When he was just 16 years old, Carsten Schertzer was homeless. Now, eight years later, he is an award-winning wedding photographer who’s traveled to 12 countries because he never gave up believing in his dreams.
From the first time he picked up a camera as an 11-year-old, Schertzer, who was born and raised in Southern California, knew that he wanted to become a photographer. A creative soul, he dropped out of high school to shoot pictures of skateboarders.
The fame and fortune he imagined, however, eluded him.
By the time he reached his 18th birthday, Schertzer decided it was time for a change.
Still determined to become a photographer, he moved to San Francisco and spent his nights sleeping in his car and his days using Starbucks as an office. Except this time, he opted to pursue wedding photography, instead. Destiny, for sure.
Schertzer told Good News Network: “It wasn’t a well thought out idea. I wasn’t thinking about the ridiculous cost of housing in the Bay area, I wasn’t thinking about the fact I didn’t know a single person in the area, I was just following my heart.”
With only his skateboarding portfolio as a resume, Schertzer slowly – but steadily – started building his own company from the ground up. He learned everything about the business; from creating his own website and business model, to landing clients.
“The way I was able to keep myself going was the way I organized my goals — breaking everything down into the smallest problems I could think of and then solving those smaller problems one at a time,” Schertzer said via email. “What I did was think about everything I would need to run a successful wedding photography company; things like learning about business and marketing, learning how to photograph a wedding, learning what SEO was…”
“Then I organized all those things into a pyramid, with the easier problems to solve near the base of the pyramid and the more difficult problems near the top of the pyramid. Then I literally started working my way up from the bottom, crossing off things as I went along. I would just wake up every day, look at the pyramid and find a goal that I wanted to work on.”
Overcoming the technical aspects of his career wasn’t the only hardship he had to overcome, either. His mental health was against him, as well.
“Optimism was tough for me. Aside from being homeless and having issues at home, I was also diagnosed with major depressive disorder, so optimism was always a chore for me,” he said.
“That being said though, I was always very aware that my situation was circumstantial and that if I worked really hard I could change those circumstances and create my own reality. That thought kept me going most days, other days I wasn’t so optimistic about my future.”
When asked whether he ever doubted his abilities as a photographer, Schertzer responded: “I think doubting yourself is just part of following your dreams. You are always worried that you are not skilled enough, not smart enough, or not lucky enough.”
“But even when I wasn’t feeling it, I knew I had to keep working… there wasn’t really any other choice.”
Schertzer is now the mastermind behind Illumina Studios – and his stunning portfolio speaks for itself.
His work has received awards from Fearless Photographers, the Wedding Photo journalists Association (WPJA), Wedisson Awards, and the SLR Lounge Awards.
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