Your Hobby Doesn’t Need to Be Your Side Hustle or Your Day Job

Your Hobby Doesn’t Need to Be Your Side Hustle or Your Day Job

Joshua Tree National Park - Moon in the blue sky above a curving road with a road curves ahead sign.

I first picked up a camera with the intention of making art, and not just preserving memories, when I was 14 or 15. I loved that it gave me a way to easily share my world view with others, and I enjoyed it. I entered a few photography contests in high school, but mostly just did it because I loved it. This joy of taking photos and documenting life continued into a gap year in the Czech Republic and the first year of college.

Towards the end of that first year, I got the idea of working for the college yearbook and newspaper as a photographer. I was photographing things that were still fun to me, and it was fun to have some extra money in my bank account each month. I had another job slinging coffee, and then working with kids, but photography became a bit of a “side hustle” for me. I liked it.

But after graduating in 2010, applying to jobs day after day after day, and finally, despite a college degree, I went back to slinging coffee (for a large green and white logoed company out of Seattle) because it was the job that paid the most, and where I could get hired. At the same time, my friends were getting engaged left and right, and a few asked me to take some photos of them. From their, the idea grew, and I started working as a second shooter at weddings and opened my business in 2012. It was a proper side hustle now, helping me pay my down my large pile of student loans.

Simple wedding portraits in the Methow Valley

A couple years later, that side hustle became my day job when I quit the last of my day jobs (I had two, because neither had full time hours). Photography became my day and night job. It took over my whole life. All my other hobbies were thrown out the window. I took on more and more work to build my portfolio, to build my brand. I planned and shot creative shoots when I wasn’t shooting paid work, all to have more content. I did shows to get my name out, and shot more to cover those costs. I took on more work to save up for a house. We bought a house. I worked and worked, and when I wasn’t working as a photographer, I was working with my husband to renovate our house.

We had a kid, and I cut back a bit, because we couldn’t afford childcare, even with me working full time. I worked during naptimes, tag teaming childcare with my husband (the first two summers after our daughter was born, I walked out the door as my husband came home 3-4 times a week for consults, meetings, or shoots). I was up until midnight or later most nights working. My days were full of parenting, my evenings were for photography, and my weekend were filled with weddings and working on our house. The little free time I filled with traveling or the little volunteer work I squeezed in. Sometimes I worked out. But hobbies? I didn’t have any. Photography was my hobby. Renovating our home was my hobby.

In 2020, when I cleared off my desk so my husband to work from home for a few weeks, I had a feeling this was the end of the business I built. First, I deep cleaned my house (because I needed to do something with my hands). Then, as the days dragged to weeks and months, as I saw the writing on the wall, I told my husband that this was the end of my photography business. I officially closed it at the end of 2020, because of our move to Germany.

Because somewhere in the past 13 years since that first time I was a paid photographer, my passion for photography, my “muse” had abandoned me. I was constantly struggling to stay focused, I was in a panic to keep booking, more and more, to make sure I was doing it. The pressure to pay my bills, to be a success story has killed it. The passion was gone, and I had let my hobby become my side hustle and then my day job and then a thing I despised.

I went six months without picking up a proper camera. The desire to create was completely gone. But, gradually, that desire has come back. My desire to make photographic art for me, to share it because I love it, is back. I’m not currently interested in shooting for others, but the itch to create it back. I’ve picked up a few old hobbies and I’m looking forward to trying out a few more when we’re allowed outside our homes again. We’ve moved, selling the house we loved. My new and old hobbies are all things I love, but – with the exception of one – I have no desire to make money off of.

The one exception? I’m working on a book. I’m writing a story that I want to write, and maybe someday, I’ll be able to sell that story and make some money. But I’m writing it for me, not for my bank account. If I stay up till the wee hours of the morning, it’s because my muse and I are on a roll. It’s for the passion, not for the dollars.

But all is not lost. In the fractured remnants of my business, I pulled the things I learned, the things I was good at, out. I pieced them together, and am in the process of opening a new business as a virtual assistant. It’s a job, not a side hustle. And my hobbies are things I do for fun. If I start making art again, I may choose to sell that art in some way (because my husband has made some valid points about the limited space on our walls), but I’m here to tell you that you can have fun at a hobby and not turn it into a way to make money.

You can play the piano because it makes you happy. You can paint because you want to learn to paint. You can practice yoga even if you never want to teach it. Hobbies are the way our brains relax, they’re things that bring us joy. And while you shouldn’t hate your job, you shouldn’t rely on your job to bring you joy and money. Find joy in living, and live that joy.


