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Meet Trailblazer Tressa Scharf

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tressa Scharf.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Tressa. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
From a very young age, I was encouraged by my family to explore my creativity. My dad would take me to LACMA in LA on a regular basis to expose me to different art mediums; I really liked to draw so I remember him buying me watercolors and pastels to expand my art materials. When I was about six or so, my grandpa gave me a point and shoot film camera (that I think he purchased at Costco) for me to take pictures with. I don’t think that’s really a typical thing to gift a child that age, but I honestly loved it and took it with me on trips to all of my relatives’ houses. I still have prints of these photos and whenever I stumble upon them, it’s super cool looking back to see what caught my eye when I was a kid.

I owned a camera throughout my childhood and received another (this time digital, still from Costco) camera, from my grandpa. That thing carried me throughout high school, but in my senior year, I was getting deeper into it and upgraded my now ancient digital camera. Despite my love for photography, I went to Cal State Long Beach with the intention of majoring in journalism. I had always wanted to go to UCLA but settled on CSULB for their good writing program, but after two years, I realized I wasn’t reaching my full potential and decided to apply to my dream school. I scanned the list of majors to apply for– art and English stood out. What would I do with an English major? Do I take a chance and apply for art school? Of course, I took a huge leap and applied for art school, and to my surprise, I was accepted.

Not going to lie, art school was rough. I wasn’t an artist, I was a photographer. All of my peers were good at literally all art forms and I felt so out of place. Wedding photography was definitely looked down upon, yet here I am. In my defense, though, I still incorporate my knowledge of art into my work. My last two years at UCLA, I got really into fashion photography. I was writing and photographing for this modeling agencies blog, mostly art happenings, and bands, which was so so much fun. I got to attend shows of bands I loved for free and photograph them! That evolved into photographing models at different Los Angeles agencies and even landing an ad campaign.

My very last year of college, a friend was getting married and I sort-of second shot it. She had a “professional” photographer and I was added on to take additional photos. This is where my career shooting weddings started, eventually adding families into the mix. As much as I loved photography, though, it was never my one and only focus. I ran other small businesses on the side or did odd jobs to help pay the bills. I can’t say I had a full grasp on what it meant to run a photography business, but I’m proud to say this past year has been really good for me and starting next month, I’m diving into wedding photography as my full-time job and I can’t wait!

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?
Right before graduating, I panicked. I didn’t know what I was going to do for money once I was done with school. I didn’t know how to market myself as a photographer. Instagram was a thing, but it was just starting out and wasn’t the marketing tool for photographers that it is today. So, I started a small business completely unrelated to the field I wanted to go into. Studs were trending, so I studded iPhone cases to sell at a flea market on Melrose with a friend and created an Etsy account to sell my goods. My business went strong for 2-3 years but I started to get bored and didn’t know how to continue to grow it. After being done with my shop, I got really into baking and tried to start selling baked goods, which didn’t last as long as my previous small business efforts. I ended up applying for a delivery driver position at a local bakery and did this in addition to photographing family sessions here and there.

Like I mentioned previously, photography wasn’t my number one priority but looking back, I wish I put all of my time and energy into running my business instead of running to random jobs to supplement income. It’s easier said than done when you need to support yourself, but I put it on the back-burner out of convenience when I should have figured it out. The last couple of years, I’ve spent working a part-time retail job in addition to photographing more weddings and misc. sessions; I’ve been easing my way into making this talent my full-time job. I don’t know what happened that switched the light on in my head, but I finally understand what I need to do and have the want and desire to make this dream my reality.

My advice to young women starting their photography journey: don’t. give. up. Don’t lose sight of what it is you want to do in the long run. It can be hard supporting yourself as an artist, but you have to keep pushing through and I promise it will be worth it. Invest in yourself by taking business and marketing classes, attend workshops that will help you grow, seek knowledge on the internet, shadow fellow artists to see how they work.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Tressa Scharf Photography – what should we know?
Although my work has evolved over the years, from being a fashion photographer to bands, then families and weddings, events– today I am a traveling wedding, elopement, and engagement photographer. My husband and I have been photographing weddings together for years, there’s hardly ever a project that we don’t partner up on. It’s an amazing feeling being creative in this way together, and even more amazing to be trusted by so many couples to visually tell the story of one of the best days of their lives.

One thing that I’m most proud of as a photographer is being able to incorporate my art background into my work because I feel like that’s what sets me apart from other photographers. I’m not taking these photos for the hell of it, I’m trying to evoke emotion, feeling, create unique visual appeal, and last but not least, authentically tell the story of my clients.

Do you recommend any apps, books or podcasts that have been helpful to you?
I have to give it up to Instagram for being the biggest game-changer. I’m able to post my photos for the world to see and it helps to keep me connected to everyone and can bring in new clients. There are so many convenient features for small business owners. I’m not cool and don’t listen to podcasts because it reminds me too much of talk radio, which I hate. I do love apps like Spotify because listening to music while I’m editing photos helps keep me going and is a good inspiration, even when I’m not working.

Contact Info:

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1Image Credit:
Main photo taken by Dawn Photo
Tressa Scharf

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