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Meet Stephanie Portugal of Love + Exploration in Whittier

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Portugal.

Stephanie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
It started back in middle school, you know, the MySpace days. I was heavily into going to shows and Whittier had a lot of cool local bands and some pretty popular local venues. Skateland, The Red Cross, The Green Turtle, those were staples. I always had an interest in photography, I just didn’t know to what extent yet. I had (and still have for the memories) this little Canon PowerShot A95, it has a whopping 5.0 megapixels and a tiny 1-inch flip screen. I thought I was the coolest person at shows taking photos of these bands and uploading them to MySpace. It wasn’t until some of the bands started reposting these photos that made me want to be better.

Of course, I set my heart on a better camera because these 5 mgpx weren’t doing anything for me. Flash forward to my freshman year in high school where I (literally) begged my aunt Chris to buy me the Canon Rebel XTi starter kit camera, because let’s be real, this 15-year-old gal couldn’t afford it. After a few days, she bought it for me; maybe she saw something in me, maybe it was the countless hours of “I’ll do anything!”, who knows, but what she and I didn’t know at that very moment is that she had just jumpstarted my career. I went on to photographing bands for a few years and then I lost my momentum for a little and decided I was going to join the Marine Corps, I wanted to do combat photography.

I traveled for a few months via train back and forth from Orange County to Oceanside to study and train with some of my Marine friends that lived on base. I signed the contract and everything. I’ll just skip to the part where I decided not to join because some friends of mine gave me an opportunity I couldn’t pass on. I was 17, about to turn 18 and traveling the country with some dudes in a van sounded much more appealing than boot camp for three months, so without hesitation, I withdrew my contract from the military recruiters, packed my camera bag (and tons of baby wipes) and left. I owe everything I have today to that very decision. It shaped me to the businesswoman, friend and even wife I am today. And now, here I am, 28 years old with a career I build off pure passion and adoration; I can actually call this my dream job. We have traveled all over the world for weddings and engagements and I never forget to stop and give thanks to the universe for allowing my dedication and dreams to become a reality.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It most definitely wasn’t smooth, anyone who tells you that is lying. In the midst of all the fun, shows and travel, my father passed away. I will never forget the phone call. I was in my bedroom and my mom in the kitchen. Our phone rang and it was my aunt (my dad’s sister), my mom answers and the way her voice changed within a split second, I already knew what happened. I didn’t even need to ask. It was so difficult to be 18 and attempt to help my mom through that, alone. I didn’t know how to feel, to be honest, it’s still difficult for me to process 10+ years later.

Then last October, I lost my dog, Olive. She was my literal rock. I crumbled at the peak of my career, my busiest year, I was defeated. We fought hard for an entire year with chemo and holistic remedies and in the end, it wasn’t enough. But the most surreal part of all was that all my amazing clients and people that just love my art and follow me on Instagram came together during that time and purchased pet sessions that I was offering at a discount price, donated money even when I wasn’t asking and even spread the word about my photography to help pay for Olive’s chemo. I don’t think I have ever been more touched through the power of community like that before. It meant more than the world to me and to all my clients, thank you will never be enough. After she passed, I truly felt like my life was over. I almost threw in the towel all together with photography at that moment. I couldn’t eat, sleep, focus on work. It wasn’t fair to my clients in my eyes. I was going to pass the work to another photographer and be done but I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. My husband was there to help with editing and shoots when I couldn’t bear going. I truly have him to thank for keeping me going at the lowest point of my life. Almost 1 year later, I am stronger, but not quite there yet. I have learned to move forward with life because it doesn’t stop for anyone. And as I always say, I don’t think anybody ever gets over anything in life, we merely get used to it.

Please tell us more about your work.
Love + Exploration is a photography company I created in 2014 that specializes in weddings, engagements and elopements. I photographed weddings solo for a couple of years but in 2016, I brought my husband on board and now we are a husband + wife team. I wouldn’t be able to photograph weddings without him. We work very well together and for that I am grateful. We love and take pride in every single wedding we photograph.

We are 10000% obsessed with all our clients and their stories. We fall in love with them and invest our hearts and souls into not only capturing a love story but their love story. We pride ourselves in building a long-lasting relationship with our clients, not just a quick business transaction. You can find us grabbing beers or a bite to eat with most of our clients prior to their weddings. We really spend time getting to know them and think that’s very important in the process of them choosing us to photograph their most special moments.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My absolute favorite memory would have to be Christmas at my Aunt Sue’s house. It was the best! I didn’t even care to wake up at my own house to open gifts or anything because I couldn’t wait to get to hers. We’re Armenian, so that means it’s eating all day long. Every Christmas morning, Aunt Sue would make beeshee, which is basically an Armenian donut that you top with, well, basically anything you’d like.

The array of toppings we used were: powdered sugar, sour cream, butter, syrup, jam and fruit. My favorite combo was (still is) sour cream with blackberry jam. Even as I got older, 15, 16, 17, I still looked forward to it as much as I did at 5, 6 and 7. In my older years, I would often bring friends to Christmas at Aunt Sue’s because the more the merrier with my family; they can all attest to this amazing sight. If I close my eyes and hone in, I can still see her in the kitchen with her apron on, smell the dough frying and hear the love and laughter in the room. It is hands down my favorite childhood memory.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

35mm photo of Alex + I (Personal photo) – Paul Edward Gray
All portfolio shots – Stephanie Portugal, Love + Exploration

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1 Comment

  1. Aunt and Uncle B

    November 1, 2019 at 21:55

    Great job, Steph! Keep up the amazing work, kiddo! We love you!

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