A divorce attorney turned wedding photographer. You don’t hear that every day. After finding her legal career less than satisfying (or more as a source of misery, actually), Elyssa Kivus put her degree in photojournalism, which she earned before going to law school, to good use. After photographing friends’ weddings and networking in the wedding industry on the weekends for a few years, Elyssa turned her side hustle into a new full-time business. We interviewed Elyssa to share her insight as a professional photographer and show that it’s never too late to change course and find success. Find more of Elyssa’s work on her Website, Wedding Maps Profile, and Instagram profile.
Welcome to the Featured Artist Series at The Photo Argus, a place where we feature the stories and work of incredible photographers from around the world. Many of these features are from the best wedding photographers over at Wedding Maps. However, we also feature photographers in other genres as well. If you’re interested in being featured, please contact us.
What’s in Elyssa’s Gear Bag?
- Sony Alpha a7 III (x2)
- Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM (G Master)
- 85mm f/1.8
- 50mm f/1.8
- 135mm f/1.4
- 90mm Macro (for ring shots)
- Multiple flashes from godox/flashpoint
- Manfrotto Light Stands
- MagMod Modifiers
- Other Essentials: Snacks, Water, Insect Repellant Wipes, Sunscreen
Let’s start the interview!
Interview with Elyssa Kivus
What is your favorite camera lens and why?
The Sony 16-35mm G Master. I can shoot with it all day and it’s the best lens for my favorite part of the wedding day: the dance floor. It’s also great for wide, dramatically lit, scene-setting portraits, which I love.
How long have you been a photographer? What got you started?
I started as a teenager with my great aunt’s 35mm canon, then went college for photojournalism. I graduated from journalism school at an inopportune time however (2009), and there were no jobs to be had in newspapers, so I did what a lot of other recent grads were doing and went to law school.
Two years into practicing law (divorce law at that), I was miserable and really missed photography. When a friend asked me to bring my camera to her shoestring budget wedding, I jumped at the chance. Before that, I’d had an annoying “I’m a journalist, weddings aren’t real photography” holier-than-though attitude. But just one wedding and I was hooked. I spent the next two years of nights and weekends building my wedding and portrait business until I was making enough as a photographer to quit practicing law.
What is the best part about being a photographer?
Being surrounded by joyful, happy people and getting to show them how truly beautiful they are.
What is the most challenging part of being a photographer?
No photographer is capable of capturing every beautiful moment that happens at a wedding, because those moments are happening in multiple locations simultaneously every second of the day. So at weddings in particular, I struggle with accepting that I will inevitably miss some of those moments. It’s about working as hard as I can to get the best ones the best way possible.
Who are some of your favorite photographers?
Erika Jensen-Mann, James Nachtwey, and then one of my journalism school friends Stacey Axelrod who’s a pet photographer (she’s really talented, and I also just love the cute dogs and cats)
What are your sources of photography inspiration?
Literally everything. Walks in cities, fashion, movies, animation, anything brightly colored, or interestingly lit.
What do you think your keys to success are in this industry?
Being a kind-hearted person and seeing the beauty in everyone around you. Also practice and dedication.
Other than your wedding work, what type of photography is your favorite and why?
Boudoir, because women-identifying folk are incredible, and I love showing them a side of themselves they may not be acquainted with.
Any Parting Words?
The part I left out above about my start in photography is that the same year I shot my first wedding, I had brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. I had seven uneventful years, but then it came back last year. The great news is that our modern treatments are freaking incredible and I’m doing really well, beyond my doctors’ expectations.
Luckily, I’ve been able to brand myself to the point that I really only book incredible couples in the sense that they are really good people. When I found out last year that I would have to undergo six weeks of radiation, every single one of my couples was supportive, and not a single one of them wanted to cancel in order to find another photographer.
I guess my takeaway from dealing with that is that our time is really valuable, not in the hustle culture sense, but in the sense that it is a finite resource. None of us know how long we have together, and that’s why photography is so important to me. Wedding photography in particular – when you find your person, you should love on them and celebrate with them and all the people who love y’all, and you should have photographs to help cement the memories of that celebration and pure joy.