Welcome to the second installment of my favorite new blog series Interviews with Creatives, a monthly post that focuses on creative entrepreneurs -- shop owners, bloggers, artists, and makers. This month, we're focusing on a photographer from my home state of Georgia. Stephanie's work catches the eye because she manages to capture personality in her photos. You get more than just a beautifully styled photo-- you get a feel for who the subject is.
Let's meet Stephanie!
When did you open your photography business? What compelled you to give it a try?
I have been taking pictures since I was in high school, and one day my sister told me that I should charge for my work rather than my “gifting” everything to people. Honestly, before then, I saw my photography as a way to relax and to give creative gifts to the people closest to me. I worked in the corporate world for 13 years and was able to “retire” in 2012. I spent 2 years traveling and doing consulting work, but then I began to feel like I needed to do more. Opening my business in August 2014 felt like a great opportunity to test my ability to be a small business owner, and I realized that I needed to put a value on my work and my time.
Tell us about your business name-- why did you choose it? Is there a story behind it?
My full name is Stephanie Indranee Wijesinghe. People cannot say Wijesinghe to save their lives, so I decided on Stephanie Indranee Photography. I am Sri Lankan. Our culture is very much about your name meaning something, and the family you represent. I used to always tell my staff that if my name was attached to anything, that it was done right the first time, and I stood by my work. I felt like naming my company, Stephanie Indranee Photography, just furthered that belief I stand by my work, and I create amazing experiences for my clients the first time.
Tell us about your academic and professional backgrounds. Did those fields influence your photography business at all? Do you feel that they give you any kind of unique edge?
I was a total nerd. I had 3 majors: Management, Finance, and Spanish. Then, I spent 13 years working in a background screening company (6 years managing Customer Service and 7 years as the COO). Working and studying in those areas definitely helped prepare me to have a photography business. I evaluate things differently than other small business owners and gained valuable experience in client services and marketing.
I think when you are a small business owner, it is easy to get swept up in the creative aspect, and forget about the business side. I run my business the same way I ran a multi-million dollar business, and I think that perspective makes me unique.
What area of photography is your main focus (newborn, lifestyle, wedding, senior portraits)? Why? Is there an area you’d like to move into?
I specialize in families (families with kids under the age of about 5 or 6 are my favorites), engagement and anniversary photography, and smaller intimate outdoor weddings (guest lists are below 150). Over the years I have done a lot of senior sessions, but never felt like it was a calling. Recently, that changed! I shot a few senior sessions, and realized that I really loved doing them. It was amazing to just watch some of them transform from little or no confidence at all in front of the camera, to being totally at ease by the end of our session. So, starting with the class of 2017, seniors will officially be a part of my business.
Describe a typical photography session-- What is special to you about each one? How do you help your customers relax during sessions?
One thing that is probably different about me is that I am super OCD about making my clients feel comfortable during our sessions, and I take my time. (I am not a clockwatcher, though I probably should be! LOL!) That means that from the time they contact me, until their session, we are constantly talking, sharing ideas, discussing props, etc. We plan their session together. I don’t believe in just showing up with my camera, and start telling people what to do. I want them to feel like this experience is all about them, that they had a hand in creating the experience, and will be excited about the memories we will create together!
Every session is special to me because I feel like the moments that I capture will be preserved forever. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I deliver prints to my clients, and they are sooooo excited, they cry tears of joy! So bottom line is that unless you are madly in love with your pictures, and you cry some tears of joy, my job isn’t done!
I love people! I love getting to know them, and I think the more that I get them to talk about themselves, and they get to know me, it allows them to relax during their session. I am not known for being super funny, but I have learned ways of making my clients laugh to be able to capture real emotion! People get a little intimidated when we do sessions, and there are all sorts of people around. I always remind them that the likelihood of them seeing those people again is pretty low, so to just have fun and be themselves
What inspires you creatively? What’s your “muse” so to speak?
My muse…wow that is a hard one! I push myself really hard, so I think I am inspired to be better than I was the day before. I challenge myself to see beauty in things that others might look at and think I was crazy. For example: I did a portion of a session on the side of a road because the lighting was perfect, and the grass and trees were green. I think those clients thought I was crazy, but the end results were amazing. Beauty is all around us, sometimes we just have to search for it. Just a side note: As creatives in this day and age of social media, it’s very easy to be inspired by other creatives. There is definitely a place for that, but I feel like sometimes you can become so caught up in trying to be like them, that you forget you are talented in your own right.
Is your photography business your full-time job? If not, what else do you do?
My photography business is full-time, but I also run a holding company, and own a construction/remodeling business. So free time is very precious to me!
Describe your typical work day. Do you do sessions every day or have a specific schedule set up? When not doing sessions, what do you do (the “behind the scenes” of the business)?
My work days are usually different. During the busy months, I am usually at sessions or editing. During the months that things slow down, I spend a lot of time working on marketing, coming up with new ideas/projects for my business, and investing in continuing education to help me learn more about my craft.
What do you love most about being a small business owner/ creative? On the flip side, what is the most challenging part?
I love that I create my own rules for my business. On the other hand, working alone all day long was REALLY hard for me to adjust to at first. On the days when I have sessions, it’s not a big deal, but when I don’t, it’s hard.
What are some of your future plans for your business? What are you looking forward to the most?
I am looking into renting space for a studio soon. I am most excited by the idea of allowing my clients to come into a space that I have created just for them. Also, teaching is a calling for me! So I am now teaching classes on how to use your camera. I am looking to expand that into different areas soon!
What are some of your favorite Etsy, Pinterest, or Instagram accounts to follow? What other creatives inspire you?
This is a hard one too! So many to pick from!! I love Joanna Gaines, Katelyn James, Canon USA, Style Me Pretty, Southern Weddings, and a lot of the local photographers here in Atlanta. They are all so amazing!
What advice do you have for other photographers and creatives?
BE TRUE TO YOURSELF!!!!
Maybe other creatives don’t struggle with this as much as I did at first, but it’s so easy to compare yourself to others, and try to be more like them because they are successful. But, if by doing that, you are no longer representing who you are, then you have to take a serious look at that! In my industry, there are so many amazing photographers. It’s very easy sometimes to think that you might never be as good, or even as famous as they are. But at some point you have to have faith in your own abilities.
NEVER LOSE THE DESIRE TO LEARN!
When I first started in photography, no one was really willing to help me learn. I did it all on my own. Today, that is definitely not the case. More and more you see photographers and other creatives learning from one another. #commnityovercompetition
I think in order for you to grow you have to keep pushing yourself to learn something new each and every day!
And finally just for fun-- if you could go on American Idol and sing (and totally nail it, of course) any one song… what would you pick?
I LOVE TO SING….so here again…so many to pick from. But, I would say anything from Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Miranda Lambert, or Sara Evans, since they are all in my vocal range, and I am a huge country music fan!
Thanks for sharing, Stephanie!
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