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Meet Zemina Zaferakis of Z Bella Photography in North San Diego

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zemina Zaferakis.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Zemina. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
As far back as I can remember, I have always loved creating, whether it was painting, drawing, or making up my own music on our piano. I grew up with very little, so I had to really use my imagination and work with what I had. It was very therapeutic for me and it became a huge part of me. When I went away to college (UCSB), I had to put myself through school so I stepped away from my art for a bit. However, I did continue to take a few art courses when I could squeeze them in as electives. I graduated in four years and ended up moving back home to San Diego where I ended up getting a good job working for Wells Fargo Bank.

Fast forward to where I am now… how did I go from working a 9-5 corporate job to owning my own photography business? I get to work for myself, creating for others which I loved doing as a child… but now I get paid for doing what I love!

To answer that, it was a difficult yet life-changing decision to leave my well-paying secure job in 2010. I chose this path because my husband and I were about to have our first baby. I wanted to raise our baby girl and be there every day for her since I didn’t have that growing up. I asked my husband for a “nice” camera so that I could take pictures of our daughter. And just like that… once I got my hands on that Canon Rebel T1i, I couldn’t get enough and wanted to learn more and more. So, I did-I taught myself everything I know today. I would see an image that I liked-I would then research and practice endlessly on how to take similar images. I would play around with all my camera settings until I figured out how to capture that same image. Eventually, I learned about different lenses and how each lens is used for different types of photography. I love learning about a new lens, working and practicing with it until I “break it in,” then adding it to my camera bag. It’s like getting a new pair of shoes. They’re uncomfortable at first until you break them in and then they become a staple in your closet and part of your style.

I started out taking pictures of just my daughter of course and simple everyday moments. Friends noticed my images and started asking me to take their family pictures. I was also a member of Stroller Strides-I offered the instructor to do mini sessions for all the moms and kids after our classes. This resulted in establishing a good client base. Thankfully, all of this resulted in lots of good referrals and word of mouth quickly spreading. My first few years I mostly captured families, kids, and weddings. In 2013, we had our baby boy and I had to back off a little since it was too hard to balance two littles and work. I waited until he was in preschool and began to build my business again but found myself wanting more, wanting to learn something new and different. A good friend of mine introduced me to a publisher of two local magazines. So, I began shooting editorial photography, which was awesome for me since it helped reignite my creativity again and challenge me, which was what I was craving. Since I was exposed to so many different types of photo shoots, I was able to teach myself and learn new different ways of shooting.

After shooting editorial campaigns for about two years alongside my other work, I feel like I have really honed in on what I really love capturing and being more selective about which projects I accept.

So, to sum up… yes, of course, I have upgraded my camera several times, I have added nicer lenses to the mix, splurged on better lighting and equipment-but my process is still the exact same as it has been since I was a little girl. I teach myself using my intuition and emotion since this is what really helps me create the emotive imagery that I am known for. I am looking forward to this year and sharing my work with all of you!

Has it been a smooth road?
I grew up in San Diego and raised by our incredible mom who was a single parent working multiple jobs to help support myself and two younger brothers. She would work from five in the morning until 9 pm every day, while I was forced to grow up early and help raise my two younger brothers. It wasn’t your ideal childhood by any means, but now that I am older and see more clearly, I can honestly say that everything happens for a reason. And that having a childhood where I had to struggle and find my own way with very little definitely made me the woman I am today. When you know how little you can have, that stays with you forever-because you know everything can be taken away from you at any moment in time. So, I truly believe and live by the words Be Kind and Humble Always. My husband and I have worked so hard our entire lives and have made a great life for ourselves and especially for our two kiddos, but every single day I try to live by those words and ingrain that into their hearts so they grow up always being kind to others and always staying humble regardless of anything.

