Homeless teen uses camera to get himself off the streets, becoming award-winning wedding photographer
These breathtaking wedding snaps were captured by a once-homeless photographer, who used his gifts to get off the streets and to pick up countless awards.
Carsten Schertzer’s images burst with beauty, and thanks to his talents, he has show more than 130 weddings around the world – but it wasn’t always that way.
Having first picked up a camera aged 11, Carsten ended up dropping out of high school at 15 and living on the streets of Southern California.
His parents, he said, were heavy drug users, and many had expected him to follow a similar path, potentially to a life of crime.
He would sleep in parks and on friends’ sofas, get kicked off school premises – all in the hope of one day becoming a professional skateboard photographer.
Eventually, he realized that professional skate photography was not a viable career path money-wise, but others had suggested to him wedding photography as a way of making regular income.
Carsten, now 24 and living in Ventura County, California, said: “Growing up everyone around me always said, “You are a photographer? You should photograph weddings!” and I always kind of laughed at the idea.
“I mean, here I was, a 15 or 16 year old guy who spent his free time skateboarding, getting escorted off school yards by security, and they wanted me, to photograph weddings? I was probably the least qualified person ever to photograph a wedding.
“Little did I know at the time, that wedding would eventually consume my life.”
Slowly, as a 15- to 16-year-old who was using his artistic skateboarding portfolio as a reference, Carsten received more opportunities to shoot couples’ big days.
At 18, he packed his bag and headed to San Francisco, where he lived out of his car and used Starbucks as his office, working on images he had shot at weddings.
As his reputation grew, Carsten began to receive more and more offers to photograph weddings, building a portfolio specifically in that medium.
He said: “Wedding photography gave me a chance to express myself, but, most importantly, it gave me enough money to pay my bills.
“When you are constantly struggling to pay the bills, you don’t have time for creativity, passion, or self expression.
“I think getting to a place where I was somewhat financially secure really helped me discover myself and what I was truly capable of, rather than running in financial circles.”
With more shoots came accolades, too – including awards from the Fearless Photographers Awards; WPJA (Wedding Photojournalist Association); SLR Lounge Awards; and Wedisson awards.
To date, Carsten has travelled to 12 countries on four continents as part of his work, and he looks back on his journey with a sense of pride.
He added: “Photography taught me to see things not for what they are, but what they can be.
“Skateboarding taught me persistence – whether it was blood, sweat, or tears, you just have to keep pushing. There is no other choice.”