We had the good fortune of connecting with Alicia Bruce and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alicia, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I’ve never quite thought of myself as a risk taker – I’m not an adrenaline junkie, I don’t combine medications without calling a pharmacist first, and I always wear my helmet when skateboarding, even when cruising on flat ground.
But then again, maybe I am a risk taker. In 2010 I left my stable career in meteorology to start my own photography business from scratch. After 8 years of shooting weddings, I revamped my entire business and switched to shooting only brand and product photography. And when I broke my shoulder during the pandemic forcing me out of work for 7 months, I turned my lifetime art hobby into an illustration side hustle.
Taking a risk is scary. Leaving behind a world you know and feel comfortable with to jump into the unknown can be terrifying, but it’s also exciting. I don’t like feeling complacent; it feels boring to do the same thing over and over again. Changing what I do for work to align with who I am as a person at a certain point in time just feels right for me to do. Right now balancing brand photography and illustration feels perfect for me, but in five years down the line it’s possible that I could sell all of my photography equipment and be a full-time artist. Who knows? I do know that no matter what I choose to do in the future, that the risk will have been worth it.
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.
After a lifelong dream of becoming a meteorologist, I graduated college and got a job a few months later. I thought it would be this incredible life for me – studying the weather, living outside of Boston, going to happy hour with co-workers… and it was nothing like that at all.
Over time I’ve realized that while I do have a love of science and loved the idea of being a woman in STEM in the left brain-right brain balance, the creative right brain won out. I couldn’t stand the idea of being in a windowless office (funny for a meteorologist to have no windows) working strange hours (evenings, weekends, overnights, holidays), no real schedule (it was totally different week to week) with random days off here and there. I was tired all the time, I lived off of cereal and goldfish crackers and had a difficult time getting much done in my off hours, especially when my “day off” was actually overnight.
At the time I was on Tumblr and followed a lot of photographers. This was in the late aughts, so everyone was really in to street photography and Lomography. Photography was a hobby of mine and I started to put more time and effort into it. Photography was my creative outlet while I was stuck in a decidedly uncreative job. I spent my shifts dreaming of owning my own business as a professional photographer and continued to share my work on Tumblr.
By 2010, my boyfriend-turned-fiance (who is now my husband and worked at the same company as me) also became disillusioned with the job. He was ready to move on, so he began putting feelers out. I chose not to apply to any jobs because I didn’t feel like that was the right move for me. We decided that he would apply for jobs and I would be willing to go anywhere and would start fresh wherever we landed.
We ended up in northern Virginia before the end of 2010. Once we moved in I spent many nights crying over my resume that was jam packed with nothing but meteorology summer gigs, internships, and my most recent job, but nothing else. What was I qualified to do besides meteorology?
I got a job in retail at a local running store to earn money while my husband worked his way up at his new job. As he got to know his co-workers, I had him ask if any of them would be willing to let me do a photo session for them for free just to practice. I kept working at photography by offering up free or low-paying shoots just to get used to photographing people. Eventually I started taking on weddings (with my brother who is also a photographer) and created a real legit small business.
I’ve since left weddings behind to work on brand and product photography, something I love doing way more than weddings. It took awhile to get to this point – I was in my mid-30s when I made that transition out of weddings – and finally feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.
The biggest thing I’ve learned is (as cheesy as this sounds) to never give up on your dreams, but also that dreams change. I spent many years feeling guilt over leaving meteorology after wanting to be one for almost my entire life. Who was I if I wasn’t Alicia the meteorologist? But that dream of who I wanted to be changed, and I needed to honor that change. I fought hard to get my degree and it’s still one of the proudest achievements of my life. But a new dream came along and I would have done myself a disservice if I’d ignored it instead of going for it.
Even within photography I’ve changed my goals. I tried so hard to fit in to the photography I’d see online everywhere – my business coach calls it ‘perfection porn’ – everything is just so, very light and airy and desaturated colors, portraits of people looking serious in long flowy dresses with thousands of dollars of florals surrounding them. It all clicked for me one year when the “word of the year” I chose for myself was “rebellion”. It was time to throw that all to the wind and just let me youthful, colorful, silly self show through to my work. I hired a designer to give me a full rebrand with a new website loaded with color and fun, quirky elements. This felt SO me, but I also worried that it would turn people off. My edits are true to life, not trendy. My people are type B and come as they are, not decked out in professionally styled clothing and perfectly coiffed hair. I love color and light and joy, not models with dour expressions for the sake of being “moody”.
A funny thing happened, though. My business became busier than ever, and I had people hiring me specifically for my photography style and the vibe I put out on my website. I now embrace my love of color and joy and I get to work with the raddest people because I was finally brave enough to rebel against the “norm” and do what felt true to me.
I now work with personal brands and small business who have a carefree vibe, who love to laugh and twirl, who create amazing things with their hands, and who want me to document who they really are, not who they want the world to think they are. I tell their stories through imagery, and it’s a wonderful partnership to have with my community.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
(You might be referring to Denver and I’ve only been there once, so I’ll skip this one! LMK if you do actually mean my home city in Virginia, though!)
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 husband is, without a doubt, my number one supporter. He’s a man who needs stability and routine to thrive, whereas I’d lose my mind if I didn’t have freedom and flexibility. He understands that about me and supports it 100%. Never once has he persuaded me to go back to a salaried position or forced me to be someone I’m not. I’ve had that life and working for a company on their time isn’t for me. I’m happiest with the life I lead, and he knows and loves it. We balance one another out – I’m the balloon, he’s the anchor – and with his support I’m able to build a successful business and lead a life I love.