Vitaliy and Candace Prokopets are the creative and spunky duo behind the wedding photography studio, Pictilio. I guarantee that working with them will generate lots of fun conversation and laughter, not to mention beautiful photos. They are a true pleasure to be around. I asked them to share a bit about themselves—from how they met to their future business plans—to inspire those of us who have started (or dream about starting) our own small business. Their story shows how determination, talent and lots of love inspired a creative business focused on the joys of marriage and life.
How did you two meet?
I sat diagonally across the table from Vitaliy in our college cafeteria when I overheard that he was from Ukraine. I yelled down the table informing him that I was Ukrainian too, but my St. Louis accent betrayed me. He dismissed me immediately but I'm not one to easily accept defeat. I picked up my tray and moved closer. We bantered back and forth, me trying to prove my Ukrainian blood and him trying to discredit it. With no proof in hand, I ended the conversation telling him I’d bring back evidence. “And when I do”, I said, with outstretched arms, “I want to feel the love!” I walked out of the cafeteria that day, but not out of his life. Neither one of us knew just how much love we’d soon have for each other.
When and how did Pictilio come to be?
Vitaliy and I launched our photography business in 2008 as Prokopets Studio. We started off photographing families, but soon found ourselves in other avenues of photography. In 2010, we attended the Identity Conference which changed everything. We discovered two things while there: our passion for marriage and our love for photographing weddings. We decided to build our business around these two things and relaunched our business as Pictilio at the beginning of 2012.
What has been the best part of working together as a married couple?
Vitaliy: Making out with my wife anytime of the day! Just kidding. I love getting to watch Candace use her God-given gifts and succeed. That brings me true joy.
Candace: I've most enjoyed seeing how God knit us so perfectly together. The gifts I possess are incredibly different from Vitaliy's. He loves photography and technology. I love writing and marketing. His photography skills paired with my business skills are the perfect match for a successful business.
What has been the most challenging?
Boundaries. Hands down! When you own your own business and you work together as husband and wife, it is so easy to have it consume your life. Whether it be working into family time or having business fill the conversation, any aspect of it can vie for your attention. We have to remember that we are husband and wife first and business partners second. We set and agree upon boundaries together and consistently check in with each other to make sure both of us are feeling good about our relationship.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
Vitaliy: I love the moment when everything comes together and you get "the shot". Knowing that you clicked the shutter at just the right moment with just the right expressions and just the right light is a good feeling. And to deliver those moments to the couple and see their reaction brings it all full circle and it leaves you feeling fulfilled as a photographer.
Candace: I enjoy helping to create a moment. When the camera comes out, it is hard for most people, myself included, to feel natural and comfortable in front of the camera. I like to be a part of creating a genuine moment with real emotion so our couples walk away feeling good about themselves when they see their photos and have fond memories of their experience with us.
What do you love most about being part of the wedding industry?
As a photographer, it's very easy to feel isolated. It's just the two of us each day. We don't have other employees, no company parties. But when the wedding day rolls around, you are part of a team of professionals all working together to create the best memories for a couple on their wedding day.
I recently discovered on social media that a wedding planner/designer I had the pleasure of meeting this past fall was flying to another state to surprise her clients in person with a mock up of their wedding bouquet. She had arranged it with the couple's wedding photographer to deliver the bouquet at their engagement session. I couldn't believe what I was reading. These two individuals, Rhi from Hey Gorgeous Events and Shalyn from Love The Nelsons, made the wedding industry even better with this collaboration surprise. They not only made this couple's wedding experience unforgettable, but they raised the bar for fellow wedding professionals like myself to likewise surprise my clients with unforgettable memories. It makes me honored to be a part of a community serving people in such meaningful ways.
How would you describe Pictilio's style?
