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Two Cameras, Two Flashes and Plenty of Pluck

Two Cameras, Two Flashes and Plenty of Pluck

Mary Bartnikowski

I started my photography business 25 years ago in the center of Silicon Valley; Steve Jobs lived in my neighborhood, one of the priciest places to live in the USA. I loved photographing people and wondered if there might be a way to make money at it. Photography was my hobby and buying cameras, film, and processing just for fun was getting expensive. At that point I hadn’t done any exhibitions yet. So I put an ad in the local paper and we got a call. I was working with a partner at the time. Our first clients were a couple who wanted only candid photos of their wedding and reception. I was thrilled. It was just what I wanted to do. There was no one else doing photojournalism for weddings in 1988 and I was worried that I’d have to conform to the style at that time – rigid no fun portraits full of deadpan expressions. But this couple did not want to pose at all – I was in heaven and they paid us exactly what we asked for which felt like a kings ransom at the time. It may have been $500 for an all day wedding.

I was off and running drunk on the ecstasy of being paid for what I loved to do – photographing people! It had been my passionate hobby for 15 years so I was ready. That year we did 2 weddings and the next year we did 27. I was on the crest of a wave surfing. And it was lucrative. Eventually the revenue was between $2000 and $10000 per wedding. That’s a lot of clamshells. And we could raise our family on it and have days off during the week to go to the beach and take vacations when we wanted to – we just had to commit to having our weekends booked up a year in advance. What did it cost to start it? Virtually nothing more than the advertisement I put in the local paper. We had our cameras and yes eventually added lots more professional equipment. I’ve shot over 700 weddings all of them on film. In the last 5 years I’ve converted my film to digital files and then printed. Film has a different look than digital but I use both now.


Two Cameras, Two Flashes and Plenty of Pluck

After the weddings I started traveling fulltime doing photography and teaching worldwide. I took my business on the road. I’ve done many solo exhibitions in the USA and am grateful that my wedding clients who became my friends have showed up for these events and bought my photographs on canvas and books too. I’ve had a lot of fun at these parties. I’ve been sponsored by and they started me down the road of photo shows, and high quality exhibition printing. I am forever grateful to them for pushing me into this.

The one thing I did right was following my passion. When I told people I wanted to start a photo business they said, “Oh that’s highly competitive there’s too many people doing it here.” I didn’t listen to them. I thought I would try and see what happened. There are many people starting businesses that fail but honestly I just didn’t consider that I would fail. I never thought it would be so successful so quickly –I just wanted to try and see, no expectations, as I loved doing photography. The same happened with writing. I wrote for 5 years and after that I went to a writer’s conference in Maui and got a book deal. That is not supposed to happen and whenever I told people that I was writing before being published I’d only hear doom and gloom about how difficult it was. So I stopped telling people I was writing until I got my book deal.

My slogan is: keep going and don’t let anyone stop you with negativity. That’s what I live by. Passion is what we all can access but sometimes those who are not enthusiastic will try to throw cold water on your plans. Just dodge the buckets and keep moving.

Two Cameras, Two Flashes and Plenty of Pluck

What did I have to learn? How to be a businesswoman. I was all ready running my own business but this was different because it was creative and people paid me more money to do what I loved. I had to learn how to ask for what I was worth and stand by it. Today I see that many people on craigslist and other online venues want artists to do photography for free. I only work for free for humanitarian foundations. I wonder why a business that will be making money off photos I shot should get free work – it doesn’t compute. I’m good at what I do and I get paid for my skills. When people go to the doctor they don’t say why don’t you give me a deal expecting him/her to charge less, or if you asked an engineer at Intel to accept a lower paycheck this week I think they would say no. Same with creative work. It has a value.

I am proud to say I’m in the black and my son is now a professional filmmaker and photographer too. I’m enjoying my world travels and helping people on both hemispheres improve their photography and also shooting for businesses, and humanitarian foundations. I love what I do, my work is my play.

Two Cameras, Two Flashes and Plenty of Pluck

In the past 6 years I have been to 27 countries on 4 continents. I have photographed the Dalai Lama in India, twin baby elephants in Nepal, abandoned people in a home in Argentina, taught Buddhist nuns in Nepal how to do yoga and photographed them, photographed saints in India, yoga masters, authors, made movies and photographs of a Buddhist temple where I lived in Thailand, taught English in Colombia, traveled solo twice around the world by plane, train, boat, bus, motorbike and rickshaw thru the Himalayas, the Andes, Indonesia, Europe, and the Americas.



In the States I’ve led programs at Stanford University, Apple Computer and Intel.

I am currently in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan the most beautiful lake in the world teaching photography and writing another book, and selling my photography online. www.bartnikowski/

I am learning, growing, and happy to help people with their creativity, as one student of mine said after taking my crash course Capture Stunning Portraits and Travel Photographs, “It made me see in a new way.”

I am so happy to give people my secrets that took me years to figure out in one 3-hour session. People do privates sessions with me or do my online course here:

It’s rewarding to have an international business and I hope to inspire others also – I just finished writing a book that took me 6 years to write as I had to live it: Kitten Heels in Kathmandu, Adventures of a female vagabond, available on Amazon. Check it out. I’ll see you down the road!

My latest e-book on Amazon:

My site:

Buying photographs:


And travel videos from around the world:

Mary Bartnikowski

[email protected]

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