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Life and Work with Shannon Zurawski

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shannon Zurawski.

Shannon, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Ever since I was little, I always loved taking pictures. When I would hang out with my dad, he would have a new disposable camera waiting for me to create something special with. Once I finished the roll, we would go to Target and get them developed, and then look at the memories we made together. When he passed away in 2009, I was left with the little moments I captured in that little box of plastic. I was able to remember his raspy laugh and the plunk of fishing bob as it hit the lake; the long scenic drives up to my uncle’s house in the mountains, and going kayaking with my old dog Scruffy. That’s what ultimately made me fall in love with photography – I was given the ability to freeze those moments and hang onto them for the rest of my life.

When I was younger, I actually wanted to be a lawyer for a long time. During my senior year of high school, we had to do an exit project to graduate, and we were supposed to mentor with someone in the industry that we wanted to get into. My mom worked for a lawyer, so I mentored in her office. The whole entire day, I sat and organized paperwork. All the lawyer did was sit on the phone. Not really the definition of my dream job, to say the least. I realized that I wanted to pursue something that was more on the creative side, allowed me to pick my own clients, be outside, and I was going to wake up every single day and be excited about. And for me, that was photography, something I’ve always loved.

At the same time, The Art Institute did a presentation at my school, and I inquired for more info. I went through the application process, and was accepted! I worked my way through going to college full time, along with working full time, and after 3.5 years I graduated with my B.S in Photography. Some time has now passed since I graduated, and now I’m where I am today!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I had quite a lot of struggles! The most stressful one was trying to figure out how to become a legit business. Since my school was trying to get us prepared for getting a job at a company, they didn’t really teach us anything around how to run your own business. I had no idea what permits I needed, how to register with the state, how to set up a business bank account, or that I even needed any of those things. I had to do a lot of outside searching and get mentoring from other photographers who have done this before me.

Another thing that was hard for me to come to terms with, is charging for my worth. I always thought “but I love this! How could I possibly charge a ton of money? I feel so bad!” As soon as I started to realize how much money everything costs (plus, how much I was giving away to taxes), versus how much time I was actually spending on each wedding (around 50-60 hours) I realized quickly I needed to start actually making money if I wanted to continue this and do photography full time.

My advice is do your research to become legit and know your worth. The sooner you can do both of these things, you’ll feel more confident in charging what you do because you know how much time and energy everything takes. Also, invest in a really really good education. While I did go to school for photography, I still invest in really good education courses, finish them, and apply the things I learned! Make time to do this. I see so many posts in the group’s Facebook with people saying “I bought this last year, and still haven’t finished it.” Make those courses worth your investment. Also, do a lot of work. Tons of it! Figure out what you like best, and then focus more of your energy on that later on. Lastly, just don’t give up. If you want this bad enough, put the time and work in, and you’re guaranteed to get better. People who don’t grow, are the ones who give up.

Please tell us about Sunshine Shannon Photography.
I specialize in couples + weddings! I love being outside in the tall trees, gorgeous beaches and traveling. One of my favorite places ever is Yosemite! My couples describe themselves as best friends, and they love doing absolutely everything together. I have a natural style when it comes to photographing, so I like to create real moments between the couple, versus sticking them into stiff awkward poses that they don’t feel comfortable in. I’ll never say “pretend to laugh,” I’ll make them do something to make the other one laugh.

I love, love, love to have personal connections with my couples. If we both have the time and can work it into our schedules, I love to get dinner and drinks with my clients! I like the environment we hang out in be super casual because I feel like that’s when we connect the most. I think coffee dates are a little stiff and boring, they just feel more like a business meeting to me. By getting to know them both more as a person, and see how they act with each other, it allows me to get better photos of them that truly represent who they are as a couple.

I’m super proud of the work I get to create for my couples, and the amount of trust they put in me. Especially, when I want to try a new direction, they’re totally down for it and will do whatever! I really do get to work with the nicest, kindest, most in love people ever.

Are there any apps, books, podcasts or other resources that you’ve benefited from using?
I love listening to Jenna Kutcher’s Goal Digger Podcast, as well as Davey & Krista Brands that Book. They’re super good for business! I don’t think I could ever live without HoneyBook to manage all my clients, it’s seriously the best! It keeps everything all in one place, and you can send contracts, receive payments, etc. Some apps I love are UNUM, which helps me organize and plan my Instagram feed, and Sun Seeker, which will show you where the sun will be at certain times of day, so now, I never miss a golden hour!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Main photo: Shannon May Brown

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