Some may find it strange that I own a successful fashion and commercial photography studio in a small town. Believe me, I never thought I’d end up here.

Photography is my second career. For 17 years I was a radio personality.

I fell into it and thought that was where I would stay for the rest of my life. After all, who doesn’t love a glamorous radio career?  Turns out, it was me.

Photography started off as a hobby for me. My stepdaughter was really tall and for fun—and to pass the time—we’d set up photo shoots on the weekends.

One of my friends that I met at the radio station had a connection Ford Models in Phoenix. I had no idea about the industry, of course.  One day—thinking nothing of it—I showed her the book of photographs I had taken of my daughter.  She sent it to the head of Ford Models in Phoenix, who subsequently sent it to the head of Ford Models in New York.

One day I got a call…

Nope, this was not MY big break.

But it was for my stepdaughter.

Ford Models wanted to represent her.  We didn’t have a lot of money, but found a way to make a trip to the closest Ford location in Chicago.

It was at my first meeting with Ford that I learned something that would subsequently have a huge impact on my life.  The Ford agent told me, “You know you can make money doing this.”

I never thought about going out on my own—doing anything other than getting a steady pay check.  I brushed her comment off and continued as a radio personality for the next 2 years.

But her comments always stuck with me…

We moved the Gulf Coast where no one knew me and certainly no one at the radio stations was going to hire me.  Radio, in those days, was more of a local business – and moving 1000 miles from your home base is not the best way to get a radio gig.

If I ever had a “big break” this was it. I had been teaching myself (slowly!) and training for just this occasion.  I was pushed into finally following my dreams—“I am a photographer.”

A photographer in Mobile, Alabama.  It’s about two hours from New Orleans, if you drive 30 minutes west you’ll end up in Mississippi.  30 minutes in the other direction and you’re in Florida.  I was in the middle of the Gulf Coast.  Gorgeous area, but I didn’t know a soul.

It was the fall of 2000. There was no Facebook, I didn’t know anyone. I wound up going to a local camera store and asked who the best photographers were in town. I went to them and asked if they would work with me.  It was rather surprising when they said they would. I was hired to work in a local photographer’s office for $7 an hour. It was tedious, and the best thing I could have done. I was exposed to all the other sides of photography that I didn’t necessarily wish to pursue, and learning about them gave my self-education the finish it needed.

My stepdaughter signed with Ford Models and went on to work as a model for ten years. Whenever I’d have the opportunity I’d ask photography questions to the agents and booker—after all, these were the days before the Internet and Pinterest.  Their advice and mentorship gave me a major confidence boost.

I knew I didn’t want to continue working at the local photography studio in town. I had an entrepreneurial spirit and knew I wanted to be my own boss. Eventually I went out on my own.  That was 15 years ago.

I mostly shoot composite cards for models and actors in the vibrant acting & modeling community along the Gulf Coast. I have many corporate clients, including casinos and a clothing store with 300 locations around the country. I love what I do. It took me a while to get here but the journey has only made me wiser.

My advice to other photographers is to take the time and set up a proper business.  If you are charging others for photos, get your business license—the IRS has Facebook!

If, like me, you remember the days before the Internet, you know how hard it was to be a service business-person.  You had to either hire someone to answer the phones for you or do it yourself.  You kept a scheduling book, and had to make sure you wrote in it only in pencil, because clients change their minds a lot.  Whew!  That’s a lot of hours that could have been used taking photos.

Now I have Schedulicity.  It allows my client to book online with Studio TRP/Toni Riales Photography whenever they like and to see all the options I have to offer.  It sends them a follow-up email for me and lets my clients know that they are important and will be taken care of.   I’m making a success of my fashion studio in an unlikely location, and definitely some credit goes to Schedulicity.

Toni Riales
Studio TRP/Toni Riales Photography

FB/IG/Twitter: @toniriales