There are different styles that photographers label themselves as, such as, "lifestyle" or "fine art" or "photojournalistic", but I'm always hesitant to give our work any of these labels. During the course of a wedding day, we can incorporate all three of these elements into how and what we shoot. Instead of shooting with a particular style in mind, we try to shoot with three words in mind: light, emotion and fun. We look for natural light that is both flattering on our clients and the image itself. We work to draw out true emotions from our clients. And lastly, we want our clients to walk away feeling like they had a lot of fun during their experience with us.
Your tagline is "in the business of making love"...can you explain what that means?
That is hilarious! And I can totally see why you would think that's our tagline. I guess in some ways, it's our website's tagline. I don't recall how we first came up with the idea. As the writer of the business, I'll claim it as my idea because I love playing with words. But I think it was our amazing web designer Peter Gurry of Gurry Design who featured it on our home page. The minute I saw the mock up, I knew it was perfect. Statistics say that you have roughly 3 seconds to capture the attention of a new visitor to your website. I knew this would do the trick! We then decided to incorporate it into our intro video.
What does it mean? It's kind of two fold. The literal meaning could be that we are in the business of making love because we are husband and wife after all. But that could get awkward for some people. So, the play on words is that we want to make love with the work and art that we produce. We want people to be more in love after their interaction with us whether in person or on our blog.
The real tagline for our business is "Your Love. In Focus." This too was a play on words. As photographers, our cameras will naturally "focus" on and capture a couple's love for each other. But also, at our core, we want to motivate couples to focus on their relationship leading up to the wedding day and long after.
What has been the most rewarding part of owning a small business?
Freedom! I feel truly blessed by the freedom to set my own schedule, do the kind of work I love, and vacation when I so desire. But it's also something that I aspire to steward well and not take advantage of.
What was the greatest challenge you faced during your first year in business?
We didn't have a clue what we were doing our first year. Thankfully, after five years of owning our own business, we've come to learn that this is all part of being a small business owner, especially a creative small business. There will always be new things to learn. If you want to continue growing, then you'll constantly be walking into unknown territories. You'll find that just when you conquer one area, you'll soon be stepping into a new unknown.
Can you share about a business risk you took since starting Pictilio? What came of it?
We've taken two big risks since starting our business. The first was completely rebranding and relaunching our business as Pictilio with a focus on weddings. When we did this, our business was comprised of 80% families and 20% weddings. It may have even been 90/10. We were basically going to start saying no to our main source of revenue and walk into the unknown of wedding photography. It was the best decision we ever made. We've never been more excited or more passionate about what we are doing with our business.
The second big risk was me quitting my office job at the end of 2012 to join Vitaliy doing the business full-time. It too, was the best decision. Our business has flourished with both of us working on it full-time and our quality of life has improved along with it. To finally be doing what you love full-time is so rewarding and brings with it so much joy. Which in turn, results in increased productivity.
What advice would you give to someone considering starting their own small business?
If you are serious about starting a small business, be ready to make serious sacrifices. To prepare for me quitting my day job, we had to downsize in order to drastically lower our monthly expenses. We now live and work in a 350 sq foot space. We still drive our 2001 Volvo that we've had for the past 7 years. And honestly, I couldn't be happier. It's not that I don't miss my two-bedroom condo. And there are days I allow myself to dream of having a new car. But we had to make the hard choice. Did we want the big condo and nice car, or did we want to be living out our dream? We chose to live a life of purpose and I'm thankful to God for the grace He gave us to make that decision. But it's something that requires continued observation because the temptation for stuff never goes away.
Where do you see Pictilio in five years?
That is a scary question to answer on paper because there is accountability when you say something out loud for others to read or hear. Right now, Pictilio is 90% focused on photographing weddings and about 10% focused on writing about marriage and relationships on our blog. Five years down the road I hope that the marriage and relationship portion of our business will be a higher percentage. I also hope that it won't just be writing that we'll be doing. I want to be leading, hosting, or teaching some kind of workshop, conference or gathering regarding marriage and relationships. My dream is that Pictilio will be a voice not only in the wedding industry, but out in the world, that marriage can work.