11 Things I’ve Learned in 11 Years of Business | Chesapeake Wedding Photographer

I started this business in high school- February 19th, 2011 to be exact. My first paid shoot was for one of my mom’s friends, a few Valentine’s portraits of her for her husband (isn’t that sweet!?). I carried my camera everywhere. I did photoshoots with friends after school in our backyards. I learned Photoshop from my high school photography teacher. I shot high school senior portraits and families. My freshman year of college I got my first big ask, “Will you shoot my wedding?” I was so excited I could not contain it. I took photos of the bride and groom on train tracks (remember when that was super “in”?) and loved every second of their wedding day. Needless to say, I’ve come a long way since those early days (by God’s grace and with a lot of help along the way!) and I wanted to share today 11 practical things I’ve learned that have grown my business in the last 11 years.

  1. How to shoot manually- Aperture, ISO, and shutter speed were all foreign words to me when I first started this biz. Now they’re as natural as it comes, and I can work with any light or circumstances to create beautiful images in-camera, before they’re even edited!
  2. How to pose- When I first started, I didn’t know how to pose people. I knew what I wanted an image to look like, but I didn’t know how to communicate with my clients and guide them to getting there. Lots of trial and error, and a few courses later, I’ve memorized and mastered how to make a client look their best, but also feel like themselves and have fun in front of my lens.
  3. How to think through a wedding day timeline- Having shot weddings year after year, I’ve seen the ups and downs and sideways of wedding days now and can guide a bride through planning her day so much better now. 
  4. How to refine my ideal client profile/what I wanted to be known for- It took me a while to figure out what I loved to shoot. After starting with families and seniors and gradually moving into couples and weddings I realized that’s where my heart was. I love capturing couples! I love freezing their love and joy, getting them playful and laughing, and connecting with them! I always walk away from a shoot wishing we had more time together. And capturing them on their wedding days? There is no greater honor. It took me a while, but I found my niche!
  5. How to edit in Lightroom- When I first started this business I edited everything in Photoshop, which is much more tedious, but it’s all I knew! When I learned Lightroom my world changed- my editing refined even further, and I started cranking out shoots and weddings faster than ever and stopped dreading editing days.
  6. How to use flash- After years of intimidation with on-camera and off-camera flash, I’ve gotten to a place where I know when to use flash, and how to make it look as natural as possible.
  7. How to build a brand- Through the years I’ve built not just a website, not just a following, but a brand. People know what to expect when they come to me: lots of joyful images, someone who brings out the best in them, talking about thrifting and TV shows and my cutie girls, and a little bit (okay a lot) of ice cream.
  8. How to manage social media- In high school Instagram wasn’t even a thing. Facebook was where it was at. Now I’m managing this business across multiple platforms, trying to use each to their greatest extent so that people can connect with me and my work.
  9. How to network with other photogs and businesses- When Alvin and I got married we moved to St. Louis and I joined my local Tuesdays Together group. Tuesdays Together is a monthly meetup group for creatives- and is mostly filled with wedding professionals. TT there and here in Chesapeake has been a huge part of my journey! I’ve built friendships, gotten fresh insight, and had a space to share my struggles there. This group has encouraged me to level up, and shown me how to do it. It has been a huge help to my business and confidence as a business owner.
  10. How to manage a team- This has required a lot of personal growth on my end! In the early years of my business, my second photographers on wedding days were my siblings, and then Alvin. Working with family can be tough! I did a lot of assuming, and not enough teaching. As the years went by, and as I started second shooting myself, I learned how to be a better boss. I figured out my people’s strengths, and kept them in those roles, and started appreciating them more for what they do. While being a boss is an ever-evolving roll, I know for sure I am much better at it now than I used to be.
  11. How to be confidently myself in every situation- This is something that I’m always growing in, but I love that now, on wedding days and at sessions, my clients see me at my very best: managing the stressful moments with grace, stepping up and taking charge when I need to, stepping back and letting a moment unfold when I need to, laughing and getting creative together, dancing with you on the dance floor… I’d like to think that this business has brought out the best in me, and grown me in confidence in who I am.

There you have it- 11 things I’ve learned through 11 years of business. I am so grateful to be where I am today with this business, and there are a dozen people I need to thank for that. For years I treated this thing like a hobby, but when Alvin and I got married he spoke life into my dream and gave me the guts to go all in- to try and fail, to keep trying and grow. He has been my biggest supporter, IT guy, second shooter, and a dozen other things for me whenever I needed him to be and I am so so thankful. My family, too, has backed me in this so well through the years. My parents bought me gear for birthdays and Christmases and spread the word about my business far and wide. My sister was my model, biggest fan, second shooter, and now Reels expert. My brother picked up his camera in high school too and has joined me as a second shooter and dance floor partner on occasion. My good friend Anna has been my consistent second shooter over the last 2 years and she is a talented blessing sent from heaven to me. I’ve been taught by so many photographers along the way- my high school teacher Holly Conradi, Katelyn James, Justin & Mary Marantz, Amy & Jordan Demos, Sarah Street and others. But I suppose even more than that, I need to thank YOU. My clients, friends, readers, family…anyone who has ever booked me and believed in me enough to capture you in your season of celebration. I am so so thankful! You are why I do what I do and love it with every fiber of my being. I love being a small part of your amazing stories, freezing memories that will buoy you in good times and hard. Thank you for letting me in, for sharing your joy. It is a humbling privilege I do not take for granted.

Love,

Sarah



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