12 whole years. I have loved pouring into this business the last 12 years. I’ve also been dreading writing this blogpost because it means it’s time to say goodbye. And I just don’t know that I’m ready.
12 years of my 32 years on this earth – over 1/3 of my life. I’ve poured more hours, I’ve sacrificed sleep and food, I’ve driven more late nights and early mornings, I’ve given so much of myself to this work that I love.
As I say on my podcast, work is GOOD. It is a gift from the Lord, it gives us purpose and dignity.
But like all things in life, work has seasons. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve learned that work is given to us as assignments for different seasons of our life, and our calling is to Jesus. And right now, my assignment is changing, but my calling has never changed! I’ve been given a new assignment : being home with my kids more, speaking encouragement and truth in my podcast, and making space for others in the wedding industry by closing the doors to NRP.
All of that to say, it has been a joy and a privilege to run this business for 12 years. I photographed my first wedding on January 3rd, 2008, 3 days after I turned 21, engaged to be married to Will. (Love you Bill and Michelle! You both were amazing to take a chance on me!) That’s the day I say this business really began.
So much has happened since then! I’ll recap year by year, and while this might be a gigantic blogpost, I don’t mind. I want to celebrate each and every year, every milestone, and the story God has written!
I hope you enjoy a recap of the last 12 years of Nancy Ray Photography!
2008 is when it all began. I was majoring in Technical Photography at Appalachian State University, and I shadowed some photography friends as a “3rd shooter/assistant” at 2-3 weddings. I was engaged to Will, planning a wedding, and soaking in as much of photography as I possibly could! I was the ONLY person in my graduating class who wanted to shoot weddings. Everyone else thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care! I loved weddings, and my heart was set on becoming a wedding photographer. I was scared out of my mind. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to dive all in.
I roomed with two dear friends: Samantha, my best friend since 9th grade, and Elizabeth Tate – our current NRP family photographer! (Fun fact: Sam actually married John – Will’s little brother, so I get to call her my sister!)
On January 3, 2008, I photographed my first wedding on my own! That’s when I declared that I was a photographer, and I owned my own business. Here are some images from the very first wedding I shot:
Will moved to Boone and got a job at Walgreens, and working the night shift as a manager throughout our first year of marriage. After I finished my junior year, in June of 2008, I married Will and moved in with him! I transformed this little apartment from a bachelor’s pad to our first home together. It had no air conditioner, no dishwasher, no ice maker, and a community washer/dryer (that you still had to pay for in quarters). There were 2 bedrooms: 1 was our master bedroom, the other: a guest-bedroom-turned-into-photography-office.
It was home sweet home for the next 2 years, and it was also where I spent hundreds of hours in front of a computer launching my business. I learned, I read blogs, I read tutorials, I bought used equipment, I blogged, I edited my first weddings. Those were some long days in that guest bedroom office!
In December of 2008, I graduated from Appalachian State and launched full time into my business. Here I am presenting my Senior Portfolio… all images from weddings, of course!
Since I graduated in December of 2008, January of 2009 was spent looking for a “real job.” Honestly, I LOVE this part of my story. It was scary, and at the time I cried a lot of tears. Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was the season where the Lord gave me this business by literally closing all other doors.
The best prospect of a job for me was to become a nanny. Boone is a very small town, and I was still shooting about 10 weddings a year. A nanny job seemed like the perfect fit! I found a family who needed a nanny, I went through several interviews, and I thought I had it in the bag! My plan was set. Work part time shooting weddings and be a full time nanny.
It was a cold afternoon, when I got the phone call. Will was sound asleep in our expertly blacked-out room because he was working the nightshift at the time. I was so excited to see her number appear on my phone, excited to take the new job!
When she told me she chose someone else for the nanny position, I was crushed.
I hung up the phone and immediately started crying. All of my plans had failed! I loved being busy in school – taking 18 hours a semester was normal for me. I was involved in student ministries, Bible studies, and I studied hard. Now, I was a college graduate! I had nothing to do, no “real job,” and the one nanny lead that I had found just turned me down. The economy had just taken a major turn downward, and I felt really hopeless.
I ran into our bedroom and woke up Will. (What a wonderful, sweet husband. For him it was the middle of the night!) I cried and cried, and he hugged me and said we would figure everything out. I finally let him go back to sleep, and I prayed long and hard about what to do.
