In this episode, we got to chat with Jess Veguez, owner of Jess Veguez Photography. Jess has had a passion for photography ever since she was a little girl, and because of the pandemic she was led to starting her photography business in the Dunedin area. We talk about where this passion came from and how she was introduced to photography at a young age. Jess loves connecting with people so I really think you will enjoy this conversation with Jess.
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Jess Veguez | Jess Veguez Photography
In this episode, we have a great guest with us, Jess Veguez Photography. Jess is a great person. We met through a local networking group that was started here. She is also a member of the Fab Five with the Business Makeover Challenge that we are doing here locally as well. Jess is big about community and the people that she surrounds herself with. She is extremely passionate about her photography business. That has allowed her to meet some great people and have some great connections within the community. You are going to relate to Jess a lot. You will enjoy her conversation. Let’s jump right into it and meet Jess.
Jess, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
I’m excited to learn more about your business. We have known each other for a couple of months but we haven’t talked much about your photography business. Why don’t we start there? How did you get into photography? Where did all this passion come from?
“When I had a camera in my hands, I made sense in the universe, and things just kind of happened and fell into place.”
I have grown up with a camera in front of my face. My father was an amateur photographer. I grew up learning the basics of a camera back when there was a film that went in and you had to look through a viewfinder. I took that knowledge. When I was thirteen, the Yankees won the World Series. That year was 1996.
They win every year in the ’90s.
They did because it was the dream team. It was amazing. You had Bernie Williams, Darryl Strawberry, Cecil Fielder and the Rocket. It was a great team. It was a good time to be in the Tri-state area. It was absolutely freezing that day and I had my little camera. We had been there since 4:00 in the morning on the sidewalk in New York. It was a magical moment. The entire city started to celebrate because they hadn’t won in a long time.
There was sticker tape and little pieces of paper coming out from everywhere. It was a snowstorm. It was so beautiful. People were hanging sheets with little sayings and stuff on them from outside the skyscrapers. I had managed to weasel my way in front of the barricades to take some incredible pictures. The floats were going by. It was right in front of me and nobody said anything because I was in the zone. You were not going to move me.
This is the parade. They had won it and then you were sitting there celebrating with everybody.
It was such a rush. Sometimes you get outside of yourself. I’m super artistic and I didn’t always fit in at school. I had a hard time with Math, Science and History. When I had a camera in my hands, I made sense in the universe and things happened and fell into place. That’s when I discovered that when I have this instrument in my hands, I’m doing what I’m here to do.
You were thirteen years old when you had this moment and you realized like, “This is what I’m passionate about doing.” What is it about photography that you enjoy so much that makes you so passionate about it?
As much as I appreciate landscape photography, it’s people. I love people and moments. I like capturing those moments, especially the little things that people overlook. I say all the time, “I am when no one else is looking.” When people don’t think you are paying attention, they show themselves. A lot of times, it’s beautiful. To be able to get those little secret moments and get them in a photograph is beautiful.
Did you get into photography in high school? How did your photography career get started?
Since I was thirteen, I had a camera in my hands at all times. If I was at a party or anywhere, I was taking you a picture. As I got older, I invested in my first Nikon camera and I would photograph my friends. I would go to New York and photograph people on the street. I used to interview people and little things like that. I got into gallery exhibitions. In my twenties, that was intense. That was crazy to stand in front of the things that make you who you are and feel like, “Do you like them? Does anybody want to buy them?” That was pretty nerve-racking but amazing also.
What kind of photography was that? You had set up at this exhibition with all of your artwork.
It’s all black-and-white photographs. It’s all developed the old-school way with an enlarger in a dark room. I did not do that myself, although I do know how to. I had them professionally printed. They are little things that I took pictures of over the years, little shoots that I had done, signs that I had seen and people that I met in passing.
Let’s fast forward. Now, you have your photography business. You started in 2020.
I was thinking about this because I was doing childcare. I was a Youth Development Specialist for the YMCA. We left for spring break and never went back. It has been a year since I have seen my kids. I hope to go back and say hi to them when we can all do huggies because I can’t even imagine seeing them without giving them hugs.
I lost my job because of COVID so I had to think fast. Even going into childcare was a different thing that I decided to do. I was doing event photography in New Jersey, which is where I’m from. When I came here, I thought I would try something a little different but I don’t think that as much as I loved working with children, this is what I’m meant to do.
Do you have a photography business before?
I worked for a very smart gentleman that had a company of photographers. People would book through him and he would send us out.
Do you do weddings and all the big events?
