Stride Stories: Life on the edge with Emily

[Emily Ibarra is a professional photographer who escaped a stable career to follow her passion. She now travels the world, shooting with friends and commercial clients. Check out her story below and see her latest on Instagram.]

Stride: Emily, could you give us a brief overview of your journey?

Emily: I’ve been a freelance photographer for over 10 years now. About 7-years-ago, I found parkour and freerunning and I fell in love. I grew up an athlete so this was an exciting new sport that combined my passions of photography and movement. I was very fortunate to meet some people in the parkour community and have been following them around ever since! Thanks to social media and technology, I can actually travel around and make a living.

Stride: How has technology changed over the past 10 years as an independent?

Emily: It’s created my lifestyle that did not exist 10 years ago. I’m shooting for clients’ instagram pages or snapchats or their websites. I don’t have to be in one place, I don’t have to have the client with me, and I can go shoot as the requests come in.

Stride: What were you doing before you became a freelancer?

Emily: I went to college and I was studying photojournalism, and then I fell in love with commerical photography. While in college I had an amazing job with great benefits and great money. I felt honored and privileged to have that job, but I knew I was not fulfilling my passion. It was hard to leave. When I finally decided to go freelance, I learned from professionals I assisted, and I photographed my friends who were all in bands. This was when MySpace was big, so I was shooting their photos for MySpace. Other bands started contacting me, I got contracts with music magazines, and then I went touring with bands. It all snowballed.

Stride: When did you realize that you could make photography into a successful career?

Emily: I always knew it could be a career, but I didn’t know if it would be possible to make it work for myself. When I was 17, I was on the diving team. We had practice one morning at 7am, and no one told the Diving coach that the pool had been rented to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for an underwater photoshoot. I showed up for practice, but ended up staying for the whole day for the shoot. The photography team brought me into the photoshoot and introduced me to everyone, including the clients. They taught me how to scuba dive and I just immediately became a part of the crew! I was already studying photography, and that experience shocked me into realizing this is what I want to do. I want to do photography and become a part of this. It took me another four years to actually make that leap.

Stride: What was the scariest part of leaving your full-time job to focus on photography?

Emily: I remember right before I was about to take the leap, I told this woman that I was choosing this new freelance path. She condescendingly said “Oh, you’ll be back.” I am so thankful that she said that to me because every time it got tough, every time I worried about where my next paycheck would come from, I heard this woman telling this and I would think, Nope, I’m doing this, I’m sticking with it. Someone who put me down actually ended up being the person that helped me the most.

When you decide to commit, you realize the worst case scenarios are not that bad.

The thing that scared me the most was failing – not making enough money or not being able to do it. The photographer I was assisting told me,“What’s the worst thing that could happen? You fail and go bankrupt and try all over again. If you want to do it, do it.” When you decide to commit, you realize the worst case scenarios are not that bad. And failing is not nearly as bad as not pursuing what you really want to do.

Stride: You have some amazing photographs. What’s your mindset setting up your shoots?

Emily: We really evaluate each situation. We set aside the time to go out and plan these photographs. Although we do make it look really whimsical and spontaneous, there is a lot of planning and understanding that goes into it. The picture of [Jason] hanging off of the building for example - we tried it three different times, we made sure we were there early so the sun wasn’t too high and it didn’t get too hot.

I think if I was there (for this shot) as a spectator watching it happen, it would give me a different feeling and it might make me more nervous. But I’m separated by the camera – photography allows me to be in it, and I become more focused on getting the shot than letting my emotions run wild.

Stride: I came across your interview on Date-Hub and there was a picture that caught my eye: “Sorry, I’m open” and I loved your quote about women supporting each other below it. Is there a story behind this photo?

Emily: It’s funny because I shot that photo with my phone! The interviewer found it on my Instagram and really resonated with it as well. There are a few stories about it.

As women, I think we tend to be very competitive - I am guilty of it myself. There’s so much to offer each other, but we don’t necessarily practice. That particular photo was my way of reaching out to say, “I’m here to talk and be there for people. Don’t be afraid to reach out.”

I’m one of those people who has no problem going up to another woman, who might have dated someone I dated in the past, and introduce myself. I found myself at a point where I ended up disliking a woman I didn’t even know, just because I felt that this person threatened me and that I was competing with her. This drove me to introducing myself to her, because I did not like that I didn’t like someone… if anything I had so much in common with her! This photo is my way of saying, “I’m here, I’m open, I’m approachable.”

Stride: That’s really cool. Open communication is really healthy. Good for you!

Emily: So many times I hear of these relationships that break up because the woman is so jealous of another woman and I say, “Well have you spoken to her?” And for some reason that is just so taboo! This woman is making your life miserable and you haven’t even spoken to her or told her? You don’t know what side of the story she’s on. So yeah, I just go out of my way to introduce myself, yet I’m the “weird one.”

Stride: I hope that “weird’ one day becomes “normal.” To wrap up, what would be your best business tip to other independent workers?

Emily: Read. Read, learn, educate yourself. Don’t be afraid of learning how to do new things and collaborating with other people. I feel like I held myself back from “learning it all,” and I thought I should just focus on photography rather than all aspects of being a good entrepreneur and business person. Whatever you are doing, that’s only one slice of the pie. But the whole pie is what will make you successful. Don’t limit yourself to just one thing!

Stride: What is an experience you recommend everyone try at least once in their lives?

Emily: I think living a minimalist lifestyle is something, especially as Americans, we don’t always think about. It is rewarding to have the house, the car, the whole checklist… I’m not above that but my checklist is just slightly different. Everything I own fits in my suitcase and backpack. I have my own American Dream.

Stride: What’s your biggest health concern for Americans?

Emily: Hmm...all of them [laughs]. My biggest concern is we do not rely on healing ourselves; we expect other people to heal us. We need to focus on eating the right food to allow our body to heal itself.