Arastasia Rolain | Arastasia Photography
Arastasia and I had met a few times before, years ago, through a mutual friend. Just in the few times that I had met her, I knew Arastasia as an upbeat, bubbly, and outgoing human who is full of good vibes. But that is just what I knew through observation. It thrilled me to come to understand that she does, in fact, radiate as much happiness in a one-on-one setting as she does in a group; throughout our conversation her positive demeanor never shifted into a negative space. She was excitable, refreshing, and so easy to embrace.
As told through our conversation, this is Arastasia’s story.
[Lindy]: Have you always had an inclination that you wanted to be a photographer?
[Arastasia]: Yeah! I cannot pin point the exact age, but I always knew. I guess it just stemmed from my mom always taking pictures of us. She wasn’t a photographer but she always had the camera out capturing us. Then, in 6th grade, I entered into a photography competition and I didn’t win, of course, but I was so proud to have my work in it.
[L]: Do you still have it?
[A]: Yeah! I do.
[L]: That is amazing! It needs to be hung up in your studio!
[A]: *laughs* It’s so horrible! It’s a picture of my sister and her hair is swooped to the side so dramatically and she is just staring into the camera with pouty lips with our living room blinds in the background and I remember thinking like, “This is it! This is the shot! This is amazing!”
Arastasia acted this entire scene out. Picture a beautifully model-esque young woman dramatically swooping her wavy blonde hair over to one side of her face and while dawning an extremely mediocre duck face, reenacting a scene from a memory that helped to define her.
[A]: In my 7th grade journal, we had to write what we wanted to be when we were older. And you know, everyone is like doctor! Firefighter! Lawyer! And I was like Photographer! Like, who says that in 7th grade?
I graduated with 32 kids and my high school was so small they didn’t have photography classes. But I entered like 10 paintings into an art scholarship and I won $1,000 and that is what I bought my first camera with! And from then on, my goal was to open up a studio.
[L]: Were your parents supportive from the get go?
[A]: Yeah! My mom just always told me to do what made me happy. Her biggest thing has always just been to never lose yourself and do what makes you happy. If I were to fall into some big wig job making tons of money, but I wasn’t happy doing it, she would actually be disappointed in me.
Arastasia’s mom was not the only one giving her advice and support throughout her high school career. At age 17, Arastasia landed an internship with a local photographer for her senior project. During that internship, her boss gave her the best advice she has ever received.
[A]: During my internship, my boss said, “If you’re going to be a photographer, get a degree in business. Because as many good photos as you can take, if you don’t know how to run a business, you are going to fail.”
[L]: So, how did you go from intern to full time photographer?
[A]: I ended up working for her [internship] for 4 years part-time while working in marketing full-time and then still going to school at Lakeland Community College for business and photography on the side. I was probably about 3 years into a miserable marketing position and about done with my Associates Degree [in Business Management and Marketing] when I quit my office job. I was so miserable and knew that it did not fulfill me. The way that I saw it was that if I am waking up every morning dreading something about my day, that is not how I should be living my life. When you really start thinking about it logically like, is that the point of life? To dread your days?
[L]: No! It’s not! I don’t know why so many people think it is?
[A]: Exactly. I was 21 and dreading every Monday-Friday and praying to goodness for Saturdays. That was 5 days of my 7-day-week. That’s not life. That’s stupid, actually.
When I looked at the long term, I was like why am I staying in a job that is not my end goal? I can’t stay for money—money you can make elsewhere. Actually, the year before I quit my job, I put the money from every wedding that I photographed into a savings account. I guess maybe subconsciously I knew why I was saving—so that when I quit, I would have enough to get by.
Arastasia said that when she weighed the pros and cons, she was only coming up with stupid excuses to continue working in her marketing position; she admits now that she was just looking for reasons to stay and be unhappy.
[A]: So, I was dating my boyfriend [now fiancé!] for like 6 months and I said “hey, I want to move to South Carolina. By the way, I also want to quit my job and I want to open up a photography studio. And he was like “okay…” So, we moved to South Carolina!
