Today we’d like to introduce you to Deb Wesley.
Deb, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My first career was in nursing where I worked in places like the ICU, Emergency department, and Pre-Operative venues. I, like many, became interested in photography as a hobby pretty early on. I bought my first “real” film SLR camera in the 90’s and used it in “auto” mode. I loved making scrapbooks with photos and came to realize that I wanted to create more professional-quality images. I started the photography program at College of DuPage and was hooked.
Initially I didn’t plan on making a career of it, but eventually saw a path to a creative business– that I have long-desired–and would be completely different from my background. I just knew that it was what I wanted to do with the next chapter of my life.
I now have a portrait business doing what I love to do. I get to work with a variety of people creating images they need or want, and no two projects are exactly the same. I get satisfaction from seeing their happiness when I deliver beautiful images that will become an important part of their story.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Like most small business journeys, this one has had its bumps!
With my predominantly science background, I needed to get some business, marketing, education, and sales education… in addition to actual photography know-how. Everything involved in running a small business has been new to me, and it didn’t take long to discover that the act of photographing people is not what I spend most of my hours doing.
One of the biggest obstacles in the beginning was getting enough experience to create a quality body of work before starting to take on paying customers. It took some time to identify who my ideal customer was and where to find them. Photography is a highly competitive industry and seemingly anyone with a camera can call themselves a “photographer”. And truly everyone really does have a camera… so your work as a pro really has to stand out!
Another challenge is the responsibility of wearing so many different hats when you’re first starting a business. At some point you learn to outsource some of the jobs you aren’t good at anyway (like accounting) so you can focus on what really matters.
The biggest challenge of all as an independent photographer is not having someone around to bounce ideas off. I actively seek out business groups and other photographers to meet with on a regular basis for support and inspiration.
Please tell us about Deb Wesley Photography.
I enjoy photographing people — with the goal of capturing them in a way that really brings out their true personality and shows their relationships. I don’t have a super-specific niche, mainly because I love variety. Most of my clients fall into a few categories, which include: families and extended families, maternity and babies, tweens, high-school seniors, lifestyle/fitness portraits, and business portraits (headshots). I love a photographic challenge!
One thing that sets me apart from many photographers is my high level of personalized boutique-style service that I provide for my clients. I work with them from start to finish to create works of art for their homes or a polished image that represents their brand. This starts with a careful consideration of location and wardrobe and we collaborate together throughout the entire shoot to be sure I really capture the essence of their personality.
Many others in the field will sell a photo session that comes with images on a CD. Sadly, statistics tell us that the images hardly ever make it off that CD or computer. If they do, they often get improperly printed. Great images deserve to be printed with the best archival inks, and in a way that fits the client’s style and maximizes enjoyment. They should stand the test of time and never get lost on a hard drive.
My clients get what they really want–a beautiful display to enjoy every day. I design the best display for their homes, whether that means creating a custom-framed focal point for over the fireplace, a wall grouping of modern prints in metal or wood, or a high-quality photo album. I consider the digital files as a back-up and for social media — not the end product. The exception is my business clients who only need digitals for web use.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I think I did things pretty “right” by electing to get a degree in my field and learn face-to-face with experts instead of going the “self-taught” route.
If anything, I might have taken some formal business classes right away. I also wished I had joined the professional organization I belong to now (Professional Photographers of America-PPA) — earlier on– to take advantage of their educational offerings and other support
At the end of the day– even a rough day– I am doing what I love to do!