Dumpster Diving…and the Things You Do for Passion


A few weeks ago, a regal woman with grey hair raised her hand at ALT Summit and asked me a question. An hour into my presentation, and I was still nervous. My hands–which I conveniently hid behind the podium–shook like aftershocks to an earthquake in my chest. She raised her voice and asked, How did you learn photography? I paused because I didn’t know how to exactly answer.

And then I thought of my mother.

The distinct memory I had was her dumpster diving. Yes, my mom dug through a dumpster behind a local elementary school. She homeschooled and couldn’t afford to buy her kids text books, so she dug through end-of-year discards to later move pages from various books and reassemble a complete book. This book–taped together at the seams–was how she taught me to read.

During that same time, my mother took me to the grocery store and taught me math. Weighing fruit became an exercise in kilogram to pound conversions, using coupons became an exercise in percentage discounts.

My mother taught me how to teach myself with what I had…and years later the same played out for me again. I read tons of photography tutorials on Google, joined photo forums (if you’re looking for a great place to connect on the web, check us out here), and fell asleep reading my camera manual most nights. I gave myself homework assignments on a weekly basis (is this as dorky as it sounds?) and ensured I was practicing three times a week. Yes, I forced myself to shoot anyone/anything I could get in front of my lens.

There are moments I wish I went to a distinguished photo school, the same way I wished for a new text book as a child. But at the end of the day, I learned to read from crumpled pages and I learned how shoot from the benevolence of others on the web.

If you want to learn something–anything–your determination to see past things you don’t have will set you apart. Don’t let the shortage of physical accoutrements or fancy diplomas get in the way of your dream. If you want something bad enough, you won’t be above dumpster diving for it. You can thank my mom for that lesson.

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  1. Anne @ anne b. good

    February 7th, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I love your mom. Wow. What a woman! Total respect. // Great post. Great lesson. Thanks, ab

  2. Rachel Greene

    February 7th, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Amen! And that’s such an amazing story about your mom.

  3. staci

    February 7th, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    if it were even possible to like you more, well, i do.

  4. Jenny

    February 7th, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    I always say, self employment is home schooling all grown up! You need good reading skills, lots of motivation, and a really comfy chair! Three cheers to learning math in the grocery store …. Hopefully your Mom didn’t make you do it with a clipboard, like mine!!

  5. Nicole

    February 7th, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    I love this post. I homeschool my children so it’s always very interesting to me to read about your own experience.Your mom sounds so amazing! And I really appreciate your outlook and honesty. I have often struggled with the same thoughts of whether one experience of learning is better than another or more qualified. You are living proof that anything is possible with determination and hard work.

  6. Life with Kaishon

    February 7th, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Your mom sounds so awesome : ).
    Good for you for learning from the best; your Mama.

  7. The New Diplomat's Wife

    February 7th, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    i remember that moment…mostly becuase we had lots of similar lessons. no one is above learning from any kind of experience – and when we did have more, it always went to learning experiences first. always. even if they were the non-traditional kind. i ended up with a few fancy degrees in the end, but they don’t make me who i am – they just made up part of the experience.

  8. Lindsey Laughlin

    February 7th, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Jasmine, my mom homeschooled my sister and me and I can totally relate to today’s blog. Thanks for bringing back some great memories and that thankful feeling I let fade away sometimes. ๐Ÿ™‚ I also learned photography in the same way you did – it is certainly inspiring to see where hard work and passion can take you. xoxo!

  9. Jessica

    February 7th, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    your posts always make me smile!

  10. Kathryn Grace

    February 7th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    This is so great… that is absolutely the beauty of homeschooling. Your mom taught you school using LIFE and that has obviously served you well!

  11. Whitney Johnson

    February 7th, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    This entry speaks to my soul. My husband and I have moved back to the states after living in South America for a few years as missionaries, and I am so excited to cultivate my creative spirit through photography now that we’re back. We have a nice camera, but other than that resources are limited. I am so beyond blessed to learn from people in the industry by what they are so graciously willing to share. And heaven bless the youtube tutorials. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Meredith

    February 7th, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Wow. This is powerful. Jasmine, your story is powerful. I just appreciate you and your family so much and I don’t even know you guys.

  13. Venetia Norrington

    February 7th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Jasmine, every time you blog I learn more about you and realise just how wonderful you and your family really are and what you have been through in your life. Thank you for all you share and inspire us with. Venetia x

  14. Kool Ed

    February 7th, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    WOW…that was DEEP and so INSPIRATIONAL! Thank you!!

  15. Cheri Lemaire

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    I will now affectionally be referring to myself as a ‘DUMPSTER DIVING PHOTOGRAPHER’ with pride because of YOU! Thanks for the inspirational article!!!

