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Rising Stars: Meet Cassandra Guerra

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cassandra Guerra.

Hi Cassandra, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today.
Growing up, my grandmother always had a camera in her hand. She documented so much of my earlier life and I’m grateful that she made it her priority to keep our memories alive. She also gave me my first camera, which taught me that I have the power to tell my own story through photos. In college, I aspired to be a Biology major, but found myself spending more and more time in the darkroom developing film in the Art department. I eventually shifted my major and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. I took pictures of everything, but fell in love with the images that had an interesting backstory the most. After graduating, I became a professional photographer who did family, maternity, birth, boudoir, and engagement sessions regularly. I even photographed an event on my first baby’s due date. After that, I became very busy raising my family but found time for a photography session here and there.

A couple of years later, the world changed and we decided to get some traveling in to combat the boredom. I became inspired by the landscape and wildlife on our journey and found so much peace in that area of photography. When life gets heavy, I’ve learned to pause everything and run off to the mountains to find that calm feeling again through nature photography. I am very lucky that my job is also my hobby, and when I talk to my kids about their future, I always try to remind them how important it is to find that in your career. When my profession shifted to wedding photography, it basically happened overnight. I was asked to photograph a wedding, and after that I was hooked. It had all of the emotion, storytelling, and excitement that I was looking for. It certainly isn’t easy and it will test your skills as a photographer probably more than any other genre of photography, but there is such an emotional reward knowing that you’ve been able to give a couple, and generations after them, documented memories that they will cherish forever. I think if you find something that creates a spark in you, then you should be listening to yourself and let it guide you. That spark could potentially light up your life, and I am so glad that I said “yes” to that first wedding.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Are any roads smooth? (I-25, I’m looking at you.) I can’t say that my road wasn’t bumpy, and much of it was filled with potholes, but the drive was worth it once I got where I wanted to go. A huge part of starting your own business is wrapped up in self-confidence. Most of us are taking a huge leap and an even larger risk. Stepping out on your own is scary, mostly because it feels like you are driving at night without headlights. I knew that if I was going to create a career path for myself, I needed all the confidence I could get. I went to school and got a degree, and I was determined to actually use it. That was the first step. Then, somewhere along the way, my life started filling up with little things, and eventually with some really big things, and I had to navigate my time wisely. Also, I’m not sure if many people are aware of this, but Art school is very different from Business school. So for obvious reasons, if you’re looking to get paid for your artistic abilities, get a minor in Business. Every artist I know has to nail the business side of things (which unfortunately doesn’t always align with our creative nature), in order to find a sustainable career pursuing their craft. So, next on my list was to learn how to run a business. I got mentors, I went to business classes, and I spent an unthinkable amount of time on YouTube, all to get a first-hand account of what was required for me to do something I have never done before. My family was counting on me, and I needed to generate a stable source of income that would sustain us for the long haul.

