intimidated, shy, and ready to say no to all social gatherings.  I pulled up my socks, stuffed some cards into my pocket and went out there with a smile.  Surprisingly people smiled back….and hugged me and called me and ... now count me as friend.  The keyword is CONNECT.  don't just trade cards or walk in with a "networking" mindset.  Find people that you get along with, follow up with them.  share your strengths and learn from each other.  

Today I give back to this loving community by hosting a monthly gathering of my own.  Clix + food is for the novice, the hobbyist and the photo lover.  Once a month, over a meal I do a brain dump on any photo topic my guests come up with but mostly it’s about being the master of the camera rather than the other way around.  When I was learning my way around that technical beast all I had was the internet and a stack of books.  People and food make that experience so much more fun.   

some photos from the last shootout

many thanks to the contributors for these shoots
The shootout group (matt, hanssie, wai and garett)

Tristen, Kevin, Lisa, Alissa, Chelsea, Teran, Becka, Steven, Curtis
michelle can be reached at 949.734.0604 or by email michelle@milaPhotography.com  |  www.milaPhotography.com


  1. This is AWESOME Mila!
    I'm happy for you!!!
    CONNECT is the key to success!!
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Go get'em girl! Yay Michelle, that's so awesome :)

  3. Awww, Michelle, your group sounds great. I'd love to join BUT I live in Edmonton, AB Canada! I have sent off the form to fast track though, heres hoping one happens in my area soon : )

    Thanks for the great post,


  4. What a fabulous post! I too was in the same situation last year, where I did not know anyone in the industry and the Photog Shootout community has helped me in so many ways. I'm glad to have met you, Michelle. You're so much fun!