[L]: Oh my God! Good for you guys. I love that! Why did you choose South Carolina?
[A]: I picked South Carolina for family reasons but I also knew that if I was away, I would have no excuses. I would have a fresh start with no contacts and it would almost be affirming to me that I was capable. But of course, a year and a half later, I was like “let’s go back [to Ohio]!” My system was a little janky. I didn’t fully find myself before I made all these life changes. But that is the process.
When Arastasia and her then boyfriend of 6 months, Justin, arrived in Beaufort, South Carolina, they lived off the small savings that she had been building for a year prior to the move and she landed a serving job top make ends meet but, she was ready to take on photography at full force. Just a few months after their move, Arastasia’s hustle led to opening her first photography studio.
[L]: While down in Beaufort, did you ever consider going back into marketing?
[A]: Actually, yeah! Through meeting people when I was down there, I actually got offered a full-time marketing position and I really considered taking it because the money was good. I asked Justin if I should take it and he looked at me and he was like “you made me move down here to follow your dreams so that you can be happy and you’re going to take another office job?” *laughs* He was right. So, I called them back and I told them no.
[L]: Good for you though, that is so hard for people to do!
[A]: Thank you! Honestly, it’s just having the faith in yourself and the faith in happiness. You have to trust the process. I really believe that you can make anything happen if you want it enough. I think that’s why I was able to make a business happen in South Carolina and then two years later, make it happen again here in Cleveland. You just have to remember your purpose and then put your passion behind it.
I think that is why most people are so miserable in their jobs. They could work their way to the top but do they really care to move to the top? No. [Most people] are not motivated to advance their career because their passion isn’t in their job.
[L]: They are just content enough to get by. They don’t want more.
[A]: Exactly! They are just content. So, when people tell me that they are just content enough I am like “okay, look for jobs! Don’t settle for that!”
[L]: How has your business changed from what you had in South Carolina to what you have now here in Cleveland?
[A]: I am much more mature now; much more focused and selective. And my confidence is better! I did not know my worth in South Carolina. I was still trying to decide what type of business I wanted to do so I took on anything and everything. I even told someone that I could make their business logo for them! I just did whatever. But it was really, really good because it taught me the fundamental skills. I now know how to photograph pretty much every situation because I have done it all.
In Ohio, I am a lot more focused. I know what I want. I know what my niche is rather than accepting anything and everything. I don’t feel desperate, so to say. And I am more selective with my clients. If a client is rude or mean to me right off the bat, I have found my voice to say “I don’t think that we are a good fit.” And that’s okay.
[L]: What do you continue to do now to boost your confidence? That has to be something that is continually worked on. You can’t just peak at confidence, you know?
[A]: Absolutely not! There are some days that I wake up and just gawk at beautiful Instagram photographers that are photographing, like, elopements on mountains and I am like “I am never going to be good enough to be like them!” But I have to remind myself that if people are trusting me to capture their special moments then that right there says a lot. I boost my confidence by reminding myself that people are still continuing to trust me. I try not to play the comparison game too much.
[L]: Ah! That is so hard! Especially with social media.
[A]: It is! I have to remind myself that we are all at different stages and points in our lives and careers. Maybe I love their dark moody lighting but they might be looking at my pictures wishing that their lighting was a bit more light and airy. We all look at things differently. I also have to remind myself that what I see in one of my photos is different than what most people will see when looking at my photos. They are seeing emotion and a special day where I am seeing that one twig branch back in the background of the picture thinking “that any other photographer would have never allowed that twig branch to be in that picture!”
A few weeks ago, Arastasia that she would be narrowing down her niche and no longer taking clients for a few types of sessions. Moving forward, she would solely specialize in weddings and boudoir shoots.
[L]: Why did you decide to just focus your business on weddings and boudoir?
