BABE #132: STEFANIE KEELER, Owner @ Stefanie Keeler Photography
Stefanie's work is changing the game in our local community and beyond. With a jam-packed, competitive schedule of wedding photography (and flight) bookings, her biz, passion and quality of work seem to become more refined and sought after with each passing day. Being just twenty-two years old and fresh out of college, she's a huge inspiration and encouragement for babes everywhere to find what you love and run after it with all you've got. Thanks for chatting with us, Stef! You are, indeed, a hustlin' babe.
Hometown: Miami Beach, Florida
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: Jacksonville University
Degree: BFA; Concentration in Photography
Very first job: Camp Counselor
Hustle: Owner/Photographer @ Stefanie Keeler Photography
Babe you admire and why?
My mom. She’s the hardest working woman I know and she’s where I get my positivity and drive from. She always puts others before herself. Her selflessness and work ethic are things I try to strive for in everything I do.
How do you spend your free time?
I spend a lot of time doing travel research, trying new food spots (I probably spend more time on this one than I should), and meeting with other creatives who have become some of my closest friends.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
French fries and a whiskey drink.
Favorite social media account to follow?
@rorablue. She started a hashtag and movement called the #unsentproject. Essentially, it’s a collection of unsent text messages to people’s first loves. The project also explores the relationship between love and color. Hits me right in the feels just about every time I read a post.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff, co-hosts of the ever-so-popular true-crime comedy podcast, “My Favorite Murder”.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
I’ve got a pretty long bucket list of travel spots, but watching nthe sunset at Cape Kiwanda State Park in Oregon is first up on the list.
What’s something most don't know about you?
So, I have a twin sister and we’re actually mirror identical twins. We’re almost exact opposites. She’s right handed, I’m left handed; she’s extroverted, I’m introverted; she has always been into sciences and I majored in the arts. Together, we kind of make up one whole person. I just wish we dressed differently because she’s always stealing my clothes.
Last concert you attended?
Liza Anne. I’m not usually a sad girl, but when I am, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be listening to Liza.
Tell us about your hustle:
I'm a traveling wedding photographer based in Jacksonville, FL. I mostly photograph weddings and couples, but also do a bit of side work shooting portraits for families, bloggers, chefs and food for Edible Northeast Florida.
What does your typical workday look like?
I like to hit the gym first thing in the morning if I don’t have a sunrise shoot. Working out gives me energy and makes me feel productive before starting to work. After that, I’ll catch up on most of my emails and texts with scheduling shoots and clients. The rest of the day is dedicated to meetings, editing and shoots - I like to shoot around sunset. From week-to-week, my schedule is never ever the same. Because this job is freelance, I feel I can never turn my brain completely off.
When were you first introduced to photography? How has your talent and passion for it evolved since?
Shannon Mills, a friend and mentor who I met at church in Miami, picked it up first. I saw the photos she took, and specifically loved her blurred backgrounds and the golden light surrounding her subjects. I totally copied her, and instantly fell in love with portraiture and how I, too, could capture beautiful moments. I started by shooting everything I could from portraits of Danielle (my twin sister) to backstage at my high school’s fashion show. (Yes, my high school had a fashion show.)
What would you call your photography style? What inspires it?
I love the words adventurous, romantic and emotional. I’m an expressive person and have always been big into love. Love is such a beautiful and intense thing. I like seeing the beauty of love between two people and how it can be manifested in such different ways between couples. So, basically, combining emotions, romance and adventure is totally my jam.
Have you always had a love for creating and storytelling? Where do you think that comes from?
I’ve always loved storytelling, I grew up reading a ton of books and the way words could bring emotions upon the reader was something I always admired. As a visual person, I couldn’t really tell my own stories through words, so I tried drawing and painting. I didn’t feel patient enough to get pictures down on paper, and I think that’s why I was so drawn to photography. It fulfilled my desire to tell stories.
How often do you feel satisfied in your work? Do you feel a sense of purpose behind what you do?
More recently, as I’ve grown as a person and in my business, I have felt more satisfied in my work. I think God created me with a big ole' heart to feel and share emotions and beautiful moments with my clients. I’ve found myself crying happy tears on multiple occasions while seeing my couples dance for the first time, or the groom dancing with his mother, or a maid of honor tearfully sharing stories during her speech.
What kind of relationships/dynamic do you have with your clients? How does that vary between couples, families, businesses, bloggers, etc?
