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Kelley Williams Education helps wedding photographers perfect their craft

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Wedding photographer Kelley Williams may be slammed with covering Central Coast nuptials every weekend until mid-December, but that packed schedule hasn't stopped her from giving back to the community.

TEACHING THE TRADE Kelley Williams branches her wedding photography into educational work so that other photographers can perfect their business. - PHOTO COURTESY OF KELLEY WILLIAMS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Kelley Williams
  • TEACHING THE TRADE Kelley Williams branches her wedding photography into educational work so that other photographers can perfect their business.

"People [photographers] started reaching out to me about questions they had. They wanted to meet with me and have me be a mentor to them," Williams said.

Based in San Luis Obispo County, Williams' community outreach extends far beyond because she made the most of the unexpected free time that came with COVID-19.

When the pandemic forced weddings to come to a screeching halt, Williams' clients postponed their celebrations repeatedly, which strained her finances.

"Many couples are on their third postponement. Not knowing how far back to postpone things was a problem," Williams said. "I had families saying, 'At least I'm moving it to next year.' So I would say, 'But I have no money for this year!'" she said with a laugh.

Williams said that peers always approached her—a mostly self-taught photographer from Baltimore, Maryland—with industry questions. She finally got the time to make an educational program for wedding photography once stay-at-home orders went into place last year: Kelley Williams Education. The online platform of paid courses for wedding photographers includes material on styling shoots and tips to get on vendor lists. Her main website also contains free resources for workshops and mentoring.

Wedding photography runs in Williams' blood. Her grandfather worked as a wedding photographer in their home city, and he still critiques her work. Though he always inspired her, Williams was in Monterey when she finally made a business out of her passion in 2016 after quitting a corporate job that she hated. Now, the photographer juggles weddings across SLO and Monterey counties along with her mentoring programs.

Williams' Instagram is another free-tips zone. Her weekly IG TV series called Wine Down Wednesday covers industry know-how on honing the wedding photography craft. The series is currently paused, and she said it will resume in the fall.

As a Black wedding photographer working in a predominantly white region, Williams said race often informs her work when it comes to visuals or working with vendors.

"When I get to design shoots, I try to select models of color," she said.

Traveling allows her to boost diversity and inclusion in her work.

"I was in Hawaii earlier in the year, and I really wanted to work with Hawaiian vendors and models for my shoot. I try to find diversity when I travel. I have come across other Black wedding photographers in SLO County, but there aren't that many," she said.

Williams' business is firing on all cylinders thanks to California's post-vaccine wedding boom that made up for 2020's slump.

"We're truly having two wedding seasons in one year," she said. She's mostly a one-woman team who occasionally works with Cal Poly interns on Pinterest scheduling, blogging, and marketing.

"The San Luis Obispo wedding industry is really kind and welcoming. There were always industry events every month [pre-COVID] that helped me meet a lot of people," she said.

The wedding moment that makes Williams' work that much sweeter? Getting a sneak-peek into a couple's life. She loves capturing their first look—when the bride and groom see each other for the first time.

"You get inserted into the really emotional moments of a couple's life, like the toast, too. It's a weird dynamic where you get behind the veil of people whom you kinda know but not really know," she said.

Fast facts

• The SLO Commission on the Status of Women changed its name to the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls on Aug. 10. Learn more about the San Luis Obispo County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls at slowomen.org.

Keep It Clean Shell Beachwill meet on Sept. 12—before the annualCalifornia Coastal Cleanup Dayon Sept. 18—for a street cleanup session.Volunteerswill start at Moore Massage to collect supplies. Find out more at keepitcleanshellbeach.com. Get information about how to join in the Sept. 18 coastal cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon by visiting coastalcleanupday.org. Δ

Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal wrote this week's Strokes. Reach her at brajagopal@newtimesslo.com.

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