I'm Dolly — a Nashville based family & branding photographer AND a systems + workflow educator (and Podcast Host) for creatives who want to be more streamlined and organized with Systems, Workflows & SOPS to better impact the backend of their businesses. I'm here to help you look awesome (for your photos) & feel great about workflows!
A little backstory before I share why I had an amazing time at Showit United 2019 (and why I think you should consider going to United in 2020). So even though I have been operating my photography business full time for a little under 2 years now, I have been pursuing photography around 2006 when I was gifted my first camera from my grandparents, I started earning actual money from a handful of sessions in 2010, and since 2017 I decided to actually craft my skill and have a consistent look to better serve my current and future clients. So it has been a long (and fun) journey of learning for me for about 14 years. As mentioned, I have been operating my business for a little over two years now (circa 2018 is when I quit my full-time job to pursue photography full time) and I have poured my heart and soul into my business and I have been trying to sustain it as wisely as possible. I started 2019 with a lot of joy because I had a newborn son, I was gearing up for a busy wedding/family photography year and I was also successfully balancing working from home to run my business.
However, unlike the first 10 or so years when I solely pursued photography as a side gig, I had never experienced the highs and lows of owning my own business because for years and years I had just done this photography thing on the side and I had a consistent full-time job. So when I plunged into photography to earn an income, so many fears came sweeping into my life in the forms of jealousy, insecurities, and shame. For the majority of 2019 (this year) I played the comparison game (was I good enough? why weren’t people booking me for certain shoots? why was I being ghosted? etc) In addition to my cycles of uncertainties, I was also full of shame for having goals for my business because people would make me feel guilty that I needed to just concentrate on Blaise and NOT on my business-I mean…people don’t do this to men when they have newborns-so why do people make working women feel bad when they are also goal-driven? (just a question). I mean, I certainly did not decide to pursue photography full time in order to constantly be in a toxic cycle of insecurities and self-doubt. I was (and am) operating this business full time now so that I can experience the freedom of being my own boss. I operate this business so that I can bless families and couples to experience the joy and goodness of Christ in a photo session. I own this business so that I can be at home with my son and invest in him. And finally, I operate Dolly DeLong Photography so that I can save for my son’s future education because I want him to have a solid foundation of quality education. However, I was not experiencing the WHYS behind my business because I was so lost and I felt like I was drowning because I was worried about people’s perception of me and I was surrounding myself with negative influences.
So let’s dive into why I loved Showit United and how it breathed so much life into my business and into my creative soul.
First off, her name just sounds like a flower to me and I love that! Secondly, all I gotta say is: “Petronella, where were you when I had my Indian wedding? My husband and I would have loved to have you document our Indian wedding in India because looking back I think our photographers had no clue how to work with us because my husband is Caucasian and had no idea what was happening culturally, and they did not know how to direct him!” Thirdly, if you don’t know who this woman is, you should check out her website NOW: https://bypetronella.com/ . Petronella’s mission statement on her website is “we believe your cultural heritage is beautiful” she serves engaged couples who are merging two different cultural heritages and she artfully helps document these love stories in a vibrant style.
Anyway, when I heard her speak I was blown away by her words of encouragement and words of truth in wanting to honor cultural heritage through her photography. I have never met a photographer who specifically photographs weddings for couples who are getting married from two different cultural heritages. Many people do NOT know this about me when they first meet me because I “look white” but I am actually half-Indian. I was raised between India and America for the majority of my life and was constantly ashamed of my background because I did not know where I fit in, and who I belonged to socially. If there had been someone like Petronella in my life in the 80s and 90s, I think I would have learned how to positively embrace my background and unique upbringing in joy. Being in my mid-30s now, I love that I have a unique background and that I am not like everyone else, but growing up…man oh man I just wanted to be “normal’.
You all, her work is incredible and I think it’s important to see different and diverse cultures come together in marriage. I think it is a beautiful and special gift to have the ability to capture every couple’s love story through photographs, and it is especially a great skill to capture the cultural heritage of that love story as well. I know this sounds super cheesy, but as a woman of faith, I firmly believe that God smiles when love stories blossom and flourish between two different cultures which HE has created.
Keep up the good work Petronella! I am happy I met you, sat beside you and listened to your wonderful message! You are an inspiration, not only because you are a talented photographer, but you actually live out your message!