I totally admire treating my clients as friends. I love seeing pictures of their dress before the wedding and always ask to see pictures of their dogs. I’ve even had brides where we just exchange GIFS back and forth. I always do my best to be myself even when dealing with businesses.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
In a negative way, my experience as a wedding photographer has lead to some situations where I've been catcalled by drunk wedding guests. I’ve had to learn how to deal with it, which has been sort of a bummer. Luckily it doesn’t happen at each and every wedding. In a positive way, I think as a woman, brides can be more comfortable with me and really be themselves.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
From what I've experienced, wedding photography is female-dominated. It might be a Southeastern thing, because a lot of the male photographers that I do know are on the West Coast. I don’t see the ratio evolving too much in the future, to be honest, because I think it might be easier for brides to hire women to shoot their photos. I wouldn’t be mad if that changed, though! I know a lot of male wedding photographers who have incredible work!
Who have been your major mentors in your career?
Christina Karst has been my biggest mentor since moving to Jacksonville. Over the years, I’ve called her with a million questions and she’s called me to yell at me to value the work I do (and to raise my prices - which isn’t an easy thing to do when you’re relatively new). Christina has been so helpful and so open to answering questions for me. I'm so grateful for her.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
A common misconception is the idea that wedding photographers don't do that much work or that the whole process only takes a few hours. Clients and guests at a wedding only see the day-of work I do, and then the photos after - nothing in-between. The amount of time that goes into each job is a lot more than what most people think. I do a lot of scheduling with my brides, facetimes, calls, endless back and forth emailing and connecting with other vendors all before the wedding day. On the day of I pack all my gear, travel to the venue early, do some scout for opportune locations, and then shoot and direct for six to ten hours. The actual brunt of the work begins with editing for hours and hours on end. Most of the weddings I shoot take at least 15-20 hours to finish.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
Scheduling! My schedule is constantly changing, especially with clients changing plans on me. Sometimes it’s family emergencies and sometimes it’s the weather. I feel like I would spontaneously combust if I lost the calendar on my phone. It's safe to say I don’t know what to do without it.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
Dealing with people asking for free photoshoots or assuming I’ll work for free. It’s not that I don’t necessarily want to help, but more that this is my career. It’s something I’ve dealt with from the beginning. I’ve face it and continue to move past it by valuing and staying true to the work that I do.
Do you ever get burnt out in your work? How do you find inspiration when that happens?
I begin to get burnt out when I don't do any traveling. When I don’t have travel shoots scheduled, I start planning at least one trip each month. I also make it a point to shoot when I travel. The change of scenery keeps me sane and inspires me to make a variety of work and do something different. Plus, traveling usually reminds me of how good I have it here in Jacksonville (see: home-cooked meals and my own bed.)
In a world where everyone can consider themselves a “photographer,” what makes your work stand out?
Just about everyone can get their hands on the gear that I photograph with, and I constantly get asked what camera I use, but I'd like to think the emotions and moments I capture are what makes my work stand out from just a person with a fancy camera. I always strive to make work that makes the viewer feel something versus getting them to think “oh, what a good looking couple”.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? Least favorite?
My favorite thing is meeting my couples. I have so many amazing couples that make my job so much easier. A lot of times, it makes me feel like the shoots and weddings I'm photographing are just all of us hanging out. My least favorite is dealing with guests taking pictures during the ceremony on their phones. There are so many times where ceremony pictures are ruined because guests are sticking their phone out into the aisle or up in the air. It’s very distracting and in the long term, they take away from the intimacy of a wedding ceremony. I recently had a wedding where the officiant was even taking pictures of the couple with his phone while the bride was walking down the aisle.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
Procrastination. I give myself deadlines for when to get shoots done, but I really push it to the limit and end up stressing myself out.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
We have quite a few incredible women photographers right here in Jacksonville. Lauren Bowser, Christina Karst and Emily Anderson have been huge sources of inspiration for me. Outside of Jacksonville, Anni Graham, Laurken Kendall, Michelle Lyerly and Jonnie Allen.
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to break into your industry?
Create your own magic. Don’t wait for couples to come to you with creative ideas for shoots or weddings. Plan with them, and inspire them to do something different.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
Hanging out with my amazing support system. My family, friends and boyfriend are incredibly supportive of what I do. Exercise and praying are both incredibly important when managing stress for me as well. Post-wedding, I turn on some tunes (Novo Amor or Blind Pilot) and take a hot bath with Epsom salt to relax my mind and body. It doesn’t matter what time it is - I’ll even do it at 1:00 a.m.
What are some notable (funny, embarrassing, intense) experiences you’ve had on the job?
One of the funnier experiences was seeing a groom's pants rip while giving a lap dance to the bride. All the guests noticed before he did. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard while shooting a wedding.
What’s next for you?
I’m in the process of starting some traveling vlogging; recording my traveling, giving tips and just being my awkward, loud laughing self.
What are your goals for the future?
I want to have at least a few wedding/elopements abroad planned each year. I want my job to take me all over the world.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Never hold back a compliment and always learn and move forward from your mistakes.