FAQ: My Story (part 3) ~ How We Became a Self-Employed Photography Team ~ The Whole Shebang!

I’ve been getting lots of emails lately from other photographers who have more recently stumbled upon our work – asking questions about how we got started, did we go to school for photography, how long have we been doing this, and any other assortment of questions regarding our story… which made me realize that things are changing a bit! It used to be that everybody who read the blog were long time readers who knew our whole story, because they had read the blog as it was unfolding in front of them!! So for those that have recently just been introduced to us or our work – they don’t know any of the back story of how we got to where we are today.

Because I get asked this question a lot – I figured it would make way more sense for me to finally just post a blog about it with ALL the information in one place so I can just send people to this post in the future to catch up on our (rather long) story! So here goes!

I should mention that I started writing about “my story” way back in 2011 when we were busting our butts to try to take our business full-time. I wrote Part 1 and Part 2, but obviously a lot has happened since March, 2011 – which I plan to share below, but first – if you want to catch up on the long winded versions and read these, here are the links (please forgive the crazy formatting, these were transferred over from my old blog):

My Story (part 1) – childhood and college

My Story (part 2) – photography school, boys meets girl, and beyond


If you’d rather just move on to the quick summary – I’ve shared it below! But first – some quick numbers – because I’m a numbers girl!

9 – The number of years I’ve been getting paid to do photography.

6 – The number of years I’ve been shooting weddings.

4 – The number of years James has been shooting weddings with me.

3 – The number of years we’ve been paying our bills with photography only (i.e. how long we’ve been officially ‘full-time’).

120 – The number of weddings we’ve shot.


Always: I’ve been a photography obsessed person my whole life and wanted to go to school for photography after high school, but my dad told me I had to get “a real degree” (LOL) so I went to University of Kentucky to study architecture for a year, and then transferred to University of Wisconsin Madison to study art & technology.

December 2004: Graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison with a degree in Inter-Arts & Technology and got a job as a photographer for a real estate company (and quickly realized I need to learn more about the technical aspects of photography).

August 2005: Moved to Chicago to pursue a degree in Commercial Photography at Harrington College of Design (shot paid photography gigs here and there throughout school, and assisted on commercial shoots)




August 2007: Graduated from Harrington College of Design and start working full time as a paralegal at the law firm I worked at to help pay for school (continued to shoot commercial gigs here and there, also met James this year and didn’t focus as much on photography as I should have because I was all busy falling in love and what not… haha)

September 2008: Shot my first wedding (for the sister of a good friend, who I told that I was “not a wedding photographer” and didn’t want to be… lol)

May 2009: Married James and shot 4 more weddings that year (referrals from my first wedding) while continuing to work full-time at the law firm.




November 2009: James was laid off from his job (where he was a manager of a camera store), and wasn’t able to find a new job in the growing recession.

Spring 2010: James decided to go back and get his undergrad degree, and re-enrolled in college! Meanwhile, I realized I actually loved shooting these weddings and thought –“Hey this might be fun to do for real… maybe I should actually focus some energy on getting a business really going!” I rebranded myself (with my new married name), finally got a wedding & portrait website up and running, along with a blog, and started a Facebook business page!

July 2010: I started blogging 5x a week, and shot 6 more weddings that year.

December 2010: James came along to my last wedding of the year to try his hand at being a 2nd shooter. Since he previously managed a camera store, it was a natural fit for him, and he has stayed on board ever since! (Not to say that working together 24/7 was a natural fit for us initially, but more on that later! haha)

Winter 2011: I shot my first destination wedding in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.




Spring 2011: I rebranded with Promise Tangeman. Continued to shoot anything and everything that came my way, and was featured on CBS Evening News (for about 2 seconds, LOL) in a piece about young entrepreneurs.

Summer 2011: We had 17 weddings and 63 sessions on the books for that year, and simultaneously became completely overwhelmed trying to keep it all together at my day job and running a very rapidly growing business, while James (at this time) was focused on being in school full-time, and shooting weddings with me when clients chose to add-on a second shooter to their wedding package.

September 2011: Things quickly became too much to manage and I made the leap I knew I had too, put in my notice at the law firm, and took our business full-time!

Fall 2011: Was a crash course in being self-employed and paying the bills while chasing our dreams. It was a ROUGH road (looking back on it), and we made a lot of mistakes, but made it work. To read more details from that first year of self-employment – make sure to check out my monthly Self-Employment posts from that year!