  16. B

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    A to the MEN! Momma taught us well. I’m so proud of you.

  17. Tammy

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    You are so inspirational, thanks for sharing your story!

  18. Theresa Wall Duggan

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing this! It can definitely be hard to say that you didn’t go to school for something that you are doing professionally, and sometimes it makes me feel a bit self-consious to say that I am self-taught for the most part… we all know it isn’t about the education, its about your passion and your own vision, but its nice to see someone who is as successful and amazing as yourself talk about educating themselves as well!

  19. Tina Hummel - T3 Photography

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    this is great and very true! I finally made my passion for photography a "business" this past November and I continue to learn from wonderful online resources but still trying to keep my own sense of style to my photos… love the line "don’t let the shortage of physical accoutrements or fancy diplomas get in the way of your dream.."

  20. Laura Hernandez

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    "If you want to learn something–anything–your determination to see past things you don’t have will set you apart."

    This spoke directly to my sole. Thank you for sharing.

  21. Adrian Farr

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Thank you Jasmine. I can relate to this in so many ways. Over the many years, I have learnt that sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty in order to wash your face. That will make no sense what so ever to most people! It means so much to see that even someone as talented as you, isn’t ashamed to show where they came from. It’s a rare occurrence these days. Thank you.

  22. Heidi

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Once again, your inspiring words were perfect!!! THANK YOU for being exactly who you are!! YOU make our world WAY more awesome! Hugs, Heidi – also a homeschooler ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. Sandra

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Amen to that. It’d be nice to have been able to go to photography school or art school but that just wasn’t in the cards. Like you I was working class and it was all about getting a degree that was practical.

    There’s nothing like getting your hands dirty and making up your own "graduate school" in graphic arts or photography or writing or whatever the art form is. Find your tribe, set yourself some goals and get started.

    And one of the benefits of being self taught is that you don’t really know your own limits.

  24. Cathy

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Love this post. So true and wise!

  25. Ungria

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    This is exactly what I need in this season of my life, and my journey with photography

  26. Kimberly Bourgeois

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Love this story, and THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING a piece of your soul with the rest of us, and being so forthright and honest in your answer!!! Godspeed and God Bless you!

  27. monica

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    nothing else is worth more than to learn when you have the will and the passion! …. you are truly amazing! que nunca dejes de sonar, y hacer tus ideas realidad! eres una persona excelente! nunca lo dudes!

  28. Shayna San Nicolas

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    You are such an inspiration! I love reading your posts, they always encourage me. You are a very talented lady, and blessed your mom taught you not just skills, but life lessons!

  29. Susan

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you SO much for this post, Jasmine! I really needed to hear this today!
    Blessings to you,

  30. Kelley Burrus

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Absolutely beautiful post. Absolutely beautiful legacy your mother gave you. What a gift you remind us of. Thank you.

  31. Belle

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Jasmine that is so true…if you want it bad enough you work harder to get where you want to be and the means of getting there never feels like a chore…
    Love this…

  32. kim

    February 7th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    well said. thank you.

  33. rich

    February 7th, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    yes! definitely can’t let those things get in the way!

  34. Chelsea C.

    February 7th, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Seriously, girl, you are inspiration personified. Thank you for always sharing so honestly.

  35. Shiu

    February 7th, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Your posts continue to inspire me and remind my-self to make no excuses. p.s. – your mom sounds like an AMAZING WOMAN!!

  36. Alli McWhinney

    February 7th, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    I couldn’t agree more…if you want it bad enough, anything is possible!

  37. Erica

    February 7th, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    I was feeling insecure about this exact thing today! Thanks for sharing and giving me confidence in how I learned photography!

  38. Summer Doting

    February 7th, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    pretty much exactly what I needed to hear . thanks J* for your honesty and encouragement, it’s so refreshing.

  39. Nelly

    February 7th, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Thank you Jasmine for this post. It is a constant reminder to have determination to obtain the goals in life. I get lost in the weeds and need to get reeled back in. I recently lost my father last year in March and was in the mist of sitting for an exam at the same time. If I didn’t pass this exam I would literally need to take the whole series over again.

    I split my time between visits at the hospital with my father and my study partners. I don’t know how I did it looking back but I was able to focus on each task at hand that needed my attention. I was able to separate myself.

    Simulatiously these rocks get thrown at me and my determination for wanting to pass and see past things I did not already have in my possession really set me apart because I was focused. And I passed.

    I miss my dad a lot but I know he would have wanted me to pass my exams. If only, I had more time with him to tell him I passed.

    Thanks for the post and allow me to post my comment. Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚

  40. Ashley Christine

    February 7th, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    You go girl! Thanks for challenging me to be me & pursue what I love!

