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Meet Christine Lee Smith of Christine Lee Smith Photography in Anaheim

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christine Lee Smith.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
After spending months silently banging my head on my desk at work, my husband said to me one night, “You’re miserable. You should quit. Go do something you love, like photography.” I resisted until I couldn’t take it anymore. I had always loved photography, and worked in the industry, but never thought I could actually go do photography. For me that was a huge mental leap.

I finally made the decision in 2006 and started my own studio. I did weddings, corporate events, portraits … basically anything I could get my hands on to build my business and help pay our rent. After 7 years I was burning out. So I decided to pull back from the big events and focus on what I loved to photograph: portraits. As I transitioned, I also decided to pull my side hustle (teaching photography) to the forefront. I had already been teaching at a local camera store, and loved seeing my students flourish and get excited about photography. So I began crafting my own classes and offering unique learning environments for adults.

Now I have the time and space, while doing 1:1 mentoring and portrait work, to go back and pursue a dream: getting my MFA. I’m beginning an intensive format program later this month! And I’m fundraising my first semester at www.gofundme.com/christineleesmithMFA

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Absolutely not! It has been the hardest most rewarding journey of my life. I have had to work hard, fall on my face, learn how to not eat for 12-hours in the heat of wedding season, and hustle my butt off to find work.

Although it’s easier now — I have a small stream of regular clients I adore — the work is still hard, it’s just different. Running your own show, you not only have to be good at your service or skill (in this case photography), you have to be good at running a business. This is where I, and others I mentor, often struggle the most in the beginning. It’s this learning curve that not only do you need to convince clients you’re amazing at what you do, but you have to develop and run the systems that run your business: booking, advertising, contracts, marketing, social media, website maintenance, licenses, insurance, and more. It’s a steep learning curve, but if you can take it one step at a time and continue to move forward it’s totally possible.

Amidst all of the logistical challenges you also have to learn to provide excellent customer service to all clients — not just your favorites. I’ve been yelled at, threatened, and more. No matter how good you are, you will inevitably find someone who disagrees (and likely, it’s not even about you, but you’ll bear the brunt of it). This takes an emotional toll over time. So you need to develop a metric for yourself about when to walk away from a gig. And that’s not easy, because it likely will change your income for that month or more. I’ve recently begun asking myself: how much am I willing to sell myself for? when dealing with a difficult client. Just this week I used that question and determined I would walk away from a 2-shoot gig because the client was not leaving me a way to make them happy and I saw the writing on the wall that they had a problem (internal) I could not fix with amazing photography.

Christine Lee Smith Photography – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I offer 1:1 mentoring and coaching to adults who want to learn photography: from mastering their camera’s technical capacities to walking with them through setting up their business. I also offer lifestyle portrait photography to clients. If it involves people on location I’m in. I love working with professionals and families and artists.

I’m known for inspiring my clients to dream big. One of my favorite questions is: Why not? We as a culture tend to err on the side of self-limitation. And it’s so unnecessary most of the time. Dream big. Go for it. The world needs you to.

In my photography work I’m known for intimate, emotional, portraits. I have an ability to capture the essence of a person. Photography can either make you feel more like yourself, or like a stranger to yourself. Over the decade I’ve been photographing people I’ve hooked on to how to help people feel safe and comfortable so they can be their truly beautiful selves.

I am so proud of who we’ve been able to serve. I’ve worked with seniors, teenagers, and adults in the middle. Regular people who are doing extraordinary things, who’ve invited me to journey with them on the way. It’s incredible to look back and see this collection of dreams being pursued and fulfilled and to watch my clients doing the same thing for others — influencing their own communities and networks.

What sets me apart from other photographers or mentors is my background in spiritual development. Along my own journey I took a 3-year intensive personal journey of spiritual healing and it’s impacted everything I do now, how I listen to people, the capacity I have for understanding and compassion. And because my own path has brought healing to me to be and become my truest self, I can now offer that to others through both coaching and photography.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Being free enough to become who you are meant to be is success for me. I watched my family live out the American script — good union job, work hard, be tired most of the time, raise kids, live for the weekend, then retire but have no idea what to do with yourself or even really know who you are, or who your family is either.

When my husband said, “Go do something you love,” I didn’t then realize the ripple effect that would cause in our lives. We’ve worked hard, and are blessed, to be able to work flexible schedules in line with who we are at our best, and to do meaningful work that we love, and use work as a tool rather than be chained to work to fulfill external requirements. We are blessed indeed.

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