Follow your passion :: Interview with Debs of Debs Ivelja Photography

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Hello everyone! Hope you all enjoyed your weekend.
* you can still enter my current knitting pattern giveaway here

Have you ever wondered how it would feel to give up your day job and follow your passion, and make it work. A couple of months ago I was not about to change anything, but now everything has changed of course and I am not sure I can find the motivation or meaning in my previous job. I am wondering more and more what it would be like to do something with this crafting obsession I have. To find out more I have decided to interview those who just went for it. 

This month I am talking to my friend Debs the very talented behind Debs Ivelja Photography. As it happens you have already seen some of her pictures on my blog here and here.I knew she had given up her job to become a photographer a bit of time ago, but in fact did not know much more. So it was time to interview her, and hear about her experience. And yes, I already booked her for our 2016 photo shoot - it is always so much fun!

How did you get involved in (wedding) photography?

After I left college I always thought I would head off to University and study. The problem was, I didn't know what to do yet and I didn't want to end up doing a degree I never used. So I took a year off and worked abroad, came home, got a job and never actually got around to doing a degree! Later, in my early 20’s, I started to do loads of evening courses. I loved to learn new skills and I’ve always loved to create things. My Mum taught me to sew when I was very young (its amazing how many hair scrunchies you can make as a 10 year old) and I’ve always loved various forms of needlework, painting and printing. I have done a few jewellery making courses and several silversmithing over the years… I travelled around Australia and kept myself alive making and selling jewellery for a lot of it!

I love to do anything that keeps my hands busy and so I did an adult education diploma course in Photography. I was studying after work and I gained a distinction in the end. I learnt photography on film and spent a lot of time in the darkroom. I loved photography but I never really thought of it as a career.

I then went travelling and for some reason put my camera down for a few years while I busied myself with life. Silversmithing became my latest love and to be honest, that's where I thought my career would move to.

In 2009 I started to get involved in the wedding industry and my eyes were opened to the talent of wedding photographers. I was so inspired by their versatility and how creative it had become as a field. It was an artform on its own and was slowly losing its bad reputation thanks to fabulous photographers out there such as Jonas Peterson in Australia. Couples were choosing to have weddings that were more original, more creative and that opened doors to wedding photographers exploring and doing new work.

I was inspired; I was hooked on the industry and knew I had to give it a go.

Have you always known you were going to be a photographer?

Not at all! In fact when I was leaving study and trying to decide on a career I remember my Mum suggesting it to me as an option and I shrugged it off. At the time wedding photography was very traditional and it just didn't seem my thing.

When did you start taking bookings to photograph weddings? 

I started to play around with my camera more and more as I was getting more and more inspired by the change in the industry and by the end of 2009, I decided it was a career path worth exploring. By chance I met with a couple who were getting married in March the following year and they were not going to have a photographer there on their day. So I offered myself! I asked if I could come along and take some photographs and they said yes (thank you Gareth and Jasmine!). I lived in London at the time and the wedding was in Cornwall… ironically in Newquay where I now live and their reception was in the harbor a stones throw away from my home. How the world turns!

The groom is a surfer so I met with him and his friends on the beach for their pre-wedding surf and from the second I took my camera out of it’s bag and started shooting, I knew that it was the start of something for me. I knew it was what I wanted to do.

I worked full time in marketing in London and so I worked on my photography until late into the night building a portfolio and connections within the industry. I started making wonderful friends with other photographers who were starting out and it opened a whole new world to me. Driven and motivated, roughly 6 months after that I left my full time job and jumped in to working for myself full time. I shot 4 weddings in my first year and it was amazing.

What is your brand style - what sort of photography are you interested in?

My work is very much a natural documentation of a couples wedding, with time during the day to do some creative portraits. I tell the story of the day rather than creating staged moments. I love the small little interations between people and I love to capture it. Little looks, the way people hold hands that is unique to them. I love to watch people and see how they interact. My friends tease me about the fact that I see everything and they are right I guess, I am a huge people watcher and I always look for the detail other miss.

What are the best locations for your style of photography? I can see now that you narrowed it down to Cornwall Wedding Photography, is there a specific style for those weddings?

I shoot all over the country and I am also lucky enough to shoot weddings abroad too. Although I am based in Cornwall, I travel a lot. By the end of this year I will have been from California to Anglesey! Next year I will be photographing a wedding in France and all across the UK. 

I love all wedding styles and locations, from woodlands to cities but I do love being by the sea. Living by the sea I tend to find a lot of my couples, who follow my work on my site or who have gotten to know me on Instagram, connect with me through my lifestyle. I always end up with couples who are similar to me in so many ways and who share the same loves as me.

Do you have an aim in mind - number of weddings per year, appearances in magazines (specific or general?)? or just a monthly salary?

