Wendy Zook Photography

Tuesdays Together & The Rising Tide Society {How a Spontaneous Leadership Role Changed Me and My Photography Business}

When I moved to Rochester, New York, two years ago, I was at a wild crossroads. My identity was all over the place -- not only with new geographic surroundings and a new place to call home, but also with my still-new photography business that had just crossed state lines and plopped down in an entirely different area. Even my role as a mom was being flipped all over the place with my kiddos entering school and all those hours as Momma coming to an end. 

I wanted my wedding and engagement photography business to not just survive, but thrive. But I didn't know what tools I needed, which people I needed to make it happen. Just months before our move, I had started hearing about a group of creatives called The Rising Tide Society -- a national group of small business owners and entrepreneurs who were networking online and meeting in person during monthly get-togethers called Tuesdays Together to discuss a variety of business-related topics like Pricing, Relationships, Social Media and more. I wanted a place like that to be a part of my new identity. 
 

Over the next few weeks, I put myself out there by semi-stalking and reaching out to some local photographers and one day, in a coffee shop in Victor, three of us sat in a corner enjoying some amazing muffins and sharing our dreams and wishlists. We talked about Tuesdays Together and how we wish we had a chapter in the Rochester area. And in what felt like an out-of-body moment, this very-INFJ, super-shy, sweats-in-the-center-of-attention fish out of water said "I don't mind applying for us and leading if you want me to."

I thought the application and approval process would take months, but, in less than a week I was logged in as admin to a local Facebook group and was joining leaders' email lists and planning our first meeting, held less than one month after that first exciting coffee shop date. 

My first meeting went something like this internal dialogue:
6am: I am SO excited! Oh my gosh, why do I have to wait 12 hours?!
7:15am: I'm canceling it. This was a terrible idea. 
12pm: ::checks RSVP list::
12:02pm: This is going to be amazing. Fresh start! Woot!
12:03pm: ::checks RSVP list::
12:30pm: I should skip it. Maybe they won't notice.                                                                           4pm: OH MY GOSH, TWO HOURS. It's 10 minutes away. Should I leave now?
4:05pm: ::checks RSVP list::                                                                                                                5:30pm: OK, let's go. You got this. You're basically Beyonce. You're Eleanor Roosevelt. You got this.                                                                                                                                                      5:45pm: ::sitting in parking lot, lots of sweat::                                                                                  5:55pm: "Hi, I'm Wendy! I'm so excited you're here! Wow, I'm so glad you're here! Are you so excited?" (very high-pitched, very very quick)
6pm: ::Pathetic nervous fake clearing of throat::

I spent the entire meeting freaking out SO much. I was filled with self-doubt, insane nerves and constant thoughts of "These people are so good and SO talented -- why do you think you can lead them?"

It was somewhere around the 4th or 5th meeting that I had a moment. Nothing specific happened, although I had definitely grown more comfortable (I still got nervous in my 18th meeting!); I had made incredible connections; I had received some really sweet comments and expressions of gratitude. Over time, however, I realized it wasn't about me. I had joined this movement for me, but it became about so much more than my selfish need to feel like I belong. It was about a community, a network. It was about the way certain topics REALLY helped our vendor friends that attended -- the way you saw their businesses take off on social media or the pride we all felt when they shared a success with a difficult client or with their new prices. It was about the friendships we started to see forming, the way we all felt like equals. It became about greater things like giving back to the community last November during our Philanthropy month; it was about the way our Facebook group grew to nearly 300 people who had all needed a home; it was the laughs and tears and dreams and worries we shared around coffee shops and gallery couches. 

Photo by:  Lauren Carnes

Photo by: Lauren Carnes

 



No one believes me at meetings when I tell them I'm painfully shy and timid -- and that new-found courage and comfort is because of The Rising Tide Society and my small role in Tuesdays Together. I carry myself differently now. I believe in myself so much more nowadays.

