How Foundation First Opened My Heart

Last week I didn’t know I was such a closed off person. I didn’t know that I was terrified of strangers and was too nervous to ask anyone to let me get to know them. I was reserved and had to spend a lot of time warming up to people. I didn’t know my attitude has been affecting my photography.

Foundation Workshop was something I really wanted to do, but I knew I wasn’t ready for, yet. When Huy Nguyen, the leader of all Fearless Photographers, announced that the first Foundation First was happening in 2016 I knew I had to do it. My husband and I were driving across the country last February when I saw the Facebook announcement. I signed up right away, somewhere in Nebraskan, on my phone, without talking to my husband about it, and he was sitting right next to me. I was going to go and that was it. I learned my first lesson when I finally told him about it–I’m embarrassed to say, in December.

“Is it going to make you a better photographer?” he asked.

“Yes, definitely!”

“Then do it. But next time tell me about it first.”

This guy has believed in me from the beginning, and I’ve had a hard time accepting it. As I now know, I was projecting my doubts onto him. I thought he’d tell me not to go. I’m such a dummy. That was all in my head. He’s my biggest cheerleader and I’m so freaking lucky he’s given me the time to pursue my dream, supported me the whole way and believed in me long before I believed in myself. Jay, you rock my world and I’m so lucky to be married to you.

Is this getting too mushy for you? It’s just going to get worse from here. I have found the LOVE…

Foundation First was A LOT harder than I thought it was going to be. I was there to learn to become a better shooter. But I spent the entire time learning how to open up to people. It’s taken me all week to realize this, but if I can open up, I can get closer and then I will be a better shooter whose in the right place to make a good composition and be close to the moment.

Our assignment was to shoot the Fort Worth Stock Show. I was assigned the Swine Barn. It was a foreign land to me. I felt so out of place, and that made me nervous. The thought of going up to strangers was paralyzing. I spent much of the day beating myself up because I was ruining this experience for myself. But in the end I learned a lot and grew so much.

Craig Fitz was my first mentor. The day before I told him that I didn’t care if this was “Baby Foundation.” I wanted to be pushed. So he pushed me–actually told me firmly to get in the pig pen and to do it NOW. I have to admit, I was not happy with him at the time. The last thing I wanted to do was get on my knees next to a smelly pig and be so close to people. Buuuut….there was a baby and her big brother and they were petting the pig together and it was soooo awesome. Actually I did want to be right next to them, but I was scared. However, they were totally cool with it. Craig taught me a life lesson. Everyone has an interesting story and if you listen, you can learn so much.

Sergio was next.

“I hear you’re having problems going up to people.”

“YES! It’s SO scary!”

“Alright, well how did you meet your husband?”


“Ah, well that makes sense. When you were single, did you go out and meet people?”

“Yeah, I went out, but I NEVER met people. No one would come up to me.”

“OK. This is going to be harder than I thought…”

Who knew inability to meet dudes had so much to do with my photography? But it has EVERYTHING to do with my approach to people. I knew I invented Resting Bitch Face in high school so no one would mess with my little freshman self. I thought I got over it, but I’m 33…that’s 19 years of walking around with RBF. I’ve cheated myself!

Sergio taught me to loosen up and feel comfortable. He taught me that if you want to make a picture that makes the viewer feel something, you need find something that makes you feel something in your heart and then you have to be close enough to the action, and once you’re close enough, then you can press the shutter button. He made a BIG deal about me inserting myself into a group of people for the first time. He even took a photo.


Photo Credit Sergio


A couple of hours later, Huy magically appeared. He didn’t even try to get me to shoot. He just talked to me. That’s exactly what I needed right then. He told me that if I smile, I’m going to look friendly. And if I look friendly then people aren’t going to run away from me.

“If you’re afraid of getting close to people, it’s one of two things. You’re afraid of interrupting them or you’re afraid of getting rejected. Which one is it for you?”

“Um, both.”

Now I realize that it’s mainly rejection. That was my “I don’t want to get rejected” sissy answer.

“It’s in your head. People don’t feel that way.”

Huy taught me that the more you put yourself out there, the better things are going to be. And if you are fearless and aren’t afraid of looking stupid, things are going to be really awesome.

“The photo gods give you better photos than can make yourself. Be open to it.”

Emotionally exhausted I decided to go to lunch, think, and give myself a break. Cue negative self talk: “Why did I come here? I want to go home. I’m not good enough to do this.”

I was walking aimlessly around, not really taking pictures, whenGulnara showed up. She asked me what was going on. She looked through all of my photos. She figured out what I needed right then. I needed see all of the beauty in the swine barn. And I needed a step by step guide on how to approach people.(Really. Bad.)

“You are going to make them feel good if you choose to take their photo. They are going to think, ‘She thinks that I have the best pig. I am special.”


“Yes, look for the connection between the people and their pigs. Let’s go find someone and you are going to get in their with them.”

I followed her around the barn. She kept pointing out connection and saying, “Beautiful.” She opened my eyes. Some of these people loved on their pigs the same way I love on my dog. I could feel how they felt.

She helped me make my favorite picture of the day. She encouraged me to take a step closer, and if no one told me to go away, I could take another step, and another and another. She found a beautiful girl and her pig. Not only did I see this girl love her pig. I was feeling the love too!


Photo Credit Me!


Photo Credit Gulnara

The day before I also told Sherry that I felt like I was not going to get my money’s worth if I didn’t cry. I’ve watched the Foundation Workshop video. Everyone is crying! That night I cried a lot in front of everyone. Finally, I felt safe and I opened up. I shared that I was scared of people and I had no idea. I was so disappointed in myself. But at the same time I knew that the more I knew about me, the better I could become as a photographer. And every single person in that room supported me.

Photo Credit Joe Appel

I was so inspired by my teachers and my classmates that I wanted to go back to the Stock Show and try again. During my critique Sergio told me that he hoped I would do it. I knew that my alarm would go off and I would make an excuse to stay in bed. I decided I had to hold say it out loud to EVERYONE so that I would have to hold myself accountable. I stood up and told my new friends that the best way to do it was to say it out loud to EVERYONE.

I was so nervous all through dinner. When it was my turn to speak I felt free. I felt like I could be silly myself. And it felt so good! They cheered me on like crazy. They told me to tell them how it went.

I told Huy that I felt like I finally let people get to know me.

“No, we already knew you.”

Again, it’s taken me all week to figure this out…there are many sides to all of us.

I am vulnerable.

Photo Credit Candice C. Cusic

AND I am silly.

Photo Credit Joe Appel

The next day I went back.


I made some of the worst pictures of all time. But I smiled. I got close to people. I chatted. I even talked to the mom of the girl I photographed two days before. I gave her my card so I could email her a photo. She wrote, “You made my daughter feel so good. She was excited that you took an interested in her!”
Gulnara was right! We can make people feel good when we take an interest in them.

This is a journey I’m on and it’s never going to end. I’m going to work hard so I can keep growing. My list of things to work on is long. And I’m ok with that.

Foundation First taught me to be a better, more open, more fearless person. And that means that with practice and lots of hard work I’m going to become a better, open, fearless photographer. So thank you Huy, for creating the most awesome, most badass, most loving group of people, who happen to be sick photographers, supportive classmates and AMAZING teachers.

My eyes have been peeled open. Love really is all around. I’m so grateful that I see that now.