When I first met Bethany I was impressed with how she never really allowed herself to be put in any particular box. She was a scientist at a prominent company in Delaware and loved going to music and art festivals, like Burning Man, Outside Lands and Firefly. I watched her slowly explore her more creative side until eventually she settled on photography. She was not only passionate about pursuing a photography career, she was also quite talented.
Fast--forward to 2017 and Bethany's full-time career as a live music and wedding photographer. She launched DOLA Photography in 2012 and never looked back. While she's no longer working as a scientist, she approaches each new project with the same thoughtful curiosity and precision that she brought to her work in the lab. It's been amazing to watch her transition into her new role as a creative entrepreneur, and is a great inspiration to anyone who is looking to make a radical career change.
Bethany Rees: DOLA Photography
What is the name of your company and what do you do?
DOLA Photography - I am a live music, wedding and lifestyle photographer
How long have you been in business?
I officially formed my LLC in March 2012, so going on 6 years!
How did you decide to launch your own business?
My degree is in biochemistry and I was working in a lab doing research when I started my photography business on the side. I know that it seems like such an unlikely leap to go from being a scientist to being a photographer, but for me there are actually a lot of similarities. First, in order to be a good scientist you have to be creative, I think scientists just use their creativity in a different way than people traditionally think. Einstein even said it himself, "creativity is intelligence having fun." Second, I think all scientists get into the field because they want to have a positive impact on the other people. Every single person in the world is touched by science and that's one of the reasons I love it so much. Photography is very similar to me because I can have a positive impact on someone else, except that impact is direct and immediate, felt as soon as I deliver photos to a client that they love. With science you might not see the impact of the work that you are doing for 10+ years! There is nothing better than photographing someone’s wedding, delivering their photos and seeing the joy it brings them when they are able to relive such a happy day over and over. The same goes for shooting a music festival, which is another amazingly joyous occasion, and when people see your photos after it helps them relive a fun moment. This is why I truly love my work, so there was no turning back once I got a taste of that.
What challenges did you face in the process of launching your business?
Having enough time to get everything done. I was doing photography on the side for years while I still had a full-time job, which was smart because it gave me the ability to slowly build up my business without having to worry about how much income I was making, but it was also very difficult because you can only take on so much when you're doing that. It's also not sustainable to work that much in the long term—eventually something’s got to give—so I'm happy to just be focused on photography right now. I actually get to enjoy having free time!
Did you feel as though there were resources available to you, specifically as a woman business owner?
Not any that I know of but I wish there was!
Do you have a mentor?
I'm so grateful for the opportunities I've had to learn from a few incredible photographers. I took a fantastic class at the International Center of Photography in NYC this summer with John Dolan and Holger Thoss. I also attended a workshop with Jose Villa in Mexico last year. They are some of the best photographers in the country, and what I learned from each was very different, but both have helped shape my photography style.
(Note: Both John Dolan and Jose Villa have made Harpers Bazaar’s Best Wedding Photographers List)
Books you recommend?
I love the Origin of Inspiration by Samuel Adoquei. I go back and read parts of it over and over whenever I'm feeling stuck. The author is the stepfather of Julian Casablancas who is the lead singer of The Strokes. I photographed their concert at Governors Ball Music Festival a few years ago in NYC and was very struck by his performance so I did some googling afterwards and came across the book.
What do you love most about running your own business?
Being able to work with so many other awesome creatives! There are so many talented people in the Philly/NYC area and it's fun working on events and projects together. I also love having creative control and the ability to develop my own artistic vision. If I want my website to look a certain way, or if I want to shoot something in a certain way, I can. It's really refreshing to be able to make your own decisions and stay true to your style.
What is your least favorite aspect of running your own business?
A lot of my shoots take place on the weekend, which is great because it means that I can grocery shop at 10am on a Tuesday when no one else is around, but it can also be very isolating when most of your friends work a more traditional 9-5 schedule during the week. It's hard when you have to miss seeing family or going to a party because you're just not on the same schedule as others!
What is your best piece of advice for other women who are thinking about launching a business?
Become friends with others who have already done it and ask them lots of questions. It's important to set yourself up for success by learning from what they have done, which to me mostly means learning from their mistakes so you don't make the same ones. It's not easy launching a business by yourself and because of that I also think it's important to outsource things that you're not good at. You only have so many hours in a day so spend your time wisely.