We had the good fortune of connecting with Alexa Ray and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Alexa, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Entrepreneurship was all I was ever really surrounded by when I was a kid. My dad was a fishing guide and my mom managed the family rental property. Nobody was on a 9-5 schedule at any point, so I viewed being self-employed as really the only way to make money for a long time. When I got my first job working at a surf shop in high school, I began to understand a little more about what it meant to have a boss and what it meant to be a good employee. Yet, I always saw starting my own business as the end goal, and everything else was just a stepping stone.

Growing up with two self-employed parents really motivated me to set that goal early in life, simply because I knew it wasn’t some far-out dream. I was taught that it was actually attainable and that you could support a family and a comfortable lifestyle with your hobby-turned-business… that you could actually make money doing what you loved. It was just luck that I had a fishing guide for a dad who exposed me to that train of thought very early on; a guy who fished everyday for fun and, slowly but surely, started getting paid for something he already enjoyed doing on his own time. Mind = blown. To me, that was the true definition of success.

Still, there were major fears when I was faced with the decision of jumping into self-employment full time. I held a “day job” (which was a full-time salary position) for two years after graduating college before I took the bet on myself and my photography business. It was a really good job too, the one I left, so it took many anxiety-ridden nights of weighing the pros and cons before I submitted my resignation. I had spent so much time on fulfilling other responsibilities away from photography when I knew that if I could just transfer even half of that energy into starting my own business that it could actually be something. It hurt me so much to realize that and that feeling is what propelled me into taking the plunge.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My name is Alexa Ocean Ray and I am a wedding and portrait photographer based out of South Padre Island, Texas. My future husband is from Colorado, so we travel there often and I’ve had the pleasure of exploring and working with the stunning landscapes of that state as well! I feel incredibly honored to have been invited to document so many important moments in people’s lives and it is always so exciting to bask in the true love and happiness that people share with one another.

With me, stylized portraiture and documentation come together to capture the beauty that is your life. My utmost goal is to capture unposed and sincere moments among families and couples so that you can look back and savor authentic memories. Straying away from current trends, we focus on classic styling and creating an open, comfortable space for expressing emotion and having fun while still striving for the timeless photographs that will be passed down in your family for generations.

All of my favorite photos ever are those that I’ve captured are “candid”. So, this has really pushed me to aim for a very casual and documentary approach to portrait photography. I work with my clients to plan location and styling before the shoot, but the hardest part is getting families and couples to let go of expectations like staring at the camera and smiling. I’ve learned that the potential chaos that is love and family is so much more interesting to look back on than the stoic, posed, photographs.

I’ve tried getting into other forms of photography like nature or real estate, but nothing has really intrigued me like people do. The spontaneity that comes with capturing real people having real experiences, let alone the unknowns of weather and natural light, is what continues to challenge me and excite me.

I’d say that I feel more like a documentarian than an artist because that is the part of my work that is most important to me – capturing “the moment”. Here’s another way to put that: When I’m going through old photos of my parents from a time before I existed, seeing them hug and laugh and go on adventures, I’m not thinking about how the image was composed, I’m just grateful that the moment was even captured at all. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past few years is that styling the aesthetic elements matters, but should only work to enhance and facilitate the documenting of life, personality, true love, and connection.

Portraiture is a chance for you to express yourself and feel proud of the life you have created. It’s the ultimate act of self-love. When you feel confident, it helps you feel more comfortable to be yourself and open up in front of my big scary camera. It’s so important that clients feel comfortable in what they are wearing and in the setting they are in, and I am happy to give them the guidance and reassurance they need so that we can have a fun and sincere shoot together.

As my style evolves, it has been a challenge to express my new-found values to the outside world. When you’ve exhibited a certain style of photography for so long, and people like it, it’s scary to try and move on to a new style of editing or posing that simply feeds your heart and soul more than the former. However, another huge lesson I’ve learned is that I have to create what I like and let my audience and cliental ebb and flow as I progress as an artist and as a professional. I can’t stay stuck in a cycle of duplicating a craft simply because I know that’s what sells. That’s not why I do what I do.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
As someone who was born and raised in the area, I have had the opportunity to explore and experience the beauties of South Padre Island for 20+ years! It’s also been very exciting to watch the city grow and change. There are always new restaurants and activities to check out.

In terms of restaurants, Yummies Bistro is a must for breakfast, and Sea Ranch is a must for dinner. The Sea Ranch restaurant is located right by the Sea Ranch marina, so you could enjoy the view of boats entering and exiting while you sip your cucumber martini.

Another great place for dinner and drinks is Tequila Sunset. This newly renovated bar is located right on the bay and it’s pretty much our go-to place for hanging out and having fun after dinner or after photoshoots.

The SPI Adventure park offers horseback rides at multiple times each day. These rides are pretty magical because the guides will take you through the more remote parts of the island. Parasailing with Sonny’s Beach Service and surf lessons with 77 Surf Shop are two more must-try’s for the whole family.

Feeling a little sunburnt after a few adventure-filled days? Sign up for an art class at the Art Business Incubator. This is a non-profit organization that promotes the arts and supports local artists.

At least once, get up early and be out on the beach for the sunrise. When I was younger, I took this beautiful hour for granted but now it’s my favorite time of day! Even better yet, book a fishing trip and get out on the water before the sun peaks over the horizon. Capt. Gus’s Saltwater Adventures will show you sights and put you on the fish while you explore our beautiful Laguna Madre bay.

Of course you’ve just got to commemorate your awesome time on South Padre Island with a portrait session out on the beach! Grab a cute new outfit at one of my favorite local boutiques, Isla y Rica or Island Style, and frolic through the waves with me!

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My first and last “real” boss is someone who really took a chance on me and has supported me to the utmost even after I left the organization and started my own business. Darla Lapeyre was not only the best boss ever, but is such an amazing friend and is just such a fun person to be around. I know it was hard for her to encourage my photography business because that meant me leaving the organization, but she supported me anyway and I will always be grateful for that.

Darla Lapeyre is the Director of the South Padre Island Economic Development Corporation. She is such a kind and considerate individual, and I feel very lucky to have worked with her for two years while I was the Program Director of the Art Business Incubator on South Padre Island, a SPI EDC project. ABI SPI (pronounced “abbey”, SPI) sets out to “incubate” artists who have the desire to own and operate their own art-related business on South Padre Island. The Incubator was created to nurture and establish a sufficient mass of art related businesses to allow us to market South Padre Island effectively as a beach destination that is also an arts destination. I feel truly honored to have worked with Darla and this incredible and progressive organization, and my time there really shaped the professional that I am today.

Website: aorphoto.co

Instagram: @aorphotoco

Facebook: Facebook.com/aorphotoco

Other: alexa@aorphoto.co

Image Credits
Headshot photo credit: Anastasia Walt Photo All other photos: AOR Photo Co.

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