Over the next few weeks, I spent all day every day in front of my computer, learning all that I could about wedding photography. (I literally had nothing else to do. It was 20 degrees outside, and I’m not the type to watch TV. Heck, we didn’t even have cable!) I would read blogs, ask questions on forums, research business books, learn all about equipment, and do all that I possibly could from that small guest bedroom in our apartment. I would go out and take pictures in the park, then write a blogpost about it. I would drive all over NC shooting weddings and sessions for almost nothing, because I was so hungry for experience.
And just like that, a closed door paved the way for me to grow my own photography business into my dream job. All credit to the Lord, who knows I wouldn’t have done it this way unless He closed that door!
We moved to Raleigh!
Just after Christmas, we made the big move to Raleigh. We purchased our townhouse, and Will started a new job at Celebration Church as the Youth Ministry Director. After months of prayer, he decided to accept the position at Celebration and we moved back home.
I painted and set up my home photography studio. Talk about luxury! After having worked out of a small guest bedroom, having my own workspace was a dream come true. It took 6 months or so to get set up to the point where I could host brides, but it finally became my office and studio. I am still grateful to walk down the stairs every day to go to work!
On a practical note, this is the year that I actually started making an income in my business. It was a small income… no where close to a salary, but it was something! Yes, it took all of 2008 and 2009 to get to the point where I was taking home any money. We never went into debt for this business, but all the cash we made in 2008 and 2009, we simply reinvested into equipment, marketing, supplies, software, etc. It was an exciting turning point!
Slowly and steadily, I continued to book weddings and grow my business. The move to Raleigh was a wonderful move for my business. I began to meet vendors, get familiar with venues, and I would serve my brides the best way I knew how. I was thrilled to be back in a big city, but I definitely missed the calm schedule of our lives in the mountains.
To be transparent – the first year in Raleigh was tough for us. Between youth ministry and a growing business, we had no idea how to set boundaries in our personal lives. It really took a toll on our marriage, on our relationships. We were leading the youth group, shooting weddings and sessions, teaching an FPU class, leading small groups, hosting seasonal events, doing bridal shows, and taking every opportunity that was thrown at us. I’ll never forget the month of October 2010. We didn’t have 1 evening at home! Not even kidding. There was something booked for us every night, whether it be church or photography. Will and I looked at each other and promised we’d never do that again. Learning to run a business and run the youth ministry was one of the hardest, most rewarding things we’ve ever done. We’re still learning, but we have gained much more of a sense of balance now. Looking back, I’m so thankful for all the hard and good lessons we’ve learned along the way. I’m confident we will use those lessons through the rest of our lives.
We began 2011 with LOTS of excitement. Since we clearly didn’t think we were busy enough, we got a puppy! Winston has been such a fun addition to our family.
Back in 2009, I attended the Love Affair Workshop for lady photographers and met my sweet sweet friend Caroline Joy. (Sorry friends, the workshop doesn’t exist anymore!) It was so much fun to find a likeminded photographer, business owner, and friend who shares the same beliefs about faith, work, and life in general. Caroline and I decided to launch our own workshop called Branches and Light, and in January of 2011 we hosted our first workshop in Dallas, TX, then a week later hosted our second workshop in Raleigh, NC.
I photographed 25 weddings in 2011. It was my first fully booked year, and it was FULL. I had a hard time learning balance, and decided to hire my wonderful intern Robin. She was fantastic, and I began to learn the huge benefits of delegating tasks to others. As someone who is completely hands on (and somewhat of a control freak), it was a hard and good lesson for me to learn!
I had my first feature on Style Me Pretty, which was a big goal for my business! To see that dream become a reality was amazing. It was shortly followed by my second feature on SMP, and soon enough I became a member of their Little Black Book!
We began 2012 with another B&L Workshop, and we really stepped it up. Caroline and I decided it best to only host 1 workshop in 1 city, so we chose Raleigh as our destination. We partnered with some amazing vendors, and it turned out to be a wonderful success.
My business kept growing, and I knew I couldn’t handle the load of work all by myself. Will wanted to help, but he was spending way too much of his time “off” helping me, and I didn’t want that for him or for us. So we began the long search for a studio assistant – a part time employee to help me manage my business. After interviewing several people several times, we hired Callie in May.