On my business journey, I realized that many people have a skewed vision of photographers. They find the profession glamorous and you are lucky if you get to become one. Luck has nothing to do with it, and glamor never comes without hard work- because shoes don’t shine themselves. I think the biggest misconception is that photographers work only 8 hours each month and get paid lots of money to do so. For example: have you ever had your heater go out in the wintertime? Would you pull the first person walking down the street, holding a wrench in their fist into your home and pay them to get your heat back on? First off, no- please don’t bring strangers waltzing through neighborhoods holding wrenches into your home. Secondly, when moments matter and your home and your family are getting colder and bluer, don’t you want someone who has the proper training and knowledge to handle the situation and do the job right? Yes, of course, you do. Don’t have regrets, hire a professional who knows what they are doing. Photographers who run successful businesses have learned from a combination of education and experience, and value their time accordingly. When you shoot a wedding for 8 hours, that isn’t the beginning of the time you are actually going to put in. That happens long before that when you spend countless hours and a rude amount of money advertising your business so that couple could find you in the first place. Then, you have to beat out the rest of the competition by offering up evidence that you know how to use a camera, and use it really well. Once they have decided that you are the chosen one, your payment is split up, so that you receive part of it now, and part of it a year from now, to make sure you are likely to show up and photograph their wedding. Once you’ve completed their event, you now go into your cave and don’t come out ’till Christmas. You’ll likely have several weddings in your pipeline (hopefully), and you begin the back-to-back-to back-to-back editing process, while always keeping in mind that nearly half of your income goes right back into your business expenses. “So, why would you choose such a demanding profession- what can you do to make it real-life sustainable?”- you might be asking right now. Well, you must earn what you, your time, your family’s time, your stability, your future, and all of your education and experience are worth. Photographers work really hard to make incredible images and gather enough 5-star reviews to earn that next booking, and everything we do depends on it. The hardest part for each business owner is conveying to potential clients the importance of trusting who you hire with your family’s heat source- or, your Wedding Day. When you book a professional photographer, you are paying for their experience, their education, and their continuing commitment to their clients. Finding trust in who you hire to create a beautiful wedding day experience for you, your family, and your legacy, is such an important part of your wedding journey. Smooth, shiny, bumpless… Nah, that road in business doesn’t exist. You just learn how to drive better. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I was once asked what my favorite part of photographing a wedding day was, and there was a serious pause on my end of the phone. Not because I was lost at how to answer this potential client, but how to accurately describe the feeling I get when I see their favorite image come through my viewfinder. People see photos of a couple in an incredible location, in perfect sunset lighting, and think, “That is without a doubt going to be their favorite photo.” Yes, a perfect combination of love and landscape- print it, frame it, and hang that puppy up on the wall. But, would you still say that’s their favorite photo when they look back through all of their images 20 years from now? Seeing photos of all the loving interactions with those who attended their wedding; photos with precious family members who may not even be here anymore; or the photos that brought back all of those memories you had completely forgotten about? Your wedding day is definitely about you, but it’s also about all the people who support you and cheer on your love. Being the first to witness your favorite photo and knowing that it will bring you so much joy in your future- that is my favorite part of photographing a wedding day.

What matters most to you?
Time, because you don’t get any more of it. They say you get wiser with age, and that’s because you finally realize that you’re not going to live forever, and you’re not going to get any of your time back. Life is a balance that often gets heavy in one direction or the other. We spend so much time trying to make time that we actually forget how to use the time that we have right now. Does that make sense? Maybe if we shift our focus to being in the moment more, worrying less about the minute that came before it or the moment that will undoubtedly follow, and really experience the time you’re in. We must remember to take time, not just make it. I am not always a workhorse, nor am I always bingeing episodes of a favorite show. I am somewhere in the middle. I try to balance where I need to be and where I want to be.

For anyone who has a sink full of dishes, laundry wrinkling in the cooled dryer, and the only source of power to locate a missing sock in the house, you know how hard it is to get your paying job done somewhere in the middle of all of that. Burn-out is real and it affects everyone. Have you ever noticed that kids rarely get burnt out? That’s because they are so dang good at being in the moment. Sure they don’t have bills to worry about, but they still have places to be and people to please. So what have we all grown up and forgotten? Well, they made a movie about it; it’s called Peter Pan, and I implore you to go watch it immediately. The theme is: when you stop taking time to play, you stop finding joy in life. When we inevitably become adults, we have forgotten what it means to play, because we don’t make it a common practice. We forget that we need to be flexible with our precious time, because all work and no play… well, you know. If you’re feeling inspired to get a lot of work done today, then ride that wave of responsibility and make it a super productive day. If you’ve spent the last fourteen days driving yourself into the ground and think that you have possibly forgotten to breathe today, then go outside and get some air. We can’t always find a perfect balance, there is just too much life happening all at once for that, but we can’t forget to keep trying. Keep your head on straight, but allow yourself to float around sometimes when the air feels right. Besides, flying is more fun than walking- just ask Peter.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Blue Canoe Photography

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