15 Years in Business

While my kids were gone a full week to Branson I had time to think about August being the 15 year mark of starting my business and wrote this recap of how it started in 2003, shared some memories, and lots of numbers (at the end of this post). After going through the memories and the numbers of weddings and portrait sessions, I’ve concluded it all comes down to relationships and people! This blog post turned into quite the project, but hey, I was the student council historian in 9th grade and I enjoy this stuff 🙂

How it Began

Before I had my first job as a photographer for the Stillwater NewsPress the fall of 2001, I got started with photography at SHS with yearbook/journalism. With the NewsPress I shot more high school and college sports than “news events,” which suited me just fine because I really loved sports/action photography. (Still have most of the newspaper pictures saved somewhere). The first OSU football game I photographed on the sidelines was Bedlam in Norman 2002, the game OSU won 16-13. My friend Lauren came up for a game she was shooting for Texas Tech so we got this pic together. Lauren went on to shoot a lot more weddings than sports, and she was one of the leaders at a workshop I attended in North Carolina in 2008.

The NewsPress sports editor was sitting behind me here for an OSU wrestling match in 2002.

More wrestling… it was fun to shoot – the subjects were in a set area, the lighting and air temp was constant.  There’s Dave Martin behind me to the far right; among many things, he coordinates the OSU Spirit Squads that I still shoot for today. Why was I wearing red to an OSU event?

I took off from the NewsPress during the summers to work at Camp Balcones Springs in Marble Falls, TX, and my 2nd summer there was in charge of taking pictures of campers/activities throughout their 2 or 3 week term and posting them to a site where parents could log-in and see what was happening at camp. We had a little fun 🙂

Term 1, 2003. Two of the girls in the picture below would later be brides I photographed in 2014 and 2015 🙂 You’ll see them again in this post.

When I returned to Stillwater in August 2003 the NewsPress decided not to hire me back after I had left two summers. I was discouraged but my mom suggested I buy a nice camera and start a business, so that is what I did in August ’03. The Nikon D-100 was the 1st DSLR I bought. Looking back on my original business cards and ads, I was focused on sports and portraits, and still got to be on the OSU football field, photographing the pom and cheer squads instead of the football game. (A gig I still enjoy today!) Kong Chang had done a great job taking my senior pictures, so I met with him to ask him questions on getting started, and how I should set pricing… he said he couldn’t answer that for me! (Later I saw Kong as my eye doctor and he explained how your eye and functions of the camera lens are similar). In the early years I mostly took pictures for people I knew in Stillwater; lots of engagement pictures for sorority sisters and families.

I wasn’t thinking about photographing weddings until I was asked to… I definitely developed a stomach ulcer leading up to January 2004, but I survived! My business was a “part-time” venture through graduating with a degree in Health Promotion, working on full-time staff at camp, and assisting/coordinating at an incredible dental practice in Marble Falls. Through those years I upgraded equipment, went to workshops and one-on-one mentoring sessions with photographers I admired, and learned by photographing lots of families, seniors and weddings. Though I loved sports photography, I realized it wouldn’t be the way to make a living, especially with a family, so weddings and portraits became the focus.

To this day, I still see the photographer who mentored me at the NewsPress at OSU football games (he shoots for the AP) and one of the sports writers from the NewsPress has kids same age as mine and they have played ball together. I like that connection with the beginning and today. In a few weeks I’ll photograph a high school senior who I took pictures of when she was four. Here she is:

Moments that stand out from the past 15 years:

~ February 2006 I was sitting in a hotel lobby in San Antonio, having breakfast and reading a wedding photography book, seeking last minute advice before the 3rd wedding I had ever shot. A man noticed and told me he knew the author of the book and that it wasn’t going to help me! He was also in town for a wedding, and turns out he was a famous wedding photographer out of Beverly Hills who works with celebrities. His name was Joe Buissink; another of my photog friends knew of him but I had to look him up! Can’t remember if he offered any advice!

