Dawn Kelly and the NOT Bummer Summer

There are several definitive characteristics about me that make me who I am. For instance, I watch I Love Lucy in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, I can talk to a tree, and I’m highly addicted to dark-chocolate-covered honey comb.

But there is much much more…


• I’m OCD about my food, and if someone puts my salad on the same plate as my hot meat, I freak out and start making a weird “aaaaahhhhh!” noise until Mark comes and takes the plate from me, replacing it with two small plates of separated food.

• I wallow in sad memoirs, my interest most piqued by writers who have survived childhood fame, overcoming an addiction, or growing up in a house with hoarders.

• I’m obsessed with conjoined twins and watch every TV show and read every book about them.

• Even though I doubt myself daily, I know I should be a photographer, because as soon as I raise the camera to my face, all doubt falls away.

Being a business owner has been, to quote Monk, “A blessing. And a curse.”

I LOVE what I do and was clearly not built to work a 9 to 5 job. When I worked in corporate America, I easily climbed the company ladder, only to become bored and move on to another position in a different field. I’m blessed to be able to be my own boss and do what I love, but there is a price to pay. The life and death of this business sits on MY shoulders. Sometimes I lie awake at night until 5am worrying and wondering if I’m going to make it, or if the business will fold. Sometimes I dream that I’ve failed and I have to go back to work at the produce distribution company where my boss used to cuss me out and make fun of me in public by calling me The Virgin Mary. I wake with my heart pounding, thankful that it was only a dream and Mark had not shoved me out the door to do data entry and sell vegetables.

In 2004 when I decided to expand my wedding photography business, I hit the pavement with business cards and a smile. The business exploded and within three months my calendar was full. I foolishly thought that I would always have work, because people would always be getting married, and they would therefore always need a wedding photographer. Then the recession hit, and the business suffered. Then the huge crop of armatures with digital cameras purchased from COSTCO stormed the market and business plummeted to a near stop.

Suddenly I had a decision to make – give in to the fear and fold, or fight and refuse to give up. Because I never give up and I refuse to be a failure at ANYTHING, I started to fight. It has been harder and more rewarding than I ever imagined. I’ve learned hard lessons, done some deep soul searching, and found talent inside me that I didn’t know existed.

My decision to stick with film when everyone was leaping into digital turned out to be one of the wisest decisions I made. In an overly-saturated market, my skill and love of shooting my weddings and other photography with 100% film differentiates me from the pack. I had the uniqueness I needed to relaunch my business. Then I had to figure out what to do next.

Since last summer I’ve been feverishly rebranding and rebuilding my entire business (with the help of my supportive husband and my loyal assistant). Tons of education, new web site, new albums, new price structures, packaging, stylized shoots, networking… It’s been exhausting but rewarding. The phone is ringing again and it feels great. Now we’re almost ready to formally roll out our two newest projects – the DKP Photo Booth and my new creative boudoir venture. I’m excited … and afraid. I’m flying on faith that if I work hard enough, we’ll be successful.

I have had some AMAZING experiences this summer. I took the lead on my first full-blown stylized shoot, I brought Alice in Wonderland to life, I learned amazing technique and marketing skills from leaders in the industry, I booked some gorgeous and unique weddings, and I’ve met some amazing people.

One of the highlights of my summer was having my web site and portfolio critiqued by famed educator and wedding photographer Sal Cincotta. I watched the personalized video he sent me over and over so I could hear him say, “Well Dawn, you’re a great photographer.” He LOVES my Trash the Dress photography and encouraged me to push myself to unleash my unique creativity in every wedding and session I shoot. I’m taking his advice, as I always do.

Like most small business owners, I still lie awake at night and worry if we’re going to make it. Then the next day I get up and work hard on my business, making it as beautiful, fun, unique, and generally awesome as possible. Failure isn’t an option, so I think I’ll be around for a long long time.

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Marilyn Wilburn
August 22, 2013

This is a wonderfully open exposé of your talent and life. I am glad you'll be around forever, cause you always make me smile in my heart and laugh out loud!

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