Holy moly, y’all. We are well into December and I can say that I have finally crossed the finish line on my first full wedding season of my career as a photographer.
This year, I shot 22 weddings spanning from March-November. Things really picked up in the Summer around July (as things do in the PNW), and I’ve pretty much been going every single weekend except for our honeymoon since. I think it’s only fitting that this Behind the Lens reflects on this amazing season and all of the business learnings/realizations that I’ve had along the way. As always, we’re gonna get vulnerable – maybe in the scariest way that I’ve ever been vulnerable on the internet and with this business. I am a recovering perfectionist and people-pleaser so the idea of letting anyone see behind the curtain terrifies me. But here’s to trying to drop the need to appear perfect.
I am sharing a lot of this because I think it will truly shed some light for entrepreneurs who are just getting started, or photographers who are considering this path of work – I want to be as open as I can with all of the ups and downs that this season brought me.
2-3 years ago in the early stages of growing this business, transparently, I wasn’t 1000% sure that I wanted to go all-in on weddings. They are no doubt a go-to for photography businesses, but they are HARD work. Even just looking at the facts – long workdays that usually fall on the weekend, moments that you *cannot* afford to miss or capture incorrectly, timelines that never seem to go as planned, being ON for a whole day of socializing and directing humans, shooting in all of the elements/weather conditions, low-lighting, and THEN the mountain of work that awaits you once you get home just to turn right back around and do it again the next weekend.
BUT – I’ll be the first to tell you that there is something SO magical about being a wedding photographer that it’s almost addicting. I’ve been thinking about how I could be so wrong, how I missed it in the beginning – but the truth is, you kinda have to just do it to know and to see it. How many people get to say that their career centers around celebrations of love, joy, family and friendship? Especially in these times, I feel so lucky that my livelihood and career revolves around such meaning like this. Not to mention that every wedding is like its own unique personality – the personality of the couple!
There is something that takes over in me on a wedding day – it’s very instinctual. I love the feeling of being a fly on the wall – getting to witness, observe, and capture the big moments down to the smallest details that carry meaning for the couple and their loved ones. The stolen glances, the extra hug-squeeze given by a grandparent, the look on mom’s face during the reading of vows. Weddings are a day-dream, a dose of that blissful fairytale feeling we only read about in books. And it’s my job to make the memories look just as magical as they felt. I get to live and work in this dreamland — and it’s really fucking cool.
There are many aspects of owning a photography business that require a multitude of skills (which I am sure is the case for most entrepreneurs – there’s the thing you LOVE doing that got you into it in the first place, but it is just a fraction of all of the things required of you as a business owner) and for me – that’s shooting. I love the feeling of letting my intuition take over and go with the flow of a wedding day. 22 weddings later and every single one of them gave me that high – such a pleasant surprise! One of the things I was worried about with a full season was my ability to be present with each couple and drop into my creativity from week to week, but it was effortless – that’s how I know I am doing what I was meant to.
But where this season was challenging was most definitely on the back end. Going into this season, I was still party-rocking as a soloprenuer with virtually no help other than an accountant to manage my taxes. By the end of this season, I have now outsourced 4 additional aspects of my business – and I will be the first to say that I wish I had done this a lot sooner, not waiting for things to break (aka me).
I struggled with this the most this year. In life and in business.
I lost 2 important souls during this wedding season. In May, on a day jam-packed with back-to-back shoots and a flight to Los Angeles in the evening, I found out that my grandmother (otherwise known as Nuna Rose) passed away. I can’t really explain the feeling of wanting so badly to fall apart but not being able to because you have to keep the smile on your face and get to your next job. There’s almost a part of you that you just have to turn off completely, disengage from any feeling, and keep going.
And then as you are well aware of if you’ve been following along on my Behind The Lens posts from the last two months, we lost our pup, Ryder, in August – just 2 days after I photographed a wedding, with another wedding to photograph the following weekend. It completely shattered me for days…but then I had to turn off, disengage with feelings, keep going…repeat.
99% of the time, I am beyond grateful that I made the transition from working a corporate job to being an entrepreneur. I feel like my life/work has a purpose, and being in control of what’s on my plate is very empowering. BUT – I have also felt…angry and frustrated at times for being a business owner through these losses. Still do sometimes as I continue to dig myself out of my mountain of work that just continued to pile up after we lost Ryder.
When you work in a corporate job, you have backup. You have a team! For maternity leave, for being sick, for losing someone you love – you can take time off and return knowing that things have been taken care of. Hell, sometimes you can go months without being able to give it your all at work and no one will notice. Knowing that deadlines won’t be missed, communications will be sent, deliverables will still be delivered, and so on and so forth. The machine keeps running with or without you. That is not the case when you are an entrepreneur. When people say that being an entrepreneur is hard, this very fact has to be at the top of the list. There is no second/third/or fourth YOU. You desperately wish you could clone yourself, but ya can’t.
