Meet Alyssa Lee, a determined and detailed architectural photographer who started her own business in 2010. Alyssa grew up working in her family’s cabinet making business. As Alyssa made the leap to entrepreneurship she trained and learned from some of the best architectural photographers in the business. No stranger to hard work and sheer determination, you’ll enjoy Alyssa’s inspiring career path story.
Tell us about your business.
I’m a Minneapolis based architectural photographer. I find inspiration in everything related to interiors and love fine design, craftsmanship, and architecture. What makes me different from most photographers is my lighting. I’ve spent years learning and working to perfect it. I love to light things in a way that feels natural, bright, and inviting.
THE EARLY DAYS
Describe your childhood in one word.
Describe your childhood personality in one word.
When you were a little girl what career did you dream of having “when you grow up”?
I wanted to fly in the Air Force like my grandpa.
What was your first job?
Working for my dad in his cabinet shop.
THE LEARNING YEARS
Where did you attend college? What’s your degree?
Minneapolis Community and Technical College – Photography
What was your first job out of college?
I assisted for various photographers around the Twin Cities, including Susan Gilmore, who taught me almost everything I know about architectural photography.
List your jobs until you started your own business.
I had the same job from when I got my first job to when I started my career in photography. I worked in a cabinet shop for almost 10 years (Ingrained Wood Studios).
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL YEARS
What year did you decide to start your own business?
Why did you decide you wanted to start your own business?
I’ve always been a self-starter and very motivated, and I guess you could say I’m a bit of a control freak. I like having control over every aspect of the photos I take. From the planning and composition to the way it’s styled and edited. It helps me ensure I’m delivering a consistent and high-quality product to my clients.
How is your business different today than when you first started?
As with any business, the first few years are great for learning. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but it all helps you learn what to do and move forward.
What three lessons have you learned running your own business?
When you dream of starting your own business, you think, “it’ll be great, I’ll dictate my hours and what I do!” It isn’t like that at all. My hours are almost all the time, especially during the summer/fall. Your schedule is dictated by your workload and clients. Luckily for me, I love what I do – my job gives me purpose. I enjoy creating beautiful images of architecture and design. Growing up working alongside my dad creating cabinetry and mill work for high-end homes has given me an appreciation for the process, which makes it fascinating for me – even today.
The next lesson I learned was to prioritize. When you get busy, learning what you can and can’t afford to let slide for a week is important to meet deadlines, etc. I still make lists in order of importance and things I’d like to achieve each day!
The third thing I learned was to always give as much information and clarity as possible. It’s easy to assume people understand your process because you do it day in and day out, but that’s rarely the case. So, I created an information guide that contains the answer to almost every question I’ve been asked. This way, everything is informative and straightforward!
What’s next for your business? Top 3 goals.
This year Nick (my husband) will be joining me and we’ll be doing drone photography. We’ll also be expanding to videography as well. Those are the two big goals! Other than that, I’m always looking to grow and improve my skill set. Architectural photography keeps you on your feet! No two kitchens are the same, so it’s always challenging you to find new ways to light each space. There is always something to learn!
What’s your strongest skill set that’s helped you succeed?
Definitely my determination. Ask anyone who knows me personally; I’m stubborn, and will do what I’ve said I’d do. So, when I said I was going to become a photographer, I meant it. Through every setback, I dug my heels in deeper and became more determined to make it. I wasn’t born with any unique skill set for photography, but I’ve acquired skills along the way because this is what I wanted.
On this journey, who have been your three most supportive people?
My parents and Nick. My parents have always been there for me whenever I had questions. When I was starting out, my dad would complain that I asked him to read everything I sent to make sure I didn’t sound too young! (I was 19 after all. ) Susan Gilmore has also been extremely supportive of me. She has been there for me through every bump in the road, and offered endless advice and constructive criticism that helped push me to be the photographer/ businesswoman I am today. Another hugely influential person in my career is Steve Niedorf. He’s a photographer I worked with for several years as an assistant. Beyond being a talented photographer, he is also an exceptional businessman. He taught me almost everything I know about the business side of photography, and was also there to offer advice on any situation during my first several years in business.
THE BUMPS IN THE ROAD
Have you had any hardships or setbacks in your business or personal life?
I think the first several years trying to make it in photography are always the hardest. You spend so much time marketing and trying to make yourself known. It’s hard not to give up when you feel like you’re not getting any traction.
How did you overcome them – did they make you stronger or learn something new?
You just need to keep pushing, and eventually you will break through. It was defiantly a growing experience and made me a stronger person. You learn to work hard, even when it feels like it’s not paying off.
ALL ABOUT YOU
Did you always dream of owning your own business or was it a surprise on your career path? Ever since falling in love with photography, I dreamed of owning my own business.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
Nick and I like to travel! Recently, we’ve been doing a lot of filming for a travel vlog we’ll hopefully be releasing in the near future. We love to work on things around the house too. Being surrounded by beautiful design all of the time is tough – you always want to change things at home! We also spend a lot of time with our two giant dogs, taking walks and playing. We love to cook and spend a lot of time at the gym as well. (My equipment isn’t going to lift itself!)
Tell us about your family.
My parents and brother are amazing, and I couldn’t have asked for a better family. I could go on forever about all of their great qualities, but my favorite thing about my family is that everyone is open and honest. We talk about everything and are extremely close.
Describe your career path to-date in one word?
Age you’d like to retire at?
I’m not sure – I’m pretty far off retiring! For now, I’m motivated and passionate about what I do, and can’t foresee retiring. Maybe someday, hopefully soon enough to leave time to be able to travel and work on some personal projects.
Travel location on your bucket list?
Iceland. We would LOVE to go to Iceland and film and photograph everything. It seems like every inch of Iceland is beautiful, and I can’t wait to see the northern lights.
Introvert or Extrovert?
Night owl or early bird?
Both. I’ve long questioned whether or not I really need sleep, or if it’s just a nice recommendation. I stay up late working typically, and wake up early to get a head start on things as well. I’m a pretty driven person, probably to a fault. Work makes me passionate and gives me purpose. Plus, there’s never a shortage of things to do when you have your own business!
Favorite podcast, YouTube channel, or blog?
Peter McKinnon or Casey Nystat
Favorite business book?
I don’t know that I’ve read that many business books. I’ve listened to podcasts/watched YouTube videos, and I love learning from the people around me who have decades of experience.
Favorite business tool?
The Later app has changed my life, and made it so that I can actually keep up with social media. I went through phases of not being able to post because I didn’t have time to devote to it every day. Now, I just try to set aside a couple of hours every month to create all my posts for that month. It helps keep me consistent with my posting, and makes my feed more intentional and curated.
Two female entrepreneurs you admire:
Susan Gilmore & Sara Rubinstein. I could name others, but these two stand out far above the rest for me. I’ve seen both of these women personally and the ways they’ve sacrificed in their lives to make their careers. I’ve seen how hard they work, and I relate to them the most and look up to them (they’re both photographers as well), so their journeys resonates with me most.
Like reading career path stories? Sign-up for the Her Own Path Insider below.