We had the good fortune of connecting with Debra Morrison and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Debra, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Over the years, I have worked as a hostess, a Jenny Craig weight loss consultant, a studio manager at a successful photography studio and came to the realization that working for someone else is not for me. The only time I enjoy working for someone is when I second shoot for other wedding photographers. I am able to be creative while doing my own thing. Also, I never wanted to work for someone else’s dream because it separated me from fulfilling my own dream. For as long as I can remember, I loved taking photos. My parents tell me that I was in diapers when I started taking photos with their 80’s camera (we used film back then). Growing up, I took piano and dance lessons and my dad was always there with his big video camera (we used VHS tapes back then). I guess you can say that I was used to being filmed and loved seeing the finished product. It brought back all the memories that I was feeling when I performed at my recital or school play. I remember all my friends wanting copies of the tapes because they were on it too! This love of documenting my life, continued into High School. I enjoyed the whole process of black and white photography and seeing my visions come to life in the darkroom. I had fun using my friends as models and vice versa. Eventually, I was appointed the official photographer of our friend group. I even had my older brother Frank come to Prom with us and take some video (it runs in the family). In addition to the documentation, I am a sucker for beautiful lighting. I find myself chasing sunsets and having to pull over for a beautiful landscape to take the photo. It had become such a big part of my life and every day routine that I took photo classes at my Community College where I was encouraged by one of my instructors to pursue it professionally. Eventually, I graduated Art Center College of Design in 2008 (at the worst time in economic history, pre-covid). Do I think that you need a college degree to be a photographer? No. But, I cherish my education, experiences and friendships I created at this school. I loved being amongst like minded individuals and getting harsh critiques alongside them. It was like being in the trenches with your best friends. Art Center students learned real quick that “We sleep when we’re dead. Or when we’ve graduated.” I learned about lighting, composition, art history, alternative photo processes and some business. Honestly, I wish we learned more about the business aspect to becoming successful AFTER graduation. But, like anything I just had to take a leap and go for it. I didn’t have a plan B so this was the only option. I was broke for a good 6 months (when the student loans come knocking on your door) and l cleaned houses while figuring out how to book jobs and find new clients. I was scared, but I have always been the kind of person to say YES to new opportunities and figuring it out later. I did some free work for YelpLA and Eventbrite which opened some doors in the Event Photography world. I assisted and did second shooting for various wedding photographers. One of my favorite mentors is William Innes, who was a joy to learn from and work for. He allowed me to be creative while pushing me to trust myself. After he was done posing his couples during a wedding, he would say “Okay Debra, now you pose and direct them. I want to see what ideas you have.” It freaked me out at first, and I must have looked like a stumbling idiot. But, over time I gained confidence in my photography. The best way to learn is to DO! So, that’s what I did. Now, that I can officially say I have been a business owner for 12 years! I am so incredibly proud that I am still here, doing what I love, and creating so many memories surrounding love for others.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am a beautiful light photographer. I focus on weddings, portraits and events, and love documenting these milestones for my clients. I am an artist and creative, but I also specialize the art of customer service. My goal is to make the entire experience of photography an enjoyable one for my clients. I like getting to know my wedding couples and families. I want to capture what they envision while staying true to my aesthetic. I get the most excited about gorgeous photos and happy clients. Photography can be subjective, but as a photographer, you just know when you get the shot. And when your client loves their shots, it’s the best! It was not easy to start my business, but when you discover your passion it doesn’t matter. I was willing to risk failure because I loved it so much. I wanted to see where this would take me. Time was going to pass anyway, I might as well enjoy the time. Some challenges included not having clients in the beginning, making rookie mistakes, and not charging enough for my time. I overcame these challenges by asking for lots and lots of referrals from new clients, family and friends. I photographed a lot of events for YelpLA and Eventbrite (gratis) in hopes of booking clients from these events (and I did)! It also helped me sharpen my event photography skills so I could charge more for upscale events. I also own up to my mistakes. I ask myself “What can I do to be better next time?” “How can I make this photo session run smoother next time?” I’ve also learned what I’m worth. I do not only account for the hours of photography during a session, but how much time it takes to get to and from the session, editing time, and time spent talking with my client. I am emotionally and physically invested, so my client must make an investment in me. The best advice I can give new photographers is to have clear communication with your client. Let them know what to expect from you and what you expect from them. Done is better than perfect! Throw out the perfectionist mentality and share photos as soon as possible. Your clients are excited to see them so give them a sneak peak so they can breathe a sigh of relief. I want the world to know that Debra Morrison Photography is a small business who believes that photography one of the best investments you can make for you and/or your family. I want you to have photographic prints, albums and heirlooms that you can pass onto your children and grandchildren. I feel very blessed that my parents made that investment. I love being able to flip through our albums and re-live those memories.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would take them to Venice Beach! Ecstatic Dance LA offers dancing on beach while wearing headphones and listening to some amazing tunes played by a DJ. We would then go to Malibu Wines and Beer Garden for some wine tasting and delicious food. Goat Yoga to follow and a quick stop at Griffith Park Observatory for some gorgeous views. Later that night, we laugh so hard at Comedy Store and end the night with drinks at the Viper Room.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have to thank my childhood dance teacher Miss Jane. She taught us about self love and self esteem before it was a trend. My High School photo teacher Craig Benike, who encouraged me to have fun with my photography. My Art Center Instructor Ken Merfeld who pushed me to bare my soul with my art. One of our assignments was a nude self portrait. My photo mentor William Innes, who trusted me with his wedding clients. Mark and Mara from Neighbor2Neighbor, a magazine who gave me the opportunity to be in their magazine and photograph all their clients early on in my career. And of course my parents who believed in my dream and let me be ME.