Katelyn James, of https://katelynjames.com/, is not only a phenomenal photographer, but she is an outstanding wife, mom, believer, and public speaker. When I signed up for United 2019, so many people warned me to pack kleenex because “Katelyn is going to make you cry Dolly!” and really in my head, I thought, “Ummm, you can’t tell me how I am going to react! I am not going to cry! I doubt she is going to say anything that makes me cry because I am a rock!” (you should know, this is my inner dialogue in my mind but I would never talk to anyone like this)! Anyway, Tuesday afternoon rolls around and I am sitting in the audience and Katelyn James was introduced and she began to talk and guess what you all? I started to SOB. I mean, hot and fat tears were pouring from my eyes and I could not control myself. Why? It’s because my son’s name is James (I call him by his middle name Blaise) and I was projecting my emotions on to her story because she lost her son, whose name is also James. As my tears were flowing, I listened to her share the testimony of her faith in God as he has helped deliver her and her husband from so many valleys in the past several years, and how they are so strong in their marriage because they have remained steadfast in God despite all of their circumstances. I cried tears of joy because, despite her horrific circumstances, she has still chosen to cling to God, she is still choosing to pursue her husband, and she wants to honor God with her business and life. I mean, I know that I did not go to a Christian Conference…but oh boy, so many of these speakers and influencers in this industry are believers and my heart was bursting with joy because it was so encouraging to me. Thank you for being real, raw and honest Katelyn. I know you will never read this because I am not important in the grand scheme of things, but whoever is reading this, if you have a moment, please go check out her work here: https://www.instagram.com/katelynjames/ on Instagram or her website. She even teaches people how to photograph, so check out her online education, OR Amy and Jordan Demos which is the next reason why I chose to go to United. Plus, she has a contagious smile, and people who smile real big are awesome in my book!
Ya’ll, I am a trifecta Amy and Jordan Student. Meaning, I have purchased ALL of their courses as I have continued my growth in continual photography education to hone more of my craft to be consistent for my business and for my clients. If there were such a thing as an “Angel-Baby” Award, I would nominate both Amy and Jordan to receive this award because of how sweet, kind and gentle they are as humans. I have been following them for over 2 years now, and to be honest I thought that their sweetness was just a showcase for their “social media presence”. Oh no, I was DEAD wrong, they are the REAL deal. They are THAT sweet and kind and gentle in person. They even look you in the eyes when they talk to you and they listen too (this is a lost art in our current generation because everyone looks at their phones or screens or looks around when they are talking to you, and a lot of people do not know how to hold conversations anymore). But Amy and Jordan are truly not only the sweetest angel babies, but they are leaders in the photography industry for educating other photographers. I love that they are firm believers in Dave Ramsey because my husband and I recently got out of debt (you can read our story HERE, and yes, after 19 months we are debt-free from $150K-yes you read that right). I love that they encourage business owners to not get into debt with their businesses (because many new small businesses take out so many unnecessary loans to start up their companies). I love that their mission is to serve their clients and treat them with respect because they want to honor God with their actions. I mean, come on people! These two are angel babies! Also, in a weird way, I feel more connected with them because I was class of 2003 and I know we are around the same age so they are also “elder millennials” like me! If you are wanting to learn more about photography, I would highly recommend looking up Amy and Jordan Demos: https://www.amyandjordan.com/ and here is a shameless plug, here is a referral code for $50 OFF of their classes Shooting and Editing Course if you use this code because I believe you will learn so much!
Here is a picture of me meeting Amy and Jordan, and yes, I was dressed up as Elliott from ET but I don’t care, I met Amy and Jordan and I am going to print off this photo for my photography office and studio!
Okay, hopefully, this will not embarrass her too much, but I met Jihae Watson on the very first day of United at the registration booth. I was all alone and terribly nervous because I came to United by myself (I knew my roommate but that is pretty much it). And when I am nervous, I tend to be very quiet and I just assume no one will want to talk to me. Well, Jihae just came right up to me and gave me a hug and introduced herself to me and just had a mini conversation with me about the conference, and encouraged me to grab a business book from the shelf, and then she proceeded to ask me questions about my family in Tennessee. I mean, she was kind, thoughtful, and very fun to speak with. She instantly helped ease my nervousness about from then on out, every time I saw her at the conference I knew I could say hi to her.
Okay, so Davey Jones was the one present (his wife Krista was not there, but I just group them together as a dynamic duo). So if you don’t know this couple, you should check out their website. https://daveyandkrista.com/ (it’s saved on my favorites bar by the way because I have purchased A LOT of templates and PDFS for my business from them). As a matter of fact, it was Davey who convinced me that I needed to have a user-friendly website and that’s why my website has transformed dramatically in a year into this: www.dollydelongphotography.com (okay okay, he did not pull me aside and tell me to change my website, I am an avid listener of “Brands that Book” https://daveyandkrista.com/btb-show/ and after listening to his show, I have learned so much about having a consistent brand and through all of the episodes of his interviews with other creative business owners I learned how to apply actionable changes to my website to be more user-friendly and to fit my photography personality). I love listening to his podcast, and even if you are not a photographer, you should give it a listen, because he helps communicate to most, if not all, business owners. He is a genius with SEO, and he has a very friendly podcast presence. In addition to being business owners, Davey and Krista also have a son who is a little older than Blaise, so for me, it is cool to listen to how other business owners are navigating the waters of being parents while operating a business.
(Sarah, I cannot even begin to express to you how happy I am to have finally gotten to meet you! If you are reading this, you should know that I am sending all the virtual hugs your way!!!) You all, Sarah is not even a photographer, she is a Showit website designer, and she won Showit Website Designer of the year this year! She is a talented, kind and SEO wizard and I initially “met” Sarah through a Facebook group through Showit where she gave out a free trial for her SEO course (which I was able to take and oh boy…I learned SO much from this course and I have watched it two times through and have applied so much to my website already!) Here is her website, so you should check out her course if you are a Showit user: https://digitalgracedesign.com/
One of the best features of this conference was that you could sit down with an SEO expert & website designer and talk about your website. I know I have a long way to go with my own website, but I am finally learning how to create more of a user-friendly experience for visitors and I was given tangible ways on how to create this experience from people like Sarah!
