When I heard that my hair stylist friend, Danielle, had gotten her own room at Perfect 10 Salon in Fruitland Park, a space to call her own, a space to do a complete overhaul, I knew it was a big deal. It would be a big deal for her, for the salon, and for her clients. She pours herself into a project, and she’s got such a fun eclectic eye for design I think just about anyone could find something to love in what she was bound to make look amazing. From her start as just a senior in high school and over the last ten years she’s never hesitated to tackle her dreams head on. So, once she was done we sat down to document this cornerstone in her career; where she started, how she got there, and why she does what she does.
It’s always what I wanted to do, since I was a little girl. My mom used to find me in the bathroom dying my barbies’ hair with Kool-Aid. My only backup plan was to maybe be a school teacher but I knew I’d end up a stylist.
You went into beauty school very young, right? What was your motivation to go for it and start when you did?
Right! I started my senior year of high school. It felt like a big risk at the time. My mom encouraged me to start when I did because it was just her and I at home, we didn’t have a lot of money, and if I started in high school I could do it under the dual-enrollment program and attend the school for free. I missed a lot of the “senior year” stuff that my friends were doing but it turned out to be my absolute favorite year of school.
Is “beauty school” even the right term? I feel so out of touch, I keep singing “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease in my head!
Haha! I don’t know! I always call it “hair school” but I think beauty school is accurate. We’ll go with beauty school.
What was your least favorite and most favorite thing about beauty school?
Oh my! My least favorite thing was the book work. We didn’t get to go to school and just do pretty things. We first had to study laws and all the technical stuff before we started to do anything. My most favorite thing was that for the first time in my years in any school I felt like I was really great at something. I felt like, until then, I hadn’t found my thing that I was really great at, my friends always had some subject in school that they were great at, hair was my thing. I felt like a star student
Once you finished school you found yourself at a few different salons before you ended up at Perfect 10, were you struggling to find a place to fit in?
I did! Straight out of school I ended up at a salon in downtown Mount Dora. It was just an older lady and myself, it was such an awkward situation. It was such a small place and I spent most of the time pretty much just acting as her assistant but I learned a TON from her, she was a very experienced hairdresser. Next, I ended up at a big salon chain, I really enjoyed it there because I moved up in the salon really quickly. It was a place where I could really shine because they had so many people there. I became a master stylist there within the first six months. They kept rank of all their stylists and I kept the number one spot the entire three years I spent there.
That’s pretty impressive! How did you end up at Perfect 10?
Thank you! I was successful there but I knew I wanted more independence. My mom was a massage therapist at Perfect 10 at the time and she insisted it was the right fit for me. New owners had come to the salon shortly after and they just made this place like my favorite place to be, everyone here is just wonderful, I love it. It just feels like home to me.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken in your career?
Definitely leaving the chain salon. Because there, up until I left, I was commission based, so I had an hourly wage and a percentage of the work I did and I struggled over like 8 months to come to my decision to leave that security. I was pretty much stepping out to start on my own, I wasn’t sure if any of my clients would come with me, it was scary, I didn’t know if I’d be making any money to pay my bills. It ended up being the best decision I could have ever made.
Why did you want your own room at the salon? It seems like a lot of work you put into a space that Perfect 10 owns.
Yeah, I get asked that a lot! It was a ton of work. Really I’ve just always had a bigger vision for the work that I do. It’s always been about my clients and I want them to have an amazing experience. Not just coming to see me, sit in a chair, and have an average experience. I’ve always thought they deserved more than average. I want them to feel like they are escaping and treating themselves to something special.
What was your inspiration for the decor?
I definitely was going for an eclectic and artsy feel. Unusual. Like your grandma’s house, if you had a super chic cool grandma. I wanted it to be super comfortable for men too. I wanted to make sure I had a good balance of masculine & feminine details. Nothing too terribly girly.
So, how long did it take you to put your room here together?
Well, I was a slave driver.
Wait! If you were a slave driver who were your slaves?
HAHA, Alan (my husband) and Dale, the owner of the salon. We really worked ourselves hard. It took about two months but we only worked on it one day a week. Though, the other girls here at the salon used to laugh at me because in between clients I’d sneak back into my room and I’d be sitting on the floor with a dress on, make-up & hair all nice for work with a screw gun in my hand piecing things together. It was a lot of hard work and I was eager to see it come together!
So what are you favorite things about the room?
I love so much about it! But my favorite thing is the couch from Hobby Lobby! And also, I love the mouse door my daughter painted. Alan bought it for her on one of our several trips to Hobby Lobby and I came home one day and she had it all wrapped and taped up with tissue. I opened it up and she let me know it was for the mouse in my salon. (*There is no actual mouse in the salon.)
Do you think you love doing hair now as much you did when you started in 2003?
I do! Actually, I think I love it more! I mean, when I started there was so much uncertainty. I feel very sure of everything I do now. I get to go into everything feeling confident and at ease. When I first started doing hair I would stress myself out worrying when a client would want a big change. I know I don’t need to worry anymore!
Any advice for young girls thinking about becoming a hairstylist?
Start! Soak in as much as you can from other stylists who have experience. As much as I disliked being in that tiny little shop I started at I learned more from that woman than I ever did in school!
Check out more of Danielle & her salon at www.rhondaelm.com
So, having been at this a year there’s so much I’ve learned about myself and photography that I never would have guessed to be the case. Going into the business I thought I knew exactly what parts I’d love the most, I thought I knew who I wanted to photograph, and I thought I knew what would be easy.
