By Mandy Holmes
Photos by Claudia Johnstone
What do technology management, mortgage loan origination, and nature and animal photography have in common? Not much, but that’s exactly the path that photographer and digital artist, Susan Schmitz took to get to where she is today.
While Schmitz now has a successful photography business working with animals and travel groups, she spent more than two decades at a large mortgage company in the Detroit metropolitan area. There, she worked in front-end loan origination and back-end operations, including IT management and quality control. One day, Schmitz decided it was time for a new path.
Schmitz’s secure career treated her well but it eventually became too stifling. She grew restless, which affected the rest of her life, and she realized a change had to be made
“The technical nature of my job was not feeding the growing desires I had to do more with my time and to make a difference in the world,” she says.
With a constant sense of wanderlust, the self-described creative soul packed up and moved to Sedona to “find herself.”
“The beauty and serenity of the area definitely helped me to connect with my creative side,” she says.
It wasn’t long before the breathtaking landscape surrounding her new home quickly inspired Schmitz to start painting. There was just one problem with that: she had neither the talent nor the patience needed to paint the kind of masterpieces that she imagined. However, she was drawn to the photos she was taking to use as reference points for painting. From there she went all in on learning how to use her camera beyond pointing and shooting.
“In my spare time, I taught myself the art of photography. I scoured the web for tutorials and read every instruction manual I could get my hands on,” Schmitz recalls.
As she continued to learn more about photography, Schmitz knew she wanted to make a living from it.
“I started photographing families. I’m pretty introverted and was very uncomfortable with working with people, but I loved photographing their pets. I’ve always had a deep love and respect for animals,” she explains.
The photographer built her portfolio by volunteering to take photos of homeless pets for local rescue organizations. Her photos were used in animal adoption ads and for fundraising. The more photos she took, the more demand there was for them, and she created a rescue program that provides complimentary images of adoptable animals.
During her time of working with rescue animals, Schmitz discovered stock photography. Earning ongoing royalties simply by uploading her photos to an agency sounded like a perfect fit to make a living while continuing to save lives.
It took more than eight years of hard work, dedication and the encouragement of her husband to turn her love of photography into a full-time career, and she did it while making a difference.
“I have photographed thousands of rescue animals in the past 10-plus years; almost all of which have been adopted into their fur-ever homes,” Schmitz says.
The animal lover recently shifted her focus to travel and wildlife photography. She has visited Africa three times where she captures the people, animals and landscapes with her camera.
Schmitz’s latest venture is a tag-team effort with her friend, wildlife painter April Howland. Together they co-founded Adventure Artists International. The mission of the organization is to provide creative spirits with unique art and philanthropic-centered travel experiences that inspire global impact through creativity, connection and conservation.
The group has a trip to Kenya in September 2020 to witness the great wildebeest and zebra migration, spend time with a Maasai tribe, and learn about community outreach projects through the Africa Foundation.
The duo will provide ongoing support after the trip for anyone who wants to use their artwork to support the communities and wildlife they met. Up next will be exploring options for additional trips to Yellowstone National Park and Costa Rica.
In the meantime, Schmitz mentors photographers in person and through online classes, and she will be exhibiting her artwork at the Art on the Wild Side exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo and Arizona Center for Nature Conservation. Her collection, titled In The Dust consists of images of endangered wildlife emerging from clouds of dust meant to symbolize and spotlight the efforts that are being made by conservation organizations to prevent these species from dying off and being left in the dust. It will be displayed from Sept. 15 to Jan. 15.
For more information, visit www.susanschmitz.com.