I learned very early in life that the one thing that I had that no one could ever take away from me was my art, my creativity, my passion. That was all mine. So, when things got bad at home-my parents fighting, when my dad would pop in and out of the picture leaving chaos behind, or when I was so frustrated and angry that I din’t have a “normal childhood,” I would turn to my art. This was my way of escaping and finding the happy place that I knew I could turn to. And actually now that I think about it, this is where I learned how to use my emotions to create and visualize what I was feeling, which I still do to this day with my work. Growing up, I mainly painted with oils and acrylic and continued to do so while in college. I worked several different jobs to put myself through UCSB-one of my favorite jobs while in school was working for Red Bull. After graduating from UCSB in 2002, although I worked a ton while in school, I was still left with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. This was crushing and such a harsh realization after graduating. So, instead of pursuing something in a creative field where I would have thrived and been happy, I used my degree and worked for a bank. Again, I think things always happen for a reason and I’m thankful I did have this experience. I loved the people I worked with and I learned so much. Actually one of my favorite parts about that job was working with small business owners daily and hearing their stories about how they started their own business.

Fast forward to when we had our daughter February of 2010 when my husband gave me my first DSLR camera. That’s when my creativity was sparked in a whole different and new way. Instead of creating art with painting/drawing like I did when I was younger, I fell in love with capturing images of our daughter and transforming them into pieces of art when editing them. This was my new way of creating art, just with a different medium. And the very best part of it and why I was so drawn to it was that I was able to create again but now it wasn’t an escape like it was when I was a young girl. I could do this now simply for myself and my family just for the simple fact that it made me happy. This was one of the moments in my life I will never forget because it was a huge realization of how hard work and perseverance really pays off.

So, I do continue to work hard always, and try to teach the same to my kids every single day-they are now 9 and 5. I do want to share one big lesson I have learned looking back at the nine years I’ve had my business. I have learned to finally say no if the project doesn’t line up with my principles and values. My priority will always be my family and over the years while building my business I have said yes to so many people and so many projects, giving others so much of me. As a creative person, this is absolutely draining, leaving nothing left for myself or my family. Because I give 100% to each and every client, whether it’s a mini session or a big corporate client. And since I love my work so much, I don’t realize it until I am fully drained. So now, I am aware of this and am more careful and protective of my time and talent so that I am fully charged for my clients when working and likewise with my family when I am home. It’s always a constant struggle to find that balance, as many of us know!

We’d love to hear more about your business.
The name of my business is Z Bella Photography. I named it after our first child, Zoë Isabella. The initial Z is also my first and last initial, as well as my husband and my son’s. Bella also means “Beautiful” in both of my native countries-Spanish and Italian.

I started out doing a little bit of everything-kids, engagements, families, headshots, events, and weddings. In 2016, I started doing a lot of editorial shoots, exposing me to a whole new world which I really loved. I covered events, parties, conferences, advertising, marketing shoots…

Currently, my work consists of a lot of lifestyle shoots and projects that have a creative edge to them. I am also enjoying working with clients on a bigger scale. I have more to offer than just photography-I’ve learned along the way that I enjoy being more of a Creative Director, not just doing the photography piece. I do love capturing images, but I also love the whole picture and helping with the whole process. This year will be a lot about streamlining my business, as well as making the time to work on my own creative projects.

I know that if you ask any of the clients that know me well will agree with me when I say the following. I believe what sets me apart from a lot of others is that I have a way of really understanding people-I naturally soak in and absorb everything I see and feel while working, and I intuitively use this when shooting and editing. I use all of that to create art and emotive imagery, not just a photo.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Yes, absolutely I do believe San Diego is an incredible city with lots of people and opportunities for a business like mine. With this new role as Creative Director, I am excited to connect and work more with the people I grew up with here in this beautiful city and also all the other amazing small creative businesses we have here in San Diego.

If someone was just starting out, I would definitely recommend them starting out here, and actually anywhere for that matter. Just start taking pictures. You don’t need any fancy cameras or lenses to be completely honest-I definitely didn’t. I always was impressed with photographers that had a ton of equipment. So of course,  over time I acquired a ton of equipment. And as I would learn more, I realized more about what works for me and what doesn’t. And now I actually like to keep it pretty simple. It’s taken me several years to fine tune my style and really know which pieces of equipment I really need and want… and I’m sure it will continue to change as I continue to grow and learn. And that’s part of what makes it so fun and exciting!!

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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