Behind the Scenes

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. 


 

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.}

 

Caroline Logan Workshop Recap -- Headshots & The Future of Wendy Zook Photography

So I've already shared a bit about what I loved most during the Caroline Logan Photography Workshop last month, and now I want to share my beautiful new headshots from Caroline and also what all this learning and daydreaming means for you and for Wendy Zook Photography.

 

There are no gigantic shifts in my business -- I mean, in the last year I've already rebranded and consistently given a fun and personal client experience (not to mention some of my favorite images so far!). Rather, I'll be emphasizing those things that are important to me, thanks to some "aha" moments at the workshop:

 

- Blessing my clients with my business

I don't want to just deliver photos -- I want to deliver an incredible experience from first phone call through consults and e-mails and engagement sessions all the way to their sparkler exit at the end of their special day. I want them to feel that in some way Wendy, and not just WZP, has brought joy and all sorts of good things into their lives.

 

- Consistency, consistency, consistency

I want consistency not just from Corynn and Kevin's wedding in June to Melissa and Patrick's big day in September but from my first wedding in May through my last wedding in 2017. I want consistency in my workflow (I'm slooooooowly moving to all-digital for contracts, invoices and bookkeeping) but also in my editing. I really want to stay true to my style and also make all of my events look like they truly belong to the same person. Will you hold me accountable to this?!
 

- Staying true to me

This is one that I'm getting better at, but, in a field that can be competitive and stressful and overwhelming with talent, I just want to make sure that the reason I take each wedding on is the same as why I chose this path originally -- to observe and capture the greatest moments of unique love stories and to embrace true moments of the day as they happen. I want to always tell romantic stories and fun anecdotes through images that are as natural and authentic as my couples. I want to come home after each long wedding day and say "YES, YES, YES" on repeat. I want to stay friends with my clients and watch their lives explode with beauty and joy and the ups and downs of life. I want to be a capturer of memories.

 

 

It got pretty serious there! Let's take a deep breath and enjoy some pretty photos from someone else, shall we?

Photos are courtesy of Caroline Logan and took place in the beautiful Hingework co-working/studio space in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Camera strap is from Casie Marie Photography's Etsy store.

 


Which headshot is your favorite?

Caroline Logan Workshop Recap -- My Five Favorite Moments

My last blog shared the background of the Caroline Logan Workshop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, last month. Today, I want to brag about my five favorite moments from the adventure.

 

1. Surprise Birthday Cake!

Caroline's workshop was special for several reasons and one of them I tried not to make known too much was that it was my birthday! I love taking advantage of my birthday to reflect on the year behind and the year ahead. Surrounding myself with such amazingly-talented people and beautiful spirits was a wonderful way to do just that. Even better than the well-wishes and hugs from my new friends? A surprise singing of "Happy Birthday" with an adorable pink macaron and candle AND a beautiful birthday cake to take home. I felt like I was taking away from Caroline's special day and hard work but I appreciated it so, so much.
 

 

2. The "A-ha!" Moments

I caught myself often during our sessions somewhere between frantically writing quotes, book recommendations and ideas in my notebook and just sitting, staring, absorbing all that I wanted to do and be.

... Be a friend, not a vendor...

... Numbers don't matter...

... They're not actually buying the product; they're buying the heart...

 

3. A super styled shoot

Caroline and her team created such a beautiful vision at Hingework that day -- from the flowers to the gown and the amazing couple that was patient with the paparazzi in front of them. I loved Caroline's patience with us and our questions and I'm grateful that in never felt like there were a dozen photographers tripping over each other or stepping on each other's toes. I can't wait to share images in the future!

Styled Shoot Vendors:

Caroline Logan Photography

Kortney Cooper Dowell

Hingework

Posh Bridal

Treasured Events

Couture Cakery

Unfading Beauty by Kristen

Dove House Homemade

 

4. Giveaways and Goodies

Caroline is a force to be reckoned with and she has the support of INCREDIBLE companies and organizations, as evidenced by the sponsors and giveaway items in her workshop. KISS Photo Albums, PASS Galleries, Align Album Design, Shoot and Share, HoneyBook, ONA Camera Bags, MileIQ and Agree.com, just to name a few! I was the happy winner of an entire year of PASS galleries and I am SO grateful for that! It's going to mean more credits to apply to client gifts and surprises!

