From Photo School to Fashion Studios and on to Weddings | My Business Journey | Part 1

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I’ve been asked a bunch about what my journey through business has been like. I thought it would be fun to dive deep and share with you a bit of my back story!

I’ve defaulted to talking about business tactics, photography tips and how to stand out in your biz on this blog. Today I felt like switching the script a bit and let you in on my journey in my business.

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My photography passion began as a way to waste an hour in high school…

I’ve been in business long enough that it was still a thing to get a degree in photography before I started out 😝. I had become very interested in photography when I found myself becoming a yearbook photographer my senior year in high school with the goal of having a slack off period.

I didn’t ever expect to take photography seriously. I truly just needed a class to fill period 4 and my friend said they could use a yearbook photographer.

What started out as way to goof off with some friends for an hour turned into a serious interest in photography and the dark room. In 2000, digital wasn’t a thing yet, and we shot film and developed it all ourselves in the school darkroom. I loved photography and became obsessed!

My wall in high school 🤣

I graduated high school without a goal of going to college… as it just didn’t interest me, but since photography did, I got a job at the nearby Kits Cameras and learned more about photography through selling. This was in 2001 when digital was just hitting the scene. I remember selling at 2 megapixel camera for $899 and a 128mb compact flash card was $128.

It’s comical now, but those cameras flew off the shelves because it was the amazing new thing!

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A co-worker at the camera shop mentioned casually about a commercial photography program and my interest was piqued.

At work one day, one of my co-workers told me about a 2 year photography program at the community college that was so sought after that there was a two year waiting list.

I thought that sounded like fun, and I liked the idea of waiting two years before heading back into a classroom. I had been less than excited about school at that point.

Those two years flew by and before I knew it, I was accepted into the commercial photography program.

2 years with 24 other students for a very intense schedule of learning everything about how to be a commercial photographer… except the actual business part of the equation 😳.

Masters in the field taught us about how to create images that sell. How to use light as an art form and to understand the foundations of what it takes to be a photographer.

With my commercial photography degree in hand and my brain full on photography knowledge… I bumbled my way through starting up a business.

Once I graduated from school, I found myself a bit lost. While the photography education was phenomenal, the business education was completely missing. I figured out how to get my business license and in 2005 Rebecca Ellison Photography was born. I was lost, but I realized quickly that I had to get my name out there as no one would find me hanging out in my apartment lol.

I knew that I wanted to start out assisting.

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I wanted to work with successful photographers and help them on their jobs while watching and learning how to do the work myself.

So I started reaching out to photographers and studios in the Seattle area to help assist them on their jobs.

While school was a great foundation of photography, assisting is where I learned client relations and business and how you had to market to be able to be found… even as an assistant.

Assisting, I learned the value of knowing other assistants and having my own network of people to work with.

I lucked out in that the studio that does all the e-commerce/fashion photography for a huge high end retailer is in Seattle. I got my foot in the door assisting there shortly after school got out, and I worked my butt off to be one of their regular assistants.

While I was always a contractor, I worked there nearly full time for 4+ years.

I spent time assisting the product photographers as well as the “on body” photographers which captured any of the images for clothing on the models. That time was fun because I got to see how all the different cogs in the fashion machine works.

On each and every set, we would have a photographer and an assistant (or two if it was a complex set), the model, a hair and makeup artist, stylist, stylist assistant and the art director.

As the photo assistant, I’d help out in most all the areas when it was needed.

  • I learned really neat tricks about how to do hair (and how it’s two+ hours for hair and makeup before the model ever touches the set).
  • I learned all about styling and the tricks that are used to create the look we want.
  • I learned the value of a well placed clamp (or 10) on the backside of an outfit to make the outfit look just right.
  • I learned how valuable a good model is to the flow of your day. And a good model truly is worth ALL the money they are being paid. That is not an easy job.

Lighting, how to engage with my subject, I saw every day. Learning what the end product needs to look like for the art director to approve it was extremely valuable. I had a fun couple of years.

It was comfortable there, but after a couple years I got bored. Feeling like I had learned all I could while assisting but I really had no drive to pursue being in the fashion industry, I didn’t know what to do next.

While this studio was a great place to work and was great to all their people, I found a bad taste in my mouth in regards to what the fashion industry perpetuates.

We have these models who are pretty much 95% physically perfect human beings.

Their bodies are their craft and they get paid really well for modeling. At times a girl shows up and her numbers are not what was expected from the model card.. .Which means they are maybe 6 lbs heavier than anticipated, or maybe they show up with tan lines on their back.

