“It was a duh moment,” she says. “I hadn’t thought of that.” Suddenly her dream seemed possible. In June that year, she became a part-time student at the Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University, and in August she quit her job. To cover tuition, equipment and books, she took out a loan for $20,000, pulled $15,000 from her savings and found part-time work at a mall studio, photographing children in their Halloween costumes. “It was chaos,” she says. “Moms would be screaming ‘Smile, Jimmy, smile!’ and Jimmy would be crying, and I’d feel this pressure because I couldn’t get the photo I wanted.” She found another job as a second shooter for a wedding photographer, earning $25 an hour, and started building her portfolio. At her first assignment, a winter wedding, “I was so nervous, I felt sick to my stomach,” she says. “But the minute I started clicking my camera, I felt like I was at home, in my zone.”
Nicastro graduated in 2009 and continued working as a second shooter for multiple wedding photographers. “I just loved being a part of the celebrations,” she says. “But I was dragging my heels about taking the real leap and breaking off on my own. I was afraid of failing.”
That changed in August 2009 when her brother’s friend’s wedding photographer vanished with the deposit. Nicastro agreed to step in. She took photographs of the bride dressing at her bridesmaid’s parents’ home overlooking the Atlantic, then followed the group to Stage Fort Park, in Gloucester, for the ceremony. Afterward, Nicastro led the bridal party down to Half Moon Beach. While there, she switched cameras to use her wide-angle lens, setting the other camera, containing 788 pictures, on a rock. “When I turned around, it was gone,” she says. “I continued photographing the rest of the wedding, but I felt like this was the end of the world, knowing I was going to reimburse the couple and apologize profusely.” She told no one what had happened except her mother, who went back to the beach to look for the camera. When she couldn’t find it, she buried her face in her hands and began praying. A homeless woman approached her and asked, “Are you looking for this?” The woman handed her the camera she’d stolen, saying she’d fallen on hard times. Nicastro’s mother gave her $40. That evening, Nicastro discovered that the thief had discarded the flash card that held the photos. She and her mother returned to the beach three times the following day to look for it—and on the third visit, they found it lying near the rock where Nicastro had left the camera. “I was shaking with relief and started crying,” says Nicastro. “So did my mom.”
Later, as Nicastro uploaded the photos to her computer, she was struck by how beautiful the images were. “I felt there’s a higher being, that there’s a reason this happened,” she says, “and that if I can get through this as a photographer, I can get through anything.”
The next day she made plans to start her own business. She bought ad space on the wedding website The Knot. For $500 a month, her ad would regularly appear online and in the site’s quarterly print magazine. “I knew I had to get my name out there,” she says.
Today, Nicastro earns $60,000 to $65,000 a year as a photographer. During her busy season, April to November, she photographs 15 to 20 weddings and charges $2,750 to $5,000 for her packages. During the off-season, she shoots family portraits and engagement and birthday parties. As her experience has grown, she’s become more assertive. “Recently a maid of honor was dictating how she felt the bridal party should be posed,” says Nicastro. “I took a few shots to appease her, but I stuck with my own ideas. A few years ago, I would have felt intimidated, but now I’m confident I can handle these situations in a diplomatic way.”