  41. Erin Oveis Brant

    February 7th, 2013 at 5:59 pm


  42. Ashley Goodwin

    February 7th, 2013 at 6:07 pm


  43. Amรฉlie Cousineau

    February 7th, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    The pictures are so simple yet so beautiful. Your story is amazing. I am a huge fan of your work, keep it up!

  44. Ali

    February 7th, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    What an amazing and inspiring post! Thanks for sharing your life so honestly. I think it’s a good check in that photography school doesn’t necessarily make you the best photographer…determination and a desire to become the best you can does… You are truly an inspiration, personally and professionally, Jasmine!

  45. Angela Benavides

    February 7th, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Not sure how you do it but I always come across one of your posts right when I need it. I feel like I am in a constant state of "envy"…lens envy, camera envy (although I fixed that with my Mark III!), location envy, style envy, promotion envy. I just need to think about your words of wisdom and learn to work what I’ve got and make it great!

  46. Jenny Davis

    February 7th, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    I am a homeschooling mom of 3 girls and a self taught photographer. I can relate to this post in pretty much every way possible! I relate to your Mom, and to you! This is one my favorite posts ever. I cried when I read this! Please keep pouring your heart out and changing lives!

  47. Yevgen

    February 7th, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    I see many photographers boast about the fact they went to photography schools and snobbishly declare it separates them from everyone else. However, not everyone who majored in literature became a prominent writer. Keep educating yourself is critical though!

  48. Laura Byler

    February 7th, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Hey! I haven’t even read all of this post yet and I am already MORE in love with you J*! Seriously !! HOMESCHOOLED ! YESS !! So was I !! I’m so happy ๐Ÿ™‚ And I’ve been sad today ๐Ÿ™‚

  49. Tammy

    February 7th, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    I love this post, Jasmine. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we DON’T have rather than take the bull by the horns with what we DO have. My daughter posted a sign in our garage gym that says, "If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse." Such truth.

  50. Monica Justesen Photography

    February 7th, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    What an amazing entry, and way to hit a point home. It’s all always about the passion you feel for something. I feel too many people learn that the hard way!

  51. Amanda

    February 7th, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    I LOVE what Jenny said about self-employment is home schooling all grown up! I was home schooled from 1st through 12th grade… all the way! I attribute a lot of my success in business to the diligence and hard work I learned from my parents 24/7.

  52. Cami C.

    February 7th, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Thank you for being such an inspiration! I am going through this exact journey myself with a 30D. Seeing your success makes me want to forge ahead. Thank you for being so honest and transparent. Will be watching ReStart on creativeLive!

  53. Melissa Avey - Cambridge Photographer

    February 7th, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    First of all I love this post. Secondly you look AMAZING in those jeans!

  54. Alicia

    February 7th, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    I love this! Your mom is so smart! And so are you! Goodness girl, I’m envious of those legs. Please, and I’m dead serious here, please tell us what type of leg exercises you do?

  55. Lydia Myers

    February 8th, 2013 at 12:04 am

    I might have gotten distracted by your amazing legs and forgotten to read the actual post. *Jealous*

  56. Jane

    February 8th, 2013 at 1:59 am

    I can completely relate – I was home schooled as well, and I’ve always enjoyed the challenge and excitement of teaching myself something new. I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that not everyone takes this approach. Many people seem to think they ned a formal education or special coach every time they want to try something new. Thanks for promoting the power of being self-taught!

  57. LEOLAK

    February 8th, 2013 at 2:06 am

    Thank YOU and your MOM!!! =)

  58. Pam Ellis

    February 8th, 2013 at 3:48 am

    Wow Jasmine,
    I have been following your blog posts for over a year., (…maybe two) and this one really hit me in a good way. Thanks

    Your transparency has been encouraging to me. I’ve been fostering a desire to start my own photography business for several years, and this year looks like it’s gonna be the year,.

    By letting everyone see your vulnerabilities, you are telling us that there is nothing that can stop us. I know I have allowed fears and seeming roadblock paralyze me, things like not a good enough camera, not the right education, comparing myself to all the other wonderful photographers I follow in the web. I have come to realize that the only one putting roadblocks in my path is ME, and you have reminded me of that once again with this post.

    Thanks again, I love your work, and I hope I can connect with you someday, but if not just know that you do effect people in ways you may never know.

    God Bless

  59. Stephen Shefrin Photography

    February 8th, 2013 at 3:57 am

    Funny how so many people get caught up in needing a degree to be good at something when most of the photographers I admire are self-taught. I always tell my interns to practice photography on their own time and go to school for business/marketing. Seems those are the skills most needed to be successful as a photographer these days.

