a villa In Mountains

Aminda Villa, independent photographer, traveler, and tattooed badass, first got into photography in 2010 when her younger sister needed graduation portraits. “The images we created were absolutely terrible, but that’s when I realized I wanted to be a photographer.” Early on, she continued to shoot while still working a day job. She worked at a computer consulting firm from 9-5, watched YouTube Videos on how to use Photoshop 5-9, and shot portraits and assisted established wedding photographers on the weekends. “I never slept!” Eventually she started booking more gigs than she had time for, “It’s not as glamorous as it sounds - yes, I was getting better at my craft but I was only booking more because I was charging, like, $50 per shoot.”

“I never got to the point where I felt ‘ready’ to quit my day job… honestly, I just reached this point where I was so, so, SO obsessed with photography that I had lost all interest in fixing computers - so much so that I couldn’t concentrate at work. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I put in my notice. Two weeks later I was on a flight to London to photograph for any modeling agencies that would give me a chance.” That was over five years ago, and since then she’s turned her enthusiasm, creativity, and passion into a thriving independent business, and learned some vital lessons along the way.

1. Don’t be jealous of your peers

At the very beginning, I was extremely jealous of other photographers. BIG mistake. This was so crippling and just straight up a side effect of being insecure in my own work. I had friends who were new to the photog game as well, and while we all wanted to support each other by doing things like sharing tips and tricks, sending excess work to each other, we hesitated. I felt stings of fear/jealousy every time I saw a colleague have success, because I thought their success meant one less job for me. This is the literal opposite of the way it should be and I am happy to say this phase didn’t last long. I now have a solid group of BFF photogs and we support each other (all the way down to literally texting each other links to photography competitions that we can all enter, essentially competing against each other!). I 100% would not be here today without them. You need a supportive community.

Aminda Villa Photography

2. Don’t try to please everyone

When I started out, I tried to please everyone. I thought everyone was my client. I morphed my photography to meet everyone else’s requests. For example, I was receiving a lot of inquiries to photograph very traditional weddings, but what I actually enjoyed was photographing off-beat, non-traditional weddings. I would do anything, including lowering my prices, to book every single inquiry that came through my inbox. If a bride/client passed on me, I thought something was wrong with me/my pricing/my work.

3. Don’t undervalue your work

I’m currently focusing on being selective of work that I choose to accept – I’m shifting away from being “busy” with a high quantity of mid-range paying jobs, and moving towards working with higher paying clients that I can pour unique, high-quality work into. Kind of like a “quality over quantity situation”, but it’s more than that... I find that working with a higher energy exchange motivates me to show up fully, to push myself, to provide imagery and service that knocks people’s socks off. And in return, I get clients that show up fully too - like being clear with their expectations, appreciating my point of view, presenting me with projects that are exciting for me to take on.

Aminda Villa Photography

4. Don’t be afraid to be yourself

Embrace what makes you you. Don’t for one second think that any piece of yourself isn’t worth showing off. Besides the fact that life is not nearly as fun any other way, this is what makes you + your business an absolute must-have for the right clients. What you put out into the world is what you will attract.

For me, I swear a lot, I’m obsessed with tattoos, I have a love for Latin American/Hispanic culture -- currently taking Spanish + salsa lessons, I geek out over tarot cards + numerology, I like to shoot in “ugly” locations, I don’t live in the same location for more than 6 months at a time because my urge to travel is way too strong to sit still…. Now, I know all of that personal stuff seems like it doesn’t correlate with my business, but in reality, it has everything to do with my business… or should I say, my business has everything to do with me. Earlier this year, I booked a wedding for a two people who I met on Instagram. They live in Mexico, are heavily tattooed, and the groom writes books on hypnotism and magic. Their wedding was in Vegas, and they loved that I was willing + able to fly out at the drop of a dime. Coincidence? Nah, no fuckin’ way.

Aminda Villa Photography

5. Don’t get bogged down

I’ve organized my life by creating timelines, workflows, and checklists for myself. When you work for someone else, they force you to do this… for a reason. For example, photos from portrait sessions are due back to the client two weeks after I take them, 60 days for weddings - no questions asked. It seems so simple, but when I first started I didn’t have any sort of timeline or expectations for myself and my clients. I just did whatever, whenever I wanted. It felt reckless and messy. I feel so much more productive when all of my little ducks are in their little rows. PS. Honeybook and Trello help.

Also, I’m currently I’m working on “paying myself” - having all of my income deposited into a business account, and then paying myself a set amount weekly - to my personal account. Up until recently, any money that came in was just… mine… all at once. All of my business and personal stuff was all mushed together. Now, with my new system in place, I pay myself the same amount every week no matter if I bring in $7,000 that month or $1,000 that month. It all evens out and makes the “off seasons” manageable… or at least I hope. Truthfully, I’m just crossing my fingers, praying that that my luck + talent doesn’t wear off and I get to keep living this incredible lifestyle.

6. Don’t mistake flexible for easy

People often don’t understand that photography is work. Yes, I am in love with taking photos, and yes - it is fun... but it still definitely a lot of work. I get exhausted, frustrated, and tired just like anyone else. There are some obvious perks that I try to take advantage of, but it's still my job. Even though the actual photo shoots themselves require me to be in a physical location for a certain time frame, the majority of my work (email, marketing, photo editing, etc) can be done anywhere with access to even the sketchiest of wifi. I’ve literally edited an engagement session that was photographed in Minneapolis while I was swinging in a hammock in Costa Rica… While this lifestyle comes with a lot of perks, it’s still a major hustle.

About The Author

Stephanie Vos transitioned out of her career in the non-profit world by focusing on her freelance work as an editor and writer, and believes that big ideas and great writing can empower people to create the lives they want. She makes the best vegan cookies around and is always up for great conversations, whether it's about her latest contemporary dance performance or the book you just finished reading.