Women in Business Q&A: Alison Conklin, Photographer

12/24/2014 07:23 am ET Updated Feb 23, 2015

Nationally acclaimed wedding and portrait photographer Alison Conklin remembers the gift of her very first camera on Christmas morning when she was five years old: a plastic, Fisher Price camera.

As the daughter of two chemists with a passion for photography, Alison grew up surrounded by beautiful black and white photos that her parents had developed in their darkroom.

At the age of 14, Alison lost her mother and found comfort in sorting through her parents' old photos. "They weren't just Sears portrait photos. They were pictures of my mom laughing and I was learning who she was through these images." That is when Alison realized the importance and power of photography. Her father built her a darkroom where she spent most of her days and nights, unknowingly teaching herself her profession.

In 2004, Alison took a leap of faith, deciding to pursue her passion as a livelihood. Two years later, she married Geoff Conklin and the two became partners in life and in business.

Alison's candid and colorful view of those emotion-inspiring slice-of-life moments has grown to be in high demand. Her passion for weddings and stunning candid portraiture is evident in her work, which has been featured in and on the cover of publications such as Destination Wedding Magazine, Honeymoon Magazine, Philadelphia Wedding Magazine, The Knot Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Martha Stewart Weddings, as well as both Jcrew.com and Watters.com Real Wedding Sections.

Alison has photographed numerous celebrities, and athletes including Phillies player, Shane Victorino, and the wedding of a Philadelphia Eagles player. In 2009, Alison's photograph was selected for PDN's Top Knots.

She has been commissioned to photograph weddings in Ireland, Mexico, Bermuda, Maine, Florida, California, and Hawaii.

Alison lives in Emmaus, Pennsylvania where she is constantly capturing her own slice-of-life moments with her two children, Jonas and Moses.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Photography guided me through mourning the loss of my mother. At the age of 14 I lost my mother suddenly and was left with beautiful images my father had captured of her during their relationship. I poured myself into these images of her and from them, I learned a lot about who she was. This gift that my father had created inspired me to pick up a camera and has allowed such healing in my own life. Today, I don't really consider myself a leader, but I know I set examples for my boys. When they are older, I want them to be able to look back at images I took and understand who I am. This idea that an image can capture a moment and a person so profoundly, and that those who see the image years later will know them better weighs heavily on me. If I am a leader to anyone in my industry, I hope that this is the impact my images have. It's never just about picking up a camera and shooting. It's about freezing that moment and the emotion of the moment forever in time.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure as a photographer?
I started shooting weddings when I was 18 and I went full time with photography when I was 24. In between that I worked mostly in customer service and human resources which really opened up the best way to deal with people. I find relationships with my clients to be so important and I put a great deal of value in that.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as a photographer?
I have been blessed to be able to travel often for weddings - seeing different parts of the world and capturing for my clients is such a joy. I also loved photographing the Brown Betty Cookbook a few years ago. But besides the glamorous locations I truly love witnessing such important days. I am often so moved by beautiful relationships and special moments. Many times I am crying right along with my clients during a toast. The idea of everyone you love gathered into a room for a night is never lost on me. Life is full of challenges and loss but for one day people come together to celebrate the start of a new family while celebrating and honoring their parents, grandparents, relatives and friends. The entire idea is always so moving.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Well my first response would be go work for someone else!! Haha - but if I am seriously going to answer this question it has to come with a word of warning first. Working for yourself means many things like you only get what you put in - which means you will be working around the clock. While you do get to make your own schedule this often means you work 24/7. You never really leave the office for the night. For me I wish that being a professional photographer was simply taking pretty pictures but in truth it's also running a business and all that comes along with that. Ok, now that we've been honest about that, it's also wonderful! The best part about it is the relationships that you will build. They are all yours and you don't owe them to working for a big firm or even an edgy boutique. So be sure to always appreciate those relationships and nurture them carefully. Starting your own business means that everything about how you operate can be a true reflection of who you are and how you want to do business. This is very gratifying and rewarding - don't lose site of that. When I see one of my photos in print in one of my favorite magazines, I get to relish in that completely. Your successes are your own, but so are your failures - so keep your head high and have goals big and small.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I find work life balance especially challenging. When you love what you do and are lucky enough to have it as your career it is so easy to pour yourself into it. An average day for me starts at a quarter to 7 when I am up making breakfast for my kids, packing lunches, signing school forms and driving them to school. While they are at school I am either editing recent work, answering emails, shooting or navigating the next wedding while grocery shopping, doing laundry, cooking, and running to the boys sporting events and piano practices and looking over homework. It's this mix of serious organization and complete chaos all at the same time.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have never had a mentor. I have always just approached things with the understanding that I had to be my own mentor and I had to figure it out by myself. Since the loss of my mother I have learned to be very independent. It has allowed me to truly learn to go with my gut and follow my heart.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Two female photographers that I admire are Linda McCartney and Vivian Maier. They were strong woman who were ahead of their time. Outside of the industry I have always admired Julia Child because she was a true original.

What do you want to professionally accomplish in the next year?
I keep a running tab in my notes on my phone with the headline from Emmitt Smith's hall of fame speech "It's only a dream until you write it down." I always look at my lists of goals and things I hope to achieve. I am always trying to push myself and get better. I would love to have one of my weddings featured next year in Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, in print! And I'd like to find another editorial or book project, so long as it's the right fit. I loved shooting The Brown Betty Cookbook - and another cookbook shoot would be wonderful.