I actually met Elizabeth at United this year because I had signed up for her website coaching session and I am so so so so happy I signed up to talk to her about my website. Again, I love giving a reference of who people are, so you should check out her website here: https://elizabethmccravy.com, or check out her Instagram here. Elizabeth was very intentional about letting me know what was working on my website, and what tweaks I could make to better improve the user experience. You all, she even went out of her way to email me some tutorial videos on how to add special features to my website, she went above and beyond for me! I loved chatting with her, and even after our 20-minute conversation about website design she empowered and encouraged me to continue to quality work for my website and brand. After meeting Elizabeth, I also decided to start listening to her podcast “The Breakthrough Podcast” and I’m not going to lie, I have been trying to catch up because she has a lot of gems of business savvy wisdom in each episode. Maybe I am wrong about this, but I picked up the vibe that Elizabeth is an introvert and that made me feel like she was a kindred spirit because I am an introvert but I do love serving people through photography but sometimes I need to just have my own space to think and create. Also, her voice is very soothing to me. (Is that a creepy thing to say?)
You all, she is a true southern belle and I am so happy I was brave enough to purchase her “shooting film without fear” course because I am trying to incorporate more film into my digital photography services in order to make more of a legacy impact for my clients when they receive final images from me. Meeting her, getting to know her, and listening to her talk was a breathe of fresh air to me because Julie did not pick up her first camera until she was 37 years old….and you all…that is HUGE for me because I am almost 35 years old and I feel like a dinosaur in this industry because every person I meet in Nashville is 13 years old and is a photographer and they seem to have their act together (while my life is a hot mess). She is real, she is honest, and she is truly a woman after my own heart because she eats like a toddler and I have never met another person who can eat more sugar than me (because if I could I would only eat donuts, chocolate and corn dogs for the rest of my life). I love following her on Instagram, and you will too: https://www.instagram.com/juliepaisley/
Yes, I am writing this down as a reason for how much I love Showit United because it takes place in a desert people! (Okay let me clarify, the conference was not actually IN the desert, but Phoenix, Arizona is a gorgeous place to be in the middle of November because it’s not too hot and not too cold, it’s a non-humid 60/70-degree type of weather month) Plus, I had never photographed in the desert before, and I had 5 different destination type sessions which I cannot wait to share with you all, and here was my very first destination engagement session before the conference.
Full confession, I used to not like the desert and I used to judge it based on the assumption that it was a vast and barren land of hot nothingness full of scorpions, spiders, and sharp plants. But now that I have gotten to know the state because of my babymoon in 2018, and now the conference in 2019 I am in love with how magical the light is, how magical the sunsets are, and how gorgeous the desert backdrop is!
Also, I know I stated that there were only 10 reasons why you should consider going to Showit United, but I am going to add three more reasons why this conference was awesome:
Bonus 1: Jasmine Star (or J.Star) (I was freaking out when this photo was taken) (also, no introduction is needed because this woman has been paving the way since I was in college in the early 2000s for photographers)
Bonus 2: Micaela and Chris Sosa who led the incredible desert sunset shoot on the last day of United (Chris asked “why are you taking a picture with us? We are not famous” but as a matter of fact, they ARE amazing in my mind because they are positive influencers in this industry and that stands out to me!)
Bonus 3: Shauna and Jordan Cooney’s Why Challenge *look them up and ask to join their WHY challenge if you are looking to determine what is the WHY Behind your Brand and Business)
If you are on the fence about investing in a conference to help further your business grow, especially if you are a creative, I would highly recommend checking out Showit United. Please feel free to email me if you have specific questions and I will be more than happy to give you more insight! By the way, Showit has NO idea I am even writing this, so don’t assume they are sponsoring this blog post, I am doing this out of pure joy and excitement because I feel like I have found a true community of creatives who want to help each other in business and in life. And I am excited to continue to pursue the friendships I made at United 2019!
Again a huge thanks to my Showit Roomie and fellow Tennessee Photography pal, Rachael Knaak, for inviting me to Showit when I was 10,000 months pregnant in 2018. Because of Rachael, she helped open the door to show me that there are creatives who genuinely care for you and who want to see you flourish and grow (and it is not a constant battle of competition)! I cannot wait for United 2020, and I already have March 24th, 2020 in my planner to buy tickets!
If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading my long run-on sentences and overuse of exclamation marks!!!! I feel like United has helped refresh and reset my creative button for my business! So 2020, I am ready for you. I am excited about what you hold for my business, but mostly I am excited to implement everything I have learned from United into Dolly DeLong Photography. I know it will hold lots of hills and valleys (because life is like that) but I am excited to face 2020 with more confidence after having so much life breathed into me at United 2019!
Love & Donuts Forever, Dolly!
Updated in March 2020
Or maybe you're not really sure how you'd use your new collection of branded images? Download my free planning guide to learn how to plan an elevated brand photography session to impact your business!