We had the good fortune of connecting with LaKaye Mbah and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi LaKaye, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
The decision to start working for myself started out of necessity. I worked full time as a photographer and administrator for a local magazine that I truly loved and admired. The focus was on creating social change through art and culture in Baltimore City. I photographed everything from food at newly opened restaurants to portraits of local activists. However, in 2008, I was laid off during the recession when many printed magazines started to shut down. The publisher suggested I start freelancing since there weren’t many full-time photography opportunities. It’s been an adventure since then, but I wouldn’t trade the experience.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m proud of the process I’ve built for my clients. Prior to each session we have a consultation so I can learn how they want to be photographed. We discuss details like clothing, hairstyles and the overall mood of the shoot. At the session, I work with amazing makeup artists who make the likes look and feel amazing. Once they’re prepped and dressed, I help them settle into poses that help them feel less camera shy. A few days after the shoot, I walk them through selecting the best images for their home or marketing. I’m there to help my clients the entire step of the way. The whole process is really fun!
There are photographers who are technically more proficient, who have better gadgets and more expensive equipment. However, what I bring to the table is a deep desire to have my clients feel like they’re the best versions of themselves and have photos they’re proud to share with everyone. There has been a lot of trial and error to get to where I am now. I feel lucky to be an artist who earns a living doing what I love.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in Hampton Roads which is called the Seven Cities. Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach are all within driving distance. This area is a military hub and there are a lot of family activities. I’m from Virginia Beach and my studio is in located in Norfolk, so I spend most of my time in these cities.
There’s just so much to do so I’ll give you my favorite destinations by category:
James Wise Gallery at Norfolk State University (Norfolk): It’s a small, but mighty gallery and regularly features artwork by international, local and student artists.
Chrysler Museum (Norfolk): Home to some incredible works of art.
NEON District (Norfolk): Take a walking tour of colorful murals and home of the NEON Festival that takes place in the fall.
VIBE District (Va Beach): Another walkable area with plentiful murals not far from the oceanfront.
Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (Va Beach): Amazing installations from national and local artists and entrance is free.
Oceanview/East Beach (Norfolk): My favorite beach in the area because it’s much less crowded, it’s great for kids because the water is shallow, and there are incredible sunsets since it’s on the bay.
The Oceanfront (Va Beach): It’s a very long strip of beaches, hotels, restaurants and attractions. You can get a hotel with a water view and walk down the street for dinner or drinks.
Sandbridge (Va Beach): If you have a large group of people, consider renting a house in Sandbridge. It’s away from the tourist area and feels very private.
Selden Market (Norfolk): One of the best places to support local micro business owners and artists.
Town Center (Va Beach): Lots of food and popular stores like West Elm and Anthropologie.
The Glass Light Restaurant (Norfolk): This is my favorite place in all of Hampton Roads. The ambiance is excellent and the drinks are unique and tasty. There is an upscale menu, but they have the best french fries I’ve ever had in my life.
Handsome Biscuit (Norfolk): Sweet potato biscuit sandwiches. What can be better? This is close to my studio and it’s great for a quick bite.
The Grain (Norfolk): This is one of three restaurants at the Hilton Hotel called The Main in Downtown Norfolk. The Grain is on the rooftop and you can see gorgeous views of downtown.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My biggest supporter was my mother. I credit her for supporting my decision to work for myself and never trying to douse my fire with negativity and doubt. Among many things, she was an educator, entrepreneur, writer and jewelry maker. Being of service was of utmost importance to her and she was active in the community for almost 65 years. For ten years she published a local non-profit newspaper that highlighted community service activities in Hampton Roads, which honored dozens of organizations and hundreds of community service volunteers. When I think about my road to entrepreneurship and teaching, it all leads back to her. I’m so grateful to have learned what it means to care for others from her.
I’m also deeply appreciative of my friends who are also entrepreneurs. The conversations I’ve had with Naché Snow (nachesnow.com), Sherrie Tennessee (IG:@thespasos) and KaNikki Jakarta (kanikkij.com) have been invaluable. Sometimes it’s nice to nerd out on the details of growing a business and have people know what you’re talking about.
Lastly, I have to mention Tiffany Aliche, at thebudgetnista.com. I don’t know her in real life, but she’s a mentor in my head. Her financial and business advice is invaluable and I’m inspired by the integrity she infuses into her businesses.