5. Meals, a tour and the parking garage

Caroline probably didn't imagine when planning her workshop that my favorite part might involve a parking garage downtown, but I swear it's a good thing! You see, Caroline managed to assemble some ladies that could easily be my friends in real life (and who hopefully will be) from different states and ages and backgrounds and families. It says a lot about her in who she gained in her class. Some of my favorite moments were chatting with other ladies in the thick of this balancing business and life thing -- gathering around our dinner table chatting about struggles and laughing and taking selfies while Caroline's mom took us on a walking tour around downtown Lancaster. And then, at the end of the very long, informative, incredibly motivating day, I said goodbye to the last of the ladies in a parking garage nearby and felt such happiness and joy that she was in my life now but also sadness that this whirlwind of a day was over now. I can't wait to watch each of them succeed.

Not sick of my excited rambles from the workshop yet, are you? One more post coming your way soon about what all of this means for Wendy Zook Photography in 2016! Stay tuned!

 

9 Things to Ask a Wedding Photographer

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Dreams & Realities, Friends & Rockstars -- National Down Syndrome Society New York City Photo Shoot

***This is one in a three-part perspective on the #rockinNDSSstudios experience with the National Down Syndrome Society. To see more of this journey, visit my co-photographers Nicole and Sherri who are also sharing their adventures in blogs today. ***

 

 

Months of planning, new and old friendships and a gathering of wild imaginations and big dreams came together earlier this month in what will most definitely be remembered as one of the absolute highlights of both my professional and personal stories.

A little background and then a lot of fun memories:

In mid-October I shared my friend and newborn photographer Nicole Starr's donation of photography sessions to families affected by Down Syndrome with my never-met-but-feel-like-true-friends friend Sara Weir, President of the National Down Syndrome Society. I thought it was a long shot and I thought I might be bothering with Sara's already busy schedule, but lo and behold, Sara requested a conference call with us. We were excited, but puzzled. Perhaps, we thought, Sara had some connections in Nicole's Boston area for some well-deserving families to receive photos.

But Sara is a dreamer. A big dreamer and a big believer. And that's what makes her and the NDSS so fabulous -- they're almost afraid of the word "no" when it comes to advocacy, human rights and possibilities and futures for those with DS.

She offered up her idea that maybe, just maybe, we could all collaborate for a NYC rock-and-roll-themed photo shoot to use for the NDSS annual fundraising Gala, held in March at BB King Blues Club. The rest of that phone call is a blur because I felt such extreme emotions overtake me.

When Nicole and I hung up with Sara (after agreeing that YES YES YES we were in!), we of course called each other and simply alternated between shocked silence and excited squealing. And we took off running from there. We joined forces soon after with Kandi, Kristie, Maddy, Amy and several others from NDSS. There were conference calls and Pinterest boards and model calls on Facebook and then e-mails, phone calls, Excel spreadsheets and travel plans.

Sherri, a mom to a daughter with DS and Nebraska-based photographer, volunteered her time and efforts, too.

Before we knew it, a sunny, mild December Monday morning arrived.

I sat on my seat on the plane, smiling out the window as I texted a picture of the plane to my aunt for the kids to see. I half-wanted someone to ask me where this plane was taking me, just so I could answer, "To the most INCREDIBLE opportunity I've ever been given! You would not believe how lucky I am!"

At the NDSS New York offices on the 600-block of Broadway in the heart of the NoHo neighborhood, it went from a big dream to a huge reality. We tested our lighting and camera settings, took a tour and scoped out corners. Poured some coffee, grabbed our lenses and for about the longest five minutes, just stood in our own little quiet worlds. Then the first models arrived, hair and makeup began their work and it began!