We shot a full load of weddings again in 2012, worked like there was no tomorrow, continued our youth trips (summer camp, retreats, leader’s retreat, lockin, etc.), and our plates were full. I ran my first half marathon, and at the end of the year, we achieved a huge personal financial goal.
Early in our marriage, we decided to live off of less than Will’s income, save save save, and pay off our house early. Never in a million years did we think we could pay off our mortgage in 2.5 years, but we did! After a lot of sacrifice, hard work, and intense budgeting, we paid off our house in December of 2012. The day we screamed “We’re debt free” was incredible – there are hardly words to describe achieving such a sweet goal with your best friend. God is so good.
Caroline and I hosted Branches and Light in Texas, and it was stunning! Truly, it was one of the most beautiful experiences we’ve had. Shortly after, I checked off a big business dream: getting featured by Martha Stewart Weddings. In March, I had the privilege of speaking at Making Things Happen in Chapel Hill, which I’ve been speaking at every year since for the past 5 years.
2013 was a year marked by growth. We realized we were turning so many brides away because we were already booked up. We were fully booked for 2 years straight, we knew we had to make a decision: stay where we were, or grow our team. After much prayer, we launched Callie and Elizabeth in January as NRP team Associate Photographers!
I knew I had to choose people who were willing to learn, who were teachable, who had a wonderful attitudes, who were hard workers, and who could easily identify with the brand and culture of Nancy Ray Photography. I had to choose people who were completely trustworthy.
Other notables in 2013: I photographed an editorial in Nashville, TN for Southern Weddings Magazine, we threw a party to celebrate 5 years of being in business, I ran another half marathon, and Will and I celebrated 5 years of marriage by living on a boat for a week in the BVI!
After several years of hosting Branches and Light, Caroline and I prayerfully decided to close its doors. It was a hard and wonderful decision, as she and I were simply moving in different directions of life, (even though we remain wonderful friends to this day!) You should follow her current work on un-fancy.com : she’s amazing.
This year was one of growth and learning. We all began to shoot in film on a regular basis, which was such a wonderful challenge.
I had the privilege of photographing Callie and Jamie’s beautiful wedding that May, while standing by them as a bridesmaid! It was such a joy, and later that year it was featured in Southern Weddings as a featured Real Wedding. It was such a joy!
I also photographed another editorial for Southern Weddings Magazine in Nashville, TN – one of the hottest days of my life!
This video is one of my favorites of my entire career. I can’t wait to show this to my kids one day. I will never, ever forget it!
I truly began to learn the ropes of leading a team. We started our newsletter and had regular team meetings. We had team days and we read books together. I quickly began to realize how much I truly do love leading, and how rewarding it is for me.
Elizabeth approached me about transitioning to family photographer, instead of wedding photographer. We had so many conversations, and it was such a wonderful learning experience for all of us. The important lesson we learned? It’s vital to have the right people in the right seats. I had the right people, but families is where Elizabeth is most gifted! While she was an excellent wedding photographer, it didn’t make sense with her giftings.
We decided to hire another associate photographer, and we began the interview process late that fall. We also decided to hire an intern, which launched our current internship program. With the shifts and changes of our business, we knew we had to keep things growing and changing along with it!
In the middle of fall wedding season, I found out I was pregnant! My due date landed right in the middle of spring wedding season the following year (May 27th, 2015), so I knew the following year was going to look quite different for all of us.
One of the most significant personal changes (other than getting preganant!) was that after 5 years of leading the Youth Ministry at our church, Will decided to step down. He began his own financial coaching business, so we were both officially self employed… and expecting our first baby! It took a lot of faith and trust to walk through those doors together, but God was in every step of our journey.
I entered 2015 with my sleeves rolled up, ready to go, but also unsure of what was ahead of me. How would I do this whole business owner & mama thing together? Could I do them both well? I knew one thing: it would take a lot of preparation and a wonderful team to pull it off.
At the very end of January, we offered the associate photographer position to Olivia Wolf (at the time – now Olivia Suriano), who has been an incredible fit to our team. Goodness do we love her! We began training her, mentoring her, and teaching her everything we could. My belly was growing, and maternity leave prep was in full force.
I photographed yet another editorial for Southern Weddings, this time very pregnant and with a tiny piglet! It was one of my favorite accomplishments in my business, partnering with some of my favorite vendors and creating such a lovely experience and shoot for a magazine I believe in so much.
