Bear with me for a moment, if you will. This post is going to be a little strange for me to write, because it’s still so beyond my wildest imagination that I would be doing what I am doing today. I love wedding photography to the point where I’d still do this even if I had all of the money in the world. I never believed it to be possible for me to work for myself, be successful doing so, and thrive in a creative career that fulfills my soul to this fullest extent.
Growing up, I never once thought this would be the turn my life would take. As a girl, I always tended to excel in creative pursuits… creative writing, artistic endeavors, even music and theatre. I loved weaving stories together and illustrating characters of my own fabrication. I grew up singing, acting, and performing in any way I could. But again, photography was never really something I gave a second thought.
I graduated high school and began pursuing music theatre. It was a given, to me and everyone else I knew, what with all of my young experience on stage…the one place where I felt completely at home. I dreamed of being on Broadway, or even in television and film, and chased after it whole-heartedly. But the further along I got in my voice training, dialect coaching, scene studies, etc…the more I felt disconnected from a passion I once loved so much. To this day, I can’t quite describe what happened to push me away from the performing arts. Maybe it was part of growing up. Maybe, as the magic faded, I convinced myself that dreams don’t come true, and allowed myself to settle into that belief.
I struggled for a year or so to find a path in college – something I could really chase after and say, “There. That’s what I want to be. That’s why I’m here.” A filmmaker? A news anchor? Where the heck was I going? Soon, I was just frantically trying to piece meal what credits I had earned in order to graduate with some kind of degree. Fortunately, I was able to line up my curriculum in a communications specialist degree.
Don’t ask. I still don’t know what that means.
In the midst of it all was a super cute guy I met at college named Dustin who made me smile and promised to support me no matter what. So after I graduated, we got married and moved to North Carolina, where he started his graduate studies at Duke University. And this is where you-know-what got real.
If I thought I’d had my eyes opened to the real world in college, I was sorely mistaken. I fully believed I would graduate, land a great paying job, and be able to support the two of us. Just a newlywed couple, making it on their own, with one still in school. I was dead wrong.
The only job I could get was a crappy sales job pushing copiers to people who didn’t want them. It was almost totally based on commission, and I sucked so badly at it. I hated my life for a few months there and would come home in tears, wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into. I could feel my spirit breaking day after day, until finally by God’s good grace and the kindness of a potential “client” (who never bought a copier from me, by the way) I was able to land a job in the apartment industry.
I spent about four years total leasing and managing apartments, something I was good at and something I could clock in and out and feel pretty good about at the end of the day. It definitely had its turmoil here and there, and boy do I have some stories to share…but overall I enjoyed my work and loved the people I had the privilege of meeting. However, that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was suffocating in the redundancy of life never quite left. I found a creative outlet in leading worship at our church and also picked up a camera after the birth of our baby, just as a hobby. Dustin at one point actually suggested that I pursue photography a little more seriously, but at the time I brushed it off. Little did I know how easily I’d find myself picking up technique and composition.
Six months or so went by, and I became more and more serious about my photography. I became a sponge, learning everything I could online and then applying it to the best of my abilities during small portrait shoots I was booking here and there. Holding a camera just felt so right. I was in love. Dustin and I discussed reassessing whether I could make it as a full-time portrait photographer in two or three years, but at the time it was really just a shared dream. Nothing serious.
Then came quite the plot twist. After some pretty big hiccups along the way, Dustin and I made the choice to step out in faith and leave everything we knew as a married couple in North Carolina. Along with our one year old baby girl, we moved to South Carolina to be a part of our home church’s first out-of-state campus. Dustin was transferred into the campus worship pastor position and I was left with more options than I’d seen since we were married four years prior. My first instinct was to look for a job in property management, which seemed like the smart thing to do. I knew the industry. It was comfortable. But it would be playing it safe – and we were tired of living life that way.
After lots of late night discussions, praying, and revamping our budget worksheet, we made the decision together that I would start my own photography business in Columbia, South Carolina. We had a small savings put aside and knew we could draw from that if worse came to worse, but we were counting on God to do the seemingly impossible by supporting our family financially. It seemed crazy that I would attempt to set up shop after having held a camera for less than a year (and yes, I hear the collective sigh from veteran photographers who are driven nuts by the fact that I did this). But we truly believed that God answered my prayers to lead me out of the 9-5 world and into a pursuit that would fuel my soul. It just happened a lot faster than we expected! And, if we’re being real, we also knew that we’d never regret trying if I ended up falling flat on my face.
After settling in to our new home in South Carolina, I stayed home with Austyn while Dustin went to work daily. It was up to me to get my business out there in a brand new city about which I knew nothing. I posted five to six times a week in the Columbia “creative services” section of Craigslist . “New in town photographer,” “Portrait specials – brand new photographer,” etc. etc. – anything just to connect with people out there looking for photography. My Facebook business page was already set up, but I began paying to promote it for likes and clicks to my brand new website. I also used Google AdWords, which worked really well since it took awhile for me to rank in organic search results.
Honestly, I really only intended to shoot portraits and booked a few sessions almost right away, but pretty soon I began receiving inquiries from brides who mostly found me on Craigslist. Either they had a tight budget to work with, or they needed a photographer – fast. But they all genuinely wanted me to photograph their weddings, and I agreed to do so by charging accordingly based on my inexperience at the time. I then began advertising wedding photography services and was very clear that I was just starting out. See, I was confident I could provide each bride with beautiful images from their wedding day, but was unsure at the time whether weddings would be something I would continue doing. I discovered quickly that I was seriously meant to do this!
Less than two years after being in business, I’ve shot seventeen weddings and now have a full schedule through 2015-2016. I’ve made the decision to specialize in weddings so that I can better focus my energy into what I love. I continue learning more and more about photography, editing, and business on a daily basis. It is still so crazy to me to think that I was once stuck behind a desk and had completely resigned myself to being in the corporate world my whole life. My prayers have been answered in a huge way, and now I have what I can truly call a dream job where the only limit is really myself!
So there you have it – that’s how I became a wedding photographer! I thank God daily for the adventure and for each and every bride and groom who has invited me into their story. There is nothing I’d rather be doing than witnessing and documenting each couple begin new chapters in their lives.
I am seriously the luckiest girl in the world.
Learn more about Emily Chappell and her work as a Dallas wedding photographer!