Julie Paisley has always felt the pressure to “do it all”. After more than a decade in the fast-paced world of destination wedding photography, it took a pandemic and a life-altering diagnosis to change her relationship with rest.
Julie is a photographer, author, retreat host, and coach, helping more female creatives give themselves permission to rest and recharge.
From photographing $30,000 celebrity weddings to losing it all during the pandemic and rebuilding from scratch, Julie’s story is one of incredible resilience – and one that so many of us need to hear.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
“I never intended to be a photographer,” Julie says. But what started as a fun side gig on top of her teaching job soon outpaced her full-time salary.
Julie was a teacher on and off for 10 years before starting her photography business. She bought her first camera in 2008 and used it to take photos of her kids at the beach, playing and having fun. It wasn’t long before her friends on Facebook were asking to hire her.
“I told them, ‘You can’t pay me because I don’t have a business.’” Julie did over 40 sessions for free, mostly for friends and family. But her unposed, carefree style was so different from traditional family portraits that soon strangers were inquiring as well.
“I started getting messages from people saying they loved my style. I let the kids be kids, and that’s what made me stand out right away.”
Julie started her business in January, with the goal of making additional income over the summer months when she wasn’t teaching. But her services were so in-demand that by May of that year, she was able to leave teaching and go full-time.
As a mom, Julie Paisley was drawn to photographing children and families. By 2010, she branched into wedding photography as well, shooting six weddings for friends and family. In 2011 that number shot up to 41 weddings.
Only a year into business, Julie was able to retire her husband from his corporate job. Shooting weddings meant traveling and working long hours, and she wanted one of them to be home with their kids.
While Julie’s fully-booked business may seem like the dream for new entrepreneurs, it came with a cost. “Because the business grew so quickly, I went through burnout in the first few years.”
She had no systems in place, no website to send leads to, and despite raising her prices, she was still overwhelmed with bookings. “I thought I started this business for freedom, but it didn’t give me that. I was working all the time.”
When Julie felt herself falling out of love with her work, that was when she knew it was time to make a change.
For anyone who’s seen Julie’s work, it’s hard to believe she’s self-taught and learned most of her photography skills from Google.
It wasn’t until connecting with Elizabeth Messina that Julie found a mentor she wanted to learn from. Around the time Julie found herself struggling with burnout, she felt herself drawn to Elizabeth’s images.
“If someone looks at my work and doesn’t feel anything, then I haven’t done my job. I’d gotten so into the minutiae of shoot, shoot, shoot that I’d forgotten about the art.”
Julie signed up for Elizabeth’s workshop on film photography, which forced her to slow down and reevaluate her process – while also laying the groundwork for the style that Julie would eventually become known for.
As Julie’s business continued to skyrocket, she raised her prices from $2,500 to $5,000 and eventually $10,000. “I raised them more and more until I felt comfortable.” The demand was there, so she kept going higher.
By 2019, Julie was booking more international celebrity weddings with an average price tag of anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000+. On the outside, she was living the dream. “I felt like ‘Oh my gosh, I have arrived. I have made it.’ But inside, I was miserable.”
Like many female business owners, Julie found herself doing everything for other people while neglecting her own health and happiness.
“I was at the height of my career. I had accomplished things that I never, ever thought I would accomplish. But I was unhappy because no one ever gave me permission to be happy where I was. I always felt the pressure to do more – charge more, do more, be more.”
In 2020, Julie was gearing up for another busy year when suddenly her entire business screeched to a halt.
She had eight international retreats and 15 destination weddings scheduled, all of which were canceled or postponed during the pandemic. “I lost everything in that year.”
When the initial two-week lockdown turned into two years, Julie and her family decided to buy an RV and hit the road. “Call it a mid-life crisis, but everything was shut down and we just thought, why not?”
Unfortunately, in the middle of their RV adventure, Julie and her husband received devastating news: Her father-in-law had been diagnosed with cancer. The same week they learned of his leukemia diagnosis, Julie herself was diagnosed with melanoma.
“Everything just collapsed. Our life was upside down.”
In August of 2021, their family was staying in Ohio to look after Julie’s father-in-law when all of her postponed weddings were rebooked. She had to photograph 12 overseas weddings in eight weeks.
Although Julie kept her promises to her clients and got through the weddings and even ran a conference that fall, it wasn’t an enjoyable experience.
“People were just different after Covid. The expectations were crazy, and everyone was stressed and tired. It took a huge toll. In November 2021, I had what you would probably call a nervous breakdown.”
That was the wake-up call Julie needed to realize she couldn’t spend the rest of her life trying to make everyone else happy. It was time to take care of herself.
In 2022, Julie stepped back from the business to focus on recovery. Part of her healing process involved writing her first book: a memoir titled Becoming Julie. When she stepped away from wedding photography, she had to rediscover who she was without that title.
“That’s what I was known for. I was Julie Paisley, international celebrity photographer. Yes, I had this amazing career and all these experiences but that’s not me, that’s just what I did.”
The more Julie reflected on her life and business, she realized that the mentality of having to “do it all” started very young – and that it was a mindset many women shared. Her new goal is to help other female entrepreneurs learn to rest and manage major life transitions.
“I want to do something no one ever gave me permission to do: Slow down.”
Retiring from wedding photography wasn’t easy, especially when a large portion of Julie’s family income relied on her business. She went from making multiple six figures before the pandemic to living off of savings for the next few years.
“Our life just imploded. And in the midst of that, I had to figure out how to save my business.”
Although it was stressful, Julie is grateful for those pandemic years because they taught her she could live off much less than she originally thought. “The more money you have, the more money you spend.”
Now, Julie says, she doesn’t care about buying designer bags or a bigger house. She cares about security: Being able to save for retirement, look after her children, and give generously.
If you want to change your relationship with money, focus on using it as a tool for good. “It’s not about how much money I can make,” Julie says, “but how much good I can do for others.”
One lesson Julie has learned these past few years is that it’s okay to be content with where you are, instead of climbing higher. Working more hours isn’t always worth the trade-off.
That’s why a core part of my program The Blueprint Model focuses on defining your “enough” – that magic number where abundance and contentment meet.
“Success is personal,” Julie says. “It should never be based on what someone else is doing. If you’re in a business or work environment that sucks the life out of you, it’s not worth the money.”
What’s next for former celebrity photographer Julie Paisley? “I’ll be honest with you, I’m still figuring that out.”
One thing she knows for sure is that giving herself permission to rest was only the beginning.
Although she still loves photography, in this next stage of life, Julie focused on just being Julie – writing more books, helping more people, and growing a supportive community. “At 52 years old, I finally feel like I’m in my purpose. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”
To hear the full story and more about Julie Paisley, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Julie Paisley‘s Book: Becoming Julie
In 2008, Julie was given a camera. She took that camera and quickly built a photography business that took her all around the world, gave her celebrity clients and showcased her work in numerous magazines and media circuits. But in 2020 and 2021 everything changed. She walked away from a 6-figure career to find peace and herself again and wrote a book about it. Julie is now a rest coach who helps people pivot, get out of a burnout and find a new purpose for their life. She also hosts creative rest retreats throughout the US and Europe.
September 21, 2023