interview by annette furio
photography by michela watson photography
What is your name, business, and where are you based?
I’m Michela Watson of Michela Watson Photography. We’re a husband and wife photography team based in Nashville, but we travel all over the world — wherever you’ll take us! We especially love to photograph in California, Charleston, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Palm Beach, and the 30A area of Florida.
When and how did you start your business?
We’ve officially been in business since 2017, but I started doing photography when I was 13 or 14 years old. My little sister wanted to be on the Disney Channel, so I would take her headshots for her. I ended up starting a Facebook page and began doing family sessions for friends. I shot my first wedding when I was 16 for my volleyball coach and I started getting clients through word-of-mouth.
During college and after I graduated, I was trying to decide if I was going to do photography full-time. I got engaged and then married in the fall of 2019, and right when I decided I was really going to go all-in on the business, COVID happened. Like everything else, it greatly impacted the wedding industry.
We moved from Florida to Nashville in 2022 and since then, we’ve been working to reestablish ourselves in this new market for us.
Do you have a mission, philosophy, or something you stand for in your business?
Our mission is to advocate for marriage and family through intentional and artful imagery. At the end of the day, I love photography and I will always love it. It’s part of who we are, but it’s bigger than that for us. It comes down to loving people and serving them really, really well.
People don’t typically get professional photos taken — it’s to commemorate a special occasion, or it’s the most vulnerable day of their lives — their wedding. We just really love people and creating art they can pass down to their children. We want to know them and celebrate them. That’s at the core of everything we do.
“At the end of the day, I love photography and I will always love it. It’s part of who we are, but it’s bigger than that for us. It comes down to loving people and serving them really, really well.”
Do you feel like you have found your version of balance between your personal and business life?
I think I have found some version of it. Spring and fall are typically when things are crazier, but during those seasons, I’ve found balance through the systems we’ve put in place. I’m constantly refining — it’s not perfect — but when we stay in line with our editing systems, it’s helped us leave the office at 5 pm and prioritize spending time together. Hopefully, that will continue into our family life once we have kids.
Beyond that, I’ve had to learn that at the end of the day, my business is just my business and not my whole life. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we can take a little time off and the world will keep spinning. But I’ve struggled with this when it feels like I am the brand. When you get to a certain level or price point for your services, some vendors are saying you have to curate a version of yourself, and if you’re not “that,” you’re not going to get booked. I have to ask myself, “Who do I want to be when this ends? Do I want to restrict myself from being authentic just for a dollar?” These are questions I think about all the time.
This year has been pivotal in realizing that I’m not my business and I’m not even my art — which is hard because art is so personal to you. I feel a difference between getting paid to shoot and shooting for myself. I try to prioritize personal work because it removes this pressure to create what the client expects.
“This year has been pivotal in realizing that I’m not my business and I’m not even my art — which is hard because art is so personal to you.”
What kind of personal work do you enjoy?
This weekend we’re going to North Carolina to photograph an amazing interior designer to photograph her home with her little boy and husband. I love photographing other people in their element. Potters, florists… I think it’s so fun because, at the end of the day, we’re all creative. I love seeing how other people express their creativity, especially in ways that I can’t even imagine.
Specific to weddings, I love fashion, and I often have visions of things I want in my portfolio based on elements like a color palette or a random piece I find. Out of that, I will craft a vision and find a couple to photograph. That’s always really fulfilling to me.
What do you hope to accomplish each wedding season with your business & working with couples?
Even if I never hit my revenue goals, if I had every couple that I worked with tell me that we saw them and heard them and allowed them to be themselves — that would be a great accomplishment for me. We’re here to serve and love others. But at the end of the day, none of the industry goals matter if your couples are not feeling loved. That’s the biggest thing. And we’re really blessed with the couples we have. They allow us into their world, which helps us create the best work for them.
How do you create a unique experience for your couples?
For us, this starts from the moment I speak with them on the phone. We try to call people as soon as possible, and the conversation we have is relatively deep. From that first conversation, we are setting the tone. In order for me to do my best work, you have to be open with me. I can tell if people are willing to go deep with me. I will try to take down some of the walls during this conversation, even if you don’t book us.
We really like to immerse ourselves into every step — we’re not just going to show up on your wedding day, not get to know your family. We’re reaching out throughout the entire engagement. We are providing resources and getting to know them better. We’re making sure their priorities on their wedding day are ours as well. It’s a lot of communicating. And throughout it all, we’re keeping the same tone of excitement we had in the beginning. We make sure they know that we are honored to partner with them in this season of their life.