We had more than 200 volunteer applicants and wound up with more than 50 models. We represented just about every genre and style of music and every age between infant and 50 years old. Men and women, boys and girls. Quiet and shy and confident and strong.

You know how they say, "It's the little things in life"? It is. Truly.

I felt so many powerful moments.

Many of my 15-minute sessions were outside in a side street off of Broadway, with cobblestone and wrought iron gates, graffiti, cool staircases and a true NYC skyline and vibe.

I remember crossing over the cobblestone with one of my older models holding my hand, tenderly gracing her feet over the bricks as she told me in one breath about her recent ankle surgeries and a trip abroad for advocacy work.

A teenage boy was painfully shy and his parents warned me he may not come out of his shell. But just a couple of minutes later, I saw the most beautiful smile. His mother wrote me that the photo shoot has changed his confidence and self esteem.

My Billy Joel sang "Uptown Girl" while acting smooth on the front steps of a nearby business. My Elvis Costello suggested wonderful poses and locations along the street and nodded, "That looks so good!" when I showed him the back of the camera.

I received hugs and got so many hand squeezes. I took selfies with my new friends and just couldn't stop smiling.

(Photos below are camera phone behind-the-scenes shots:)

 

It wasn't just the rockstars. It was the tough Momma who gracefully balanced her other children with love and attention. The Dad who wasn't afraid to make a fool out of himself to get his son to loosen up in front of the cameras and strangers. Proud aunts and grandparents and friends, too. Big sisters who helped little brothers and all of those behind the scenes, holding fans and lights, grabbing coffees, allowing flexibility and not worrying about who won't wear their wig or whether or not glasses are part of the costume. Some of the best moments were when I wasn't holding my Nikon -- instead I was blasting and dancing (poorly) to some Taylor Swift or asking about hobbies and hometowns and listening, truly listening.

Moms who learned I have a son with Down Syndrome offered resources, phone numbers and the best of bear hugs. The kind that say "I get it" and "Our lives rock!"

There was talk about fighting for the right classroom, open-heart surgeries on sweet babies, scars from tubes and so many battles that are fought on a daily, hourly basis. But there was no complaining. There was no 'why me.' Over the course of two days, we had one common purpose with some sunshine and a lot of love. We created beautiful art with our experience and equipment and all of those big dreams. But our models and their families are the reason for the success of those days. Their patience and open-mindedness and their incredible positivity.

 

I was keeping it together pretty well.

And then, in the most unlikely of moments, it all hit.

Nicole was photographing our little Buddy Holly and he needed a little encouragement from his big sisters and Mom who were watching from the back of the room. They were great -- a little dancing and some laughter and he was ready for his time in the spotlight. But the moment that truly defined his time as a rockstar? Not the solo photo that Nicole nailed in the camera of him with a guitar and a little black suit. It was the instant before when he stood in the center of four of his family members, all of them grooving and giggling. THAT, is what NDSS celebrates and strives for and that is why I think we all wanted to be a part of this. That reminder of hope and beauty. Of a life that is absolutely remarkable. A life lived like a dance party.

But, I couldn't put that in words, and I quietly retreated and broke down in tears in the hallway.

I apologized for being weak and creating a scene, but then Kandi of NDSS, also a mom to a little boy with DS, held my back and said "This is all for Zack."

But this is for all of them. The 400,000 people living with DS in America today. The moms and dads who have been through it all and the new parents of the 1 in 691 births with a DS diagnosis every year. This is for my new friends who have college degrees and who dance or sing or act. It is for their past accomplishments and their future successes. They are all rockstars. They are all role models for us all.

 

 

Several families have sent me/us thank-you messages. I am appreciative and yet I shake my head and whisper, "No, thank YOU."

You who rearranged doctor appointments and missed school and work. You who traveled five hours in the morning for one hour in our little makeshift studios just to turn around and drive five hours back home -- because you told us you 'just had to do this.' You who trusted a stranger with a camera. You at the NDSS who travel multiple times a month, endure difficult phone calls and long Senate meetings and House bill lingo. You who march and fundraise and do not sit quietly with the status quo.

