February 26, 2020

Special Moments on Film: Meet Jodee Debes, The Jet-Setting Photographer

Jodee Debes in Kenya. Courtesy of Valorie Darling Photography.

By Emily Merrell 

The moment I met Jodee, I knew we were kindred spirits. Jodee is filled with boundless energy and curiosity for the world’s stories. It’s no wonder that she’s constantly snapping photos that speak volumes. She has a way of making a photo shoot fun and intimate. She’s also  able to turn someone who “hates taking photos” into a natural in front of the camera. Learn more how Jodee left her corporate job behind to pursue her love of visual storytelling. 

SDS: You’re a jet-setting photographer, having shot weddings across the world. What inspired you to get into wedding photography? 

JODEE DEBES: I was working on my cube glow as an Advertising Executive post-college and it was such a tease working with the creative team and not being creative every day. To fill the void, I turned to photography (an old hobby), and connected with a few serendipitous people. One of which was Brian Leahy, now a good friend, who asked if I wanted to assist a wedding he was shooting. I had never thought of wedding photography before, although I loved photographing people. Being the impulsive “yes” person I am, I jumped at the opportunity. From that first wedding, I fell in love with visual storytelling.

Laughing out loud with photographer Jodee Debes. Courtesy of Cheers Babe Photo.

My ideal couples are the ones that aren’t getting married for the photo shoot. They want the memories and the moments captured. They want to hear the laughter and feel the tears when they look at an image because it’s a genuine capture. To me, photography is the most special when you’re capturing a fleeting moment that will never exist again and saving that stamp of time forever. 

Wedding photos are a special breed of photos because people treasure them for generations. I’ve looked through my parents’ and my grandparents’ wedding albums decades later, and that’s all I wish for my couples. It’s so encouraging to have couples exclaim to me that they had no idea certain family members became best friends at the bar or thank me because a family member passed away and the images from their wedding are the last photos they have of that person. Allowing people to relive their wedding day and all the people they love through my images makes my heart happy.

SDS: As the photographer at my wedding, you handled our change of plans with such grace and elegance. How do you keep your cool in stressful situations? 

JD: Aw thank you! I think that’s where my career in advertising helped prepare me. I’ve always thrived under pressure and it’s helpful to have experience with many different personality types working on projects moving way too fast! It helped me learn how to be quick on my feet and make decisions at warp speed. I’ve also been shooting weddings for seven years, which helps me anticipate what’s coming next. It’s so important to hire someone experienced whom you trust.

SDS: What’s your favorite part of being a wedding photographer? Do you have a favorite venue to shoot at? 

JD: My favorite part is the people. Connecting with individuals, couples and families in such a personal environment is so special. I’ve stayed in touch with many of them and have photographed many of my couples as they have children and grow their families! It’s so fun to stay in touch and document so many key moments in their lives!

Favorite venue is so tricky. There are so many gorgeous places in the world! I’m spoiled by living in California with immediate access to breathtaking locations up and down the coast. I always gravitate to bright open spaces, preferably outside with gorgeous lighting. Somewhere with not too much clutter that detracts from the people and moments. Somewhere that’s sentimental to the couple or family. Somewhere that’s private so that the vibe is more relaxed and not crowded with folks who shouldn’t be there.

SDS: For all of those individuals planning their wedding, what is some advice you want to impart? 

JD: The end result and your final photos are obviously important, but make sure you meet with your photographer because that chemistry you share is crucial and often overlooked. We spend the most time with you on your wedding day. That’s right – more than any other person – so it’s so important that we add to the vibe. A sweet compliment I received from a bride was that I felt like another bridesmaid showing up at her wedding because I fit in so well with her mood and crew. After all, y’all have to make the grueling decision of who your top 150 people (plus or minus) are to invite. And your photographer is 151!

SDS: What are the biggest challenges of being a wedding photographer to keep in mind for those just starting out? 

JD: It’s so fun starting out!! You’re going to want to shoot everything and everyone! But make sure to be strategic. Only show the images you want to shoot. And make sure you know your value and price yourself accordingly so that you don’t burn yourself out. You’re setting the precedent now for your future career so make sure to set yourself up for success. It’s such a word-of-mouth referral business, so the clients you work with now will refer you to similar clients in the future at a similar price point. It’s a whole lot easier to start at a good point than to crawl out of an undesirable spot. 

SDS: In addition to being a photographer you’re also a mentor to other photographers, host a podcast and have been an emcee at events. What other talents are up your sleeves and what’s coming up with you? 

JD: I love helping other photographers and connecting with people in general, so I definitely intend to do more mentoring, and perhaps a workshop. Beyond all the gorgeous weddings this year, including an Amalfi Coast wedding, I have a few travel photography jobs in my future! One opportunity will be with El Camino Travel. Come travel to Bolivia from Oct 31-Nov 7, 2020 with me as your photographer and a group of what is sure to be cool travelers. I’ve also started a print shop and have aspirations to do a charity gallery show. Stay tuned!

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