Thompson Barn Tekoa Sunset
Letting Go and Going Forward

Letting Go and Going Forward

Our lives are defined by a series of moments. A flip book of little snapshots that make up a whole life. Blink and the years fly by. That’s why I became a photographer. To define those moments in the flipbook of people’s lives.

All my life, I’ve wanted to tell stories. Stories have shaped me into who I am today. My great-grandma’s stories of leaving Switzerland as a teen. My grandfather’s stories of serving in World War Two. My mama’s stories of visiting her grandparents’ store as a child. As a nerdy, artistic kid who never fit in, books were my best friends. I laughed at the escapades of Anne of Green Gables. I dreamed of magic with Harry Potter. I fell in love with Elizabeth Bennett. I drew and read and dreamed and wished for a place where I could sum up the world in a few hundred pages. I traveled the world to find something that I couldn’t define. I went to college to study history because I needed to know why those stories were so important. I saw how stories could shape the world. I learned to use my skills as a photographer to capture other people’s stories.

As I get older, the stories I read and want to tell are changing. Last year, I cut way back on shooting weddings, and recently, I realized, it was time to put aside that story. I won’t say that I will never shoot another wedding, because I might change my mind in a couple years and miss weddings. For now, I want to focus on other things, on other stories. I’m not sure what will happen with the website or the blog, but my goal is to catch up on my backlog this year, and enjoy these last few weddings. I’ve been shooting a lot more families and small businesses, and I’m not sure what the future will hold at this moment. I know I’ll always be a storyteller, and I’m opening my heart up to the next chapter of stories.

I’ve got some ideas, and I hate to be vague, but first, I’m going to enjoy the last bit of this season of my life, and spend some time trying new things, before I make any announcements.

Wedding portraits in a field in the Methow Valley

Balancing a Business and a Life as a Small Business Owner

Balancing a Business and a Life as a Small Business Owner

Hey there.

Does anyone still read a blog? Like, really read them? Besides me? I love blogs, I’ll never pivot to video, and while I know 98% of you are just here to look at pretty pictures, sometimes I need to talk too.

So, here’s a post to say that, once again, I dropped the ball. Despite my best intentions (and my goals!), I am woefully behind on blogging. But still using words like woefully, because ya’ll, I’m a bookworm and a nerd. Not because I haven’t wanted to blog – I have so much to share – but because now that N is here, I don’t want to spend 12 hours a day working. I want to spend time with my kiddo and our family. So, while I love blogging, it’s not the highest thing on my priority list (that would be client emails and editing).

I thought about just jumping back into content – but instead, I wanted to say first that life is busy, life is hard, and it doesn’t matter what you’re doing in this world, there are always more things on your to do list than you have time for. And in this season of life, I’m prioritizing time with my kiddo and our family. So that means working crazy hours and long international flights to visit her great-grandparents. It means late nights, early mornings, and less blogging during the busy season. It means dreaming of a few things I just don’t have the bandwidth for right now.

So, if you’re struggling with balance. If your emails, laundry, friendships, trips to the gym, or whatever your to do list item is, are falling behind, I just want to say it’s okay. In the end, if the important things are getting done, then you are doing enough.

Family Photos in Munich // Emily Wenzel

Doing a Frivolous Job when the World is on Fire

Doing a Frivolous Job when the World is on Fire

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.
— Albus Dumbledore [JK Rowling]

This week, I’ve really been struggling with doing what I do. Don’t get me wrong — I love my job. I think I have one of the greatest jobs in the world. I spend my days capturing beautiful moments. But, in the currently world climate, I have wondered if what I do is a joke. I started this post a half dozen times, and wrote a zillion things, but it all came down to a few things.

I don’t save lives. I don’t help cure Cancer or West Nile Virus. I don’t work to change laws to make the world a better place. I simply photograph meaningful moments. My job is frivolous. It is unnecessary.

Church Wedding Photographer // Emily Wenzel Photography


After all, one does not need to have photographs – much less professional ones – to be married.

Yet, there is something to be said for the beautiful photograph. For that moment when you tear up as your partner promises to spend the rest of their life with you. For the moment when you see each other for the first time on your wedding day. Or the first day of your brand new baby’s life. Maybe it’s a simple moment at home, or as a family. Toddlers in all their glory and dogs and chaos and everyone grows so fast. It’s the last photo of you and your grandma, or maybe a photo of all your cousins together on your wedding day. Those college friends who flew in from all the corners of the world. It’s your dad dancing under the twinkle lights with your best friend from elementary school. Your mom embracing your new spouse. Those are the photos I strive to take.

Telling that story matters. Remembering the good matters. My job – my industry – may be frivolous, but we cannot fight the terrible things in this world 24/7. We must take time to cherish the beautiful moments as well. I don’t know what the next year will bring. I hope it brings more peace and love. I know that I’m going to continue to work to bring good in this world. We cannot sit around and just hope for things to get better. We need to work for them. We need to find the light switch and turn on the lights. So, I want to keep photographing these beautiful moments of yours. I hope that my job, while not life saving, brings light into your life and into the lives of the people around you.


