We had the good fortune of connecting with Steve Cowell and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Steve, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk is scary for me. I feel like i’ve taken risks in my life that didn’t end up paying off and the challenge was maintaining the courage to take a risk again regardless of the outcome. Possibly the biggest risk I took was deciding to pursue photography full time.

Out of college I had gone into a career of outside sales purely out of necessity (financial) and also because I had no idea what else to do. I was getting married 6 months after graduating and needed to pay the bills so selling copiers and printers was my first of many sales roles. I hated every bit of it except the part when I met a need for a client and an actual working relationship formed. I would make it last as long as I could with a company until the next higher-paying company came along and I could “sell” my way into a better position even if I was way under qualified for it.

I was not cut out for sales, but it was what I knew and what I was making a living at. But it was sucking the life out of me and after 8.5 years of doing it I couldn’t do it anymore. So I quit pursuing it and picked up my camera. I had a mostly self-built website and branding, only one camera and one lens, no idea how to use Lightroom/Photoshop, and very limited experience shooting weddings. Yet here I was, leaving the only career I had known to attempt to make a living at something that was completely dependent on myself…. I had to set goals, I had to keep myself accountable, and I had to build a sustainable living out of nothing.

It only took 6 months for me to fail miserably. I drained 2/3 of our life savings, was having difficulty sleeping, and was more stressed and anxious than I had ever been in my life, including during my miserable sales career. But photography was what I loved! How could it be so difficult and scary to pursue doing what I loved?? Now I felt like that dream was shattered and there was no way I would ever be able to do what I loved AND make a living doing it. It would just be too risky to try again.

Out of sheer necessity I had to take another sales job just to keep a paycheck coming in. I somehow managed to last a year in my worst sales role of all before I was fired for my lacking performance. I was at another crossroad….do I stick with sales and just find another company only to likely get fired again, or should I take the risk of pursuing photography again and hope I had learned from my previous mistakes. I made up my mind that I never wanted another sales job, even if it meant me going back to waiting tables or working retail. At that point the risk was worth the potential reward of actually getting to work at a job I loved. I rebranded my photography website, started sharing new images daily on social media, pursuing friends and family for referrals and being models for shoots, and hustling for any and every opportunity I could find.

It’s now been over 9 years of working full-time as a wedding/portrait/family photographer and I’m so grateful for two reasons:

1. I failed miserably at something I loved
2. I didn’t allow that failure to define me and hold me back from taking the risk again in order to follow my dream.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m a photographer specializing primarily in weddings and portraits. In a seemingly endless ocean of other talented photographers, my only hope in standing out is to fully embrace and believe in the fact there is only one me, and I’m the only one capable of telling a story with a camera my way. No one else can duplicate the way I see things through my lens and I should never want to do something the same way as someone else.

Right now, I’m especially excited at this new season ahead now that the pandemic restrictions are being lifted. There is a buzz of excitement amongst all the wedding professionals about being able to do our jobs again and I think we are all going to see some super fun experiences and renewed creativity.

I think the single most important thing that got me where I am today is taking care of my clients. They don’t exist to fit into my creative box, but rather my job is to use my gifting of developing relationships and trust to bring out their most organic selves in front of my camera. This wasn’t easy to develop, but when I realized that seeing every other photographer as my competition immediately stifled my excitement at getting to know people, I had no other choice but to shift my perspective.

I guess what I would want the world to know about my brand is with me you will have an advocate, a cheerleader, a hard working professional, and a super fun, kind, and easy-going person in your corner. I love to laugh, share real emotions and be a part of capturing real stories as they unfold in front of me. I don’t desire transactional encounters with my clients, but rather a relationship-based collaboration. That’s how the best art is made. Lastly, if my story can serve as an encouragement to those who are afraid to go after what they love because of possibly failing at it. Failure provides so much valuable information that the greatest successes wouldn’t be possible without it.

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?
We’d probably start every morning with coffee from one of all the amazing shops around us (Buenas, Neat, Moongoat, Common Room). When it comes to food, I love it far too much to list all my favorite spots but you can bet that my friend’s visit would be very food heavy (Playground, Porch & Swing, Baba’s Hot Chicken, Taqueria de Anda, Arc, Mix Mix to name a few.

Spots to hang out/things to do would include duffy boat cruises through Newport Beach Harbor, mountainbiking the many trails in Laguna Beach and Aliso Woods, playing shuffleboard at Goat Hill Tavern, shooting pistols at the indoor shooting range in Huntington Beach, walking around main beach Laguna, getting a new pair of Rainbow Sandals at the outlet in San Clemente, maybe even taking a day trip out to Catalina for snorkeling or zip lining.

In all honesty, I love Orange County for many reasons but exciting is not an adjective I often use for it. Although it is a fast paced area to live, it can also be slow and community based if you allow it to. The most interesting people are our friends, neighbors, and general community. In our neighborhood alone we have weekly “happy hour” gatherings in a friends’ culdesac, large 4th of July parties and parades, and plenty of spur of the moment backyard barbecues and swim parties. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My wife Amber, first and foremost, deserves my biggest shoutout. She never stopped believing in me and never stopped being my cheerleader even when I put us in a tough financial spot. Even when I approached her about trying to go after photography a second time, although hesitant, she said she had my back and to go for it. She also happens to be the super talented owner of a successful wedding/event planning company called The Love Riot and we get the special privilege of working in the same industry alongside each other often.

My second shoutout has to go to the incredible people at my coworking space FLDWRK in Costa Mesa. The leadership and business coaching team there (Jeff Tanner + Jonathan Murillo) were great influences, encouragers, and coaches as I built my photography career. The many conversations we had around cups of coffee or white boarding in a meeting room were super influential for my ability to maintain authenticity and enthusiasm within my brand.

Website: https://stevecowellphoto.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stevecowell_photo/

Image Credits
Steve Cowell

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