We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Castillo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michelle, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I had spent 15 years working in higher education, 12 of those working in financial aid. I had moved up the “ladder” and as I moved up, I moved further away from my love of helping students and moved into more political decision making. After the birth of my first son, my priorities changed and the thought of doing something that I was no longer passionate about (plus my 2 hour commute each day) made me realize I needed to find something else that was both flexible and more fulfilling. I won my first 35 mm camera in the sixth grade and always loved taking pictures of people. I quickly realized after leaving higher education that my love of photography was pulling at me, so I began immersing myself in any training I could get my hands on. I took online classes, in person classes and reached out to my own wedding photographer and started second shooting with him. I reached out to another friend who had a photography business to figure out what steps I needed to take to properly start a business and a business plan. I knew I had to start small and work on getting my name out there. I live in a small community, surrounded by a lot of other small communities so I worked on marketing. I built a website, worked on social media and then began making connections with many OBGYN’s in the area as my first love is photographing newborns. It has been 8 years since I made that leap of faith from higher education to photography. I started photographing newborns in client’s homes, in my own home and then opened a small studio in Rimrock. I was there for about 2.5 years and then in 2018 I moved into a much large space in Camp Verde. I consider myself a versatile photographer as I photograph people of all ages, do the sports photography for our local high school and youth leagues and even a bit of real estate photography. It has been quite the learning experience and my love for photography has only grown. It’s a tough year for all creatives and the world with the Covid Virus affecting all of our businesses, however, I’m hopeful with my versatility that I will be able to recover and move forward in years to come.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
As a portrait photographer, I take portraits of many genres, however, I specialize in Maternity, Newborn and High School Seniors. I mainly known as the “baby photographer” in our area as that is where most of my training, marketing and focus has been over the last 8 years. I’ve worked hard on building relationships with OBGYN’s, Nurse Practitioners, Midwives and Hospital staff. My work is displayed in the Labor and Delivery rooms at our local hospital, in pediatric offices as well as our local women’s health center. Although there are many photographers in the area, I work really hard at creating meaningful relationships with my clients and in return 75% of my business is from returning clients. I work very hard to provide a great client experience and I also offer a variety of high quality products to last generations. Building a photography business is not easy, especially when digital photography is so accessible. I focused on a niche and put a lot of hours and training into that niche. Once I was comfortable, I started challenging myself with new techniques and genres. There is so much more to owning a photography business, than just taking pictures. I’m very fortunate to have a background in higher education and a Masters Degree in Public Administration which has given me a background of working with financial statements, budgets and overseeing day to day office operations. I think it’s so important for creatives to learn business prior to learning how to take an exceptional picture as that is what is going to keep you around for the long term. As a business owner, there are definitely ebbs and flows, and it’s easy to feel frustrated. During these times, I focus on the reasons that I started the business, keep my head up and keep moving forward to make positive changes in my own business.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
There are so many wonderful places to visit and things to do in Camp Verde and the Verde Valley area. In Camp Verde, I would definitely make a reservation to eat at Moscato’s. Their handmade Italian food is to die for. We could spend a day going to local thrift stores, Verde Valley Resale, Sweet Pea’s, New Life Thriftstore and my absolute favorite is Ruby Road Resale. We could spend a day kayaking down the Verde River and then afterwards grab a wonderful bite to eat at La Casita Mexican Restaurant. We could spend a day in wine tasting at the many wineries in the area, Clear Creek Vineyard & Winery, Page Springs Winery, Alcantara, DA Ranch, Javelina Leap and Oak Creek Vineyards. We could drive 30 minutes and explore that many, many hiking trails located in Sedona, with my favorite being Cathedral Rock or take a Pink Jeep tour and explore more rugged terrain. If we were lucky, one of my favorite local country bands, Mike Reeve’s Band would be performing at Cliff Castle Casino and we could dance the night away:)
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My parents have always encouraged me no matter my career choice. My dad really instilled in me from an early age that I will be working a long time, so I need to do something that will make me happy. They have both been so supportive of my career change. My husband, Dave, has also been incredibly supportive. When I told him that I was going to start a photography business, I’m sure he though I was crazy. However, instead of telling me I was crazy, he said, “All you can do is try. Just go for it”. I truly appreciate his support as it was definitely financially draining when I first started the business but we made changes and stuck through it all.
Michelle Lee Photography