We had the good fortune of connecting with Carly Moon-Warnick and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carly, how do you think about risk?
It’s funny how perspective can change over the course of a lifetime. As a kid I was not a fan of getting in trouble or breaking rules. I grew up a shy, very insecure basketball-obsessed nerd in Kansas that enjoyed wasting film in my dad’s camera. If you had told me back then that I would become an international photographer that specializes in helping women overcome their greatest insecurities, I wouldn’t have believed it. If you had even told me that I’d live in England for six years and travel to four continents, or honestly anywhere outside of Kansas and Missouri, I would have laughed. The truth is, I didn’t have the strength.
My first big risk was moving halfway across the country the day after high school graduation to attend West Virginia University. I really didn’t know anybody, and while my mom was only two hours away I was still forced way outside of my comfort zone.
I didn’t know it then but that big risk changed the course of my entire life and mindset. It was the fear of the unknown and making it comfortable and familiar that ultimately gave me the strength to take another huge risk and abandon my plans of coaching college basketball to pursue my longtime love of photography. The summer before I was set to graduate from college, I called my mom from Australia and told her I didn’t want to coach anymore and that I was going to pursue photography. I knew I wanted to live my life doing what was going to make me happy. It was terrifying, but I was crazy enough to believe I couldn’t fail.
Fast forward a decade and I’ve built a photography business traveling around the world watching families grow up in front of my lens and my shooting my all-time favorite genre—boudoir photography! My boudoir experiences are where I’m able to encourage women to also take risks that will ultimately help them build courage and strength while enabling them to love themselves as they are. I love seeing those butterflies come out of their cocoons during our sessions. Without taking my own risks and crawling out of my own shell, I couldn’t confidently coach them.
After all of these years I tend to find myself jumping before looking first when it comes to life. If an idea comes to mind, I’m usually committing to it and leaning in hard before I’ve sussed out all of the details. What’s that saying though? The devil is in the details? If I allow myself to become hyper-focused on details, I know there’s a chance I won’t go for it. I think you just have to jump and trust that you’ll figure out the parachute on the way down (terrible advice for skydiving though, and definitely not something I recommend). But if you’re passionate, open-minded, and flexible enough you can trust that it just may work out. It might not be the way you first envisioned but it could be something completely revolutionary and even better than you could have planned. Starting any kind of new adventure or new business is always a risk. Complacency and stability are comfortable, and that’s why so many people live their entire lives there. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I think that the moment you’re able to put yourself in new and intimidating situations is where you’re going to grow the most. I fully believe that taking risks has the ability to build strength and confidence in yourself.
In a way, calculated (and a few uncalculated) risks have served me well and created opportunities I never would have experienced otherwise: snorkelling with orcas in Norway, watching the sun rise over Petra, sneaking onto rooftops in London for incredible photography opportunities, solo traveling across several states and countries—I’ve got enough fantastic memories and some possibly questionable experiences to write a book. plus a passion and a business that I plan on chasing as long as that fire still burns.
If it wasn’t for the risks I’ve taken in life, I never would have had the strength to pursue photography full-time. Did I know how to run a business? Not even a little bit. Did I have a backup plan or any amount of money saved in case I failed and fell flat on my face after college? Maybe $120 and a Qdoba gift card, but that was it. And even though I am a terrible swimmer, I crave the deep end. I had such a passion for photography and building a life doing something that made me so insanely happy that the risk couldn’t have stopped me. There have definitely been hard times over the years, but the “what-ifs” fuel me now. I’m so grateful for all of the experiences, because they’ve helped foster a passion and a business that I plan on chasing as long as that fire still burns.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
It’s hard to know what really sets you apart from others in your career field. Most photographers spend so much time focusing on their clients that they don’t really tend to look around because the second we do we cripple ourselves with comparison. But if I had to guess, I would say my passion really sets me apart. I’ve been willing to sacrifice almost everything at times for this career. I enjoy being obsessed and completely enveloped in my sessions, chasing light, creating bonds with my clients, and traveling to literally wherever they want me to go. Photography is also my favorite hobby. I live for sunsets and pretty skies and would spend the rest of my life traveling the world shooting landscapes if I could. There really isn’t a scene in daily life that I look at and don’t try to find the angle or the right lighting, which I love applying to both my portrait photography as well as my landscape photography.
I am the most proud of my boudoir clients and the boudoir/glamour branch of the business that we’ve built—Happy Hour Boudoir. I love working with families and watching them grow, but boudoir is what stole my heart years ago. Working with my partner and best friend, we learned quickly that it isn’t just about the photographs. We loved providing an entire experience for women of all walks of life, shapes and sizes while making it fun and being relatable. Perfecting our craft (and we’re far from it, but striving every day) helps break down walls that women have built up around themselves—some because of past traumas that have shaped them, and some because of what society has told us we’re supposed to be/look like/act like/parent like/etc. My best days are every day I spend with my clients trying to shift their perspective so they can see the inner and outer beauty that others see. I get to work with women that also inspire and motivate me!
In terms of what got me where I am today—taking risks and passion! But also, sacrifice. Not all sacrifices were good though. While they almost always helped my business grow, it was also almost at the expense of relationships and even my marriage. Sleepless nights, eighteen hour days, and the constant go-go-go life is one that business owners have a hard time avoiding but also put everything they love in the crosshairs for. This is where finding balance and having quality people in your life comes in—You can’t fail when you’re surrounded by people that believe in you, but you may have to check yourself occasionally to make sure you’re being present for them too.
The actual process of photography, the photos and the relationships that I have built with my clients are the obvious high points. And of course, I’m a little obsessed with the nomadic lifestyle too so being able to combine traveling and photography is a huge plus.
And finally, book the flights, eat the food, wear the bikini, and TAKE THE RISKS!
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?
Admittedly, I’ve only been to Phoenix for work but while I was there I did get to take in a few things. Being the basketball nerd that I am, I definitely enjoyed my time at the Suns game! I also found Superstition Mountains, the surrounding area and South Mountain Park and Preserve absolutely stunning! I am so excited to come back and explore more!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the people that continue to believe in me even if they think my ideas are too much or just a little crazy.
I’m grateful for my parents, my family, and my closest friends for trusting me in my adventures even if they are half-baked (and to those friends who coach me through late nights when I’m spiraling with an idea or even fly in just to help me execute those half-baked ideas).
I’m also incredibly grateful to my husband for taking his own risk and joining the Air Force so we could have a more stable life while I chased my photography dream. It’s not easy being married to a solo entrepreneur, especially one that has issues with work/life balance and staying in one place for too long. Thank you for giving me the independence and freedom to crush those travel bugs. Oh, and for going along with my studio/event/prop building, even though I know you’d rather be fishing.
My clients over the past twelve years are really the ones that deserve the most credit. Without them, I literally would have nothing. I’ll never be able to put into words what being chosen by them means to me. You guys are the ones that keep me going and make me want to better myself at every opportunity. Thank you for letting me grow up with you (near and far), for being my biggest cheerleaders, and even buying my landscape prints!
And finally, John Wooden. His book “My Personal Best” is one that I’ve read repeatedly. I’ve had one of his quotes tattooed on me (“Make each day your masterpiece!”), and his legacy as the greatest basketball coach of all time is most definitely the hill I would choose to die on. He was an absolute legend.
Instagram: @happyhourboudoir and @carlymoonimages
Dean Barnes David Warnick Danielle Deissler Kate Thomason