In tough economic times for all, Valerie Wallace-Camp is living her dream. She’s found her niche as a photographer, creating work she’s passionate about. Teaming up with her friend Kellie from Across the Miles Photography, they’re sharing studio space in Argenta, Illinois.
A 1999 graduate of Southern Illinois University in with a Bachelor’s in Visual Communication Design, she always knew she wanted to have a career in the arts. After just one black and white photography class in college, she had found her calling. Unfortunately, it was too close to graduation to switch majors, and she graduated the following semester.
Out of school she worked for a photographer as his graphic designer, eventually shadowing him in the studio. She began shooting a few baby portraits, then assisting at wedding shoots. “The time eventually came where I had my own ideas and decided to start up my own business,” she says. “Just weeks later I was signing up my business name with the county.”
The past several months have found Valerie and Kellie sharing a new studio space. “It works just like a hair salon,” she reports. “We have our own businesses but share the space and share our props. We each have our own days of the week when we’re using the space. The things we don’t share are Web sites, printing labs, and business names. Luckily our style is so similar that you can’t tell the difference between Kellie’s canvases on the wall and my canvases. And then our design style is just alike, too, as we both have an eclectic, vintage, contemporary decorating style. It all works so well. It’s just kind of melted together quite simply, even better than we had envisioned. We are lucky we get along so well and support each other like we do. I can see where sharing a space wouldn’t work. Luckily, it works for us.”
Geographically, Valerie has found herself adapting her style of photography to her locale. “My style is very photojournalistic. While my style is getting more popular, I still find there are a lot of people who prefer the posed traditional style,” she says. “And that’s okay. I still manage to get some of those candid shots, and they are the ones that usually sell. It won’t be long before most everyone around here will prefer and appreciate the popular photojournalistic style.”
Argenta is so small it’s considered a village. Accordingly, Valerie is attempting to stand out the best she can throughout central Illinois and beyond. “I love to have my work printed on canvases,” she says, “which I really do believe is very new to my area, so if you see my work in doctors’ offices or in the studio, you’ll see canvases. They are very new and modern to many people in my area. I also try to do things that aren’t standard for a lot of professional portrait photographers around here, like moving past portraits by designing billboards and shooting photos for Thrive magazine.”
Valerie is quick to point out how social media has helped her grow her new business. “Facebook, Twitter and blogging have been truly amazing for me,” she says. “I put up my VWC Photography page on Facebook in 2009, and half of my clients that year came from there. It’s not just word of mouth anymore, but word of online social media. Everyone is intertwined somehow, and it’s changing the world for all photographers and businesses all over the world. It’s especially been useful for the small, home-based businesses. Of course, it can probably work against you if you don’t keep up with Twittering, Facebook statuses and blog entries, but luckily I try my best to keep up on all these things and it most certainly pays off.”
Blogging is in a category by itself. “Blogging is so important to me,” Valerie says. “I began blogging with a personal blog quite a few years ago. It was my outlet as a stay-at-home mom. As a photographer, I’ve realized the same thing–blogging is another creative outlet for me. I love to write, so it gives me the opportunity to combine writing with my photography. Blogging for my business has been tremendous.” She often approached by people who tell her they’ve been following her blog for years. “I don’t see blogging for photographers as anything but powerful and positive. It’s great for us personally and business-wise,” she says.
While Valerie has worked with more traditional-style photographers in the past, she was eventually interested in applying her own approaches to shooting. With a slight tilt of the camera or getting on the same level as her subjects, she’s helped define herself. “Mike Judge, the photographer who taught me so much, would say things like, ‘some of my photos are different now because I did the Val-tilt.’ I didn’t even realize I was doing these things until he called me on it. It was kind of neat to realize I really did have a particular style.”
When your main photographic subject is children, uncooperative kids are a reality of the job. Valerie has a few tricks which help. We asked her to share them with our readers. “When on-location, if I have one who won’t cooperate, I just let them be,” she says. “If the parent needs to step in, of course I allow that. If it’s just a child not wanting to interact with me or the camera, again, I let them lead. I’ll let them take me somewhere and I ask them about the place they’re taking me. If we are near trees, for example, I’ll play peek-a-boo. I try my best to let them take the initiative, and it almost always works. A lot of times they act uncooperative because of the parent, not me. That’s why when we do go on location, or even in studio, it’s best for there not to be many people watching and fussing over the child. That’s when the child becomes uncooperative and not be themselves. In a photographic situation, it’s almost always best to let the child lead.”
The youngest of children present their own set of challenges for photographers. “With newborns,” explains Valerie, “it’s ideal to have a sleepy baby. Quite often the baby just wants to be awake, so we deal with what we get. I take as much time as possible to get the perfect shot, as long as Mom and Dad are okay with that.”
A typical session lasts about an hour. Newborns and engagement sessions are longer. “Each child is so different, but I can usually figure out their personalities and work well with them,” she says. Personal experience is applicable when shooting children, she explains. “My daughter is very spunky, strong-willed and busy. My son is very introverted, hates the camera, and hard to get a smile out of. I mother children on both sides of the spectrum, and I think that really works to my advantage when shooting children on location or in the studio.”
Valerie is currently shooting a Nikon D700 body. Her most-used lenses are a Nikkor 85mm 1.4D, a Nikkor 60mm 2.8D, a Nikkor 50mm 1.2, a Sigma 28mm 1.8, and a Tamron 17-50mm 2.8. She has a D200 as backup. She also owns a Sekonic Flash Master L-358 light meter. “I purchased it in 2002 and it’s held up perfectly! I use it every time I do studio work, weddings and probably 30% of the time outdoors,” she says. “I also use the PocketWizard Plus II. When doing weddings, this has been a lifesaver. I can’t imagine my life without a wireless system. Now having a studio, I use the wireless system and again, it seems like the most ingenious invention for the photography world. It’s made life so much simpler.”
She does some post-processing in Lightroom and occasionally Photoshop. “Bright and colorful is how people expect my work now. I guess it’s kind of branded me in a way,” she says.
In the future, Valerie would like to do more commercial photography. “I am the photographer for Thrive magazine in Decatur, which is a free magazine focusing each month on different upcoming businesses, events, outstanding businesspeople, etc. I’ve had the opportunity to do product photography, architecture, people, dogs—the list goes on. I’d love to continue exploring outside of the normal portrait in realms such as this.”
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Written by Ron Egatz