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All images ©Susan Stripling

For Susan Stripling, a wedding is a world of enchantment

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BY STEPHANIE BOOZER

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efore she became a professional photographer specializing in weddings, Susan Stripling

had been sorely disappointed by the photographs of her own wedding. "When I got my proof book, I started to cry," says Stripling, who says

she hadn't really known what to look for in a wedding photographer back then. "That experience sparked my own desire to provide something better, but at the time, I had no idea that I was pushing toward a career path." Stripling's career didn't commence until the birth of her daughter; she just couldn't put down her camera. It was a 35mm Canon Rebel. On a fluke, Stripling's husband asked her to shoot stills for his company's Web site, and a co-worker of his was so impressed with Stripling's eye that she asked her to cover her wedding. "I told her that I had never shot a wedding before and was definitely not a professional," says Stripling, "but she persisted and I eventually said `yes.'" With the wedding six months away, Stripling pushed herself to become proficient. She sought out photography forums on the Internet and read tutorials on common

I made the conscious decision to stop pursuing local weddings and go after destination weddings... that was a huge turning point in my business.

shooting and lighting issues. She also added some equipment, such as a flash, another lens, and a ton of film. "I realized pretty quickly where my faults were," says Stripling. "But I also wound up shooting some really nice stuff. I still have a print that I just love from that wedding hanging in my studio." Her spirits buoyed by the experience, Stripling realized she might be onto something. She had business cards printed and signed up for a local bridal fair. "I went to that fair with about six or seven black-andwhite prints under mats, a handful of business cards, and that was it," she says. "Everyone went nuts thinking it was so artsy, but it was really just bare and simple. I booked 26 weddings from that one fair." Stripling invested even more time and energy into learning her craft, perusing as many books and online courses as she could find. After purchasing her first digital camera, she tested herself with difficult selfassignments to boost her technical knowledge. She converted her garage into a studio, and from 2002 to 2004, photographed weddings for residents in and around her home in Tallahassee, Fla. "Eventually, I made the conscious decision to stop pursuing local weddings and go after destination weddings," says Stripling, who's within a three-hour drive of many popular beaches, and frequently hops a plane to more exotic wedding locales. "That was a huge turning point in my business." Now in a larger studio space outside of her home, Stripling limits her wedding commissions to about 28 a year, leaving time to travel and manage her portrait business, and spend time with her family. Her only paid advertisement is a full page in The Knot's Florida edition. The ad, she says is really more about putting her name in

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I just go in there and look for beauty.

front of area wedding vendors than attracting new clients. Her popularity is due mainly to word-of-mouth referrals. She frequently updates the blog on her Web site, which also pulls in brides. Stripling believes in keeping her site clean and simple, but updates her blog after nearly every event. "I've been blogging since before blogging was common, and it's becoming more and more difficult to track how people find me," says Stripling. "The Internet really makes it so much easier to spread your name everywhere. Someone will get on a message board, then read a wedding blog with someone's recommendation. It's really fun to have people find me in these unique ways." Stripling says wedding clients are more savvy than ever. They invest a great deal of time researching photographers, often looking at studios nationwide. "It's really a big decision for them," she says. "The competition for destination weddings is strong." Though Stripling doesn't like to restrict herself to any one photographic style, she describes her work as mostly modern journalism. "My style is crisp and classic, with bright colors and great emotion," she explains. "I think what sets me apart is my ability to illustrate the relationship between two people in a clean, straightforward, yet pretty manner." With a degree in theater, Stripling is well versed in visual art. She also spent time working in graphics, and though she actually liked working with the imagery, didn't feel a strong connection in the field itself. In wedding photography, however, she found a career that combined her computer skills with her love of art and the drama of theater. "I love how visually beautiful weddings are," she says. "From dresses to flowers to how amazing a bride looks when she smiles, everything about it is so inexplicably

xx · www.ppmag.com January 2005 · Professional Photographer · xx

gorgeous and grand, no matter how simple the event." Stripling's packages start at $6,000 and go as high as $23,000, depending on the travel involved, the amount of time she invests, and what the client wants as an end product. She has no qualms about handing over a DVD of digital files if that's what the client prefers, but she does offer a range of albums. "I have a lot of media-savvy clients who already know what they want to do with their files. I aim high to provide my clients with a beautiful, full set of images, not just a handful of great images in an album," says Stripling. "You want your clients to remember everything about their wedding 20 years later. I just go in there and look for beauty." I

Get inspired with more of Stripling's style at www.susanstripling.com.

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