When Megan Aaron Wells received a message from a random Catholic couple in Colorado asking if they could fly her out to Denver in two weeks to shoot their engagement photos, she geeked out a little. As a recent college graduate, this was Megan’s dream playing out in reality.
The Colorado couple had only seen Megan’s work on Instagram, but they went out of their way to fly her in as photographer for the day because they trusted her. Her presence online reflected not only her expertise and craft as a photographer, but also her singular voice as a person who holds deep values and practices faith.
Megan didn’t plan on launching a full-time photography business after her graduation from Troy University, but people kept contacting her to take their photos, and she took it as a sign to take a leap of faith. After graduation, she packed up her life, moved across the country, and dove into life as a full-time travel photographer. At 22 years old, she is a role model for small business owners and freelancers who are looking to not only succeed in the marketplace, but also serve others.
I had a conversation with Megan about how she launched a career in photography and what keeps her grounded in authenticity with her growing social media influence.
So first, how did you get into photography?
I first got into it in high school in California. We lived in Sacramento with my dad because he was in the Air Force. Our high school had a really well known yearbook class, and it wasn’t like that class you took instead of P.E. It was a nationally-recognized yearbook — we went to conferences in Boston and Chicago. I had to take pictures and learn how to work a really nice camera. So that’s when I first got a camera and figured out how to use it, work with lighting, and all those things.
When we moved to Alabama at the end of high school, I still had my camera and was taking pictures for people for fun. You know — the Tumblr-looking pictures. Then come freshman year of college, I was known as the “girl with the camera” because I would vlog stuff all the time. I was on the soccer team at Troy, so I kind of forgot about it sophomore year as soccer and school took up a lot of my time. But junior year, I picked it back up again during our off season in soccer. That’s when I bought my first presets, downloaded Lightroom, and said, “Okay, let’s figure this editing thing out.’
How did you transition from photography as a pure hobby to a full-time business?
The summer before my senior year of college, I started posting more on the Instagram account I made for photography. I got asked to do some engagement shoots that summer in Utah and California, and that was the first time I’d ever traveled for photography, and I was like, “Wait, this is fun and really cool!” I got my first wedding (gig) soon after, and it just kind of picked up. Yet, I still didn’t think of it as a business as I didn’t want to do the whole legal side of business. I thought I would just continue pricing super cheap and do it every now and then. But it kept picking up — I kept getting asking to travel, I kept enjoying it, and I kept meeting new people from it.
Then my senior year of college, I chose to brand my photography for my senior thesis project. During the project, I realized I could make it into a business. I had a couple jobs in a photography studio working under other people in the past and hated them. So I dove into senior thesis, created an entire branding website, invoices, a pricing guide, contracts, business cards, logos — basically all the things I said I didn’t want to do — and I actually loved it.
It was perfect timing because I was about to move back to California, and after moving, every single month would come around and every single month I was booked. And that’s still happening, and it’s wild!! It’s also super convenient for the military life setting my own schedule and bookings. I’m now doing all the business and legal stuff I never wanted to do, but I don’t mind it as much now because it’s my job and I love it!
People respond to your personal touch, both online and in person. What’s the secret behind the way you treat people to sustain your business?
It’s a relationship, not a business transaction.
A lot of my initial clients came to me having already gone to someone else and not liked them. They didn’t enjoy their experience, which is so awkward, but also made me realize how photographers were getting it so wrong! It is people-based.
My favorite part is couples, especially when they are engaged or married. Through photography, I can support these couples — I can be there for them on their engagement, but then I can be there on their wedding day, too. If the relationship doesn’t exist, it’s a one-and-done thing. Word of mouth is so important in this industry, but people aren’t going to talk about you unless they have a good experience, and you do that by building a relationship with them.
Thousands of people follow you on Instagram, so they are attracted to something they see in you. At the same time, you are real with what you post — you share both the good and the bad about your life, your Catholic faith, and personal interests. How has this transparency played a role in building your photography business?
It’s been huge. Being super personable and honest about where I stand with things has made it a lot easier to get clients and people who feel like they can relate to me. It makes it easier for them to be open and vulnerable in front of a camera — because a lot of people feel awkward around people they don’t know. If they see a face, and that person is interacting with them and talking with them about real-life things, they feel like they already know you when they get to the session.
It’s like “Oh we’re best friends, I’ve been following you forever! I know your face and voice, so this isn’t awkward.” And then the faith part is huge, too, because typically you feel comfortable around people of the same faith because you instantly know their morals and where their values of life come from.
It’s obvious relationships are at the forefront of your business and that you view photography through a lens of service of others. Where does this mindset stem from?
Have you heard of the term, “AMDG”? It is a Latin abbreviation meaning, “All the glory to God.” Growing up playing soccer, that was always something I would write on my wrist tape for games, and it was always in the back of my mind. When my soccer career was ending near the end of college and photography was starting to pick up, I said, “Okay, all the glory to God in this now. Here we go!” I switched passions to photography and realized how people-oriented it is. I saw I could serve people through this — I can give them photos and memories and things that capture and embody them that they can look back on forever.
With your following on Instagram and ability to relate to others online, you’ve become a sort of “Instagram influencer” of sorts. What is that like?
I always relate it to being the oldest of five siblings. It was always harped on me to do things right and be a good role model because if you get the first kid right, all the rest follow, right? That’s kind of how growing up was: There was always a lot of pressure to do things right because everyone was watching and life’s not only about you. That’s kind of how I see those big numbers on social.
It’s humbling, but a reminder that none of this is for me or about me.