When you stop, your business stops – especially when you haven’t hired a helping hand. And unfortunately, grief is not a very predictable thing. My energy levels and motivation have been all over the place and there’s really nothing that I’ve been able to do about it other than just be patient with myself and do my best – *the recovering perfectionist in me dyiiiing at the thought*
What’s been the hardest is the impact that this had on my clients. So many of them patiently waited for me to shift things around and update their gallery deadlines – knowing that I was doing my best amidst the circumstances. But at the end of the day – I know I didn’t deliver the experience that all of them deserved and that’s fucking tough. My clients are the reason I do this – I love making them feel happy, impressed, excited, and well-taken care of. But I just couldn’t in some cases this year. And it’s been a bit of a dark cloud hanging over me the past few months.
In business, you are going to learn lessons all of the time. Big and small. The nature of entrepreneurship is trying, failing, learning, and adjusting (repeat) so that you can do better next time. I learned a lot this year, some due to my own failings and some due to surprises from the universe – and for that I am grateful. Despite how hard wrapping up this season has been, I still feel so proud of this year. So proud of how I showed up and remained present for my clients on their wedding days, proud of the work delivered, proud of taking it all in and keeping my head held high – determined to fix the cracks in my process and set myself up for better success next year.
Entrepreneurs – maybe you’ll find yourself in situations similar to mine at some point on your journey. Where you fuck up or life happens and you’re unable to deliver on your promises or you don’t knock it out of the ballpark like you usually do. My advice – go someplace by yourself and feel your feelings. Cry, be frustrated, let it out. Then – when it doesn’t feel so raw, dust yourself off, reflect, and come at it from a neutral lens and figure out what you need to do or change to make it better for next time.
Take true ownership and accountability around making things better. Sure, a lot of what caused the trouble in my business this year was out of my hands. But as I see it – Life is going to happen to us whether we like it or not. Operating your business assuming that you will always be available, that your energy levels will be perfect, etc – is setting yourself up to fail. I had to take a big step back and look at my workflows and systems for improvements and unsurprisingly, there are many things that I can focus on to make it better and look forward to implementing for next season. When you set up how your business operates, your assumption SHOULD BE that things will go wrong, and then ask yourself – “how do I make sure that clients are still well taken care of?”
You are not a failure for not being perfect and one season of challenges does NOT define you as a person or a business owner. Maybe your flaws are more easily noticed now that you don’t have the air cover of a corporate job, but that’s okay. It will be okay. Own up to your shortcomings, apologize, make it right – and then move forward. You are still deserving of your dreams.
I ended November (& started December) in Phoenix, Arizona at our 3rd annual Biz Retreat. If you want to learn more about what Biz Retreat is, you can check out this post, or head to our Instagram to follow along.
My trip to Phoenix came at the end of a MARATHON of travel. After spending 2 weeks in Europe in October, I kicked off back-to-back trips to Milwaukee, Hawaii, Michigan, and then Arizona. Yes, that’s FIVE different time zones including Washington. My poor body is still recovering from the constant shocks to my circadian rhythm.
I am going to give myself credit though, because I kept self-care at the TOP of my priorities to ensure I could show up for myself, my clients, my family and our Biz Retreat attendees. I didn’t overextend myself, made plenty of time for rest/downtime despite being in all of those different locations, and arrived in Phoenix with a tired smile on my face.
Not necessarily tired because of the travel (although, yes), but tired because WOW did I go through a lot and somehow kept pushing forward this year. I made it – this was the last big thing of 2023.
Enter: Biz Retreat.
We designed this retreat for ALL of the reasons and experiences of being an entrepreneur that I stated above. Because let’s be honest – stuff like this just comes with the territory.
Within a day of being in Phoenix, I felt anew. And by the time that our attendees arrived and the room was full of badass & supportive female entrepreneur energy – I felt like I was soaring. Exactly where I was meant to be finishing up this tough year.
We all spent 3 days reflecting, brainstorming, practicing healthy habits, and strategizing around the next few years of our business. This was such an amazing opportunity to problem-solve around a lot of the back-end pain points that I felt this year and I am already so excited to restructure my workflow for 2024. Biz Retreat allows me to enter into each new year more confident than ever and it has been such a massive unlock in my business. After just six days in the desert, I felt like my energy had gone through the washing machine and restored itself.
So now I am home. Finally getting to spend some time in Seattle, resting, clearing out my editing queue, and delivering galleries to my oh-so-patient clients – prepping for another beautiful year ahead as a photographer – doing what I love, better than ever before.
XOXO Happy Holidays everyone!