We had the good fortune of connecting with Madeleine Collins and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Madeleine, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk taking is what has led me to my career and my husband, so needless to say, it’s a topic that means a lot to me and my life. Before I started my photography business 4 years ago, I had a stable corporate job in Washington D.C., that I liked just fine. I was working in business-to-business media sales, focusing on the government contracting and energy industries. Sure, the financial aspect was great and I got to travel for client visits, but unsurprisingly, this wasn’t what I was passionate about nor what I saw myself doing for decades to come. I had always been the type to have multiple side-hustles, so one day, after giving it some thought and deciding to follow my gut, I gave notice to my corporate job. I truly had no clue what I would end up doing, but I knew that I needed to change something and start the intimidating process of figuring things out. Over the previous few years, I had committed to myself that I would travel to 10 new countries each year. Being in my mid-twenties, it was super important to me that I took advantage of the flexibility that I had, and used it to see the world. So fifty countries later, I had a somewhat decent grasp on how to use my iPhone 3 (am I dating myself?!) to document the beautiful places that I got to visit. From there I learned to use a DSLR and film camera, and was able to get gigs doing photography for small events and taking travel photos. During this patch of “figuring out my life”, I relied on freelancing in photography, sales, marketing, and events to get by. I had used the standard internet career websites to find jobs, gotten work through networking, and had even had a lot of success finding freelancing work on Craigslist (my scam sensing skills became very sharp throughout this period). My BS meter naturally went off when one day while perusing Craigslist, I came across an ad for an “all expenses paid” job working in a tropical international destination for 2 months. But of course, I also just *had* to learn more, and figured that I would quickly determine whether this was legit once I had additional information. A month later, and after doing my due diligence, I landed in Mexico to begin the adventure of working for a student travel company. I got to live with like-minded millennials while working and exploring a new country, and the incredible experience truly came at the perfect time in my life. Throughout these couple of months, my passion for photography grew as I visited ancient ruins, worked on monetizing a travel blog, and got to take photos for the company I was working for. I still wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do as an actual career, but figured that buying a one-way ticket to Europe would surely help me figure it out. I kept in touch with the friends that I had made in Mexico, and got to meet up with one of them, Paul, who was also in Paris when I arrived there. We had such a fun time right off the bat that we ended up doing the entire 7-country trip together, and were dating and in love by the end of our adventure. My memories from that trip are some of the best ones of my life. We had in depth conversations at the base of the Sacre Coeur in Paris, Uber-coptered over Monaco, had our first “real” date in Spain, and roamed around Prague eating street food, all before I found myself bawling my eyes out at the airport as we said goodbye. When I booked that one-way ticket to Europe to figure my career path out, I never would’ve guessed that finding my husband would’ve been part of that process. By the time I landed back in Washington D.C. after an entire season of traveling, I was armed with a partner who encouraged me, some sharpened photography skills, and a passion for documenting the world that felt more “right” than any other hobby had. So I decided to turn my hobby into a career, and to meld my love for people with my love for photography. I filed the papers to become an official business entity, and over the last 4 years, have documented over 100 weddings and countless milestones. I’ve been so beyond fortunate to meet some of the most kind, intelligent, interesting clients, and to be trusted with documenting the most significant days of their lives. I’ve witnessed joyful laughs and crazy dance moves during wedding receptions, tear-filled eyes as couples see each other for the first time on their wedding day, and have worked with past clients on maternity and newborn sessions as their families have grown. I’ve been able to continue to travel, photographing destination weddings and events, and have been honored to have my work featured in some of the top industry publications. When I look back on all of the chances that I took, to quit my stable job, to go to Mexico for a gig I found on Craigslist, to backpack Europe, and to start a little business when I had no idea if it would succeed, I am so thankful that something in my gut told me to go with it. Like any journey, mine had its ups and downs. I had days when I would feel hopeless after not booking enough work, and when I felt sure that I would need to return to the corporate world to be able to afford a good life. But each time that a couple put their trust in me and allowed me into their world, and each time Paul or my family & friends encouraged me, I believed in myself a little more. And I kept going, and kept working hard and developing my skills, so that I would hopefully be able to make things work. At the end of the day, life is about finding what is right for you and what makes you happiest. No matter how we each go about being happy, that is what we are all ultimately searching for. Oftentimes there are risks involved with achieving what you most value, so I encourage you to trust your gut, take calculated risks, and above all, make steps towards doing what will make you happy.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
This one is easy! Above all, I’m most excited about my clients and proud of the relationships that I’ve built with them. I put my heart into every single wedding and session, and hearing positive feedback from my clients means the world to me. I’m continuously honored as clients choose to not only trust me with one significant milestone, but to come back through the years. I pride myself on focusing on excellent customer service, which is a passion I found while working in the hospitality industry. I think it’s so important to make clients feel special throughout their wedding planning process, so I love surprising them with little gifts along the way and making their experience as fun as possible! My brand is completely built around enjoying an exciting time in my clients’ lives, while at the same time giving them a professional and seamless experience!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
As a relatively new transplant to Southern California, I’m still completely enamored by everything in this area. I find myself still driving around and getting all googly-eyed over palm trees and ocean views, so would definitely highlight this with beach trips for my friends visiting. Balboa Park is a favorite place to roam around, enjoying the hidden nooks that I’ve discovered through scouting for photoshoots. The tea house on site is always delicious and worth a pit stop! As a proud dog mom, the Dog Beach in Del Mar deserves a shout out! It’s such a fun place to take dogs and watch them play in the ocean and make new friends, while we get to enjoy the mostly perfect weather ourselves. In Orange County, Victoria Beach is a favorite… where else can you find an actual castle built into the cliffs?! For restaurants, La Jolla has some of my favorite spots (The Med at the Valencia Hotel and Blue Ocean Sushi Bar), both of which have incredible ocean views and food to match! Finishing at Bobboi Gelato is a must, as they have the most natural, unique flavors that remind me of Italy itself!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My husband Paul, my dad, my best friends, and my 2 puppy children, all whom keep me optimistic and joyful every single day