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6 Hotties Walk into a Bar

September 16th, 2010  |  Published in Featured, Mingle  |  1 Comment


The ShootStylers – A Bio, by Rachel Worrall

The Beginning:

Who grows up wanting to be a wedding photographer? No one. NOOOOOO one. It’s like dentistry. Not a person do I know who grew up desperately wanting to shoot weddings. Do you know anyone who always wanted to be a wedding photographer? Of course not! It’s just a job, and a fairly rubbishy one at that – high stress, awkward hours (evenings! weekends!), all the rigors of being self-employed, wasting your talent shooting people who’ll get divorced in two years. This is what I said to myself when ShootStyle asked me to write a piece on how they each got into wedding photography.

On writing this blog entry I also rather assumed there wouldn’t be much to write about on the wedding side, for although I have worked with the ShootStyle group many times, it’s always been as a fashion model. I loved, loved, loved, working with them, but, given their enthusiasm on the fashion shoots, and the excellent shots, and the way they buzzed over them, I concluded that fashion photography was what they would all rather be doing over shooting weddings.

But I found that ShootStyle consists of six people who see wedding photography as a vocation. Six people who are devoted to their jobs: six talented, driven, professional, visionary, unique individuals all committed to providing their bride and groom with the most stunning interpretation of their important day. The ShootStylers see their work as art and they’re passionate about it.

Yet not one of them grew up wanting to be a wedding photographer. No, not one: not Zofia Waig, not Stacey Doyle, not Michelle Turner, not Earl Christie, not Andree Kehn and not Jamison Wexler (Jamie). They came to the work either from elsewhere in photography, by making a hobby pay, from another job, by chance and/or with a little help from their friends. I started off writing this article thinking wedding photography must be a load of rubbish and ended up wishing it was my job. So, who knew? Perhaps you only get the perfect job through a bit of suffering, luck, following your nose, and a lot of staying close to your heart.


So they all came to the profession in roundabout ways. But not too roundabout, for the theme of photography is common to all; all the ShootStylers, with the exception of Jamie, had a camera in their hands before the age of eighteen, and the four women in the group were using cameras before that.

Parents were crucial in terms of allowing their photographic interests to develop. Andree, Stacey and Zofia talk about how their fathers were into photography. Andree says ‘My dad was an enthusiastic camera buff (and photographed his year in Vietnam). His father was also very involved (on an amateur level) as well.’

Stacey told me that: ‘I’ve had cameras in my hands since I was a kid. My dad was into photography and so there were loads of old Time/Life mags around on photography. I loved photographing people with my little Kodak 110. Without a camera I was exceptionally shy, but I found a camera helped break the ice… . I’ve always enjoyed capturing people and I enjoyed the fact that my friends and family would enjoy the images that I took of them.’

For Zofia, the first time she picked up a camera was when she was… ‘aged thirteen, on a trip to Poland to visit my Grandmother. It had a lightening bolt effect on me. It was a little pink 110. I’d used my dad’s Canon before that but I wasn’t really allowed to touch it, whereas this was mine. When the film was developed all the photos had a pink tinge to them, which I know now to be light leak, but which at the time I thought was because the camera was pink. I really enjoyed taking photos of my grandparents and my brother and sister.’

It’s Michelle’s mum who features in her earliest memory. Michelle first picked up a camera with a flash when she ‘was very little and began taking pictures of everything. Some of my earliest memories involve cameras, for example my mum yelling at me [because of the cost of film and processing] for taking pictures of the television show I was watching.’

So, all the ShootStylers, except Jamie, (poor Jamie! ;-)) had some form of, if not mentor, then someone who provided them all with early access to a camera before the age of eighteen, whether it was at junior high, as we shall see, in Earl’s case, or thanks to their parents in the case of Andree, Zofia, Stacey and Michelle. In terms of photography, at least, the scene, one might say, was set.

Sharing & Positive feedback:

Sharing photos was important, especially for Jamie. I can’t comment on any other late starts he may have had in life, but Jamie’s late start as a photographer was piqued by sharing.

In his early thirties, Jamie began sharing his photos with family and friends. For ten years he traveled a great deal with his job as a trainer for a financial services’ software firm and explored the cities where he went. Some people might have taken their wives with them to stay in those five star hotels but Jamie bought a camera instead and began taking pictures of what he saw and sharing them with his wife, Melanie, back home ;-).

With the sharing came positive feedback. One thing that no teacher will be surprised to hear was that not only access (remember Stacey and Zofia’s 110s) but positive reinforcement was key. Jamie talks about positive feedback as being a key part of his job satisfaction to this day… ‘My wife often comments on the fact that wedding photography is one of those jobs where you get constant positive feedback, constant praise.’