This was the year of speaking for me. I spoke twice at Making Things Happen, I spoke at the Influence Conference, I spoke at the Pursuit Retreat, and a few online workshops as well. It was full of wonderful experiences and connections.
We also decided to re-launch our brand and website to be more of a reflection of us, our team, and our heart for legacy. We worked closely with Flosites throughout the first half of the year, and I planned to launch the website 1 month prior to my due date. Of course it took much longer than I thought it would, and when I went into labor on May 25th, I worked on finalizing blogposts and emails while I was having contractions. Hilarious, right? I said it was my entrepreneur side of nesting.
On May 26th, 2016, we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Milly Elizabeth Ray, into the world.
Goodness has she changed me. I love her to pieces – she is incredible. She makes me a better business owner, a better wife, a better person. We KNEW she was a boy, so she’s kept us on our toes since the moment she was born. She is such a joy!
I joke that May 26th, 2015 was the most productive day of my life. Not only did I give birth, but we launched our website that day! Callie took over and carried the new brand and website launch to completion.
Let me just take a moment to say:
Callie is WONDERFUL. She carried me through maternity leave. She gave me a gift that I could never repay – a wonderful 3 month leave with my baby girl, not worrying about one single thing. To this day, I am so grateful for her. She taught me how important a team really is, but more than that, she demonstrated how much she loves me and is a loyal friend. I can’t say enough about that lady.
Meanwhile, Will gets an offer to join the C12 Group, and after praying quite a bit throughout the year, he decides to take it! So that fall, another job change happens for our family, and Will becomes a local C12 chair.
I transitioned back to work, and it was challenging and good. I knew I needed help with the baby, so the grandparents stepped it up for the rest of the year while I got used to my new roles as mama and business owner.
We hired a very important team member at the beginning of 2016: a nanny! Rachel was the biggest blessing to us. She came to be our nanny for 3 days a week beginning in February, and little Milly adored her. She STILL does. Even though Rachel doesn’t work with us anymore (she just recently transitioned), she will always always ALWAYS be part of our family. We adore her, and I may or may not have cried for 2 weeks straight when her season with us ended.
This year was so… unique. I only photographed 4 weddings, and I really began to see the affects and blessings of building a team. They were carrying the bulk of the weddings, and I had time to really focus on growing the business.
The most exciting thing that happened in 2016 for our business? The launch of the Nancy Ray Shop!
For the first half of the year, we prayed and planned and learned about digital content and education. We launched the shop in the Spring, and much of my time was spent creating and writing and producing the educational content that it hosts.
Callie and Olivia did incredible work photographing such beautiful weddings, Elizabeth continued to capture sweet families and mini sessions, and we had 2 amazing interns help us in the studio. Will continued to pour into this business with his incredible wisdom in finances, technology, and organizational structure.
Once again, it was time to hire. Because of the increased growth of weddings we were photographing and Nancy Ray Shop customers, I knew we’d need to expand our studio team if I was going to take another maternity leave. After much prayer and consideration, we offered the job to Olivia! She continued her role as associate photographer, but also took on new responsibilities for the Nancy Ray Shop and in the studio.
We had several huge goals to accommodate our growing team, increased amount of weddigns, and educational side of our business. First things first: reorganizing and refreshing our studio space! We spent all of January getting new furniture, painting, and re-decorating so we could be all ready for Olivia when she joined us in February.
We launched our very first online course, Foundations in Film, this spring! What a whirlwind of an experience, and a GOOD one. We have loved hosting this course, and we plan to re-open it again soon.
On July 29, 2017, we welcomed our baby girl, Lyndon into the world! She has been an absolute joy, and my time away has once again been such a gift. Callie and Olivia, you both are amazing.
After Lyndon was born, we hired a new nanny – a dear friend of ours, Michelle Willix. Let me just say – Michelle is GOLD. She has been with us since transitioning out of maternity leave, doing life with us 3 days a week. She handles the 3 kiddos like a champ and is basically family. (The kids all call her Aunt Michelle!) What a gift she’s been. Truly – she’s the one who keeps me sane and has allowed me to continue doing the work I love.
I had the joy of photographing Olivia and Andrew’s wedding this year too, and it was so incredibly sweet. Our whole team was there, and we had the most amazing time! Definitely something I will never forget!
