A Day in the Life of Storey Wilkins

by Tiana Kennell

Storey Wilkins

June 01, 2011 — Once-in-a-lifetime moments often come and go with only a fading memory to keep them alive. But it is Storey Wilkins’ aspiration to preserve these precious times in photographs that will last forever.

Whether it is a couple uniting in matrimony or a swiftly growing family desiring to freeze time in a photo, Wilkins is there to capture them as they are. She specializes in “day in the life” photography, revealing the raw emotions of her subjects whether they are playful, quiet or anything in between.

As a mother of two beautiful daughters and the wife of a loving and supportive husband, Wilkins understands just how important it is to treasure theses times.

A Fork in the Road
Storey Wilkins was a 33-year-old, stay-at-home mom when she realized that recreational photography projects for friends and family was not enough to appease her budding passion. She was hooked on the feeling of fulfillment when catching a loving gaze and kiss between a couple and the spontaneous laughs between parents and children when they when they thought no one was looking.

Leaving behind a management-consulting career to care for her family full-time was a pivotal moment in Wilkins’ life. She faced another life-altering shift when she decided to pursue photography professionally. With the support of her family—her parents, who look after her daughters during the prime summer wedding season, and her husband, who looks after the girls when she works weekend weddings— Wilkins was able to launch Storey Wilkins Photography (www.storeywilkins.com) in Toronto, Canada. The family portrait and wedding studio is in its ninth year and flourishing beyond what she had ever imagined.

“The first five years of my business were incredibly difficult,” says Wilkins. “I worked day and night around school, naps, and meals. I was sleep deprived, aging way too quickly and all the while loving every minute of it. I knew I had found my calling.

“At the end of the day I’m just a ‘mom-with-a-camera’ who wants to be there for my girls when they get home from school," Wilkins says. “I play Supermom in the mornings and after school and work all day while they are at school. Then I usually work a bit more after they go to bed. I photograph one wedding a weekend and spend the other weekend day with the girls."

Some may even believe that this is what Storey Wilkins was born to do. Wilkins’ personal style of photography is “storytelling.” “Telling a natural, thoughtful, emotional story through photographs,” she explains. Storey’s parents decided on the name for their unborn daughter after meeting a U.S. senator on a cruise who had the last name Storey. “It was meant to be,” says Wilkins.

Perfect Harmony
Though it may be financially idealistic to take on every client that comes her way, Wilkins is careful when it comes to selecting whom to work with. During the first meeting with a couple, Wilkins says she asks these critical questions: “Imagine it is your fifth wedding anniversary. You are curled up on the couch with a glass of bubbly in hand, flipping through your wedding album. What do you see? Who is in the photographs? What is happening? What emotions are captured? What moments are triggering warm feelings?

“A strong work ethic, great people skills, continuous training and education and honest business practices are a must,” says Wilkins. “And a good business is not the same thing as a big business. Keeping small yet professional, living within your means, and saving for retirement, are necessary for success."

Being selective also prevents Wilkins from becoming overwhelmed with events. On average she accepts only 25 of the 100+ wedding requests she receives annually and keeps her weekdays booked with family photo sessions. With the amount of work generated yearly, Wilkins admits that it is too much for her to handle alone. In the beginning, when hiring a full-time staff was not in her budget, Storey used out-of-work friends as temporary staff. “We used to joke that the place to be between jobs was at the ‘empire,' that was the nickname for my little home-based business,” says Wilkins.

Now her studio has two other full-time staff members. Rena Panchyshyn, the production assistant and album designer, and master photographer, David A. Williams.

Wilkins met Williams in 2005 at her first WPPI Convention. She attended a Plus class he was teaching, and two became good friends soon after. When learning that Wilkins needed assistance at her studio, Williams packed up his Melbourne, Australia life and moved to Toronto where he has been her right-hand man just over a year.

 “I am so grateful to work with such lovely and talented photographers,” says Wilkins.

From Novice to Master
Storey Wilkins has gone above and beyond to reach the heights as a renowned photographer. She joined organizations, such as WPPI, that allowed for networking with peers and surrounded herself with veterans. She learned quickly from them and soon entered the ranks of the masters, guiding other photographers by speaking at local and international conventions and workshops.

Just in 2008 she was a competitor and winner for the Non-Event Informal Album of the Year at WPPI. This year she was a judge for the WPPI Awards of Excellence Album Competition.

But no matter her accomplishments, Wilkins stays humble, open to advice, and ready to compete. “I still feel it is important for me to enter [competitions] regularly because it continues to help me grow and learn as a professional.”

She also retains her bevy of photography friends. “I consider the friends that I have made at WPPI among my closest. I feel like I have a world wide network of kindred spirits,” she says. “I pity any couple who wants me to photograph their wedding during WPPI [convention] as I am simply ‘unavailable.'

 “My advice to WPPI newbies is to attend as many seminars as possible including a few MasterClasses and a Plus class if possible. And read Rangefinder magazine cover to cover every month.”

The Art of "Storey" Telling
Storytelling photography has become Wilkins’ niche. She shares a few secrets on how she achieves the distinctive flow of a story in her albums:

“Firstly, it requires a likeable and trustworthy personality so that clients feel comfortable inviting me into their worlds to record special events and growing families.

”It requires an ability to skillfully capture a balance of three types of photographs:  formal ‘asked for’ portraiture, documentary events and candid, ‘found,’ moments. Failure to deliver an equal balance of these will inevitably result in disappointment of the clients and their families.”

Thirdly, she says, “Storytelling photography requires heightened intuition to the nuances of individual personalities and group dynamics so that I tell their story, not mine.  The photographs must capture the spirit of the family and must even be visible to strangers looking at the photographs.”

Finally, “It requires knowing when to politely and efficiently control and direct during group portraits and when to back off and become almost invisible during the party.”

And, of course, she’d be nowhere without her photographer’s bag which includes a Nikon D3S and D700s, a 24-70mm f/2.8, a 70-200mm f/2.8, a 85mm f/1.4 and a handful of SB 900 speed lights and other light modifiers.

Special ingredients that Wilkins adds into the mix are of her personal traits: fearlessness and inventiveness. She says she is known for taking risks to capture the perfect moment and element for the story, even if it means scaling a roof to get just the right wide angle perspective.

An example of her inventiveness is in a tradition she calls The Letter that Wilkins says was inspired by her friend and respected peer, Arthur Levi Rainville. For just a few moments before the wedding ceremony, Wilkins helps the couple slip away so they may each write a secret letter to each other about how they feel about marrying him/her.

Six weeks later Wilkins presents the ribbon wrapped envelope in a special “treasure box” with instructions to open it on their first anniversary. “It is my gift to them,” says Wilkins. “One I feel gives them something beyond what even a great series of photographs can give them.”


Tiana Kennell is a freelance journalist based in Michigan. She can be contacted through LinkedIn.

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