Yes, weddings and bar mitzvahs. I got to see some amazing things. At Palestinian weddings, there are hundreds of people. I get goosebumps thinking about it and the way that they all dance together with these drums for hours. They don’t stop. At my first Palestinian wedding, I probably spent about a half-hour with my mouth open like, “What is this wonderful reception?” That was an amazing experience. Fast-track to 2020, I decided that I was going to go back and do it. Here I am.
When people don’t think that you’re paying attention, that’s when they truly show themselves.
What was that transition like? This is the first time that you have been in business for yourself. What goes through your head during that like, “It’s time. I’m going to do it. Let’s go.”
There’s a lot of doubt that goes on a lot of, “Can I do this? Can I pull this off?” It’s especially because you constantly have to sell yourself. I have gotten lucky to the point now where I’m getting referrals where I don’t have to constantly create business for myself. Everything you have to do when you first start is to pull people in. It’s a lot of trial and error. I have portrait photography but then I also do boudoir. It was a lot of throwing things at the wall to see what would stick.
Going from there, you deal with a lot of Imposter syndrome or imposter phenomenon. Even though this is something that I have been doing my entire life, I will have moments of, “What am I doing? What did I get myself into? There’s no way I can pull this off.” I have to constantly tell myself like, “You are fine. You know how to do this. You are all right.”
That is a good point you bring up because a lot of people go through that. In your case, it doesn’t matter what your experience level is with that profession, career, job or whatever it is. We all have moments where you doubt yourself. Is there anything in particular that helped you push forward during those moments when you have those thoughts and like, “Is this what I’m cut out for? Am I cut out for this?”
It’s the support system. I have a great partner, Jeff. He is amazing. My daughter, Poetry is also amazing. They believe in me when I don’t and they don’t even have to say anything. It’s the way that they look at me. It’s also this amazing community of other business owners and entrepreneurs. There are a lot of projects coming up where I’m constantly with my head and hands like, “What did I do? These people are so amazing and professional. What am I doing, sitting at the table with them?” I constantly have to say like, “These people are incredible and talented. They would not ask me to sit at the table if I wasn’t worthy of being there.” Plus, it’s being able to have those conversations with said people and then reassuring me like, “You are all right. Shush and take a picture.”
That’s key in surrounding yourself with those people and then putting yourself in those situations that make you feel uncomfortable. If you were not in that situation, you would not challenge yourself to grow and be a better business owner. Surrounding yourself with those people is everything. We have a great small business community here in the Palm Harbor-Dunedin area. Now, we have been more involved with the small business community. It’s cool to see how close-knit everyone is.
I like that community. I talk about it all the time. It’s everything, especially the aspect of feeling like, “I can’t do this on my own.” Having a tribe of people to back you up and support you could make or break in the business.
What is it about the community that is important? You talked about that a lot. The community is important to you. Where does that come from?
After I had my daughter, it was her and me for a very long time. I had to know my neighbors because I always wanted to know that if something were ever to happen, she could go to any one of those houses and then she would be okay. We would always be able to look out for each other. When we moved here, we didn’t know a lot of people. Our neighbors became our family. We live in an apartment building on the third floor. There are four apartments and we became a family. It’s an open-door policy. We walk into each other’s houses.
It was a beautiful group of people. Unfortunately, they moved away but then more people moved in. We have also become close. We are half of the entire apartment complex. I throw these parties where we get the canopies and the girl going. Everybody knows each other’s names and we are all close. That feeling of being held in your community has no failure because there’s someone there who will always pick you up.
It can be a couple of words, a pat on the back, a hug or a shoulder to cry on. You know that you are not the only one in the world. You have other people looking out for you who will take care of you. Even on the business side in creating a community of business owners, I have been there for business for our little community when one of us is feeling low. I’m sure when it has been my turn to go through it, there are other people that are like, “You are good.”
You are coming up with a lot of good points, especially with what happened in 2020 with COVID and everything. The community is extremely important. It’s pretty special, like half the apartment complex gets together to hang out and get to know each other. A lot of neighborhood communities have gone the other way where it’s like, “We are going to separate as much as we can instead of doing events like that.”
It’s different down here in the South. Everyone is polite and has a lot of manners. I’m always looking to get under the skin and build deeper bonds and relationships like, “I want to know about your health, your family and things that are going great in your life or if things are not going so great. I genuinely have interests for those things, especially the good stuff of what it is that you want to do with your life and what makes you passionate.”
The majority of our life is spent on a screen. There have been people years ago that recognized my daughter from my Instagram or Facebook pictures but then I look them in the eye and I have no idea who I’m talking to. Those little interactions are not right. I should know you personally. Building interpersonal relationships are super important.
Let’s jump back into your photography business. What is it that you specialize in? What is your focus there with that business?