[A]: *laughs* I got overwhelmed! I had a disconnect with myself which is unlike me. I couldn’t remember the last time that I crossed off an entire to-do list. My work was starting to push my happiness level down and that is just not who I am. I was even developing weird anxiety habits that I had never had before! All of the sudden I was afraid of networking and I am a people person! It wasn’t me.
So, I did some soul searching and realized that I was just saying yes to everything! I was over worked and I reached a point of a complete mental break down. And I came out of that and I was like “I’m gonna say no! I’m gonna say no! I’m gonna say no!” I finally went on my website and just deleted everything focused on the shoots I would no longer be offering. I just knew that I had to do it and so I did it! And I felt like I lost 20 pounds of stress and anxiety.
Arastasia admits that she was terrified that people would think that it was a bad business choice, but she was incredibly surprised by the support that she received after she announced her decision.
[L]: I love it! You’re just narrowing down your niche. It’s so necessary.
[A]: So necessary! I went from doing everything to just photographing what makes me super happy. I chose weddings because I love love and I chose boudoir because it is so empowering.
[L]: Boudoir is so empowering! But, you also have to see some vulnerability through your boudoir shoots. Tell me about that.
[A]: Oh my gosh yes! It is crazy. Right off the bat, when you walk through the doors of my studio there is a sign that says “no negativity zone.” But still, when people walk in, the first thing that they do is tear themselves down. And then I have to tell them to stop and remind them that my studio is a no negativity zone. And then they usually say ‘Oh yeah! I saw that on the door.” But they are so used to doing it that the second that they walk in, of course they are super nervous, so they start saying things like “Don’t judge my rolls! Don’t judge my cellulite!” I have to remind my clients that being hard on themselves is not why they are there at my studio. They are there to build themselves up!
In order to boost their confidence, always make them do their least favorite outfits first. So, the first two parts of the session are usually their most covered outfit—the one that’s pretty much a nightie. So, I’m like, do that one first. And then the second outfit usually shows a bit more skin. And then by the third outfit I am like “Yes girl!” because they are feeling so good about themselves and they have let go of that negativity because they are no longer focusing on that, they are just focusing on the shoot and they are in the zone. They have to be so vulnerable during the shoot but when they are walking out they are like “Oh my God, I did that?”
I always say that the ladies say they are doing it for the significant other in their lives but it is actually 100% all for them. Even my best friend just did one for her husband and she said that she gave it to him and he was excited but she was even more excited about seeing the pictures of herself than he was!
[L]: Ugh. I will admit that I have been longing to get a boudoir shoot done for a while but I am like every other girl. I keep putting it off because, like a lot of women, I don’t want to see pictures of myself naked!
[A]: I get so many emails from clients asking if they can postpone the shoot for like three months so they can “go to the gym and get themselves in shape.” And I am always like, I hate to break it to you but not much is going to change in three months just come in this month you’ll be fine. I’ll make you feel good, I promise! As humans we are so hard on ourselves. It makes me sad!
[L]: Weddings and boudoir are such intimate things, too. It’s a good niche to have because you need the same compassion and empathy to be good at both. Where do you plan on taking your business from here?
[A]: I don’t know! I’m terrified.
[L]: That’s okay though. Look at all the good that came out of all of the detours you’ve taken. You’re doing it!
[A]: In the mindset that I am in now, I just want to continue building my wedding and boudoir business and I will continue to have my studio in Cleveland. Eventually I would love to have training sessions and teach people. I love to help people so eventually it would be nice to offer workshops in a confidence aspect but also in a skill set aspect. And I would love to continue to build women up! I want to start a movement of people not tearing themselves down every day! I would love for people to be able to say “I no longer look at myself in a negative way!”
I also want to utilize my studio more and make it a place where people can come together. I had a night of positivity a few months ago and it was the most beautiful thing. Everyone was building themselves up and building each other up. I would love to continue to do things like that.
Let’s just hope that finally, I am on my road. In the last few years I have taken you know, 40 detours, I have driven a lot of miles and taken a couple plane rides. I feel like maybe I’ve just finally found myself at 26.