Welcome to Quit Your Day Job — a series where we talk to incredible people who have parted with their day jobs to branch out on their own and follow their passions.
This week, we talked to Alexandra Celia, a traveling wedding photographer based out of Seattle, Washington.
After a couple of years shooting weddings on the side while working a full-time job, Alexandra started to put together a portfolio as she unearthed her love of photography. Then, when life threw her a curveball in the form of a layoff, she decided to take things to the next level and make photography her main gig.
Alexandra now works full-time as a wedding photographer, traveling all over the United States — and the world.
What's your current job description?
I started my own photography business back in 2013. Alexandra Celia Photography is all about capturing the intimacy and raw interactions that couples share. My creative process is really about slowing down, being intentional and taking the time to photograph each couple in a way that reflects their true selves. I love to create images that are emotional, moody, and that coincides with a style more similar to photojournalism.
What were your career aspirations during and after college?
Earlier in my college career I wanted to be an architect or a teacher. I loved philosophy, history, and even considered event planning and interior design. My fickle self was all over the place. Finally, I decided to major in communications with the hope of buying myself more time while I was trying to decide what I really wanted to do.
How has your passion differed from your 'original plan'?
I spent most of my early 20’s trying to find something that I was good at, always assuming photography was just a hobby. Thinking back, I don’t even think I considered it as a potential career choice even though starting in early high school I loved my AP photography classes and shooting on my dad's old film cameras.
How did you decide to leave your old plan behind and pursue these passions?
After graduating I tried all sorts of jobs, ones that didn’t feel quite right as lifelong work. I was a nanny, worked at the front desk of a law firm, contracted with Nordstrom as an item analyst, and worked doing graphic design. I had all sorts of experiences but was never fully happy.
It was only just two years ago I was working a full-time job and shooting a few weddings and photo gigs on the side. I had the dream of being a full-time photographer but wrote it off as an unstable source of income, unobtainable, irresponsible. I kinda joked with people it was my 10-year goal, to eventually start a business, never knowing if I’d actually follow through and make it happen.
It was June of 2015 when I was unexpectedly laid off from my job. It was the first time I felt at a crossroads. When jobs didn’t work out previously, I applied for another one regardless if it was something that I was truly interested in. But this was the first time that something felt really different. This was the first time I saw photography in a new light and considered it seriously as a career choice. I just knew I was ready to make my leap of faith and give photography my full self.
Tell us more about this leap of faith.
When I decided to go full time, I had two weddings lined up for the next 12 months ahead of me. Although I was feeling empowered and hopeful, I was also feeling scared and overwhelmed so I did what any millennial would do. I posted all over social media, letting family and friends know that I had decided to make photography my full-time gig; asking that people keep me in mind for referrals and upcoming weddings. It took me by surprise when inquiries starting coming in.
It wasn’t all at once and it started slowly but they came. A wedding, headshots, an engagement session, family photos. At this point, it wasn’t 100% couples, but I was thrilled to just be shooting. I was making enough money to stay afloat and to pay my bills. Finances were tight and there definitely were challenging months but I pushed through those barriers by giving photography my all.
I truly believe if you give your business no other choice but to be successful, you, in turn, become successful. That was over two years ago. Now I’m full time, traveling, wedding photographer, shooting 20+ weddings a year.
What has been the scariest part of all of this?
I think that there are numerous things that scare and challenge me in this job — the same things that scare a lot of creatives. Failure. A lull in clientele. Not being as good as other creatives. Putting out average work.
Fear is a nasty force that knocks you down and tries to tell you that if you aren’t the best, then there is no point in even trying. But I think fear is good; it’s a challenge that motivates me each day. I also believe it’s how you handle moments of fear and self-doubt that determine your success in a business like photography.
What does "confidence" mean to you?
Confidence is creating work that I’m proud of despite the influence and the feedback of the world around me. With social media today, I think a lot of individuals count on likes or comments for confidence but, in the end, I feel like I have to feel good about the work I’m creating despite all of that surface level affirmation.
I believe confidence will always come from within rather than from others. And of course, although I’ve become a more confident photographer, I still struggle with confidence from time to time. When I’m feeling a lack of confidence, I take a break from social media and even taking photos and focus on creating art in another form that may re-spark confidence and creativity in my work.
What's been your biggest learning lesson?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to listen to my gut and not take on work that doesn’t feel right. If I'm meeting with a couple and our styles or personality types don’t feel like a good fit, I’ll refer them to someone else. I want the best for all my couples, even if it means referring them to a friend who I know will be able to better meet their needs.
What’s the best career advice you’ve gotten?
The best advice I’ve ever received: “Embrace the process.”
In moments of weakness, when I’m feeling down about my work and tempted to copy someone else's edit or shooting style I remind myself of how important the process of failure and redemption is. Without the process, you cannot create authentic work; you can’t achieve a level of creativity that reflects your journey as an artist. It’s in these moments of feeling down that I remind myself to keep pushing through difficulty and self-doubt because often the greatest hurdles I’ve experienced as an artist have become the most influential moments in my career.
What’s your advice to someone who’s struggling or scared to follow their dreams?
I have a few pieces of advice:
(1) Don't worry about the fact that there are others out there doing the exact same thing that you want to do. Most likely, anything you want to create, to learn, to master, to teach, it has already been done. But the neatest thing about that is that it hasn't been done by you. It is almost impossible to be completely original in a world that is constantly recycling fashion and business models. Take your passion, your idea and make it your own, something authentic and real will come from it eventually.
(2) Don't be so hard on yourself. When I beat myself up over my work it almost kills off my creativity. Not even the smartest, most creative business owners are constantly flowing with ideas. Creativity, success, growth — it all comes in spurts. It's a process and you must embrace it.
(3) You might never be the best at what you do but that shouldn't stop you from trying. Whether it’s becoming a dancer, opening your own business, starting a fashion blog or making your own jewelry line, don't let an unrealistic goal of perfection stop you from doing what makes you happy. Just get started!
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(Photos courtesy of Alexandra Celia ©)