How I Made the Leap to Full-Time Photographer



April 1, 2019

Jess Woodhouse’s lifestyle photos ooze with a moody romance and glowy warmth. Think lush forests, couples in love, and golden sunsets. The Portland-based photographer and illustrator has been shooting weddings for more than four years, and for the last two, she’s supplemented her career as a wedding photographer by creating a steady stream of lifestyle photos, which she sells as stock images on Stocksy. More recently, Jess started creating illustrations, which has allowed her to turn a passion project into a bona fide part of her business. Recently, Jess called me up from Portland to talk about her career trajectory and creative process.

How did you become a professional photographer?

I didn’t go to school for photography, but I did take some classes on it in college. I was working at a local art gallery as the nine-to-five person there. That was a huge source of inspiration, seeing the artists and talking to them and being around art. But I was always kind of working with artists and never considered myself an actual artist.

I’d always done photography as a hobby, and then one day my friend asked me to shoot her wedding. I did it, and it turned out great. So I did another one and another, and it grew from there. I started taking it seriously about a year later. About four years ago I quit my day job to go full-time.

Jess started out doing wedding photography as a side hustle while she was helping run an art gallery. The shots turned out great, so she expanded from there.

How did you make that decision?

I realized that I couldn’t work both jobs and stay sane. There is so much editing and post-production involved when you’re photographing weddings because you’re literally shooting thousands of photos, and then you have to cull through them.

At some point I realized I could take it full-time if I wanted to, and I knew I wanted to take that leap. By taking the leap, you can really launch yourself into something new and end up making a better living than you are with your job. So that’s what I did, and it really worked out. It was scary, though. Like any artist’s income, mine comes in spurts.

Like much of her photography, Jess’ illustrations capture a sense of oneness with the outdoors.

What role does Stocksy play in your business?

Stocksy has been awesome because it’s given me another source of income for my photos. I have this source of passive income to even out my finances throughout the year.

“I try to do a ton of variations on each theme. I always shoot photos from a ton of angles and with a lot of different compositions. My illustrations always include at least five or six images within each set.”

It’s also allowed me to create work that isn’t wedding-related. With weddings, you can put your own creative twist on the photos, but in the end you’re shooting for the client, not yourself. It’s the kind of thing where you have to go with whatever is happening that day, in terms of weather and personalities and that sort of thing. It’s not a controlled environment where you can create exactly what you want. With my work on Stocksy, it’s different. Sometimes I’ll be shooting a wedding and I’ll take some time to shoot detail photos just for Stocksy. Or I’ll do shoots just for Stocksy where I can control every part of the process. That’s really fun for me.

How do you decide what work to create for Stocksy?

I usually come up with a concept I think would be interesting or fun for me to create. Then I try to tweak that idea to gear it toward something I think is viable to sell. Maybe that’s with my choice of models or the style of my photo or illustration. Sometimes I’ll try to do work that is seasonal—that always helps. And I try to do a ton of variations on each theme. I always shoot photos from a ton of angles and with a lot of different compositions. My illustrations always include at least five or six images within each set. I try to make my work as commercial as possible while still adding my own personal style to it.

I like Stocksy because it’s really different from the other stock photography, videography, and illustrative companies out there. Stocksy is more artist-centric than most other places. That’s great for me, of course, but I also think it allows the client to get better work.

Nature and strong female subjects are common themes in Jess’ photos, which play leaps more genuine and original than traditional stock photography.

Is it difficult to find a balance between doing work that is creatively fulfilling and doing work that is marketable?

Stocksy’s values and style align with mine, and that helps. They have a more authentic, real look—that fits my style for sure. A lot of my work has a female empowerment vibe, and I think Stocksy sort of embraces that in their collections, too. It’s great because you can create work for Stocksy around whatever your personal style is, and they embrace that.

Studio Sixtysix is the in-house creative agency to Sixtysix magazine. Studio Sixtysix stories are conceived, produced, and edited by Studio Sixtysix.

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