We recently connected with Shaneen Elefante and have shared our conversation below.
Shaneen, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Earning a full time living from one’s creative career can be incredibly difficult. Have you been able to do so and if so, can you share some of the key parts of your journey and any important advice or lessons that might help creatives who haven’t been able to yet?
Let’s rewind to the beginning of my journey… It was 2010 and I was new to the area of Greer, which is located in the White Mountain of Arizona. The little town stole my heart the very first time I visited. I had been in the wedding industry so when the opportunity was presented to be the wedding coordinator for the historic lodge and accompanying venue property I didn’t even hesitate to say “Yes”. I was working with the best vendors in the industry and mastering my craft. I had always brought my camera with me to every wedding and would take photos behind the scenes, but I was just another wanna-be with an entry-level camera shooting in auto mode. I honestly envied the photographer’s job and was so excited when they would send the photo gallery of all the beautiful details from the wedding day. I made friends with a couple of the wedding photographers and began second shooting with them. I realized very fast I needed to up my game and my equipment. I studied the art and practiced, and practiced, and watched every Youtube video absorbing every bit of information that could help me create my own style. I pretty much earned my degree from the University of Youtube. I really honed my skills through workshops, tutorials, and online courses. I began to realize I enjoyed being a photographer and wanted to start my own photography business. As the wedding coordinator, being behind the scenes presented so many special candid moments that most guests and family members don’t get to see or be a part of sparked an idea of “captured by the coordinator”. I took a leap of faith, created a logo, a business name, and put myself out there. I began to create conversation as to what my business name meant. Well, the elk bugle when in the rut (mating season) so that is where A Bugling Affair came from. Just as we have a love affair so do the elk during the Fall. Within days, I booked my first wedding as a photographer. The day came for my first wedding as lead photographer and I was nervous and anxious at the same time. When I was done that evening I rushed home to load the photos and I impressed myself at the photos I had captured and was excited to share them. I knew at that moment this is what I wanted to do and I wanted to do it full time. For the next few years, I was basically in a transition of being known for my wedding coordination and now trying to brand myself as a photographer. I continued to coordinate weddings and slowly took less and less and booked more wedding day photography shoots. Social media has been my outlet for showing my work, receiving reviews, and promoting myself. Today, I am blessed to say I am a full-time wedding photographer. Over the years I have branded myself as an outdoor photographer with a natural style. I love outdoor venues, rustic barns, and forests with mountain views. As a wedding photographer, I get to tag along on the adventure each couple takes from their engagement to the wedding day and then comes the baby. It starts with a contract and ends as a lifelong friendship. I have had my photographs featured in magazines, on websites, and on blogs. I can now say I have taken my hobby and turned it into a career. Now that this has become my full-time job, I have taken on the mindset of work-smarter not-harder and if you love the work you do, is it really a job?
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I am married, I am a mom and a photographer. I enjoy hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, hunting, pretty much spending every possible moment in the woods. I typically shoot outdoor weddings in woodland settings. Sunsets over a mountain peak reflecting off the water are what photoshoot dreams are made of. My lifestyle is my brand and the couples that hire me typically live the same lifestyle or have similar hobbies. What sets me apart? I began as a wedding coordinator which has provided me the skills and understanding of how a wedding day should proceed. I know what details mean to a bride and why certain aspects should be captured. A wedding day is a whirlwind for a couple and sometimes the photos are the only way they get to see what actually took place during their day while they were getting ready, taking photos, or having their special dances. I am very organized and rely on a detailed timeline for every wedding day. I am always educating myself to better my skills and updating my gear. Being prepared and having reliable equipment is necessary to provide quality photographs to my clients. When a couple looks back at their photographs from their wedding day I want their story to be told. They should be able to look at the photos from start to finish and know how the day went from getting ready to the vows and the candid moments. Just looking through the photos should bring back tears, the sound of laughing, and every favorite song that was played. A wedding is special and I want to capture the memories from that day! My Website Bio: Hello, I’m Shaneen, the adventurous soul behind A Bugling Affair. I am married to my best friend, we have 3 boys, a daughter, and 4 fur babies. Born and raised in SoCal yet I call the White Mountains of Arizona my home. Arizona is where we have chosen to raise our kids and plant our roots. Let’s face it the freeways and fast lifestyle are just not our thing. You will find us every chance we have hiking in the woods, kayaking the lakes, and seeking that next adventure. After a recent trip to Wyoming, I must admit the Tetons have stolen a piece of my heart. My background includes 20 years in the wedding industry. I have coordinated so many weddings and each has made me more diligent, knowledgeable, and I thrive for the creative outlet each design brings. A couple’s wedding should never be the same as the last. It should represent who they are as a couple and express to their family and friends the love for each other and life. As a coordinator working with good and even great photographers, I started to recognize that there was more photography that could be captured from the coordinators’ point of view that most photographers don’t realize exists. From the first time I picked up that camera #canonlovers to the first time I introduced myself to a couple as a wedding photographer, a passion was unleashed and is continuing to grow. I am fortunate to have my daughter Kristen as my 2nd shooter and together we have a style native to our lifestyle and personalities. We are chasers of natural light, waiting for the moment the sun peeks from behind that pine tree or moments before the sun sets as we stand high on the mountain tops. I love true to life colors of what nature has provided. Romantic, raw, candid moments are what give our couples the ability to look at the story their pictures can tell. We are always seeking out that adventurous couple wanting to explore their love and embrace the natural settings to find that epic moment we as “creatives” yearn to capture. Some may call what we do a job, but every day we have the chance to meet new people, explore new trails, and have the opportunity to work with the best vendors in the industry. This is our life and our next adventure is just a click away…
Any advice for growing your clientele? What’s been most effective for you?
The best way to grow your clientele is through your “Friendors”. I say that because vendors are your outlet for referrals. When you create a working relationship with vendors it becomes your best source for client contact. When a vendor refers you it is because you have shown your work ethic is of quality and they feel you are the best in your industry. You refer them and they refer you and the cycle keeps a rotating effect which benefits a network of close-knit vendors for local venues.
How did you put together the initial capital you needed to start your business?
I am not in financial debt or have loans for my business. I work from home with no employees which allows me to avoid the overhead cost of rent, utilities, etc… I worked weddings as a coordinator and would take money from each job over a year’s time to buy the equipment I needed as an initial investment to begin working. Now I save a little from every wedding I photograph to use on new upgraded equipment. I also budgeted to purchase backup cameras and lenses so I am always prepared when a wedding day takes place. It may have been easier to acquire initial capital for my startup but I am striving for financial freedom and chose to pay individually for each item until I had all of the equipment needed as a professional photographer.
- Website: www.abuglingaffair.com
- Instagram: a_bugling-affair
- Facebook: A Bugling Affair