It was the positive feedback Jamie received on his ‘travel pictures’ from his wife and friends that encouraged him: thus the cameras started to get better, and he began looking at ways to make his hobby pay. A few adverts for family portraits at a great rate got him customers and based on the quality of this work someone asked him to do a wedding. Jamie told them the images would be rubbish but they agreed anyway and in the end, as we shall see with Zofia’s first wedding under similar circumstances, those images weren’t half bad. Then Jamie did another wedding, and another, and the rest, as they say, is…, well, a lot of weddings ;-). So, you heard it here first, if you want to hear great things about yourself on a regular basis, become a wedding photographer ;-). A very little seems to go a long way ;-)


Earl and also Zofia’s interest in photography was encouraged at high school. In junior high both Earl and Zofia, though in separate towns and at different times (Earl’s much older ;-)), began working in the dark room. Under the tutelage of her art teacher Zofia got into the school newspaper and into developing and printing her own work. She then got a better camera and started shooting for fun. This continued after she left high school. Wherever she went she earned money in some way through her photography. Then, her wedding photography big break came along ;-) In 1996, after graduate school, she began to work in a gift store. The manager of the store was getting married and knew that Zofia worked in a photo lab and that she was taking photos at college. So she asked Zofia to shoot her wedding.

‘Some of the shots came out great’, Zofia says and she carried on shooting weddings after this because friends asked her to. What she really wanted to do was fashion design, and although she took classes for it (see below), life got in the way. She never did get to NYC and she never did apply to CIT. But she did still keep working in photo labs and she did still keep shooting weddings for friends. In terms of photography she wanted to do high end fashion magazine work. She came to Nantucket for a season in 2001 and never looked back. Nantucket has become her permanent home. She brings that high fashion style of photography into her work. As she describes it… ‘My style is consistent. People know what they’re going to get. People like my style. It’s a clean, classic modern style. I go for a magazine-look shoot and I think my clients appreciate that.’

Andree got into photography through her BFA with a concentration in photography and she comments ‘I’ve found its [the BFA's] emphasis on design and figure-drawing very useful. I learned the most about photography at this time. I was in the darkroom constantly and I learned all of the mathematical ratios, photographic theory and photography history. I immersed myself in learning photography.’

Stacey and Andree out of the ShootStylers went to school for photography, as opposed to being exposed (an out of date pun that), like Earl and Zofia, to it during their high school years. After high school, Zofia went to school for one year and took a 101 black and white beginners’ class before she dropped out as she couldn’t afford the fees.

I asked the others if they felt they had lost out by not going to school and Earl summarizes their response: ‘No, not going to photography school has made no difference to me. There’s such an amount of time between me starting out as an amateur and working as a professional that I’ve gained a wealth of experience that way.’ As several of them mentioned, if they had gone to school, they would have learned techniques that are now dated.

Jamie has the last word here: ‘Photography is one of the few professions where you get instant feedback about what you do. There are a certain number of variables that can be played around with and, through practice and trial and error, they can be worked with until you get it right; then you can replicate that with a client. We’re also at the end of the information society – there’s loads of free information out there. Google is your friend… if you’re willing to do the research you can get educated on your own. Maybe photography school would have given me the classic rules but even those are out there nowadays on the internet. The only thing that school would have given me was having someone with a critical eye to look over my work, and that definitely makes you a better photographer. But even with that there are plenty of workshops out there now that can fill this need.’

So, Different Paths, Same Ending:

Bitten by the photography bug at an early age, Stacey and Andree wanted to be photojournalists. But upon discovering the amounts that newspaper photographers were/are paid, not to mention the difficulty of finding full time work, they started looking elsewhere for a means to support themselves.

Andree comments on how the photojournalistic side of wedding photography came to appeal to her… ‘In college [whilst doing my BFA] I started out doing photographic constructions, mixing photography and text and exploring definitions of “self”. I was enrolled in a very post-modern theoretical program. I ate it up. No photojournalism at all, and I didn’t miss it. I took a photojournalism internship as my second to last semester, and did several long-term photojournalism pieces at Salt magazine in Portland, Maine. It was then that I was “bitten by the photojournalism bug”. Until that time, photography was a medium, like paint or clay for my “message”… . I later worked for three years as a staffer at a regional newspaper in New Hampshire and experienced the poor pay. I still do freelance work for newspapers and magazines though. I also worked as a souvenir photographer at a ski resort for ten years. That gave me no fear of formals :). I’ve shot weddings since college and I would say that I could define myself as a wedding photographer from 2005/6. Wedding photography is a very photojournalistic experience – it’s about shooting real events in real time where you’re being reactive rather than proactive.’

