The year was 2012.
Amy Osaba and I had spent months working on the design and florals for this high-end wedding, when in strolled the photographer. She was just eighteen years old but held herself with quiet confidence. And when I saw her work, I understood why!
From the first time I met Rylee Hitchner, I was amazed to see someone so young executing work of that caliber. Now over a decade later, Rylee is a destination photographer living in Alabama with her husband and three children.
She had so much to share on becoming an entrepreneur, a wife, and a mom, all in the span of 10 years – and how she’s kept in touch with her creativity through it all.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
Rylee’s creative journey began at 16 years old when she started offering photography services to anyone who would hire her. She jokes, “My story before photography is pretty much just my childhood.”
When she turned 18, Rylee felt the societal pressure to continue her education, despite having no desire to go to college. She tried one semester of courses before dropping out to pursue photography full-time.
“I started booking all these weddings for the next year and at that point, I realized I could do this.”
Rylee knew from an early age what she wanted out of life. She met her husband Andrew around the same time she started photography, and always felt confident in both of those choices.
“I pretty much knew I’m going to marry this guy and I’m going to do this job. And that helped me have a vision for my life.”
Rylee’s mother took her to pottery and painting classes when she was young, which sparked a love of the arts – but she never considered it a career option. “I thought you had to be a starving artist. I didn’t think that you could actually have a business.”
That changed when she started offering photography services and realized you really could make a living as an artist.
Despite starting her business so young, Rylee always believed in her worth as a creative. “It was easy for me to take myself seriously and believe that I had something of value to offer. But the thing I struggled with was the money part.”
In the beginning, she was happy making any amount of money for her photography. “I could have made $100 and that would’ve been a lot of money for a 16-year-old.”
Even after moving out of her parent’s house and in with her husband Andrew, Rylee struggled to raise her prices. She felt guilty charging similar rates to other photographers when her personal expenses were so low.
Realizing something had to change if she wanted to build a profitable business, Rylee enrolled in The Blueprint Model in 2016.
At 22 years old, The Blueprint Model was Rylee’s first investment in her business education. “It was the best thing that I could have done.”
Not only did she learn to manage her finances and create a sustainable income, but Rylee also gained a new perspective on how to deal with money guilt: by focusing on generosity.
“It’s such a gift when you have the means to be able to give to others. When I have money flowing through me, it’s a resource. It’s not greedy or selfish of me.”
Now with three kids of her own, Rylee sees money as a powerful tool for future generations. “I only wish I would have embraced that earlier.”
After deciding not to go to college, Rylee spent the next four years creating her own educational experience. She took the pressure off of finding clients and focused on building her portfolio.
“I was in a practice mindset of allowing myself to play a lot. And I recommend it to all artists, to create just for themselves and not always on the client’s dime.”
In a low-stakes environment, Rylee was able to create without any external pressure. “When you have clients paying, you feel like you have to produce a certain thing. A little bit of you, a little bit of them. But there were some things that I wanted to do just for me.”
Most of Rylee’s early growth came from the connections she built with other professionals in the wedding industry. She was never afraid to introduce herself to new people, or even to organize her own group of creatives.
“There was never a desire to network. It was to connect with other artists and truly get to know them as artists and as people.”
If you’re in the early stages of business, one of the best things you can do is reach out to other beginners. While it’s great to learn from more established entrepreneurs, Rylee says it was with other new artists that she made the most lasting connections.
“There’s a real beauty in that because there’s such an energy to starting out when there’s just this unlimited potential.”
Rylee knew from the time she had her first child that she wanted to be at home with her kids full-time. Now with three little ones under age seven, business looks very different than it did before becoming a parent.
“It felt like I was putting on a new pair of glasses and seeing the world very differently. The priority was family, business was second.”
“Before I had kids, I had all the time in the world,” Rylee laughs. Without consistent childcare, she often finds herself waking up at five or six in the morning to work. But she’s learned to embrace her new schedule.
“I realized that I work well in seasons of a lot of work and then seasons of not a lot of work, but a lot of family and homeschooling time.”
Balancing work and family life is all about finding a rhythm that works for you. Rylee has found that seasonal work suits her best, so she structures her business to be busier in the spring and fall with time to rest in between.
Taking The Blueprint Model back in 2016 helped Rylee identify creative expression as one of her core motivators.
Even when Rylee takes time off from the business, she finds other ways to stay in touch with her creativity, like sewing clothes for her kids. “I think it’s really important to continue in the flow of working creatively, even in seasons when you’re taking a step back in business.”
The steady flow of creativity is what allows Rylee to jump back into things without losing her rhythm. “In all those years that I was at home nursing or pregnant, I was still creatively feeding myself.”
Creativity has always played an important role in Rylee’s life. Over a decade into business, she still loves exploring new ideas. Her latest project is Making Motherhood, a podcast about the intertwining of art and motherhood.
If Rylee could go back to and tell her 18-year-old self one thing, it would be, “Think of yourself as a new creator in all the years coming up. Don’t give that up. Stay true to what you believe about yourself right now at the very beginning.”
To hear the rest of the story and what Rylee is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
The Blueprint Model Business Finance Course
Rylee is a destination photographer living in Alabama with her husband and three children. She travels for portraits and weddings and teaches motherhood photography at the Fount Collective workshop. She is also the co-host of the newly released podcast, Making Motherhood.
February 23, 2023