Welcome to Changing the Game, a Modern Rebel blog series where we talk with professionals in the wedding industry who are using their platform to diversify the industry’s image, give back to their community, and challenge the idea of what a wedding “should” be.
What brought you into the wedding industry?
The short answer is that I had a terrible experience with a photographer during a session and I was so pissed off and annoyed and I couldn't help but think I would never want anyone to feel the way that I felt; especially when it comes to paying for a service that should be nothing but good vibes so you can get the best photos.
I have always had a camera and I was always 'that friend', but that negative experience with someone who was able to be successful with such a sour attitude lit a fire inside of me. That experience coupled with the knowledge that a photographer friend I've always admired was completely self-taught made me think 'hey, maybe I could really do this thing.' So I bought a nicer camera, took some classes to learn more of the ins and outs, worked with other pros and kept reminding myself that I could do anything I put my mind to.
What is the most rewarding element of your work?
I LOVE working with clients who tell me they're awkward or shy, but then send me a bunch of messages after they get their gallery telling me how much they love their photos, that they can't believe I was able to capture who they really were, or get someone to smile, or make them look and feel amazing, or freeze moments they didn't even know had happened.
Everything I do is literally driven by feelings. I get clients who have contagious, happy energy and it makes me feel excited to be with them which makes my job that much easier. The energy carries over into editing and I literally get excited when I'm working on galleries to the point where I have to stop myself from snapping photos of my screen to text them, because I worry about seeming crazy and overzealous; but hands down, making my clients happy by giving them experiences and photos they love is the best thing.
When people hire me, they're putting a lot of trust in me not to eff something up or miss important moments and I take that very seriously...because I want them to be happy and I want them to love their photos...and I want them to send me excited messages too, haha!
What is a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?
As of right now, being published on the Catalyst Wed Co. blog.
When the blog and magazine first started in 2015, I was just starting out with my professional photography work. I was familiar with Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding and they were great, but they didn't 100% resonate with me for some reason. When Catalyst came out I remember thinking 'these are my people.' I wanted to work with them and I wanted to know who they knew. I wanted my photos to be published in a place where people like me gathered.
When Amber Marlow called me in June to verify some information and ask for a bio so they could publish my work, it was a super exciting day for me. I definitely poured a glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon and gave zero effs about it, because one of my little dreams had come true!
Are you using your platform to give back or impact a larger community?
Yes! Ever since I was 21 I've always given back or donated my time and money in some way. I remember the first foundation I worked for, thinking that one day I wanted to run my own foundation and honestly, I still do, but since I'm not there yet, I want to give back where I can.
I have always volunteered and helping others has been a part of me for longer than I can remember. I knew when I started my business, I wanted to be able to give back, but I wasn't sure how I would incorporate it until I just decided that no matter what I would donate a portion of my profits to charity every year. Even if it meant that things got pushed onto the back burner for me, I wanted to donate to others in need, no matter what, because I know what it feels like to go without.
This year, I am donating to Michelle's Foundation (http://www.michellesfoundation.com/). I love their mission and while they have multiple arms to their organization, I'm a big fan of their scholarship program. As someone who came from an underprivileged background and had to take out a boatload of student loans to go to college, I'm 100% on board with helping younger generations get an education and hopefully achieve their dreams.
What do you feel you bring to the industry that wasn't there when you started?
Unique vibrancy! When I first started, I used to beat myself up about the fact that my work didn't look like the work of other pros and I thought I was doing something wrong, because so many wedding photographers seemed to fit a certain style that I didn't have.
Fast forward to now and my unique vibrancy is what sets me apart! I can't think of any other photographers whose work looks like mine, whose vibe is like mine, and whose experience is like mine.
My couples hire me because of ME and that's pretty freaking cool! They don't want someone who's like so many others; they want someone who's a little different and that's what makes my job fun. My couples want to step outside of the box and we have so much fun together!
Who inspires you in the industry?
A year ago I would have answered with a photographer that I have admired for years, but today I have to say with blatant and brash honesty--myself. I know that seems arrogant AF, but hear me out.
When I started my business, I was So. Freaking. Clueless. I had a lot to learn and my first lesson was that I cannot be like anyone else. It was a long road to get away from comparing myself to others in the industry and getting to the simple place of believing in myself and doing what felt right to me. Don't get me wrong, I still occasionally scroll Instagram and look at Pinterest for inspiration, but I stopped holding myself to the standard of what other people were doing and started paying more attention to what felt right to me.
That line of thinking has been really beneficial for my business, my relationships, and my sanity. It's way too easy to fall into a rabbit hole with all of the media at our fingertips so I try super hard to just live in my own imagination like Willie Wonka.
What marriage tradition are you sick of?
The fucking fairytale bullshit! (Can I actually say that? Can you print that??)
For YEARS women have been sold this ridiculous idea that their wedding day is this amazing, magical, life changing milestone that will make them into who they're supposed to become and it's such total bullshit.
Yes, getting married is an amazing thing, because finding a person you can tolerate all the time is a big freaking deal. Yes, it's magical, because let's be real, you're probably wearing the most expensive outfit you've ever bought; all or most of your favorite people are there and honestly, you're probably gonna end up being drunk AF and lots of things are magical when alcohol is involved. And yes, marriage is a life changing milestone, but I feel like it's emphasized in the wrong way.
Modern women aren't princesses. They're working, educated, independently capable women who can do anything their hearts desire and getting married is a choice, not a prize to be granted after being a good little girl.
I would love to see couples celebrated more for joining and planning their ideals, dreams, and goals; rather than a woman being celebrated for 'landing a husband' because she followed the rules. It's 2019. We can do better than that.
Let’s also not forget that marriage isn’t just between a man and a woman anymore, and there is more to do as far as representation for same sex and queer couples.
Who is your role model, mentor, or hero?
Oprah! Need I really say more? I mean the woman got a shout out in the show This Is Us when one character said to his wife that she needed to swear on Oprah that she wouldn't do something--like swearing on Oprah is God status!
Seriously though, Oprah is literally the 60-something version of me. I've read her book "What I know For Sure" and the first part was like reading my childhood and the latter part was like reading my dreams. Her philanthropy really inspires me. She's rich AF and she does so many good things with he wealth. She's inspirational, influential, and she never forgets where she came from. I love that she gives back and extends her resources to people in need.
My life dream is to be able to lay on my deathbed and say I lived like Oprah.
What changes do you want to see in the wedding industry? What steps are you taking to make this change happen?
In late 2017, I decided that I wanted to use my business to give back and that's been a big thing with me this past year. I wanted to focus on collaborating with fellow small business owners and also donating a portion of my profits to charity.
I was literally standing in the shower, thinking through my business goals and I thought to myself 'The wedding industry is a self-indulgent space and there is so much room to redirect so much of the money people spend on this one day to places where it's really needed.'
I mean how great would it be if people started booking wedding vendors based on whether or not their money was going to a good place?! I know my ideal clients are people who want to give back and lift others up so I've been really vocal about my decision to donate a portion of my profits to charity.
Crystal Lily Photography is a photographer serving Los Angeles, CA and Central FL. If you’d like to get in touch with her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.