My first paid shoot was an engagement shoot. I stumbled my way into that job with a facade of confidence. I put on my most self-assured face and told my friends, “I’d love to photograph you guys! It will be AMAZING!” I was T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D. I’m a shy soul, horribly shy, and my experience up until that point had only once extended beyond people I call family. Soon after we set a date for their shoot I enlisted one of my dearest friends to play model for me. She and I both realized quicker than quick that I needed to work on three things: directing a shot, staying calm when EVERYONE around stops to watch what’s going on, and instilling a sense of confidence into the person I am shooting.
I thought about these things, strategized, researched and went into that engagement shoot more prepared than anything I’d ever done in my life. It was an hour & half ride to the location the couple had picked out (A location I had never been to! Reason #10834 to freak out.) and there was so much knee shaking and lip biting going on through that car ride my husband, my assistant <3, thought for sure I was going to take off running for home the moment the car went into park.
The shoot was a smashing success. The couple, Neal & Sarah, were incredibly happy with the results, the internet was all a buzz about it, I didn’t fail. There were a few things that helped me that day with Neal & Sarah. Neal, was, and still is, one of the most encouraging people I’ve come across since the beginning of my endeavor. I wouldn’t be able to make the cut without verbal encouragement and that guy gives it freely (High-five, Neal!) and Sarah, well, she happens to be the most photogenic person I’ve had the opportunity to photograph, the fact that I don’t think it’s possible to catch an unflattering angle of her relieved an incredible amount of stress (Thanks for having an incredible smile, Sarah.)
In all, after being lucky enough to shoot a few more engagement sessions last summer I was really surprised to come to the realization that engagement sessions are without question my absolute favorite thing to do.
There’s so much to love about them:
- I’m an absolute sucker for love. The excitement in the air when two people are coming into the beginning of their forever is infectious.
- Happy people look amazing. This same excitement that’s making passerby’s glance at them suspiciously is making them glow. Engaged couples smile, they smile so much.
- The cuddles, snuggles, and kisses need hardly any direction at all from my part. It comes to a point when it stops feeling like a photoshoot and instead just feels like I’m documenting their date. Their date at what will probably be one of the happiest periods of their lives. I always walk away feeling like I got to write a love story with photographs. I LOVE IT.
Somehow, going into this I thought for sure my favorite subject matter would be children, I’d spent a couple years chasing around my own kids, I knew I was good at it, I knew I was comfortable with it. You can’t pose a child, it’s mostly about having a conversation with them and trying to convince them you’re a good guy not a bad guy, or letting them know you have candy. 🙂 I know how to work with kids, and I enjoy it, I love it! But to my surprise, my biggest professional thrill is getting to freeze the love between two people who’ve promised themselves to each other, before the hustle & bustle of wedding planning has gotten to the best of them, before the wedding day, when it’s still just the two of them. The quiet of being ‘us’.
This December I received what I am lovingly referring to as The Game Changer. I was gifted a Canon 5D Mark II, a professional DSLR. My goal camera. The camera I’d be saving for if there was money to save.
When I opened my gift and saw it staring back at me I paused, there was an indescribable heaviness in that moment. It felt surreal (possibly due to exhaustion, presumed bronchitis, and the fact that I’m a girl…but I was stunned) This may sound silly but it’s true, I didn’t know whether I wanted to cry, laugh, jump, or scream with excitement so instead I looked up at the gift giver and smiled shyly, mouthed the words “Thank you!” and gently placed the box next to me as I returned to my duty as gift spotter for my 3-year-old daughter.
On the way home from our Christmas gathering I found myself landing on the same question I’d dwelled on regularly for the last year, “However did we end up here?”
We got to this point by the grace of God and insane amounts of support and encouragement from family, friends, and fans. I’m consistently surprised by the love you all show me and I want you all to know I appreciate every single kind word you throw my way. Every single one!
It has been almost exactly a year since I shot my first session as Rhonda Elm Photography (Thanks Neal & Sarah!) And on that note, I thought it would be an appropriate time to celebrate and say THANKS! to all of you with a photo session giveaway!
What you WIN: A FREE PHOTO SESSION (A $175 value!) – Up to 1.5 hours of shooting on location anywhere in Lake or Sumter counties, a private online viewing gallery, and 10 high-res images of your choice on CD
How to Enter: Email your name and a photo of whoever you’d like the session for to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 15th (A picture of you, you + significant other, your family, kid(s), a friend, etc. If they’ll be in the session they should be in the photo you send)
How to WIN: An album with each entry received will be posted on February 16th. At that time it’s your job to tell all of your friends to come check out Rhonda Elm Photography on Facebook and vote for your entry! They must ‘Like’ the Rhonda Elm Photography page as well as hit ‘Like’ on your entry! Voting will close at midnight February 29th, I will take the time to ensure all votes are valid before the winner is announced.
Rules & Regulations:
– Rhonda Elm Photography reserves the right to deem any entry received inappropriate, you will be notified if this is the case and given an opportunity to submit a new photo
– The photo submitted should not be the work of another professional photographer
– ‘Likes’ on photos will only be counted if the voter has hit ‘like’ on the Rhonda Elm Photography Facebook page.
– Only ‘likes’ on the actual photo in the album will be counted
– The winner of the free photo session must redeem by 3/31/2012
– The photo session is limited to 5 people.