We had the good fortune of connecting with Sheri Oneal and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sheri, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I worked for 10 years learning about the commercial photography industry as a photo assistant, a prop stylist, set designer, and eventually an associate photographer with several large commercial photo studios. I got to a point where I felt I had tapped out with learning the important aspects of the industry as well as the amount of money I was making. I decided it was time to spread my wings, open my own studio and start earning the value of my time and knowledge. I guess you could say it was time to take the training wheels off and get going on my own journey toward success. It was a scary jump, I went in on a large 1500 square foot warehouse space with another photographer friend in Orlando, Florida, and never looked back. I created a strong portfolio, had a website built, and started marketing myself around town. A lot of people knew the caliber of the guys I had worked for and that helped me get my foot in many doors. Before long I was shooting for Scholastic Book Fairs, Harcourt, Golf Magazine, and local ad agencies around town.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have always been a deep thinker driven by creativity. As a kid, I grew up on a lake with few friends close by so much of my time was spent alone finding ways to entertain and amuse myself. I loved singing, writing, telling stories, and using my hands to make things. I also enjoyed being outside exploring the woods and the lake around my home.
As a bit of a tomboy, I never felt I really connected with many of the girls in school and early on felt like a misfit of sorts. I struggled with bullying in grade school because I had a lisp and was forced to take speech therapy while the other kids were in PE. I guess feeling that isolation at such an early age drove me to turn inward putting those emotions into writing and drawing. From a very early age I was taking photos, it was a way for me to share how I saw the things around me. I wanted to be a journalist and a photographer when I was in high school but I also loved to write and build things.
I had a deep interest in film and movies. I had been taking photos since before I was even a teenager so at the suggestion of a family friend I decided to pursue photography in college. Photojournalism was my original intent but after writing several stories and taking photos for the college newspaper. I quickly realized I didn’t like having to pursue negative stories and I didn’t enjoy covering issues I didn’t feel comfortable with so Journalism was out.
After college, I discovered early on that being a woman in the commercial photo industry was going to be a challenge. It was primarily made up of men and it was really hard to get my foot in the door. I experienced a great deal of male egos and opinions on my physical ability as well as sexual harassment in a time when no one was speaking out. The anger I felt from those experiences made me push harder to prove them all wrong, and it drove me to work diligently in finding a way to become successful on my own.
I moved up to Atlanta and freelanced a while before landing steady work as an assistant for a company called 3Score. It was a large in-house production studio that shot catalogs for Macy’s and other stores. The facility had designers, creative directors, set builders, stylist photographers, and a lab. There I was able to learn all aspects of the commercial photography world and it helped me to understand what I needed to do to be successful at my craft. I then moved on to freelance in Orlando and settled in with a company called Wiley & Flynn assisting on large corporate, industrial, travel, hotel, and food-related photoshoot assignments. After working and learning from both Robert Wiley and Rusty Flynn for 10 years, I was ready to start my own commercial studio.
In 1996 I opened my first studio sharing a large warehouse with another female photographer who was also a friend. I successfully grew my business for the next 4 years before deciding to relocate to Nashville after going through a divorce. Nashville has been a great 20 years of growth, I have reinvented myself many times but I still love shooting commercial work. Today I primarily photograph healthcare and architectural assignments but I still love telling stories and photographing interesting people.
As I move forward I am working to redirect my career to more online sales. Covid allowed me the time to think about my future goals. I am currently learning new avenues of how I can share my work and my knowledge online. I started writing for an online magazine a year ago called Launch Engine, which helped me to gain the skills of being a better writer. I have started sharing stories about interesting creative people through a new artist interview podcast series called The Creative Push. I am also in the process of self-publishing some books, selling fine art imagery, and building online courses. I launched my new site called Learn and Create in March of this year and hope to have content available to share soon. I am having a blast learning about video, audio, and editing through the process is time-consuming. In the end, my hope is to share others’ stories while offering my knowledge to help inspire and teach creatives how to grow and be successful.
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?
Nashville is such a wonderful and creative place to live. I enjoy time on the lakes, rivers, and creeks here. Percy Warner Park, Percy Priest Lake, and Radnor are great places to visit within 15-20 minutes from my home. There are so many places within an hour or two to kayak, paddleboard, and hike while seeing grande views and waterfalls. There are also seasonal events like The Tomato Festival and Oktoberfest as well as craft fairs at Centennial Park. And of course we have Hockey, Football and Baseball here as well.
Nashville is a mecca for great music and awesome food. I love catching an occasional show at the Ryman downtown or Ascend. I love the smaller local venues like The Local, 3rd & Lindsley, The Station Inn, The 5 Spot, and The Basement. There are also a lot of outdoor shows including the Musician’s Corner at Centennial Park in the summer. My favorite little hideaway restaurant is Park Cafe because it is in my neighborhood but I also love Virago, Adels and there are always great places over in East Nashville to find something different to eat.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My parents both were the catalysts for my ability to never give up on my career, both are driven and hard-working. As someone who never really followed a direct path, my mom was my biggest inspiration mentally. She has always given me encouragement, supported my decisions, and reminded me I could do anything if I worked hard enough despite her not agreeing with many of my choices. My creativity is a derivative of my dad who still amazes me with his creative mind and the ability to build anything. Another great influence was Christi Comstock, a family friend whom I grew up around, she was a graphic designer whose artistic influence was a huge part of my childhood and who I am today.