All I can say about 2018 is that it was a wild ride! This is the year God started leading me in a new direction. We began the year strong – booking and photographing more weddings than we ever had. While I was shooting a gorgeous wedding in April, I became very hungry and noticed while I was pumping at the wedding that my milk supply was really low. (Lyndon was 8 months old.) I took a pregnancy test the next day, and to my great surprise, found out I was pregnant with baby #3! 2 weeks later, Will and I went on a marriage retreat. Long story short, God began preparing my heart to let go of Nancy Ray Photography, to seek Him and what He wanted for my life. You can listen to more of that story in Episode 4 of my podcast.
We moved into our new home on June 21, the day before our 10th wedding anniversary! Which also meant we moved into our new NRP studio. I was very pregnant, and it was quite the year of transition!
In July we found out the gender of our baby – the only time we had ever done that! Our ultrasound tech told us we were having a 3rd girl, so we were excitedly preparing to be girl parents!
In September, I photographed my first international wedding in Italy! We also celebrated our 10th anniversary and our babymoon while we were there, and had such a special vow renewal in Lake Como. It was beautiful.
In October of 2018, we hosted our 10th Anniversary Party in our new home – it was such a joy to have so many vendors and clients and family and friends hanging out in our new back yard! What a gift!
Shortly before that took place, Callie told me that her season at Nancy Ray Photography had come to an end. With so many tears of sadness and joy, we celebrated her 7 years of hard work. Her transition out – her obedience to the Lord – was such a catalyst in my own life and decision to close NRP. I’m so thankful for her bravery and obedience!
After many honest conversations with Olivia and our seasons of life and what God was leading us to do, Will and I told the team in our annual strategic planning meeting in November of 2018 that the following year, 2019, would be the last year of NRP. I was hugely pregnant and cried my face off! It was Sammy Jo’s first day of work – we hired her to help Olivia carry the load while Callie transitioned out and I went on maternity leave! Bless Sammy Jo – I’ll never forget hiring her to tell her we were closing, ha! But she was a trooper, and she’s now the only team member staying on to help me with my podcast and work moving forward!
Just a few short weeks later, I gave birth to our SON, Beaufort! On December 13th, 2018, he arrived with quite the birth story which you can read about here.
Those last few months of 2018 were full of tears for me. I had major highs and lows as I prayerfully navigated closing this business and having our 3rd baby. I cried myself to sleep many nights! But all I can say is : God is faithful. He held me together when I felt like I was falling apart and blessed me more than I could have ever expected as we welcomed our son!
Like I said… 2018 was quite the year!
The first 3 months of 2019, I was on maternity leave taking care of sweet little Beaufort. Olivia and Sammy kept things rolling, and in April we announced it was Our Final Year in Business. I also launched my new podcast, Work and Play with Nancy Ray, and shortly after that, a photo from the birth of my son went viral! It was quite the month, and we had a lot of good laughs!
Back to NRP: we knew we wanted to finish strong. If we were in harvest moving to winter, we wanted to grab all the fruit on the way out! Olivia photographed her first international wedding, and we’ve been doing our very best to serve and love our clients as we close the doors. I can confidently say that we have loved every couple and family as best as we possibly could. We’ve given it our all, and it has been so rewarding to know this is the end and to finish strong.
We ended this year with our traditional Christmas Celebration! We had a morning of manis and pedis, followed by lunch at Bartaco, followed by the most fun Escape Room experience and an amazing dinner at Winston’s Grille. Man I love these people! We laughed so hard!
Today I find myself incredibly humbled and grateful to have had the privilege of owning and leading this business for the last 12 years. To be shooting in film and creating work I’m so proud of. To have served hundreds of couples and families, to have linked arms with this incredible team. To have had 12 years of doing work that I absolutely adore. To have a husband who supports me, three beautiful kids who I adore, and a team that believes in this work just as I do.
Nancy Ray Photography existed to glorify God and inspire legacies through photography and education. We will continue to hold that banner high and do our best work for His kingdom and the legacies of others, even has this chapter has closed and we move into new work. I am so grateful for every step of this journey, for the gift of Nancy Ray Photography for 12 years of my life, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for being right here with me. Thank you for reading, thank you for following along, thank you for your support. To each and every client, I am so incredibly grateful for you.
To continue following along with what’s next, you can find me over at nancyray.com. I’ll continue blogging and podcasting, and I hope to stay connected with you, no matter what the future holds!
What a joy this season has been!
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