I am SO very excited to finally share the new website and face of my brand, Melissa Engle Photography. First off, I am going to tell you about the magic of where it all began and the history of how this passion of mine turned into what it is today. Warning, it is quite wordy because it covers more than 20 years of my journey with photography, so if you want to just skip to my new brand story, just scroll right on down.
Glamour shots and where it all began...
At the age of 12, I participated in a glamour shots photo session with my mom and younger sister (remember those mid-90’s poof bangs and perms?). I loved the experience of getting my hair and makeup done and being wrapped in feather boas, sequins and shiny silk scarves. Of course, I have to share some of the photos below so you’ll believe me.
After the glamour shots, I started recreating the experience with my friends. My mom gave me her film SLR camera (a trusty old Canon AE-1) and I would have my friends over for photo shoots. I would do their hair and make-up and then I would photograph them. I even asked for feather boas for my thirteenth birthday and I still have them in my costume box to this day. If you know me now, you know that I still love to dress up and go to costume parties.
Below is one of my very first glamour shot photos taken of my best friend and favorite model Kristi at age 12. For the backdrop we hung a blanket over the curtain rod of sliding glass doors and I used a desk lamp to light her face. I remember feeling so proud when we went to pick up the prints at K-Mart because they asked my mom if they were taken by a professional photographer (because if they were, we needed the photographer’s permission to have the prints.)
My first real job as a freelance newspaper photographer
Fast forward to the last couple years of high school and I got a job as a freelance photographer for the local newspaper Public Opinion. I loved the opportunity to meet all kinds of people through my photography and document events from bull auctions to parades and even my high school prom! At school I excelled in my black and white film photography class and became fascinated with developing my prints in the dark room.
When it came time to choose a major for college, I chose studio art with a photography concentration. During my years as a student at Messiah College, I developed a passion for photo journalism and storytelling through photography. I did an independent study during a study abroad in Ecuador documenting life there using black and white film. In my senior year I got a job working as an assistant wedding photographer and also photographed my first wedding solo (on film since this was still before digital was commonplace).
Below are two images from my study abroad black and white film series in Ecuador.
Landing my dream job with Mennonite Central Committee
In the summer of 2005 right after graduating from college I landed my dream job as staff photographer for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), an international non-profit organization working in relief, peace and development around the world. I knew that this job was a divine answer to prayer. I could have never dreamed or imagined that I would have the opportunities to travel the world as a young twenty-something telling stories of the humanitarian work of MCC through my photography. Over four years I traveled to 26 countries on 5 continents and along with a writer we gathered stories and images for MCC’s magazine, a Common Place that would be shared with donors and partners of the organization. I loved that I was doing something good with my photography. I saw it as a way to not only educate others about life in developing countries but as a way to give back and portray people living in hard situations with dignity and respect. I learned so much from these experiences and was richly blessed by the hospitality and wisdom of the people I met in my travels.
In 2010 after working as a staff photographer for four years at Mennonite Central Committee and then spending a year of my life living and volunteering in Nicaragua (more on that some other time), I returned to the U.S. and decided to turn my passion into a business. I went through the SCORE workshops, created a website, got liability insurance, opened a business account and became official! Eight years later I am still learning about what it means to be a business owner. I will be honest, it is not easy. I am pretty terrible at the business side of things (budgeting, finances, marketing, etc) My strengths lie in relating well to people and being creative minded along with having a wide variety of photography experience.
The new brand and website of Melissa Engle Photography
So, in unveiling my new brand and website, I wanted to create a look and feel that is professional, welcoming and reflects who I am and the people I want to serve. I have always been a mermaid at heart, so my brand colors reflect the soft blue green hues and warm grays of the ocean. My main logo is more refined and I also have a hand lettered logo monogram “MEP” for Melissa Engle Photography that is more whimsical and flowy.
When I started my business in 2010, I was photographing a variety of people and events, mostly focusing on wedding and portrait photography. I never had the courage to go solo full time so between 2010 and 2015 I held part time jobs to make sure I had a steady income. I worked as staff photographer for Franklin and Marshall College for a couple of years during this time and really enjoyed documenting student life and doing editorial photography. When my daughter was born in 2015, my life changed pretty drastically. I decided to become a stay-at-home-mom and run my business full time (though it's definitely not a full time gig at the moment!).
There are several reasons for my business rebrand, but the main one is to narrow my focus to portrait, family and lifestyle or documentary photography. I've spent the past year really thinking about my photography style, vision and purpose behind my business and I hope that comes through in my new website. I know that my favorite images usually involve bright, vibrant colors, magical light and genuine expressions. The photographs that really make my heart sing are those that show connection and tell a story. I want the people I photograph to treasure their images for years to come, and to see beauty in the everyday and extraordinary moments I am able to capture for them. I hope that my clients see photography as a worthy investment and can realize from working with me that I put my whole heart into my work and that I genuinely care about serving them the best I can.
The biggest struggle with launching my new brand but also an important thing to address has been raising my prices. I know a price increase has been long overdue, not only based on my experience and what other similar photographers charge in this area, but because reality is that running a photography business costs more money than you might think. I will leave the nitty gritty to another blog post for another time, but I will just say that nearly half of my income from 2017 went towards business expenses. With what is left of that income, I need to pay myself a salary for personal living expenses (groceries, health insurance, saving money for retirement, paying for my daughter's preschool, and my ice cream fund-haha). Covering those personal expenses right now is my goal for my business and I'm not there yet. My husband pays for everything else: mortgage, utilities, and all our insurance (cars, health, life, etc). I realize that affording quality photography is a luxury for some, which is why I offer short mini sessions at least once a year. If you're curious to know more about the business side of things, ask me! I am happy to divulge.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my photography journey! I'd love to hear your feedback. Shout outs to these talented photographers and artists who brought my new brand to life:
Jeff Frandsen for logo design
Cinnamon Wolfe for website set up and design
Melissa Engle Photography offers portrait and lifestyle photography in Lancaster, PA. Please contact me if you would like to make some photo magic together!