This is a guest post courtesy of Chelsey Shaw of Chelsey Shaw Photography.
Who is Chelsey Shaw?
I’m a wife and mother to three young boys ages 6, 8, and 10. I grew up in Washington and Oregon with a love of animals and had a troubled, traumatic childhood. I have to include this snippet of info because I was not a person who ever expected I would run a successful business and be where I am today. Most people I look up to have beautiful stories of becoming successful that I’ve never been able to relate to.
I dropped out of high school at 17 with only a part-time job at Pizza Hut to try to survive and make it on my own. I just went to work and always built myself up at each job. I worked in customer service my whole career and that helped me in my business so much. The experience of working with all types of clientele and situations is something I draw on all the time.
You will have hard times in business and your personal life. I always expect this but knowing no matter what happens you can find growth. Things don’t happen to you; they happen for you. This mentality is a big part of who I am.
How did your storytelling journey begin?
I fell in love with photography with my love of fashion in college. I wanted to be a fashion designer and loved pouring through magazines. I loved the clothes and the idea of being a fashion designer, but it was the branding and concepts in the photos and magazines I was drawn to. I did a little bit of stuff in front of the camera and loved the entire process. I wanted to be a photographer in the early 2000s. At the time, it was a male-dominated industry and I didn’t think there was much in it for women to be successful in their career.
It wasn’t until I had my second son that my landscape photographer friend upgraded his camera. He pushed me to get into it and let me have his old camera to use. I became obsessed with everything related to photography. After my kids, it was the only thing I focused on.
My goal at the time was to just make some money to help out with our family bills. My husband fell in 2018 and was unable to work after suffering a subdural hematoma, severe depression, and PTSD. We could barely afford to stay afloat while he wasn’t working. I had no choice but to push my business to keep us going. Since then, I’ve never looked back and this is now 100% a full-time career.
How do you make clients feel comfortable in front of the camera?
Connection. Getting to know my clients is the bulk of creating magic. Everyone is different behind the camera, but almost everyone has a bag of nerves that come with it. Taking the time to connect and get into the mind of my clients helps to create a great experience for them and gives me the tools I need to help them come alive during their photoshoots.
I want clients to feel at home. Most end up opening up to me where I get the comment frequently to add a therapy bill to my services. The emotion of my images is what brings a lot of clients my way, and creating a space they can feel expressive and free is how that comes about.
Black & White or Color? Why?
Black and white hands down. Color can be noisy, distracting, and vibrant; it just takes the focus away from the subject. With black and white, you hone into your subject and the emotion of the moment. It can feel like a dream or a snapshot of a distant memory long forgotten. I do love color for certain things, but if I had to choose, it would be black and white.
What’s inside your camera bag?
Canon R5 mirrorless (main body)
Canon R6 mirrorless (backup body)
Canon 85mm RF
Canon 100mm macro
If you had an unlimited budget and could go anywhere in the world, what would your dream session look like?
My dream session would be getting to fly overseas to do a magical photoshoot at some enchanted castles. The landscape and architecture of abandoned castles have amazing, sweeping views with such character in the once glorious structures. It would have to be a maternity or mom-and-baby photoshoot. I imagine a cloudy with a hint of a storm coming type of day. The subject would wear a neutral-toned flowing dress with layers of silk chiffon that would catch in the wind. The soft lighting would bring out the details of the subject and create the perfect scenario for some moody, powerful images.
Motherhood and maternity are the types of shoots that resonate with me the most. They are beautiful sessions but the struggles of motherhood tell the story of strong, powerful women.
What’s the hardest thing you had to overcome that made you the photographer you are today?
Fully embracing that this is what I get to do. Imposter syndrome and being my own worst critic are my biggest obstacles. It keeps me from taking risks or pushing myself and my business to the next level. When you don’t value yourself and your work, it bleeds into everything you do. You won’t set your prices correctly to be profitable and you will find ways to self-sabotage. I had to work a lot on myself as an individual to work through those things that were holding me back.
I spent longer in the trenches of building a business than I needed to. It’s part of my journey, but now I use that as fuel to help myself move forward and help others not make the same mistakes.
How do you deal with unhappy clients?
Communication is the biggest thing. I haven’t had very many unhappy clients. The biggest thing is to hear your clients and listen to why they are not happy no matter the reason. Sometimes people are going through hard times in life and will lash out at other things. Being an ear and having patience can go a long way. When people feel like they are heard, you will be in a better position to problem solve.
If you could have dinner with one artist that has influenced your photography, who would it be and what would you talk to them about?
If I could have dinner with an influential artist it would be Jessica Drossin. She inspired me the most 8 years ago when I first started. I love the stories she tells in her work and how she uses light and photoshop to create worlds.
I would just want to talk to her about life. Artists, I believe, create a representation of themselves in their work. I would want to know where her spark comes from and what inspiration she draws on for her art.
Tell us some wise words you live by.
You only get one life. It’s the what-ifs and the risks you don’t take that you will regret more than any failure. You will get old and you will die, that is guaranteed. It’s what you do until then to fully embrace life and LIVE IT, not just get by until then.