And my business has taken off in so many ways, and so much of that is because of what I've learned in 18 meetings next to other people who just "get it." They get the long days and late nights alone in your home office; they get the commitment and self-motivation it takes for a small victory and the 15 setbacks along the way. They get the family-work balance and the tricky tightrope that can be. They get being "on call" so much of the time. And they give -- they give encouragement, support, positivity and love. 

 



A new chapter is leading our family away from Rochester, New York. We'll be living in and starting over again in the Frederick, Maryland area and I'm so excited to meet new people and photograph couples across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. 

But with every new and exciting start comes the closing of a door. And it's time for me to pass on the Tuesdays Together Rochester baton. I know it's in good hands with Michelle Crawford and Denise Lazu co-leading it to amazing new heights. But part of me is sad to let go of this group, of this "thing" that has brought so much into my world. I hope to remain a part of The Rising Tide Society and can't wait to attend my first meeting in Frederick. 

I believe in #communityovercompetition.
I believe in Natalie Franke Hayes and her commitment to creating a safe haven for entrepreneurs. 
I believe in networking and gathering in person rather than just hiding behind a computer screen. 
I believe in getting out of your comfort zone now and then. 

And now, I believe in myself. And in my dreams. 


 

Vendor Visions {Wedding Desserts Advice with Shell's Sweets, Rochester Bakery}

Vendor Visions is a new collaboration between Wendy Zook Photography and various vendors from across the Rochester and Buffalo areas. These posts will feature one local vendor and their advice on planning wedding details in their field. 

Our first in this series features Michelle Crawford of Shell's Sweets, a New York State-licensed in-home bakery based out of Henrietta, New York. 

*   *   *   *

At any one time,  Michelle is balancing a 50-pound, four-tier wedding cake (no, literally trying to balance it!), bridal shower desserts and an assortment of birthday cakes and special occasion cookies. 

Her love of sweets became a passion, working desserts as a side job in 2011, which became today's successful Shell's Sweets, established as a full-time job for Michelle in 2014. It's not all fun and ease in the kitchen -- just one tier of an intricate cake can take her up to seven hours to complete. It's all worth it though, as Michelle's desire to meet new people and explore new venues and events comes to fruition with each carefully-prepped and decorated treat. 

"I love the creative aspect," she says. "I love meeting with my customers. It's fun to hear about what they have in mind."

Wedding Dessert Advice

Michelle suggests engaged couples reach out to their baker at least six months before their wedding date, but adds, "less than that may not be impossible."

You should also talk to your baker about your budget and be honest about it. 
"There are ways to have a gorgeous and delicious cake without breaking the bank," she says. "Flexibility and willingness to be open-minded is important."

Other things to keep in mind include coordinating with your venue. A tiny cake, for instance, could get lost in a huge, grand ballroom. There are ways to make it work, with tricks like stacking or using a larger stand to create the illusion of a larger cake. 

Michelle recommends sharing all details of your day with your baker so they can incorporate your overall vision at the dessert table -- recently, Michelle has used multiple tiers with unique looks for each, different-colored cake plates and a window or frame to share flavors and dessert options. 

Also consider the size of your table (a simple cake can look amazing on a smaller table) and the decor on the table (caketoppers, stands, flowers, etc.)

"I love it when they put a picture of their parents on their wedding days or something like that out," Michelle says. "But don't compete with the design of the cake. You don't need a lot, but a little addition is nice."

The background of a cake table is important, too -- just ask any wedding photographer who has cropped out "exit" signs or dealt with reflections and fingerprints on windows. 

In 2017, Michelle is getting the feeling that we'll see a lot less of the rustic looks (less naked cakes, for instance, although we'll still see those beauties, too, etc). It seems like the trends are gearing toward a more sophisticated look, more of an "urban elegance" feel -- gold lace, watercolor, pops of color, brushing with gold, painting buttercream, and more unique ideas. 

Spreads are very popular still -- cakes and cupcakes mixed together with a variety of flavors and even mixes of different types of cakes or pies together for guests to enjoy. A lot of brides are even considering to-go containers for guests to enjoy leftover desserts later that night or even the next day. 

