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Life & Work with Velvet Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Velvet Park.

Hi Velvet, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I’m a photographer specializing in lifestyle, boudoir, couples, and family portraits as well as intimate weddings in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego counties. I would describe my editing style as moody and warm but true to life in color and vibrance!

While I’ve always been interested in photography, it’s not something that I’d really considered for a career until COVID-19 gave me the time I needed to really dive deep into it. I have my Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and I originally moved to Southern California from Northern Idaho to pursue a career in that field. I even spent a year working in an Oceanography laboratory and snorkeling for work while attending college in 2012. I had planned to go on to a PhD program at UCLA but life had other plans. The funding fell through and I found out that I was pregnant just three months before I graduated. I pivoted and about a year after my son had been born, I chose to pursue a Master’s degree in Environmental Science from California State University Fullerton.

You can imagine that I didn’t have much spare time between classes, working in a research lab, and writing my thesis to pursue my photography hobby. However, I graduated just a few short months after COVID-19 had shut down most businesses and brought hiring in professional fields to a standstill. Additionally, my son was just three years old and his preschool would not re-open until January 2021. So… I pivoted again. What could I do to earn income during this time of uncertainty? What would be flexible enough to allow me to still be my son’s primary caretaker? What would I enjoy doing during this time? All of those questions were answered with portrait photography! I bought myself a Sony Alpha mirrorless camera and a couple of highly-rated lenses as a graduation gift to myself and I got started photographing my friends for free to build my portfolio. Eventually, word of mouth and a growing portfolio allowed me to book paying clients. About a year and half in and I’m happy to call myself a professional photographer!

I did find a full-time job as an Environmental Consultant last year but I’m still able to take on new clients on evenings and weekends and it works perfectly for me and my family. Plus, I really enjoy sending clients their galleries and hearing how much they love and cherish their photos! That really makes my day.

In 2022, I’ll also be teaching Oceanography part-time at a local community college. It will take a lot of work and organization on my part but I’m thrilled to be able to do all of the things I love as a living. I don’t think it’s possible that I’ll ever get bored and most of all I’m happy to be setting a good example for my son. What I mean by that is, so many people told me that I couldn’t make a living as a Marine Biologist, or as a Teacher, or as a Photographer — yet, here I am, doing it all and absolutely loving it.

The three most important lessons I’ve learned (thus far) have been:

1. If you want it, don’t give up on it.

2. The people you meet along the way may wind up being your most important resource.

3. Pivot when you need to.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It’s never a smooth road, is it?

The toughest part for me, I think, was that I was really on my own from the get go. I didn’t come from a family who pushed me to excel in academics and they definitely never asked me about my college plans. My mom went to prison when I was a sophomore and I’ve essentially been supporting myself since I was 15. I dropped out of high school three times before returning and finishing five months after spring graduation. I don’t think any of my high school teachers had much faith in me. I was smart but I wasn’t motivated. I think something clicked in my brain when I realized I wouldn’t be walking at graduation. I told myself I had to do better and that included graduating and going to college. That’s exactly what I did. I packed my 1996 Dodge Neon full of my belongings and hit the road as soon as I received my diploma. I wound up in Southern California, found a room to rent, and that was really the end of a certain phase of my life and the beginning of another.

I spent the better part of 11 years in college trying to carve out a career in science. I didn’t excel in the subject matter naturally, and I spent some time in remedial courses. I changed my major a few times. I moved around a lot, which set me back some time. But when I figured out exactly what I wanted to do, I put all of my energy into it. I studied Marine Biology at a community college for three years before transferring to the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. There I applied to a scholarship program that paid me a stipend to work in a research laboratory, it was probably one of the best years and one of the worst years of my life. I loved Hawaii, the people I met there would wind up becoming some of my closest friends. My boyfriend and I had become engaged just before we moved there together but then we wound up breaking up. Living far from home was hard on him and I was loving every moment. It put a strain on our relationship. We were also super broke. We had sold our cars to fund the move and were living off of my small stipend and student loans. It wasn’t sustainable. I applied to transfer to California State University Fullerton and wound up doing so the following year. Back in California, I was also accepted into a funded scholarship program and worked in a research lab. This time, the pay was better and the cost of living was less. I planned to go on to a PhD program at UCLA but my acceptance was contingent upon receiving funding and while I received an Honorable Mention, I did not receive the funding and was not admitted. This is pretty typical in the world of STEM field PhD programs.

I graduated in May 2016 and my son, Bodhi, was born in October 2016. The decision I made the following year to stop applying to PhD programs was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. I’d had it in my mind that I would go on to a PhD program for a decade. That was my goal for so long. But here I was a brand new parent and I had to make a decision that would not only be the best and most practical for family but it also had to be one that I would be proud of so that my son would grow up and know that his mom never gave up on her dreams. That sounds cheesy… but I was serious about it.

I sat down and I made a list of the things I most wanted to accomplish. I thought about careers that would be suitable for me given my background and my interests. I’d wanted to be a photojournalist when I was a kid, and although at the time I was super focused on the science/environmental realm… taking photos was always in the back of my mind. I chose Environmental Science because the program in and of itself was flexible, offering mostly night classes catering towards working professionals or those who like me, worked full time and had familial responsibilities. It was also not far outside my original career goal and it offered the potential to become employed by the private sector, which I knew would provide the financial stability I needed. I worked my butt off for two years. I worked full-time between three jobs and took evening classes when my son’s father could be home with him. I worked as a lab tech, a teaching assistant, and a waitress at the local burger joint. I spent my weekends at the local wastewater treatment plant or in the basement of the science building on campus in front of a microscope conducting research associated with my thesis project. When it was time to graduate, I can clearly recall thinking, “After graduation, I’m going to read the books I’ve been neglecting and I’m going to buy myself a camera and start photographing the world — that is my reward for all of this hard work.” So that is exactly what I did.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I never thought I’d say this but when it comes to my career, I’m multi-faceted.

I work full time as an Environmental Consultant, specifically I’m a Biologist and Regulatory Specialist. What that means is that I’m able to split my time between doing cool things like hiking around outside identifying plants and animals and sitting in front of my computer writing reports. Essentially, I’m the middle-woman between our clients and agencies like the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It’s great, I get to be a nerd but my schedule is flexible and I can work from home when I need to (i.e., on days when my son is home from school).

I’ll also be teaching Oceanography at a local college beginning next term. I am so excited for this! I love being in an academic setting and I love helping others understand how earth systems work. Besides being uber fascinating, I tell my students, it’s important to be scientifically literate in today’s world.

Finally, I’m also a Portrait Photographer specializing in lifestyle, boudoir, couples and family portraits! Yay! I love saying that out loud. I thought, in the beginning, that I wanted to photograph landscapes but I learned very quickly that people are the most fun! I love capturing the in-between moments in a candid fashion. I love being able to feel the love between two people when looking at an intimate moment I’ve captured. I love that the women I shoot for boudoir feel sexy and strong when they see their portraits! It just all makes me so happy!

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
If it sounds like something that you would love doing, just go for it! Seriously! Taking a risk is the only way that you will find out if it’s right for you.

Pricing:

  • Family Portraits $300/hour
  • Boudoir $300/hour
  • Engagement $300/hour
  • Wedding packages start at $2,400
  • Mini Sessions (occasionally offered) $200/20 minute session

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Velvet Park Photography

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