I love to have a very personal approach to my weddings and so I choose to shoot no more than 20 full weddings a year. I do also shoot elopements here in Cornwall. I try and have my work published regularly and this year one of my goals was to have my work published in a (non wedding related) photography magazine. Which I did. Pro Photo Magazine interviewed me on the challenges of shooting non-conventional weddings in difficult circumstances (in this case, limited lighting! Fundamental for photography!).

How do you run the business side of Debs Ivelja Photography ? Do you have external help (at this stage)?

I run every part of my business myself. I do have an accountant who has helped me with my tax returns but everything I do myself. From the admin to ensuring my insurance policies are up to date. This is a part of business where the connections you make in the industry do also help. For advice or sharing of tools and best ways of working. There are a lot of products out there that are created to help photographers run their business efficiently, so its good to get advice from others on best ones before jumping in.

What are the challenges of running a business on your own?

I guess its being a ‘jack of all trades’. You have to now a little about everything to do it well. Its taken me several years to feel like I have everything running just as I want. From paperwork processes, to packaging.

I like to work at night and spend my mornings for myself. Whether its going to the gym, walking the dog (which I do, A LOT) or catching up with a friend. So not staying up too late and burning the candle is important for me. I try and ensure I have a good work life balance at all times. Getting my processes in place and running well has saved me a lot of time and allowed me to be more productive.

What would your advice be to people who want to become photographer? Self-employed?

Do courses, second shoot with other photographers… get experience. Although I jumped in feet first, it was in a safe way. I've heard A LOT of horror stories. I would always say to someone to do at least 6 months of second shooting and working as an assistant before jumping in as its good to get a feel for all sides of the job. It won't be for everyone.

What do you do to make your workplace an enriching and inspiring place to be?

I’ve recently bought a teeny little cottage in town and I have quite limited space. In fact my ‘office’ is a very simple desk which is a mid-century piece of furniture that closes up at night to look like a side unit. I love it as it allows me to close down at the end of the day and not see computor’s or paperwork.

I am a very organized creative and I always keep things very simple. I like to have a clear workspace for a clear head… I am physically incapable of working in clutter! So I keep everything stored away and out of sight. 

For me a huge part of going self employed was to have a strong work / life balance. Moving to Cornwall enhanced that for me so much. Here life is simple. Most of my time off is spent outdoors walking my dog or meeting with friends and that is where I am inspired. My website, my social media pages all reflect my life here, it is a huge part of who I am. My ‘workplace’ is as much about being behind my desk editing as it is being outside, in the open, by the sea or walking in a woodland and that is what inspires me.

What sort of things are inspiring your right now? Where do you typically look for inspiration?

Having just come out of a very busy summer season, I have not had a huge amount of time to reconnect with myself. For me the winter is a perfect time to recharge and for that very reason, I love winter as much as Summer!

I will visit galleries, hang out with friends and try and get involved in any goings on that will inspire me creatively. Even if it isn’t connected to photography. In fact, that's often the best inspiration.

I am grateful that where I live, I am surrounded by creative, musicians, free spirits and free thinkers. This inspires me more than anything.

Travel too. I love to go abroad or visit new places around the county. I try and make time for adventures where I can. When I cant, I just go for a walk!

When do you feel the most creative?

At about 3 am when I cannot sleep and my brain is in overdrive! I make notes and write out ideas and use them in the morning to motivate myself.

Also when I travel, which is when I have the time to sit and enjoy some quiet. 

How do you know which pictures will resonate with people?

It took me quite a long time to work this out if I am honest. Partly because I feel that if it resonated with me, it will with others. But I also now know that a lot of the time, it is all about peoples eyes. It was only really in the last two years that I learned how much I can read and tell about someone and how they are feeling from their eyes. Its hard to explain, and yet is so obvious. A persons eyes tell me everything.

If you had the time to find creativity in some other activities, which would it be?

I would like to start painting again, and maybe do a pottery workshop. I love the idea of making something beautiful from nothing!

How do you further your photography skills?

I try and do a workshop each year. Whether it is a technical workshop or a creative workshop. Sometimes these are wedding related, sometimes not at all.

I can see that there is a strong photographer community, how important is it?

Fundamental! I have met some of my best friends through photography. The industry is booming and there are so many wonderful people out there who will support and nurture you. People you will connect with in a different way to your friends who are not in the industry. They are your advisors, your friends, your sound boards… they will inspire you and keep you motivated. 

I cant imagine where I would be if it wasn't for all the wonderful photographers who I have met through my ‘job’.

Thank you so much Debs, it is so inspiring to hear about your journey, and what you hoped to achieve by following your passion - and how you managed it, without compromising on a great work/life balance. 

For more inspiration, you can read my interview with Pauline of Pauline Alice Patterns here, and my interview with Charlie who runs Offset Warehouse here


  1. Debs has certainly found her calling in life! Her photos are inspirational for their intimacy, creativity and fun! And Nat- go for it! Make the change you so surely you desire! Your talent will surely shine!

  2. although unlikely to be needing a wedding photographer again, i really enjoyed this interview. Debs photos are brilliant and an interesting interview.