Spokane Newborn Fresh 48 Session // Emily Wenzel Photography

Year Three — Running a Business

Year Three — Running a Business

I wanted to write a sweet little post about what I’ve learned in three years of doing this full time. But then I realized, I don’t know how it’s been three years! It feels like it was just a year ago I was waking up on the first day I didn’t have a day job and working in my jammies in the living room of our apartment in Seattle. It feels like just a couple months ago that H got the job offer here in Spokane and we moved over here. How was that over two years ago? And wasn’t it just last week that we bought our house?

Three years is a big deal. Not only do many businesses fail in their first year, many more don’t make it past three years. So being here, now, feels like a huge accomplishment. I was going to do some silly stats, like number of photos taken, but I realized that that isn’t important. What is important is saying thank you.

This wouldn’t be possible without you. So thank you. Thank you to all the couples who’ve booked me, all the friends and past clients who’ve referred me. Thank you to those same people who have gone for coffee or drinks with me on good days and bad days. Who’ve helped me through the good times and bad. The truth is, it has taken me these three years to find my footing. I’m finally feeling more confident as a business owner, as a person. Maybe that is something that has come with age, and not with the time as a business owner. Either way, I’m finally at the point where I feel like I’m not in a state of panic at all times.

In the past three years, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned to get dressed, so I do better work. I’ve learned to take the day off – or walk away from a project – when it’s just not flowing. I’ve learned to show myself grace, because no matter how much I look like superwoman on the outside, I know that I’m not perfect (no one is)!

I’ve learned that my greatest fan is, always has been, and always will be, the man I married. He has been here in the good times and the bad. He has wiped my tears and told me it’s not a failure if I want to move on from this. He has celebrated every booking with me. Given me pep talks and cake. He has been there to wish me good luck before almost every wedding, and helped me carry my gear back in when I’m exhausted at the end of the day. He has made me dinner on the days where I’ve had to work until the wee hours of the night, and for this – and so much more – I know he’ll always be there for me.

I’ve learned that failure is the best way to find out what works well. I’ve learned that you have to take risks in order to reap rewards. I’ve learned to ask for the sale, but I’ve also learned that sometimes you have to tell a client when they’d be happier with someone else. I’ve learned that money isn’t everything, time is more important.

I’ve learned that this is exactly where I’m meant to be right now. And that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of you. Even though I pretend my mom (hi mom!) is the only person who reads my blog, the numbers tell me otherwise. So thank you all. After three years of this, my advice is to always take chances. You never know where life might lead, so take a chance and jump for what you’re dreaming of.

Anchorage Alaska // Emily Wenzel Photography

Behind the Scenes as a Wedding Photographer

Behind the Scenes as a Wedding Photographer

Happy Friday!

Ever wonder what it’s like behind the scenes at a wedding or engagement session with me? The majority of the time, I shoot alone, so there’s no one around to take photos of me making faces and doing whatever it takes to get a shot. But sometimes I have a second shooter, or I drag my husband along to carry coats and umbrellas on rainy days, and then I find these gems on my camera, or my second shooter’s camera, and I save them in a little folder to make me laugh.

Sometimes, like at Bethany & Peter’s Portland engagement session, a friend drops me off and I make her walk around a park and test the light with me before she runs away for a drink. My friends are pretty awesome, despite the exasperated look she’s giving me right here, she did drive me all over Portland so I didn’t need a rental car. 🙂

Behind the Scenes // Emily Wenzel Photography

Or my husband hangs out at the table where I wanted to take photos, so I can make sure the lighting is good, and that there’s not too much glare, like when we were in Ballard for Natalie & Sam’s engagement session.

Behind the Scenes // Emily Wenzel PhotographyBallard Engagement Session // Emily Wenzel Photography

Or, I get lucky enough to have a great friend like Katie along as my second shooter, who takes sneaky photos of me while I’m posing Joel & Dan during their wedding photos. I’m probably telling them to cuddle in closer here.

Behind the Scenes // Emily Wenzel PhotographySeattle Wedding Photographer // Emily Wenzel Photography

…and then we multi-task by having Katie check the lights while I’m on Instagram, sending out a sneaky behind the scenes shot of the wedding that I snapped earlier in the day. And we take silly selfies in the mirror.

Behind the Scenes // Emily Wenzel PhotographyBehind the Scenes at Within Sodo Seattle // Emily Wenzel Photography

Photos 4 & 5 by the incredibly kind and talented Kate Ford.