Shifting Focus: Is It Time To Quit Photography?
By Kyle Wilson
Based out of Edinburgh and Chicago, destination wedding photographer Melody Joy knows success is all about balance. She chatted with Kyle about managing a career across continents and how she finds her ideal clients.
KW: I saw you last week for dinner in Chicago, and now you're back in Scotland. Do you have more trips back to Chicago this year?
MJ: I have two trips back this fall. After we got married I knew I’d be here [in Scotland] more and the summer is peak season so I try to book most of my stuff in the UK just to get the UK summer vibes.
KW: Are you still actively booking work in the US or trying to have a 50/50 split?
MJ: I’d say about 70/30. If my husband and I were to try to start a family in the next couple years it would be easier to have the base of my work here. But destinations will always be my thing. A lot of that ends up in the States, of course Chicago because my family is there and I lived there so long.
KW: Is your branding and your web presence pushing Chicago or Edinburgh or both?
MJ: I try to keep it 50/50. My SEO is pretty equal for both Chicago and the UK. Every time I do a blog post I try to do one in the States, one in the UK, back and forth. I don’t want somebody from America to go to my website and think I’m all UK or vice versa.
KW: Are you doing any paid ad stuff or is it all organic Instagram and Google?
MJ: The last time I did something paid was the start of 2021 when I got my visa to move over here. I did maybe two or three months of paid UK Google ads. I just chose the cities like Edinburgh, London, Mayfair. I did three months of that almost two years ago, and when I check my Analytics I still am getting a good amount of people viewing my website from Mayfair. I don't know how it works.
KW: Your internet presence is really good about showing that you're around in these locations. You’re always posting and you’ve balanced it really well.
MJ: I have been better since I got married because when Ross gets off between five and six I try to shut down and be present with him in the evenings. A lot of the times when I post is right before I go to bed or in the morning when I wake up. I'll edit the whole timeline of the day. So that's why I think what you're saying is when you see something, it feels like a whole story is being told.
KW: How has your work structure changed with you and your husband both in the same time zone?
MJ: I’m more intentional about balance. Ross starts at nine so I start when he starts and I knock out all of my admin and then things of most to least importance. Then basically by the end of the day, between five and six, my computer is shut and I don’t have notifications turned on for Instagram or emails on my phone, so I won’t look at stuff until the next day at nine. It’s about trying to be more intentional about being with each other in the evenings. I’ve slowly transitioned to that lifestyle and it’s taken the last year or two of living over here.
KW: I used to find myself with no definitive off time of the day, like this weird self-employed guilt or something like that. I recently set my notifications so after 6:00 the only notifications I get are calendar, text, and phone call if I know you. It takes a conscientious effort. Will you pass on certain types of work or travel trips or things now to kind of balance that out?
MJ: I have turned down a lot of people that want a one or two hour shoot in the Highlands because of the time it takes and because I’m more of a city girl. I love the fashion that comes with the city more than the mountains. I love the Highlands but not standing with a camera in the rain. I enjoy capturing couples in love in this city.
KW: How would you describe your work? I feel like you shoot in a film-esque way too, but in a city fashion, more like an old '30s noir film or something. I'd love to hear how you describe your space of work.
MJ: My style is I’m happy to shoot anything that the couples want if they’re relaxed. That sounds very casual - cinematic or timeless or modern is what I would use to describe my work. But if couples relax we’re going to be able to get great photos.
KW: It feels like your entire business is as natural as breathing or talking. You’re chill and relaxed and everyone around you feels that way.
MJ: In the last couple of years I have moved to being not perfect. I get turned off by people who want everything to be perfect. If perfection is what they’re looking for, that’s not something that I want. I’m a very relaxed, chill, quiet-voiced person. I’ve learned that personality types play a huge role in whether I can give somebody images that they love because I need couples that are just relaxed and chill and are fine with candids and emotion and strolling around chatting with each other. That's what I feel about my couples now versus couples in the past who I've also loved. I’m pickier now because I want to enjoy the day as well which means they’ll get much better images. I’m human and this is my life that I’m dedicating to documenting for other people. It’s ok to be selfish and want to like the couple and feel good editing photos for them because I like them. I am now choosing to work with people that I like to work with.
KW: For years it was a big pitch about finding your ideal client, and the motivation for a lot of people was to find the ideal client so you can get your ideal quality of work. From my perspective, you’re trying to find your ideal client so that you have a nice day and good work will come from that.
MJ: My clients are more and more wanting to relax, not fuss with the first look, they just want to hang out a bit before the ceremony and then go straight into cocktail and dinner after without the formal thing happening. I’ve been getting a lot of brides booking either before or after bridal sessions so they can get locations that maybe aren’t feasible on the wedding day. It doesn’t even have to be the day after, it could be a month or two after they get back from their honeymoon, they throw their outfits back on and take more portraits. Brides might not realize that they can do that, so just let them know and maybe half of your brides will want to do another day.
KW: Seeing the trends kind of disappear has been cool. When I started shooting weddings with my dad it was very much a structured day with a garter and bouquet and cake cut and anniversary dances. So much of that has been thrown away to get to spend more time with the people that are here. Like you mentioned, bring up other options to clients, like shooting stuff tomorrow.
MJ: I did 30-something weddings last year and only two had a garter toss.
KW: You have a workshop coming up soon [in October 2023]. Is this your first workshop?
MJ: First one I’ve ever spoken at and first one I’ve ever been to.
KW: Do you know what you’re going to talk about yet?
MJ: If I feel like I know about something, I can talk about that. I know how to utilize free digital marketing, like SEO, Google, Pinterest, Instagram, you can ask me all day about all those things that are free and can be utilized before you do paid ads.
KW: Success is proven by the fact that you’re managing your business across two continents successfully without paid ads and doing it so your real life doesn’t come in conflict with your professional life. Are you nervous?
MJ: Oh yeah. I told them as I get older I’m getting more introverted. They said it will be a good environment for an introvert to speak because it will be more intimate, like maybe twenty people.
KW: I hope this kicks off a series of you going to workshops and speaking because I’ve always been a fan of your work and it keeps getting better and better and it’d be beneficial for so many people to hear from you and get insight into how you do it. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat today.
Check out Melody Joy’s wedding photography on her Instagram (@melodyjoyco) and website. She is one of Rangefinder's Top 30 Rising Stars and loved being part of The Legacy Workshop in October 2023 in France.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Check out “The Photographer’s Problem: A Narrative Podcast” streaming now on YouTube or Spotify for the full, unedited interview and more inspiring stories and an immersive look into the intricate world of photography.