 

(Images below are of some of the models I worked most closely with, emulating the following rockstars: Usher / Pink / Elvis Costello / Billy Joel / Elvis / Michael Jackson / Lenny Kravitz / Lady Gaga / Gwen Stefani / Janis Joplin / Pat Benatar.)

 


Images from this photo session will be used in promotion for and on display at the NDSS 30th Annual Gala and Auction. This year's honorees include ABC and actor and advocate Chris Burke. Final posters of our rockstars will be available for purchase. All proceeds from this event will go toward the NDSS.

Ashley is beautiful (glamour/senior portraits)

While family was out visiting our home the other day, I picked up my Nikon and grabbed my niece and we disappeared for a few minutes taking photos and having Girl Talk. Like most teenagers, my niece's Instagram account is covered in selfies and, again like most teenagers, she looks in the mirror and picks apart her flaws far before anything she loves about herself.

So I told her to put on her makeup and trust me and away we went!

In her first couple of minutes, just like many of my clients, Ashley was a bit too aware of herself and questioning every position. But barely a block away from the house, the comfort and trust settled in and she let down her guard. I loved seeing her sassy side and her goofy side. She started to get excited about different backdrops and poses and I think we were both sad to see my house come back into view.

I might be biased, but I think there is a beautiful young lady peeking out from her shell.

The other side of the camera (Who is Wendy?)

I've been so overjoyed meeting new friends recently, thanks to the only-slightly-creepy world of social media and following and being followed by amazing peers and neighbors and everyone in between, that I thought I should do a post all about me. OK, that sounds a bit narcissistic, but consider it a "hello" more than anything else. Even if you've trusted me with capturing a memory in the past, I trust that we will meet again and I think it's important to know who's behind the camera.

Speaking of behind the camera, I found myself on the OTHER side of the camera recently during my mentorship with Hope Taylor Photography and Ms. Hope captured my awkward, uncomfortable self with great skill and a keen eye and transformed me into something worthy of a headshot! Haha! So clients, don't worry, I completely understand what it's like to have someone putting you in angles that maybe don't make sense in the moment because chances are something great is happening and you are going to be very pleasantly surprised.

View More: http://hopetaylorphotographyphotos.pass.us/wendy-headshots

So, hello! Who the heck is this Wendy Zook?

First and foremost, I'm Momma to Zack and Addie. Because of Zack, I am a lover of hugs, sloppy kisses and advocacy for Down Syndrome. Because of Addie, I am a lover of coffee, imagination and colors.

My husband bought me my first "serious" camera in the weeks after our son was born. Two years later, a friend needed a last-minute wedding photographer and the adrenaline, creativity and fun I felt in that day led to part-time pursuing of photography opportunities.

After leaving my full-time job one year ago, I began to dedicate time to Wendy Zook Photography. 2014 was about training and learning and reinventing myself and my passion. 2015 will be about even more incredible things. My hope is that in December we can all look back on this post and this moment I'm freezing in time and shake our heads with how far I've come and how far WZP has journeyed in just a few months.

I am an old soul trapped in a young heart.

I love classic films and current chick flicks but would rather have the radio on (Van Morrison on Pandora lately) or a book on my lap than see a TV on in the room. I wear ballet flats every chance I get and have a silly amount of shoes that look very much alike.

I love it when I capture a story with my photographs. Two people in love strolling through Christmas lights weeks after their engagement. A groom fighting tears as he watches his bride walk towards him. A new business professional finding himself. A woman who feels like a princess for the first time in her life. A woman discovering her sexy side after a boudoir session.

There is adrenaline and emotion (I'm probably crying behind the camera during your vows) in every session I do and I care about each client like a friend.

Aside from my family, photography is what brings me great joy.

It's been a slow journey, but it is a great adventure. And I'm glad you're along for the ride.