~ In 2007, my roommate in Marble Falls, Katherine, insisted that I be both a bridesmaid and her wedding photographer because she couldn’t decide which one she wanted more! I did that for her and I hope to not do it again 🙂 Even for my sisters’ wedding in 2012, I thought it best that we hire a great photographer so I could just be bridesmaid and enjoy (especially with 6 week old Annie). For the double duty in 2007, I had Tara Morris and Carol Howard helping with the ceremony and the pictures I needed to be in! ~ In 2010 I met the Jones-Dye Family at Meagan and Nic’s wedding. Since then, I’ve photographed the weddings of 3 more siblings in the family and now there’s just one more sister left! Pic below from Chrisleigh and Max’s 2017 wedding at The Folmar in Tyler, TX. (Meagan and Nic have the 2 kiddos :)) ~ Also in 2010, doing a bridal portrait session at the Crescent Hotel in Dallas, the bride, her mom and I waited for the elevator and when it opened, there stood SHAQ! “Oh, you’re getting married? Congratulations!” His exact words 🙂 I still regret not asking to get a picture of him and the bride, but I just didn’t want to chase him down and ask!! Would’ve been an awesome pic.

~ In 2011 I worked closely with the McRae Family as they planned a destination wedding in Horseshoe Bay for their daughter Kathleen. A few weeks after her wedding they called to say daughter Lindy was engaged and getting married in less than 3 months in San Antonio! We spent a lot of time together that year as both girls did engagement and bridal sessions, FUN wedding rehearsal dinners, and of course the big day! Both bridal sessions were at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio.~ Photographed nine weddings during both of my pregnancies with our son and daughter. One weekend in May 2012, I shot a wedding Friday (Marble Falls), Saturday (Dallas), and Sunday (Tulsa)… while pregnant w/ Annie 🙂 It worked all worked out, but I did squeeze in a massage that weekend!!

~ From 2011 to 2017, I photographed 7 weddings for young ladies I had as campers, girls I babysat or discipled when they were young. These weddings were all very special to me. I had a close bond with these two below, as they were some of my campers who I not only got to know while sharing a cabin in that summer bubble, but also got to spend time with throughout the year as they navigated middle school-high school. We corresponded through letters and emails and experienced life together. 

Most days I’m working with people on happy occasions of celebration. There can be stress on wedding days, but primarily it is joyous. However, for multiple clients I have been contacted to help with a picture for a memorial service for a parent who has passed away not long after the wedding.

2nd Shooters
I’ve had some awesome assistants through the years! The ones mentioned in this section are individuals who worked with me for multiple weddings. 2006-2007 Tara Morris and I were new in our businesses around the same time and would 2nd shoot with each other. Cory worked with me at camp and was also a photographer.

Carol Howard is a Godly woman who was always a mentor for me; she helped me plan lighting for that first wedding in 2004 I was nervous about and was there for many of the early years. I’ve had the honor of photographing her 3 youngest daughters’ weddings. (Last one this October!) Two of her daughters have also 2nd shot with me.

Jake Duncan was an awesome skilled and reliable 2nd shooter with me from 2011-2016, and then his family moved to Colorado.  Shot below by Jake Duncan at Chris and Jennifer’s October 2015 wedding. Good depiction of what’s going on after a ceremony.

Leah Boaz has 2nd shot for me for multiple Texas weddings, but with her first baby coming this fall, that may slow down 🙂 These below were taken by Leah at Britney and Blake’s 10/3/15 morning wedding in Huntsville, TX.
Leah was there with me in March ’17 in Dallas for Katie and Justin, and December ’16 for the coldest day I’ve experienced in Austin, TX at Robyn and Andy’s wedding. I had gloves on and leggings under those pants. The ceremony was outdoors and it was COLD! When the bridesmaids walked down the groomsmen gave up their jackets. When Robyn walked down the aisle “Here Comes the Sun,” started to play and the sun came out, it was perfect!

