Editor’s Note:The Chronicle is working to assist local businesses suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 virus spread and associated government orders to close or limit commerce. There will be a feature on a local business in each edition of The Chronicle and at chronline.com moving forward. To be considered, email reporter Eric Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, The Chronicle will continue to offer its coverage of the coronavirus and its effects across the community, state and nation free outside of our paywall at chronline.com.
For Mandi McDougall, her career in photography started with black and white photos in a darkroom back in high school nearly 20 years ago.
She would then go on to shoot her best friend’s senior pictures, and by that time had impressed her photography teacher so much that he began sending her jobs to shoot weddings the summer after she graduated.
She still wasn’t ready to commit to a career in photography, however, graduating from college with a degree in children, youth and family ministry. She then moved back to Lewis County, had her son and decided the job she had at the time wouldn’t work out for her as a mom.
McDougall then launched full-time in photography, something she had already been doing on the side throughout college and her early 20s. That was 2010 when she began Mandi McDougall Photography, opening up in downtown Centralia on North Tower Avenue.
The biggest transition from an employee to owner was the business aspect. It’s one of the first things she talks about when mentoring youth photography students at Centralia High School. She hosts at least a couple aspiring Tiger photographers each spring to teach them the ropes of the photography business. She even did a Zoom interview with one of the photography classes during the pandemic.
“Go to photography for business and the photography part, if you love it and you practice it, it will come,” McDougall said.
Photography is such a vast industry, McDougall said, that it’s interesting to hear which particular paths photographers have taken to get to where they are now. She said it’s important for students to know there’s not just one single path to becoming one.
“Everybody kind of takes their own path,” McDougall said. “It’s like one of those choose-your-own-adventure kind of jobs.”
And breaking into the industry and learning about shooting photos is easier now than ever before, from affordable DSLR cameras to thousands of YouTube tutorials. The nice thing with photography, she said, is you get instant feedback, there’s always room to improve and there’s a wealth of information online.
The pandemic affected her business mostly in the beginning stages back in March and April when everything non-essential was shut down. Luckily, McDougall estimates more than half her customers are repeat customers, so those same people came back once her studio downtown was allowed to reopen.
There are local families she’s been shooting through the progression of their lives, starting before they were married, then their wedding and finally their babies’ births. McDougall took photos last weekend of one family’s 5-year-old, who she’s been taking photos of since she was born.
“It’s the best thing,” McDougall said. “It’s absolutely the best thing. So many of my clients I consider to be friends, and some family now, because you get to know them so well when you go through major life things alongside them.”
This year as a whole actually ended up being better than in year’s past, McDougall said. She’s busier this fall and winter than she was at this time last year. It helps that her business offers a wide-range of possibilities. Other than family photography and newborns, she shoots a lot of boudoir, an intimate-style of photography. She also does seasonal mini-sessions, such as for Easter, Christmas, summer and Valentine’s Day, which is her favorite.
“I love everything pink, glittery and hearts,” McDougall said.
Her studio on North Tower Avenue is currently open for clients, all by appointment, so call ahead to schedule a date and time. She asks that customers wear a mask when stopping by, except during photos, of course, and she’s following strict protocols for cleaning and sanitizing the studio.
Mandi McDougall Photography can be contacted by phone at 360-827-1609, by email at email@example.com.
Reporter Eric Trent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit chronline.com/business for more coverage of local businesses.