In a world where virtually everybody can take a decent photograph with their phone, Melissa Kelly says making it as a professional photographer requires more.
“I don’t really categorize myself as a photographer,” she said. “I’m more of a portrait artist.”
“My goal is to create those images that are going to last a really long time — artwork for your home.”
Kelly said she’s loved photography since getting her first camera at age 4. She took photography classes at the University of Kansas while earning an education degree, thinking she might want to work for a museum. Instead, she worked for 12 years as a pharmaceutical rep in Kansas City, occasionally doing freelance photography for publications there.
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“I’m a far better salesman today than I was as a pharmaceutical rep,” she said.
When she opened her first studio, in downtown Wichita, she was mainly doing landscape and architectural photography. “People just kept asking me to do their family portraits, photograph their children.”
She still does some commercial photography but mainly focuses on portraits.
Last year, she and her husband, who owns a company that produces instruments for small aircraft, bought the 12,000-square-foot Andover Plaza building in Andover and moved her main studio there. She now has four indoor photography bays and a large yard where she can stage outdoor shots, complete with a tallgrass meadow, vintage Chevy truck and a brick wall to simulate an “urban” setting. “I’ve essentially created a set in Andover to make it look like (clients are) downtown.” However, she still maintains her downtown Wichita studio for the convenience of clients there.
Kelly employs an assistant and three other photographers part-time.
Kelly said “a little bit of psychology” goes into getting the perfect portrait.
“You have to evoke emotion through your client and channel that and figure out what speaks to your client. A lot of time I’ll put them in situations they can associate with… like thinking about something funny their mom said recently.”
She also enjoys the “problem-solving aspect” of her work.
“Somebody brings in clothing that may not be flattering, you have to figure out how to make it flattering. You don’t want to fix it in Photoshop. You want to fix it before you get to Photoshop.”
Although most of her clients live in Andover, some have come from as far as Kansas City. High school portraits are a big part of her business.
“Each session is really different,” she said. “I photographed a high school senior with her cows. That was kind of different. But they’re prize winning cows.”
Kelly said she tries to offer clients a “great customer experience” as well as great photographs.
“Back 20 years ago, you would go to a portrait studio and you would get 10 proofs if you were lucky. Now it’s become multiple outfits and different locations. It’s more of an experience. That’s really what we want to offer, a great experience where they have fun and are relaxed. It’s not like going to see your attorney.”
Now you know
MELISSA KELLY IMAGERY
Address: 310 W. Central in Andover and 557 S. Topeka in Wichita
Owner: Melissa Kelly