In 2014 I met Brittany Smith and she still 2nd shoots with me today. She is a fantastic assistant!! Here are some she has snapped over the years. First one at the Sheerar Center in Stillwater for Madison and Clayton’s 9/9/16 wedding. I frequently shoot with 2 camera bodies during certain parts of a wedding day (instead of switching lenses).
I like this shot from Rachel and Todd’s wedding because it includes my friend Leslee Layton, an outstanding videographer. We were working quickly with the sun going down!

Getting the guys lined out at Sparrow 5/24/18 at Mark and Devon’s wedding 🙂 It’s 45 degree angle, guys.

This is Britt below, pic on the left was the first wedding she shot with me.

I only had Paige Wallace for a short time while she was in Stillwater, but I put her to work in 2016-2017! I really loved working with Paige. That 70-200mm lens hanging down gets pretty heavy but is so worth it for the beautiful pictures. I use that lens for portraits and always at ceremonies.

The most recent 2nd shooter I’ve been blessed to have for some weddings is Shari Hatfield! She was a year younger than me growing up in Stillwater.  Shari shot these below, and I’d call these “good hair days.” If I know it’s going to be incredibly hot and lots of time outdoors, the hair should be up. 🙂

This is Shari with her family and then her helping me check the light at ceremony on a hot day 🙂 We traded family pictures in 2015, I shot for her and she shot for us!

All my 2nd shooters also have their own photography businesses, and all have great, yet different strengths as 2nd shooters for me at weddings. They never fail to have a shot or two of me from behind to keep me in check on the exercise (or need for more!!!). Those shots don’t make it to the wedding gallery for clients but I might keep them for personal reminders/motivation 🙂

Behind the Numbers {Just for fun}
In 15 years, I’ve photographed 185 weddings (7 of those on the fall calendar for 2018).

Of 185 Ceremonies, 115 were indoors and 70 were outdoors.
94 ceremonies were at a venue; 77 were at a church or chapel; 14 were in the backyard or family land.
111 were in Oklahoma; 68 were in Texas; 3 were in Colorado; 2 were in New Mexico; 1 was in Cancun

How we connected/they found me:

  • 70 through online search/google
  • 59 through word-of-mouth referral
  • 20 I knew personally growing up in Stillwater
  • 12 friends from Camp Balcones Springs (9 were counselors/staff with me and 3 were campers)
  • 9 friends/acquaintances from Marble Falls
  • 9 friends from OSU (7 of those were Kappas)
  • 4 from Stillwater Bridal Show
  • 2 family members

Number of Weddings/Portrait Sessions by the Year*
2004: 2 weddings
2006: 4 weddings
2007: 6 weddings
2008: 12 weddings
2009: 4 weddings (first child born in February)
2010: 20 weddings; 31 portrait sessions
2011: 18 weddings; 46 portrait sessions
2012: 15 weddings; 46 portrait sessions (2nd child born in August)
2013: 19 weddings; 60 portrait sessions
2014: 13 weddings; 78 portrait sessions
2015: 20 weddings; 98 portrait sessions
2016: 22 weddings; 106 portrait sessions
2017: 12 weddings; 126 portrait sessions
2018: 18 weddings; 114 portrait sessions (updated at end of this year)

*was easier to find the of number of sessions from 2010 and beyond; didn’t want to count the names on CDs prior to 2010 for this project, but I still have most all pictures

Weddings by the month ~ May and June lead the way
January – 11
February- 2
March – 8
April- 13
May – 32
June – 29
July – 15
August – 14
September – 20
October – 20
November – 11
December – 10


Wrapping Up

What started as a hobby in high school became my first real job for a news paper and grew with me over 15 years to become a fulfilling career. I love being able to work from home and have a schedule that allows me to be involved with my kids’ school activities (and yearbook :)). The creativity and art aspect of photography balances well with my somewhat type-A personality. In addition to the actual photography, I love the preparation (especially for weddings), the coordinating and communication involved. Above all, I’m thankful for the people I’ve met and worked with, the support, challenges, growth and experience, and thankful to the Lord for the opportunities!!!