Stacey, when asked how she got into wedding photography, refers first of all to her desire to be a photojournalist. Realizing that that wasn’t going to work out, she says of her switch into wedding photography… ‘I wasn’t planning on it. I thought it was boring, posed, bottom of the barrel kind of work…. . I started off in the job as an assistant to a photojournalist who started to do weddings. The first wedding I shot with him I started off thinking it was going to be the worst day of my life. This was in ’97/’98. But he approached it photojournalistically, there wasn’t much posing, and half way through the day I remember thinking I hadn’t stopped once to think how bored I was. I realized then that I could shoot what I saw, that I could create my own unique visual of their day, that I could be creative.’

For Stacey the key to wedding photography was creativity. She spent a year when she started working on her own, at a commercial studio, photographing product, but became bored: there was no creativity involved and no lighting challenge. She then went to school to do some business courses about setting herself up in a small business as a wedding photographer and has never looked back.

Creativity was also key to Earl’s interest in wedding photography. After high school Earl continued with photography as a hobby. Later, he came back to it for a career and, thanks to a chance encounter with a wedding photographer, went more or less straight into wedding photography… ‘I wanted to get back to doing something creative for a living. I graduated with a degree in Broadcasting and Film from Boston University. After that I went on to work in the film and video industry in Boston. In the course of that I started working with computers… .I worked for a computer network products manufacturer for ten years before realizing that doing the same thing every day was numbing my brain. Photography had been in my life since junior high and getting back into it was a way of getting my creativity back.’ Much like Jamie, who would also spend ten years in a job before moving into wedding photography, Earl… ‘started taking photography much more seriously as a hobby, spending more and more of my spare money on camera gear, shooting, processing my own film, really as an art form. Then I met a wedding photographer whose work, well, frankly, was amazing… . It had never occurred to me before that people would actually commission good photography for weddings. I saw an opportunity here to put what I knew into practice and so I started off on my own.’

Along with Stacey and Zofia, Michelle always was obsessed with photography from when she was very small but whilst it might have seemed obvious for her, as it was for them, to go into the business, initially she chose a different path. She describes it thus… ‘I took a BSFS in Security and Defense and went on to work for the government in military construction and defense. I wasn’t happy in the job and so I began teaching high school Spanish, building up my photography business on the side. I wanted to be a wedding photographer from almost the very beginning… I appreciate the details of weddings and the flow of the event. I got into wedding photography because I like weddings. But growing up I wanted to be a spy ;-)’

To spy or not, Jamie has by far the most divergent career path of all. Remember those cities he visited with his job as a trainer for a software banking firm? Well before that he was in customer service/mutual funds for three years and during that time he did his business degree at night school, and before that he temped, and before that he was a junior pastor and school teacher at church at a parish in Florida for three years, and before that was in New Zealand for a year at Bible College getting the learning under his belt to become a pastor and before that he was shoveling horse manure for his dad who trained thoroughbred racehorses… , and, well, you’ll be relieved to hear that that’s all I need to mention. So, ultimately, you could say he came to photography via a temp job. The training job allowed him a chance to photograph and the photography led him into weddings.

It’s worth mentioning in a sort of ‘inspirational things that go bump in the night’ sort of way that something happened to Jamie when he hit thirty – he suddenly stopped being the video-game-playing-coach-potato of his twenty year-old self and swung around almost entirely. Now he can’t recall the last time he lazed around. When I asked him if his own wedding inspired him to become a wedding photographer in anyway he says… ‘I had no idea about wedding photography when I got married. We just asked a friend with a posh camera to take the photos.’ The aesthetic must have been there though because at his wedding – where he knew nothing about photography – Jamie was eyeing up cool places for the shots of him and Melanie to be taken, dragging the photographer across areas of cool disused area of land to get to them.

The End

And so, that’s it. Here are the six stories of six amazing people. Their drive, following their own desires, and refusing to settle for a job elsewhere that they disliked pushed them forward into the job they love. Early or late, they were lucky to have their interests in photography supported and cultivated. Opportunities for learning were taken up where possible but learning was mostly self-orchestrated. Chance played its role but mainly they enjoyed photography, tried out the wedding side of it, and never looked back.

And then their are the individual stories within these stories: An encounter with chance led Earl into weddings; Michelle fell in love with them; Stacey found creativity in them; Zofia kept shooting them; Andree saw the writing on the wall and moved into them; and Jamie woke up ;-). You may never have wanted to do something when you were growing up, but give it a try and you may love it now!

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  1. Rachel Worrall » Blog Archive » 6 Hotties Walk Into A Bar ;-) says:

    September 17th, 2010 at 7:33 am (#)

    [...] http://shootstyle.com/mingle/6-hotties-walk-into-a-bar.html Share and Enjoy: [...]

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