When the model shows up, and they are heavier than expected, or they had tan lines it throws the entire day into turmoil.

If the clothes wouldn’t fit right anymore, the stylist and art director would be busily trying to find out what they could put the model in so that we could do the shoot. Or if the model was supposed to do active wear… which means sports bras all day, and they had tan lines, the set would be in a tizzy.

Now, from a business perspective, I understand the problem here. There was thousands of dollars on the line for getting these images out on the website. The model has to look and be the part to sell the clothes. If they didn’t, it was a problem. A problem that would cause tension and frustrations and would affect sales for the company.

From a business level, I understood it, but from a human level, I hated it.

I hated that we were judging this young woman for not being 100% perfect. How dare she have pasta? She doesn’t fit our clothes any more. How dare she have a fun day off and happen to get a sunburn?

Now our day is ruined because we can’t show her skin. We’d attempt to adjust the schedule and change the plan for the clothes. This was a studio with 7 sets running at anytime. There was always more things to shoot. But you know that in that dressing room, that model is mad at herself and can feel the tension on the set.

I am not, nor will I EVER be anywhere near that 95% perfect physically that these gals are.

But when they showed up only 92% perfect, the day would be a total mess. We’d be trying to cover up that 3% that they “let slip”.All for images to sell a sports bra. An image that will be up and selling for this huge company for maybe 3 months.

That stuck with me, and made me really dislike the fashion and sales part of the photography industry. The judgement is just part and parcel of that industry and it made me hate it.

At that time, much to my husbands surprise, a wedding had fallen in my lap and I said yes to photographing it.

Now… back before photo school, I had photographed one wedding. The mom of the bride had come into the camera store I worked at and said she needed a wedding photographer. She would pay me $200 to do it (true story!) After saying yes, I photographed this wedding with NO experience, or knowledge and ended up cropping into all their foreheads through the ENTIRE wedding. When I got my film back, my 20 year old heart was so upset and I said no to weddings ever again. I mean, people need the tops of their heads in photos right?

Jump forward 6 years and I said yes to another wedding. Because well…. I wanted to do something new.

I fell in LOVE. Coming from the fashion industry of all judgement all the time and making people who were 95% perfect not feel good enough.

Weddings were all about to being able to capture images for couples who thought that they were not “photogenic.” I could show them just how amazing they could look.

I got to share the story of people and their love. Their connection. I got to create images of themselves that made them grow and love themselves more because of how they looked.

Instantly my focus and my attention shifted gears. I started marketing in 2007 for weddings. Still assisting on the weekdays, I worked hard to get to the point where I could just do weddings.

By 2009 I had a booming wedding business. I had said goodbye to the fashion industry and the critical nature of that work. Weddings felt like this beautiful accepting work where I got to help people feel attractive in their own skin.

I loved it all. I loved the clients, the community and all of it!

With a booming business, my husband Pete and I had two kids one in 2011 and one in 2014. I learned how to juggle business and motherhood and got a lot less sleep in the in between lol. Looking back and remembering business and life when my kids were toddlers, I wonder how I got through it all! I’ve never considered being a stay at home mom. Business gave me my own things to focus on, but I also loved the flexibility of running my own business. I learned quickly though that I had to learn how to build systems. I had to make my business function a bit on auto pilot so I could be a mom too.

My business grew and grew and grew. I absolutely LOVE the Seattle wedding community and the people I’ve become friends with along the way.

In 2016 my husband and I took a trip to Sweden for our 10 year wedding anniversary. It was an epic 2 weeks away from reality. Time where we could see a new part of the world, and just slow down and be together.

We were on a train from Sweden to Copenhagen and I found myself staring at the countryside. Thinking about my business feeling a need to shift my business again.

I’d photographed weddings for nearly 10 years at that point, I was finding that I wanted to diversify. And… if I’m being honest, I wanted my summer weekends back. I’d spent entire summers barely holding on to things as business is booming. As a mom, I wanted to be able to be there for my kids as well.

Weddings had been my life, but I wanted something else.

I sat there, with my earbuds in, listening to music and letting my mind wander. I started thinking about how much I loved the business side of my business. The systems and the marketing and all the things that I know most creatives groan about.

I always have my nose in a marketing book and I’m always trying new things as I’ve grown my business. I started thinking about how much fun it would be to share my knowledge and help other creative businesses out as well.

We came home from our trip and my mind was on fire for this new idea. This new approach and this ability to really help other people succeed in their businesses too.

And now that I’ve realized this is a novel 🤣, I’ll finish my story in the next post which you can find here : My Biz Journey Part 2

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