We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelli Durham and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelli, how does your business help the community or the world?
I like to think that no matter our profession, we can all use our unique talents to serve our community and world. As I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate that helping others and giving back, isn’t necessarily as black and white as I once thought. For instance, I used to believe that impacting the world, meant doing something big or extraordinary. However, life has taught me that a photographer doesn’t have to travel to third-world countries and shoot for major newspapers or non-profits to make an impact. These are no doubt amazing things to do — but making a difference can also be serving in small ways. Perhaps in my case, it is taking photos of a sweet bride and her loving father, portraits that might later be the only images she has of her dad after he has passed. Or perhaps donating the proceeds from a portrait session to the local food bank to offer support during the pandemic. I discovered my love of photography at an early age. Now, as an adult and a working professional, I am thankful to have made a life doing something I truly love. Using my skills as a way to better love those around me has helped me feel like I can make a difference every day, in some small way.
Please tell us more about your art. 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?
I like to think that each artist’s work has their unique finger print despite however similar their “style” or “look” may be to others within the same industry. I am what you would call a “hybrid shooter,” meaning I shoot both film and digital photography. I prefer medium format film because of its airy, soft and organic aesthetic. While my portfolio, on the surface, might seem similar to other photographers who also shoot film, I believe what sets me apart is the way I both compose and choose to light my subjects. Instagram has been huge for our industry as photographers and artists — a great way to highlight our portfolio online for clients to see. It’s neat how you can jump from one photographer’s page to another and, while both may have similar subjects in their images, the way they have chosen to light and compose them have made the photos completely different. I like to think that my images have a fine art feel. No matter what I am shooting, I try to portray it as beautifully as possible. When shooting at a wedding, I ask myself, “Would this be an image I’d like to hang on a wall?” and if the answer is “no,” then I start over again. This process continues until the answer is “yes.” Something else to note: It is always a balance trying to stay true to your aesthetic style as an artist, while also still pleasing your client or “market” as a business person. I believe the key is trying to find clients for whom you are a good “fit,” and who genuinely love your work and trust you as the artist. It’s also important to find someone whose personality meshes with yours, and who can feel comfortable with you. This is everything when it comes to documenting memories and someone’s story. The most important thing about my job is feeling like I have done well by my clients. As with most artists, the business side of my work has been harder to develop than the creative side. Setting boundaries and knowing it’s okay to keep work relationships friendly but still professional has been a big part of my growth over the years, as has realizing the importance of drawing boundaries and sticking to my pricing, even when it’s hard. It’s about respecting oneself as a professional.
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. In your view what are some of the most fun, interesting, exciting people, places or things to check out?
My family and I live in both Houston, Texas, and Santa Barbara, California, throughout the year. We are what you would call bi-coastal, at least for this current season of life! We work in both cities, and our jobs both require and allow the flexibility to be in both places. In Houston, Memorial Park is a huge part of our lives. My husband and I both love to be outside. He is much more athletic than I am, but I’m realizing I need sufficient time outside in nature to feel healthy and balanced. Some of our favorite things to do in the city when we are here is go on a hike through the arboretum and nature center, or jog the trails, and maybe have a picnic outside. Next, I would take a friend to some of our favorite spots to eat like for some good Tex Mex at Lupe’s Tortilla or for a special occasion, sushi at Uchi. I also love bubble tea — you can almost always find me once a day at Teahouse for a yummy blended beverage. And my best friend here in Houston is an editor at Houston CityBook magazine. She is our go-to resource for all things wonderful and current in the city. I feel lucky to call Houston home. It is a thriving city full of culture, arts and music. Santa Barbara is also an amazing place to live. We love hanging at Butterfly Beach across from the Four Seasons Biltmore resort when in town, and also walking along shoreline park on the Mesa. Our favorite local spots in town to eat are Zaytoon’s Mediterrean Restaurant downtown for a night out, with more casual hangouts during the day like Panino and Super Cuca’s on the Mesa. Solvang is our favorite weekend countryside getaway. This is where Jose Villa works, and I spent a lot of time up there during the week as well when working with him at his studio.
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?
So many amazing people, businesses and clients along the way have truly made my company all that it is. I know that without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I love and also provide for my family.
My parents have always supported me and encouraged me to pursue the things I love. My mom from an early age would always say things like, “If you do what you love, you will always succeed because you will never stop striving to be better.” My parents have also both worked their whole lives to provide for my brother and me, and to give us the best opportunities and education to succeed in life. For that — especially as a parent myself now — I am so thankful.
My brother is one of the strongest men I know. He has overcome so many obstacles in his life, and his strength and character have always been an inspiration to me. And my husband has also sacrificed so much to encourage me and allow me to pursue my career. Without his love and support, I would hands-down not be where I am today in my business. In what feels like a man’s world, I feel so lucky to be a woman who has such strong men behind her.
I have also had so many amazing planners and clients that took a chance on me — when I was in photo school and a recent grad — and gave me the opportunity to further my business.
Both in school and throughout my career, I have had wonderful business mentors, like Jose Villa (www.josevilla.com), who have always been such an inspiration to me. Jose, who I first worked with in college as a student, demonstrated to me the value of hard work, dedication, humility and kindness. I think one often fears that you have to have money or connections — or worse, cut corners and hoard knowledge — to start a business and succeed. Jose gave me hope that truly, you can do anything if you love something and work for it; and on a more important note, that sharing your knowledge and loving others well is how you succeed. Jose, who immigrated here from Mexico with his family at age 4, is now one of the top photographers in the world, shooting some of the most amazing weddings and celebrity clients. We remain in touch, and I am so thankful for this sweet friend and role model.