I have two branches of my photography business. The first is Jess Veguez Photography, which is portraits. I do family portraits and lifestyles. I have been doing a lot of business headshots and stuff like that, which I’m enjoying because our little community is amazing. I have a fun photoshoot coming up with Matthew Bert. He is a web designer. We are going to be shooting at Tukro. It’s going to be a very funky Matt-esque. I don’t even know how to describe Matt. He is funny.
The photos are going to be very much him but they are going to also be headshot business things that he is using for his own personal brand. That’s the stuff. I like doing that. I like getting to know people and that always makes the pictures better. There’s that aspect. What I’m most passionate about is I do boudoir photography. Boudoir means a woman’s bedroom in French. What I do is intimate portraits of women or female-identifying individuals, as well as anybody on the LGBTQ spectrum. It’s specifically for women of all shapes, sizes and ages. It doesn’t matter. They are beautiful pictures of ladies.
Where did that passion come from? That’s not something that you have always done. This is something that’s new.
I love women. Women are pieces of art on their own. I have always been able to recognize a beautiful woman, which is every single one of them, even though we often don’t feel that way or society likes to put us in boxes of who is beautiful and who isn’t. The ones that feel like they are not are my favorite because I get to show them that they are beautiful.
It all ties into what you specialize in, which is photographing people.
The boudoir part goes much more in-depth than pictures. I always encourage a consultation because, a lot of times, my clients will remove articles of clothing. My clients don’t have to. I have women that don’t show cleavage at all or maybe they show a shoulder. I have others that will go the full monty. It’s whatever you are comfortable doing because this shoot is about you and your empowerment. Either way, I always feel like it’s important for us to solidify a bond and a little bit of a relationship.
A lot of times, that consultation turns into a therapy session. People will often cry during the consultation because we are bringing up feelings of inadequacy and a lot of times, relationships that have made us feel like there’s something wrong with expressing sensuality or doing pictures like that garnishes attention that you should be ashamed for wanting to get. The majority of the women that I photograph are doing it for themselves. If I do post them, I have to do it anonymously out of fear that they are going to lose their job or kids. To have somebody say like, “They are doing this for likes,” that’s a pretty big misconception.
The majority of our life is spent on a screen.
It’s a life-changing experience. I’m getting goosebumps to see a woman walk through my door. It looks like she has weights on her shoulders. She is walking in with a barbell on her shoulders. By the time she leaves after completing her session, she is a completely different person. I’m happy to be able to provide a space for someone to let go of that baggage and walk out feeling like they know themselves a little more and they can see how beautiful I saw them as. It’s a rewarding work. I love what I do.
That’s amazing to be comfortable with accepting of like, “This is who I am. This is me.” That’s awesome stuff. It’s pretty neat that you have been able to help these women with photography with your camera. It’s something that you are passionate about too. What is your favorite local business if you had to pick one business? It could be anything. It could be a coffee shop, restaurant or bar. It doesn’t have to be a favorite. It could be whatever you are into.
I love Back in the Day Books, the bookshop in Downtown Dunedin. The name of the owner is Boe Rushing. He moved from Tarpon. He has the most amazing selection. That is where I buy all of my vintage books. His prices are on the lower end but they are amazing-quality books. Whenever I have a little extra pocket of cash, that is where I go.
What kind of books does he have? Is it just older books?
It’s everything. I collect dictionaries. He always has some amazing antique dictionary in there. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, I have a great copy of that. That is a collector’s item. Hopefully, in a couple of years, it will be worth something. He also has new books. He has a Bill Murray coloring book and Bob Ross little picture books. He has a great selection. You should check it out.
Where is it located in Dunedin?
It’s on Main Street, right in the same block as Casa Tina. It’s right in the middle. There is a hair salon right next to the trail and then there’s Back in the Day Books.
If they want to hire you or learn more about you, how can they get ahold of you and do that?
You can go to my website OnTheSettee.com. There is a contact form there. You can go and check out my work. You can always book a free consultation with me through there. You don’t owe me anything but a nice conversation. We can have a girl talk, hang out for about an hour and see if I would be the right fit for you. You can go to JessVeguezPhotography.com. Fill out a contact form there for any of your portrait photography needs.
Are you on Instagram as well?
Thank you so much for coming on.
Thank you so much for having me, Donnie. This was amazing.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed that conversation. Be sure to hit that follow button for Palm Harbor Local on your favorite podcast platform and download the episodes. If I can connect you with any of our previous guests then follow me on Instagram. It’s @Donnie.Hathaway and send me a message there. Let’s have a great week. We will talk to you soon.