Tuesday Inspiration Tell All | December 27th

Ok.. so you may have noticed it's not dec 27th, I have been having some UBER issues with the wifi, so alas here's dec 27, tuesday tell all. This photographer is extremely talented and one of my inspirations and daily stalks on facebook. I can't wait to share! :D

Stephanie Panagopoulos | IL

How did you know photography was the right fit for you and you wanted to do this as a career?
It took me quite some time to realize that this is something that I could really enjoy doing for the rest of my life. Photography never really expanded as more than just a hobby for the first few years. I enjoyed doing it but had no idea what I was "good" at or even thought about ever charging others. It wasn't till about 5 years later into my personal "photography journey" that I decided this was it for me. I fell head first completely in love with photography!

How did you get started? 

I've had photography as a part of my life for the past 6-7 years. It started back in High School as a very casual hobby. I took a few classes and dabbled in both film & digital photography. I even decided to upgrade to a DSLR my Senior year of HS because it was something I was really interested in. I then took my adventures to Columbia College Chicago in their Photography Department. I still really didn't see myself doing this as a career at that point though. It just felt like a hobby and I really didn't feel all that talented with the camera at hand. I ended up only attending college for 2 semesters and called it quits. I then moved onto working at The Picture People, which is your basic one hour portrait studio in the mall. It surely didn't pay much, but it help me get the grounds for customer service, working with clients, and last but surely not least, I finally broke my nervous barrier of photographing people! :)

When did you know it was the right time to jump into this full time? 
It was back in February 2010 that I knew I would be moving back home with my family and that this would be a great time to just take a jump into opening my very own business. It was quite nerve wracking as I really didn't know anyone who had done this before. I quit my job at the Picture People after 2 years and told myself it was time. I felt prepared enough to just "try it out". No real intentions, just wanted to see what would happen. I was literally dumbfounded to see that I could book 4 sessions!! I had a small part time job in the beginning (for about 3 months) before I realized that business was picking up tremendously and I could finally do this full-time! It was such an astounding feeling to know things had taken off this quickly and it was more of me following my gut. Who knows what the future would hold, but I KNEW I needed to engulf myself into this business. Never looked back ;)

What were you doing before hand? 
As I had mentioned before, from the point I was 19-21 years old, I worked at Picture People and met some of the greatest and most inspiring people there. Two of whom I still keep in GREAT contact with and they run their own business as well!! Check out The End Photography & Kari Jones Photography. I learned a lot from this job and grew a lot with my portrait work. I broke through a lot of barriers and learned so much about what was really important in photography and why we create the images we do for our clients. I grew such a huge appreciation for it!

How did your family/spouse/significant other react? 
Everyone was great!! Surely, this was something totally different and new to them. They learned with me and continue to do so! They're my biggest fans, of course :) I constantly get support from them on all aspects. Not just saying "Oh, that's a pretty picture." but instead, giving me opinions on my brand, my business beliefs, etc. It's a tremendous feeling to have the support that I do! I love them all!!

What's your fav thing to shoot & why? 

Funny thing is, I had 100% ALL intentions of being solely a newborn/infant photographer. I hated and was absolutely terrified of photographing High School Seniors. Lo and behold! I ended up falling completely in love with Seniors and it's ALL I focus on now! :) I think so of my favorite aspects about this age group is just how truly independent you become. I went through some huge changes at the age of 17 and I wish I could have documented that. You're finally becoming a woman and understanding more about who you are, what you believe in and why you do it. To be able to capture this huge time in someone's life is amazing. Not only that, I vicariously still live through these girls because I so badly miss being seventeen!

What's the hardest thing about owning your own business
Just that..The business aspect. It just takes the fun out of everything! ;) I now know what a huge impact it plays though in running everything smoothly and it's what will help make my business grow & flourish for the next 25+ years!

What's the best thing about owning your own business?

I do know that I am so extremely blessed to have started this at such a young age. I have time to really set my grounds of how I want to run my business, make my mistakes ALL before I'm ready to start a marriage & a family. I couldn't be more grateful for that. I'm also extremely lucky to know that I make the rules and that I can constantly let myself change and grow as a person AND as a business.

If you could give someone trying to start out in this biz, one piece of advice what would it be?
I've said it before and I'll say it again. BE YOURSELF. This is such a highly saturated industry and our clients have SO many choices. Relying on others to cue your success will only get you so far. You need to be 100% committed and independent. How will you stand out?

What/who is the biggest source of inspiration for you? 
My inspiration most definitely comes in so many forms. Obviously, there are lots of photographers out there whom I look up to greatly and not only because of their style, but because of their work ethic. I love to see that in a person. In general though, I am constantly inspired by feelings, colors, textures, music, and growth. If there's one thing I would LOVE to improve on though, it would be story telling through my images.

If you could go have coffee with any photographer who would it be & why?
Awe, man! I can only choose ONE?!?! How about coffee with one and lunch with another....because I cannot honestly choose between Michelle Moore & Meg Borders. These two are something else. Michelle shows how I'd like to focus in on my business for the next few years. She showcases how strong you can be as an independent person. I love her style, what she shoots, why she shoots it. Couldn't ask for a better role model! Meg, on the other hand, she shows me how I want to run my life & business once I start a family. She is so kind, down to earth and seems like the total package. She seems to handle her business and personal life flawlessly. I'd definitely love to sit down with her & hear all about how she does it!
What's in your gear bag? What was first in your gear bag, what did you buy next and how do you determine which other things you buy as far as lenses/cameras etc? 
Currently, I have a Canon 5d Mark II, 50mm 1.4 and the 85mm 1.8. In the beginning, I started out with a basic Canon Rebel XTI, Kit Lens & the 50mm 1.8. It wasn't until I shortly began my business that I realized my Rebel just wasn't cutting it. I then decided to take the investment of going full frame and I just love it. Lens wise, I am super simple and I honestly like it that way. I love primes & only wish I could afford a few L Series ;) I know that both of these lenses I currently own offer great variety and help hone in on my style.

Has there been any times that you wanted to quit? How did you make it through?
You know, I have had some iffy moments along the way. It's usually brought on by my frustration of the smallest little details that seem to go wrong. I sometimes have thought to myself that maybe I'm not cut out for this, but then I tell myself "Stephanie, you're 22 years old and LOOK how far you've already come. Mistakes or not, you should be DAMN proud." And it's true, I have so much to be thankful and proud of. That's what keeps me going! I love knowing how much more room I have to grow as a business and as an artist.

What's been your best way to market & why? 
So typical, but Facebook is key! Social media is insane. I honestly would likely be lost without it which is why in 2012, I'd like to focus more on marketing myself in ways other than social networking, etc. Though, word of mouth is going to always be up there as well. People can do so much just by mentioning your name!

Please be sure to stop by my website for information on my local mentor sessions and workshops! I offer both one on one mentoring AND every couple months, I throw a get together of local photographers and we focus in on working through your Senior Portrait Portfolio! :)


Thank you so much for sharing Stephanie! Questions for Stephanie? Be sure to post them in our comments section!

Want to apply to be part of our tuesday inspiration group? Email us for details at bp4uguides@gmail.com.


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