Winter & Spring 2012: I panicked A LOT about having enough money to get through off-season, but we made it (and I realized happiness trumps money)! I realized “My Why” for being a photographer, and we hosted our first workshops!




Summer 2012: Life got busy as wedding season picked up, and I had to check myself about my work-life balance (or lack thereof). I shot my last solo wedding that September (up until then James was an optional “add-on” to my packages), and decided from then on we would only come as a packaged deal! Best decision ever!

Fall 2012: Throughout that year we shot 31 weddings and 80 sessions, so needless to say there was a bit of a learning curve to handling that much work – since our weddings had nearly doubled since the previous year! It made for a tough time for James and I, which I was open about in a post titled “Ebbs & Flows.”

2013: This was the year that we finally felt like we were starting to hit our stride. We had learned from LOTS of mistakes (mostly due to not letting go of things we could have used help on, and not ever taking time off from working), and were determined to make 2013 a better year for us! This year we once again shot 31 weddings and 81 sessions, which we were much better prepared to handle the second time around!

Spring 2013: We hosted another round of Workshops, delegated more work to James to balance out the load a bit, and talked about What Success Means to us!

Fall 2013: We closed out our 2013 wedding season shooting Tanya and Greg’s beautiful wedding on the Big Island of Hawaii. It had been a dream of ours for a while to go to Hawaii, but we were just never able to make it happen. So when this opportunity came to us (at about the same time we realized that our dream of starting a family was not going to happen that year), we took full advantage of the opportunity, and made a trip out of it to close out what turned out to be a truly amazing year and wedding season!




2014: Early 2014 we rebranded again, because we felt like our business didn’t feel representative of us or our work anymore. The new grown-up look felt like the right thing after so much growth in the past few years! It felt like our business was getting more comfortable and us a little less stressed (for the most part) this past year. We were able to raise our rates a bit to get to a point where we had more balance between work and life, were able to travel a lot (because we’ve got a crazy travel itch as it turns out!), and were still able to pay our bills, but not shooting so very much that we were completely run down. (Hallelujah!) In 2014 we shot 30 weddings, 76 sessions, and 5 big commercial shoots (which was new for us) – starting our wedding season in the Dominican Republic and we will be ending our season in a couple weeks on NYE in downtown Chicago! We hosted another workshop this past spring and are prepping for another one this coming March, 2015! Parts of this year were incredibly challenging (mostly on the personal side), but we are so grateful to even be given the opportunity to continue chasing our dreams together! We’re looking forward to 2015 and soaking up every last moment of 2014 as it comes to a close!




I’ll be sharing lots more about 2014 in a big year-end summary on the blog in a few weeks – but wanted to at least get our story up to date with current day!! Whew!! This was really long winded and a lot to read – but I wanted to make the point that this was a PROCESS for us to get where we are today! Many people write us and seem to assume because we’ve been doing this full-time for 3 years that it was an overnight thing and that we are rather new to the industry… when in reality we’ve been shooting weddings since 2008, and seriously busting our butts behind the scenes to make our dreams a reality for quite a while now (and continue to to this day)!

There really is no “magic potion” or secret to “making it” in this business. Like any and all things in life – it takes a LOT of hard work (more than you sometimes think you can manage), but because it is your dream and your love – you do it!!! Obviously there are lots of lessons to be learned along the way, and mistakes that will inevitably be made, but overall the truth is that you need to WANT IT, you need to DO THE WORK, and you need to BELIEVE YOU CAN make it – and you WILL!

In the words of my favorite, Mr. Conan O’Brien, “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

(If you have additional questions about our story – please leave them in the comments below and I will reply there where everybody else can see and have access to the answers!) xoxo


**(Soon to come: a post about some of the things I did early on in our business that made a BIG difference for us – that helped us make the switch from shooting weddings casually to doubling our bookings each of the first few years and taking our business full-time! And of course – all this info and WAY MORE is shared at our Advanced Workshop!! I’m a totally open book, friends… if you haven’t figured that out already! haha! We still have a few seats available and the early-bird rate is good for a few weeks yet!!! I’d love to see you there!)

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Christy & James are Chicago based but happily travel anywhere in the world that beautiful love stories take them!