  60. Reem

    February 8th, 2013 at 4:46 am

    You inspire me to believe in my dreams, you keep on going no matter how long the road is…
    Thank you for this post and Thank you to your mom for teaching us to have a real passion in us.

  61. Yasmin Sarai

    February 8th, 2013 at 7:19 am

    Truth. It hurts, but it’s so dang good. Thanks Jasmine!

  62. Emma Brown

    February 8th, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Thank you.

  63. Mei Teng

    February 8th, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Your mom is an inspiration.

  64. Mercedes

    February 8th, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Your mom was a trend-setter! Considering the statistic that you learn the majority of what you need on the job, that diploma is an expensive way to get your foot in the door. Real, practical ideas put to use and practice are the way to go. Thanks for sharing!

  65. Mandy

    February 8th, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    I can’t even begin to explain how much I love this, and how encouraging it is to see someone else, who came from "so little", do GREAT things!

  66. Leslie

    February 8th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    You have an awesome mom ๐Ÿ™‚

  67. Marissa Nicole

    February 8th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    I am self taught, lots of creative live, books, blogs, manuals, & how-to videos on YouTube. I took a few technical classes but in the end I decided that didn’t teach me what I wanted to learn. I wanted to learn the art, not the techincal stuff, so I ventured out & started on my own journey to teach myself. I guess that is the same reason I’m planning to homeschool my kids. I would rather get out into the world & learn or have them learn than sit & read books all day long. Kuddos to you for being driven enough to learn without someone telling you what is right or wrong. I think your photography displays it well.

  68. Sandra Fazzino Photography

    February 8th, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Thank you, Jasmine’s mom. You have taught us all more than you will ever know. xoxoxo

  69. Katelyn K.

    February 8th, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    I love how you have taken on a life of learning. I homeschooled as well and that’s something I really love about the experience. A fellow photographer (homeschooled) and family friend has been diagnosed with cancer. Watching her story (her brothers are videographers) was very inspiring and reminded me that each day is a gift and a learning experience. You can view the video here: http://blog.abigailsmithphotography.com/2013/01/terminal-cancer-wasnt-in-my-plans/

  70. sarah danaher

    February 8th, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    I was homeschooled, as well. And I learned photography the same way that you did. I’m soooo grateful for that. And for my parentsโ€” who didn’t just teach me, but taught me how to learn.

  71. Jess

    February 9th, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Great words my ears needed to hear! Thanks!!

  72. Amy Law

    February 9th, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing your heart. Gives encouragement to me; learning the same way!!

  73. only_moin

    February 11th, 2013 at 10:13 am

    wow! your mom must have been one hell of a woman ๐Ÿ™‚ feel like saluting her…thnaks for sharing such a moving account ..loved it…and yeah am trying to teach myself photography too from online resources and youtube tutorials..and i will get my first Dslr (nikon d3100) delivered tomorrow…yeeeehhh ๐Ÿ™‚

  74. Chicago Photographers Studio Finch

    February 12th, 2013 at 3:25 am

    My mother gave me my first camera. It was her first SLR, she gave me critiques on my work and showed me how to meter for exposure and what film speeds I should use. I’ll never forget it, just like you did with your mother.

  75. Kristin

    February 14th, 2013 at 12:26 am

    Love this…this is exactly how I learned and I know exactly what you mean about that feeling of trying to explain to someone that you are legit…lol And I was homeschooled to so I get it…haha

  76. Kristopher Gerner

    February 17th, 2013 at 1:41 am

    Great shots, I love the color & film feel. It looks like you guys really had a lot of fun, on this shoot.

  77. Gvรธรฐny

    February 22nd, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    I cried when I read this. You are seriously the most inspiring woman I "know" ๐Ÿ˜‰

  78. Charlotte Jennings

    February 24th, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Hi Jasmine! What a wonderful post! And I know I’m a bit late in reading it since you posted it, but I have a 3.5 year old… so trying to balance life as mommy, wife, and photog gets a little tough. All major passions in my life!!! I recently read that you and JD are praying about adoption. Do you feel that you will one day be a homeschooling mom like your mom should that day come? I’m at that point of thinking about his schooling and I just can’t foresee how I can manage it all if we homeschooled. If you homeschooled do you feel your biz would suffer? Or would you outsource even more? Thanks so much for always sharing your heart!

  79. Charlotte Jennings *

    February 25th, 2013 at 12:00 am

    And PS… You and JD will make FABulous parents!!!

  80. John horner

    March 18th, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    This is an amazing post. Your mother sounds like an amazing person. It hurts my heart of what some people have to go though to make it. But it is so awesome when people have the drive to make a difference in kids and people’s lives. I would do anything for my children. Thanks for sharing that.