MUN student turns photography hobby into career — and earns kudos for it
Alex Stead sees her future through a camera’s shutter. The 20-year-old Memorial University student originally from Lewisporte is Newfoundland and Labrador’s 2014 student entrepreneur provincial champion, thanks to the photography business — Alex Stead Photography — that she started when she was still in high school.
“I was 17 when I officially started doing weddings,” she says. “That first year I did 10 weddings, and it’s been steady since. It just sort of took off really fast.”
Stead was 15 when she got her first camera, and threw herself into learning how to use it. It wasn’t long before she realized that photography could be not just a hobby, but her ticket to university — and a possible career. She shoots weddings — her “bread and butter” — and family portraits, along with the occasional corporate contract.
“When I was 17 I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to go to university unless I paid for it myself,” says Stead.
“I realized that I’d need the money, and where I already had the interest in photography, it seemed like a pretty good way to do it.”
Her interest in photography grew out of a longtime love of the arts, she says.
“I’ve always been drawing, and writing, things like that,” she says. “And then I got really involved in graphic design when I was 12. And then I couldn’t find the stock photos I wanted to make my graphics, so I went out and got a camera and started making my own pictures. So that was a roundabout way to get to it.”
Stead’s in her third year of university, second in Memorial’s business administration program — a choice she surprised herself with, she says.
“At first, when I went to university, I had no intention of doing business,” she says. “That wasn’t on my mind. I was thinking of maybe teaching or arts, or something along those lines. But as I got more involved in photography, and I got more into the business side of things, I realized I really enjoy the entrepreneurship.”
So much so, she says, that she knows now that she would pursue a career in business even if it’s one that has nothing to do with photography — and, preferably, her own business.
“This is going to sound so anal, but I like being in control,” she says, laughing.
“I like being able to make my own decisions. Like today, I have the day off. And every day in the summer is like that. I don’t have to be answering to anyone else. Obviously there’s a lot more responsibility with that, but you can definitely set your own hours, and if I want to take a vacation I can, and if I want to stay in my pyjamas and work all day at the computer, I can do that, too.”
Her ability to set her own hours helps her separate her business from her schoolwork, to keep both from suffering, a balancing act she initially found difficult.
“It was hard balancing it at first,” she said. “I lived in Grand Falls for a while, and I had my own studio and I was doing really well and really big, but I crashed really hard, because you just can’t be full-time at two things. It’s not possible. So I found a balance now, where half the year I’m a photographer and half the year I’m a student, and they just sort of overlap. Now I only do one or two sessions a month in the winter and I focus on my studies. Then in the summer, I forget about school altogether — I’m completely a photographer. Then in the fall I just do two or three courses along with weddings.”
As Horizons was going to press, Stead was in Halifax, where she won the regional student entrepreneur competition, which means now she moves on to a national competition in Calgary.
Stead plans to work hard when she embarks on her post-school career — but not so hard that she doesn’t enjoy herself along the way. One of her goals is to work as much as she needs to so that she can travel four months out of the year.
“I love the idea of the outport millionaire,” she said. “It’s just the typical bayman who has a simple house on the water. No great amounts of money, but a lot of happiness. So you make what you need; if you make more than that, give it away, help others. But living the millionaire lifestyle that everyone dreams of when they retire. … I laugh at all the people who want to make millions and millions of dollars so that when they turn 65 they can just go buy a simple house on the water and fish and live their retirement years.
“Why not just make a little bit and live your whole life that way?”