Q & A | Photographer Kelley Raye

Wedding and lifestyle photographer Kelley Raye loves love — and it shows. Her intimate photographs of moving first looks, stolen kisses, and brides hiking up their $4,000 lace gowns on the dance floor make her weddings look like the most epic party you weren’t invited to, but somehow managed to crash anyway.

Kelley has managed to make her dream job her day job. Her Girlboss branding sessions (which Raye describes as “an hour (or two) of girl power having, self-esteem boosting, solopreneur tip slinging, swoon-worthy image making goodness that will leave you confident, charged up, and ready to take on the world — if you weren’t already” sent Atlanta’s female entrepreneurs reaching for their credit cards and red lipstick in droves. Her latest venture, the Rose Gold Studio, invites other creatives to join her at the Goat Farm to #getshitdone (as she says) and collaborate on projects. 

Here, Raye talks to CommonCreativ about “those movies where the guy is talking to the camera,” why you really need to figure out what your spirit animal is, and the importance of shaking out your hair just a little.

Common Creativ: When did you know that you wanted to be a photographer?

Kelley Raye: I’ve always quietly taken photographs. I moved around a lot as a kid, so I needed a way to connect to my new school every year. My landscape changed so much, so often that having a camera helped me to remember it all.

I had disposable cameras, cheap point-and-shoots, but when I took a photograph of my baby brother on Easter Sunday with a Nikon D500 (I’ve since upgraded to a Canon 6D) more than just the shutter clicked. I got that piece of equipment in my hands and my life changed. My eye paired with the right apparatus birthed a business. I have no formal training, I just made it a point to collect memories of the things I wanted to remember, and, thank goodness, people seem to like what I’m doing.

Photography by Kelley Raye

CCTell us about the process behind your photographs.

KR: You know those John Hughes movies when an actor is talking to the camera, so you get his point of view? It’s called “breaking the fourth wall,” and  that’s my life. In a lot of photography, you look at a photo and there is an invisible line between you and the subject matter; but when I take a photograph, you should feel as if you can reach out and feel the same sun on your skin. I want my photographs to feel so intimate that you feel a little naughty looking at them.

My audience should have total insight into what is going on, with no pretense, no ego, where nothing is perfect — laughter lines, messy hair, chipped nails and holes in your sweater are included because that’s real life. I have no time for fake. So there’s not really a process as much as an energy. If the energy is right, the photos will be good.

CC: What are your favorite projects and artists in Atlanta?

KR: I think the most obvious answer is the street art — projects like Living Walls have made art for everyone to enjoy, it’s not just in whitewashed rooms in privileged neighborhoods.

I follow Jeremy Brown on Instagram and I’m obsessed with his use of color. Same with Erica Arndts — they both make their craft look so easy. I really enjoy getting the insight into their process through Instagram posts and stories. Instagram is such a great tool for artists.  

As far as photographers? My absolute favorite Atlanta photographer is Mary Caroline Russell. Her ability to capture the emotion of a massive event is straight-up magic. The girl even made me want to go to church! She makes everything look so cool, I thought her Sunday worship was a freaking Beyoncé concert!

Kelley Raye

CC: What do you think of Atlanta’s creative scene?

KR: “I just don’t know why they tryna kill it.” Atlanta is so vibrant and artistic. The murals are landmarks, for goodness sake. But all of these housing developers are squirreling in and taking away the soul. I’m not OK with it. The housing market is crazy. Rent is getting higher in town and it’s pushing out all of the artists. It makes me sad.

I’d like to see more opportunities for artists to get work. Real work. Not “exposure” — actual dollars and cents. I’d also like to see more inclusive, all-ages art events. There needs to be more access to the tools needed to hone a craft and more creatives encouraging the younger generation. Oh, and classes or something sharing the business side of this hustle, because it is hard.

CC: What gets you running for your camera?

KR: My favorite thing to capture is the thing that you do when no one is paying attention to you, or the details that make the setting unique. The things that people don’t normally notice, but that set the tone or tell the secrets.

I have really loved taking Girlboss Branding Sessions. These are shoots with female entrepreneurs for their headshots or websites. It feels very “Girl Power.” I’m such a cheerleader for other female entrepreneurs. I thrive on the excitement of being around other women who are getting shit done, so I am thrilled to take their photo and help them brand themselves.

People don’t know how pretty they are. No one sees themselves the way the world does. These sessions do bring something out of these bad ass ladies, though — they transform to their best selves with a little encouragement. My favorite shots usually end up being the shots where the girls are shaking out their hair or answering a question about their loves — that twinkle as their eyes move up and to the right as they remember something beautiful — that is your best self, girl.

Photography by Kelley Raye

CC: What is your spirit animal?

KR: Your spirit animal is how you view yourself. What or who you channel when you need to be superwoman. I’ve heard everything from “cats” to “Tracee Ellis Ross” to “an iced latte” or “boobs!” Mine is Beyoncé. Her work ethic is epic. She does *clap* not *clap* stop *clap.*

I have followed her entire career; she is a goal setting workaholic and I love it! She could have gotten lazy and “retired” years ago — sat her butt on an island and drank mimosas for the rest of her life without us knowing where she was, but no! She keeps going for her fans. She’s been going hard for 20 years and giving it 100 percent the whole. damn. time. Beyoncé never chills, everything she does is the new-new. I respect that so much.

CC: What is Rose Gold Studio? 

KR: I had my studio at The Goat Farm for a year and as I made it cuter and cozier I wanted to share the good vibes I had created with likeminded ladies. So people rent out the space and use it for whatever they need; bloggers, photographers, solopreneurs, makers and artists have all been through the doors, smelled the scented candles, enjoyed the beautiful light and gotten their shit done. Sometimes it takes a change of scenery to get inspired again.

It’s really a mini version of a co-working space that I have a vision for in the future. A place where Girlbosses can network, “love on each other” and collaborate. One of the best parts about my work is that I get to meet so many inspiring ladies. I get so much energy from being around women who support other women.

Photography by Kelley Raye

CC: What’s next for you?

KR: I’m really excited to head to Iceland in a few weeks to photograph Chris Burden and Courtney Pilgrim when they say their””I do’s.”

I’m hoping that will be a catalyst for more innovative wedding shoots for me. I want couples to feel empowered to elope and do something against the grain. I would love to be the go-to girl for editorial style elopement photography. So many people want a cookie cutter wedding, and I get it; you want to please grandma, but listen; I’ll call grandma for you! I’ll explain that you want to hop a flight to Thailand, like me and my fiancée will be doing this year, and make your wedding day 100 percent on your terms. It will be OK.

You can spot more of Kelley Raye’s photography adventures on her site and Instagram.

About Lynne Tanzer

Lynne is a freelance artist, curator, consultant and writer. As a mother of 2 young boys, she is frequently found with a quad shot latte in her hand and mismatched socks on her feet.

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