Transforming a hobby into a successful business is not a simple task, but Los Angeles based wedding and lifestyle photographer, Annie McElwain managed to do just that with her ability to capture special moments behind a camera lens. She overcame obstacles and made her passion for snapping pictures a career she truly enjoys. McElwain recently sat down with Interviewher.com to share her story about starting Annie McElwain Photography.
After graduating from UCLA, McElwain pursued an acting career in L.A. She bought a camera to take pictures of a play she was in and discovered a newfound love for Photoshop. “I kind of fell into it,” says McElwain. In 2005 she began taking head shots of friends, family photos and some weddings. Unlike many aspiring photographers McElwain did not take any photography classes. Instead she used the internet to learn as much as she could about the camera and got guidance from a friend who is a lifestyle photographer.
For McElwain photography is a feeling, something that comes from inside of her. “It’s from my gut. I just do it. I just go off the feeling,” she explains. The moments she captures hold special value to her clients. “I think what’s really important to me with photography is that I capture really honest moments in the story of somebody’s life. I really value authenticity and I want the moment to be organic and artful.”
Her goals when photographing clients is to provide comfort and allow their individuality to shine. “They have a voice. Every client is completely different and I approach weddings differently depending on the client,” says McElwain. Rather than taking a specific approach when photographing, she works to highlight the client’s style. “I want them to make it their own,” she explains, “when the client looks back in 20 years at the photo, they know exactly where they were and they remember that feeling. That’s what I like to give people.”
It’s not always easy photographing nervous clients, especially brides on their big day. McElwain recommends engagement photo shoots to couples who worry about wedding day portraits, “it’s a good chance to practice for the big day and it’s just fun. When else in your life do you get to go around taking fun professional photos with the person you love?” She often tells her clients to keep breathing, move, and look at things other than the camera to avoid thinking too much and being nervous. “They don’t have to be static and posed in the perfect way,” she says.
Her business has taken her to destinations such as Baltimore, Cancun and the Virgin Islands. “I love to travel. It’s fun to have fresh new venues,” she says. McElwain’s Spring and Summer weekends tend to be booked with weddings. Her work has been featured in Real Simple Weddings, Elite Magazine, People Magazine and numerous blogs all over the world.
Like other business owners, McElwain has come across obstacles throughout her career and at times felt unsure about her choice to begin a company. “I still have those thoughts like what am I doing here? How did I get here? Is this really what I want?” She explains. At one point in her career she felt things weren’t going how she had planned. “I knew something wasn’t working when I was completely overworked and wasn’t making money. I knew something wasn’t clicking,” she says. It was then that she decided to get guidance from a business coach, Amy Applebaum. Applebaum helped McElwain overcome old beliefs, by helping her create a series of new beliefs that allowed her to look at her weaknesses and mistakes in a way that would prevent setbacks in the future. “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback,” McElwain says.
Having full creative independence is what McElwain loves most about having her own business. “To know I created something from nothing is very rewarding,” she explains. Positive feedback is also gratifying. A memorable moment McElwain experienced was when a client left her a voicemail sobbing and telling her how much she loved the pictures. She describes, “I love to capture those moments that maybe that mom doesn’t see or that the couple doesn’t see because they’re so in the moment. I really just love for it to be from the heart.”
Since the start of the business in 2005 Annie McElwain Photography has expanded and greatly developed. “I have grown exponentially in the last 5 years. It has been a really fun and rewarding experience,” says McElwain. She has hired an associate photographer and recently began doing boudoir photography. She describes her technique for shooting this style as softer, natural, and subtle. For any brides that may feel uncomfortable about doing a boudoir photo shoot her motto is, “you’ll never look better than you do right now,” meaning when clients look at the photos years from now they will probably wish they could look as good as they did in the pictures. “It’s just loving the moment and accepting who you are right now,” says McElwain.
For those who are trying to transform a hobby into a business, McElwain recommends educating yourself on aspect s of the business that prevent you from successfully running it. She tells Interviewher.com, “you have to have the mindset of constantly growing; as a person, as a business, it never ends.”
Written by: Erica Mink
Edited by: Jenny Ortiz