Maria Keegan was always creative. An avid scrap booker who graduated Syracuse University with a degree in Interior Design, Maria has consistently been at home pursuing creative endeavors. So it’s no surprise that she made a career out of one of them with Memories by Maria Photography.
“My dad was a photographer and he basically documented our childhood with pictures. I grew up being photographed and understanding the importance of everyday moments being caught on film,” said Maria. “I used to help my dad develop film in the darkroom. We had tons of cameras, and I basically grew up mimicking what he did, capturing everyday moments.”
While her father never pursued photography as a career, he instilled the importance of memory capturing, and Maria transitioned into her own role as the family photographer.
“I took pictures of my family, my sister’s kids, baptisms, communions. After a while, people would say to me, ‘You should really do this,” said Maria. “It just sort of happened that way. That’s how Memories by Maria was started.”
That was in 2013, and for Maria, the timing was perfect.
“I was working at a credit union part time when I started the business. It was sort of like, I had the time where I could start to pursue photography as a business,” says Maria. “My husband was very encouraging and always wanted me to pursue the photography because he knew how much I loved it. It was helpful to know he was rooting for me in the background.”
Maria’s first few years of business were in Pennsylvania, but when her husband was presented with two options for a job transfer– Harrisburg or the Jersey Shore – the family, and business, started over in South Jersey. It wasn’t long before Memories by Maria rebuilt a clientele.
“In 2017, I restarted my business down here in New Jersey. The first summer was slow but I was okay with that,” said Maria. “It took me a while to get to know the beaches and the shore itself and where to go and what to do. The second summer was good. The third was even better. This past summer, I had to turn down as many people as I photographed.”
Maria, who often works three sessions per day in the summer – one in the morning before the light gets too bright, and two in the evening before the sun goes down managed to shoot 145 sessions between May and September this year. It’s a tough schedule, and while Maria sometimes has to be reminded to take a day off, she’s not complaining.
“I’m a natural light photographer and I don’t have a studio, so it’s a little slower in the winter. But from April through mid-October, it’s probably 80 percent beach photography. Families wanting photos on the beach, and lots of weddings in the summertime,” said Maria. “I love doing weddings on the beach. They’re just a lot of work, but I can’t complain.”
Instead, Maria has cultivated a business – and a customer experience – that’s positive and balanced, and while it’s a lot of work, it’s a business that Maria manages as a solo entrepreneur.
“I’ve thought about hiring associates, but I think that right now, my business is me. I want my experience for my customers to be a good experience all the way around and that includes all the time that I’m not with them,” says Maria. “So that’s responding to emails and being able to edit their galleries quickly and responding to questions and things like that. If I start to branch out and have other people, then I have to rely on those other people creating the experiences that I would offer.”
And while a good part of that experience is the quality of photographs – Maria’s a natural light as well as a true color photographer, editing pretty close to the natural environment – much of it relies on Maria herself and her ability to make her subjects feel comfortable.
“You have to be very friendly and outgoing and willing to put yourself out there, maybe even make them laugh at you, so that you can capture those natural smiles,” said Maria. “I never really think about it but apparently, I just do it because that’s what a lot of people will say afterwards, that they loved how casual and easy it was. That’s one of the things that they say the most in reviews, how I was able to get smiles out of kids that don’t usually smile.”
When Maria isn’t shooting and editing, she continues to learn more and more about her field, whether it’s the newest mirrorless digital cameras or posing techniques.
“You have to stay up-to-date and be into everything to stay relevant,” said Maria. “The styles are always changing.”
Find this and more in the November/December issue of OC Mag