The same thing applies to our family sessions as well. We learn about why they want to capture this season of life, details about their lives, and little quirks about their kids — all so they can end up with images they love.
What do you see your couples doing to create a wedding that is a true reflection of them? Do you guide them in any way?
I think it’s a mix of both. We talk about how we’re partnering with them and how it’s a collaborative effort. Usually, people who are booking us have an aligned mindset. Most of our couples value their family and the people coming to their wedding. They really love their people. So many times they’re crafting their wedding to give their friends and family an experience as a way to say thank you.
On the logistics side, they’re working with a great planner that is also digging deep and pulling out their stories and personalities, and putting that into the design of their day. Our couples really value a unique wedding that is authentic to them. They come in with the designer and the planner to hone the vision, and we help them craft a photo session that’s unique. Maybe it’s inspired by a favorite date night, a favorite city where they vacation. We get to know things specific to them and highlight that in their photos.
We even help some of our couples with recommendations on bridal fashion, events like brunches and showers, and companies that we love. We really become trusted advisors to them.
Do you collaborate with others inside or outside of the wedding industry? What does this look like?
I’ve thought about this a lot this year. These days, the wedding industry can seem like one massive echo chamber and can feel quite monotonous. That’s why I really look to artists outside of weddings and even outside of photography for inspiration. I’d rather be inspired by things that are new and fresh to me, like pottery, home design, architecture, menu design, restaurant design, and even food plating.
Personally, I’m cutting back on the number of wedding professionals I follow on social media. I’m always thinking about going outside of the wedding industry to shoot things that my clientele would gravitate toward and to have a more well-rounded approach to my work. From an artistic and emotional standpoint, I just find other peoples’ mediums of art really inspiring.
Do you have any other creative outlets?
I really want to take a pottery class. I am a collector (I’ve run out of shelf space!) That’s what is next on my creative agenda. And I love watercolors. Honestly, I’ve lost a little bit of momentum for other creative outlets. I become financially focused on the business and it becomes all-consuming. That’s been something I’ve been thinking about lately — I just need to have fun! You have to ask yourself, “What do you do just for fun?”
When or where do you feel most creative?
I feel the most creative at the ocean early in the morning. I feel like it is the most inspiring, calm, and peaceful place. It reminds me of how small you are. For whatever reason, it just makes me feel like there’s so much opportunity and so much more to create.
What is a piece of wisdom you would share with couples going through their engagement right now?
Hire a wedding planner who cares about you. Once you do that, it will free up a lot of your time to actually be engaged. This is coming from someone who didn’t do that — and it was incredibly stressful for me. All I see is stress when I look back at that time in my life. I didn’t have space for that feeling of enjoyment at the time because wedding planning was all-consuming. Figure out ways to be present. If it’s hiring a planner, if it’s going on a date night — keep the main thing front and center. The whole purpose of engagement is to get married and to start building your lives together. Don’t lose sight of that.
What is a piece of guidance you would share with other wedding professionals or small business owners?
First, find someone who has done what you’re trying to do and invest time with them. I spent a lot of time piecemealing education from freebies and Instagram. It wasn’t until I actually invested my hard-earned dollars in a mastermind that I saw a shift. I could have saved many steps if I had invested in a mentor sooner. I am glad, though, that I waited until I found someone who really aligned with how I wanted to run my business to invest. I didn’t settle for what everyone else was doing. Find someone who aligns with your values. Ask them everything you can think of. You don’t know what you don’t know.
Second, overnight success is not real. I was struggling in 2021, asking myself, “How are all these people who do the exact same thing I do super busy and popular?” I had to realize what we see is the end product of all the years they have put in. There was a time they were in my position. We think they posted one photo that went viral. Most of the time, they’ve been putting in the work for years. The slow game is much more common. It helps to build some longevity in your business. You don’t have to rush to the top.
Michela Watson is a Nashville-based luxury wedding and portrait photographer, serving a discerning clientele worldwide. With her mastery of film photography, she weaves a tapestry of authenticity, capturing moments that transcend time. Beyond her creative pursuits, Michela is a dedicated advocate for the sanctity of marriage and the enduring power of family bonds. In her moments of respite, she finds solace and inspiration alongside her cherished husband, Joey, and their faithful golden retriever, Hank. Michela’s passion for her craft and her unwavering commitment to celebrating the beauty of human connection shines through in every frame she artfully composes, leaving an indelible imprint on the souls of those fortunate enough to experience her work.