We had the good fortune of connecting with Gabrielle Van Wyck and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gabrielle, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Growing up I was always trying to start my own little businesses; lemonade stands, homemade jewelry, dog-walking, etc. So when I was reaching the end of high school and trying to decide what to do after I graduated, I was already doing photo shoots and decided that running my own business was the only thing that made sense for me – I felt like I had already been practicing my whole life for it. I had already taught myself how to build websites for fun, I spent time with the restaurant manager that I worked with to ask questions because I just wanted to know what it was like to manage a business like that out of curiosity, and I already had clients for photography. It almost felt like destiny to just jump into running a business. I loved the idea of living a creative life and the potential flexibility I could have when I started a family. I was constantly writing notes and lists and just trying to think of how I could make it work, and what I would need to get started, but for the most part I just kind of threw myself into it and let it build as I went.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My business has evolved a little over the last ten years. As of right now I help couples, families, groups of friends, and small business owners get memorable photos – but I also help them plan a fun trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains or in the Shenandoah Valley. I love helping other small businesses, so I suggest local businesses to my clients who are traveling in from all over. Coffee shops, inns, wedding vendors, river outfitters, etc. Basically my business is a mix between tourism and photography, and I think that’s what sets me apart from other photographers. The challenges I’ve come across in starting and keeping a business have also evolved. In the beginning it was money, so I had to just build my business slowly whenever I had the money to do so. Then it was just putting in the time and the “hustle”. I would sometimes wake up at 5:00 in the morning and start working and wouldn’t stop until 11:00 at night, working on my website and photo edits, emails and posts. The only consistent challenge has been my own self-doubt – worrying about money, about getting enough clients, about every photo shoot I delivered, and stressing before every photo shoot too. Thankfully I had an incredible support system that helped me and kept me on track. To deal with the money issues in the beginning, I worked part-time jobs to save up and buy the gear I needed and to pay for my website. I had my best friend to chat with on the long days of working. Eventually once I went full-time and worked consistently on photo shoots, I just got more and more comfortable and it helped me feel better before and after every shoot, which helped with the self-doubt. I’m very emotionally attached to my business, and that’s why it keeps changing and why I never gave up on it. When I was in high school and college, I photographed a lot of high school seniors. Once I was in a relationship, I photographed more couples. As I got more into local tourism, so did my business. Once I started my family, I wanted to photograph more families. It can be hard because I am so attached to it – it sometimes feels more like a lifestyle rather than a job, but I love that it can change and grow with me.
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.
It’s very sad to say that I’ve never been to Denver, it’s way up there on my bucket list! But something I love to do (this is definitely biased) whenever I visit a new place is find a local photographer and have a photo shoot! My other favorite thing is to wander around and find a cozy coffee shop, and then that’s where I do most of my research of what I want to do in a new city – that way I’m already enjoying and experiencing where I am!
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?
There are so many people I want to Shoutout to. I’m very, very lucky to have in incredible support system. So first, my parents for helping me open my little savings accounts, buying my first camera (a disposable!), and just being excited about every photo I ever showed them and always being proud of any little accomplishment I made in my business. Then there’s Clare, my best friend, who is also a photographer and has just been working alongside me for over 10 years now even though she’s been over 1,000 miles away the entire time. And of course my husband, who also supported my decision to go full-time with photography and helped me figure out future finances and retirement options so that the business was actually sustainable.
All photos taken by White Sails Creative – including self portrait.