Traditional flavors like vanilla or chocolate are always popular and safe, Michelle says, adding that it's always fun to add another flavor through a kitchen cake or different tiers. 
"Do something fun," she suggests, noting recent requests for Funfetti cake layers and a champagne-flavored cake. "Do what's you."

Michelle's favorite part of the process is watching the cakes and desserts begin to represent a happy, in-love couple and their most special day. 
"Their styles show through," she says. "That's what's so fun about weddings -- you can do what's you."

You can follow Michelle and her delicious desserts here: Website Facebook Instagram

Know a great vendor in the Rochester area? Want to be our next Vendor Visions guest? E-mail wendy@wendyzookphotography.com with the subject "Vendor Visions." 

 

2016 Behind-the-Scenes fun from Wendy Zook Photography

Wendy Zook Photography had an AMAZING 2016 -- it was our first full-blown, full-time year of wedding photography, with more than 20 weddings captured. About 12 other love stories started their photographic journey with WZP through engagement sessions in four different states! 

We've been looking ahead to 2017 for the past few weeks of "slow season" -- working on a quicker turnaround process for our next clients, improving business management things here at the desk and already participating in our first educational event, thanks to a one-on-one Skype mentoring with Hope Taylor Photography

However, I find it hard to completely focus on 2017 until I take just a few more moments to reflect on the gifts and blessings 2016 brought to me. And there will definitely be some embarrasing behind-the-scenes images of Yours Truly acting awkward, goofy and all sorts of in-the-moment.

I'm extremely proud of this 365-day journey. I began 2016 sitting in a coffee shop with a potential bride. Sweaty palms, nervous giggles and a lot of coffee... and now, a happy WZP bride and a sweet new friend. Beyond any beautiful image I've taken (and I'm really proud of so many), I'm so happy with the new friends I have made -- fellow photographers and couples. I'm proud of the ways I have improved my craft -- finding a style all my own and not conforming to popular colors or edits or anything that's not true to me; improving myself technically, too. 

It used to be really tricky for me to be a leader or in the spotlight. Unfortunately, a wedding photographer is not a field that allows for one to be a quiet or meek wallflower. So, this year, I really grew into the moment-capturer I wanted to be. I'm not exactly dancing on tabletops or screaming through a megaphone, but I've again found my way, wrangling large and loud bridal parties and excited, well-meaning mothers-in-law with snafus in weather predictions, medical emergencies and everything in between, and doing so with grace and confidence and kindness. 

I'm also taking leadership to a new role as leader of the Rochester chapter of the Rising Tide Society's monthly Tuesdays Together meetings -- an opportunity for local creatives of all fields to gather and network, talk business and have all those much-needed "you get it" moments. 

On a personal level, 2016 has been very, very good to us, too. We celebrated seven years of marriage and 10 years of our love story (which began with a blind date!). Our son turned 6 and started an amazing school sure to bring out amazing potential. And our firecracker-personality gal turned 4 and began full-day Pre-K recently. I started practicing Yoga and indulging in occasional Hikyoga adventures, too. And we started the year with celebrations with the National Down Syndrome and the incredible experience had while photographing models with an extra chromosome last winter. I feel truly, truly blessed for all the great things I've discovered and uncovered these past 12 months. 

And now, a little less mushy and a whole lot of awkward. I present insanely goofy images of myself deep in thought and on the move and testing light and making my couples laugh. 

Thank you to my phenomenal second shooters this year -- Kristin, Jenny, Dani and Stacey -- for keeping me sane, organized, laughing and dancing. Enjoy the photos! And Happy New Year! 

{Some backstories:
For one of these weddings, I was REALLY sick with a stomach bug. In the middle of trips to the country club bathroom, I was trying to set up settings with my second shooter outside in FREEZING temperatures for a glowstick departure. 

I apparently really like to take romantic walks with my couples as a third wheel. The prettier the location, the better, haha! 

Dislikes: Speckled light and uneven terrain. 
Likes: Funny faces, my new FitBit and pretty wedding day dresses. 

If I realize I've walked into my second's shot, I try to cover my face and act like I'm invisible. 

Final thoughts: I LOVE my couples. I'm so happy.}