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Meet Toki Lee of Toki Lee Photography

Today we’d like to introduce you to Toki Lee.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Toki. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Okay, here goes!! Back in 1985, I attended FIDM and graduated with an AA Degree in Merchandising Marketing. I didn’t really do much with that degree but several years later, I went back to school and earned my BA degree in Business Management. I was working for Nestle in Glendale at the time and at the age of 34 I was devastated when I was told that I had breast cancer. I never gave the word ‘cancer’ much thought before this but that all changed as I went through a series of difficult choices that I had to make quickly because of the aggressive nature of what was happening inside my body.

Eventually, I came to peace with the decision to have a mastectomy and undergo chemotherapy. Anyways, I promise this story has a happy ending! My camera became my lifesaving force during a vulnerable and frightening period of my life. Making photographs of people, places and things uplifted me and kept me focused on the beauty around me.

Eventually, I healed and went back to work… but although I enjoyed my job before my diagnosis, all of a sudden it held no meaning for me and I had to dig deep to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had always enjoyed photography so I enrolled in an internship program in Maine for a summer work-study program. I was immersed with making photographs every day and it seriously fed my soul. I knew that I had to find a way to create.

Fast forward a few years later, I became a mother to my twin boys who are the loves of my life and I get to do what I love, making photographs and more than that… making people happy with what I do.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Oh goodness no! In the beginning, I struggled with whether or not to leave a good paying job to pursue photography full time and then I had twins so I never had time. I had to learn how to operate a digital camera and make sense out of Photoshop. Then there’s the constant challenge of marketing and finding and serving the right clients.

There’s the constant challenge of trying to do everything myself when I should be outsourcing more… financials are always challenging, it would be great to have a business manager manage the business side of things while I pursued the creative side.

I also struggled with the technical side of things in the beginning and a few years ago, I challenged myself to pursue a CPP which is PPA’s certification program. I’m so happy to say that I passed the rigorous requirements which took me 2 years to do but I’m proud to be a Certified Professional Photographer. There are always challenges but I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything!

Please tell us about Toki Lee Photography.
I am an on-location photographer and I specialize in portraits and headshots. In this day and age, we are all photographers! I think what sets me apart is the whole experience from start to finish. I always conduct a casual interview with my clients to learn about them and find out who they are and what makes them unique.

In this way, I am able to create a photo session that speaks to their personality, their desires and ultimately, how they want to be seen. So whether I’m working with a high school senior, a family or an entrepreneur for his/her branding portfolio, I really make it a point to bring out their best and give them images that represents who they are.

I am deeply grateful and proud to be in a profession that touches others in a powerful way and allows me to leave a small mark in this world.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I think I would have started a brick & mortar studio to get established a little quicker.

Having a ‘storefront’ would probably make a potential client feel more comfortable and trust the company a little more than having to rely on what you see online. Most of my new clients come through referrals but it’s taken a long time to build.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Main photo: Wendell Servin

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