I know, I know, I’ve been super slack lately and haven’t sent a blog out in months, but I promise this one will make up for the hiatus. Towards the end of last year I took some time to speak with a friend I’ve known for a loooong time. We went to high school together, so yeah, it’s been a while. We’re old now. Anyway, she is a super creative, highly talented individual so it didn’t surprise me at all when she started her own photography business, Oak Tree Road, in 2020.
Everyone, meet Millie…
For those familiar with these posts, you know the drill. For those who aren’t, I take some time each month to chat with a a fellow creative about their small businesses, other endeavours and their lives in general. Enjoy…
Hey Millie! Thanks so much for joining me for a quick chat. We’ve known each other for quite a while now so I’m familiar with you and your small business, but for the readers who don’t know you, would you mind letting us know a little about where you’re from, who you are, hobbies, likes/dislikes, what your business is – literally just one of those awkward “Hi, I’m Millie…” intros they make you do when you start a new job 😂 Aaaaand go!
Thanks so much for having me. Gosh I think it’s been, what, 16 years since we both started at Boonah High? I never thought I’d be the person to say “time flies” but here I am 😂
So yeah, I was born on the Gold Coast but moved to Boonah Shire when I was 12 and after graduating high school I moved to Brisbane to start studying photography at Southbank TAFE.
I initially loved the course but after 3 months found it to be extremely structured which wasn’t why I was there – I wanted to be really creative and artistic with my photography so I dropped out and started working a bit more with film and just doing hobby photography, basically.
I guess photography has always been my number one hobby (on par with knitting to be honest) but I didn’t pursue it professionally until around 18 months ago.
As far as likes and dislikes – pickles are my favourite snack food and I absolutely HATE raw onion with a passion.
Does that help? 😂
Hahahaha I know right?! The older you get, the more time flies (and I think I aged about 10 years just by uttering that phrase 😂). I always remember you as being super creative in school, so I’m not surprised you’ve turned your photography into a living. I love seeing old friends doing what they love 😊
So, before you started focusing on photography as your primary source of income, what else have you done in the past, and what was it that made you make the decision to pursue photography full time by launching Oak Tree Road?
Also, yes, raw onion – hate that shit.
Raw onion can suck a butt.
So when I was in Brisbane I worked in hospitality for a while, and then for 12 months I actually worked as a stripper.
It was great money and, to this day, is one of the best life experiences I’ve ever had.
There’s so much stigma about that kind of work that I’ve found myself opening up about it a lot in recent years. It was the first really creative/expressive job I had and I feel it had a big part in leading me to working creatively & expressively.
Then there was a pretty stark professional contrast; after a year in the club, I got a job as a mortician & funeral assistant, did that in Brisbane & Ipswich for around 6 months and then I got a job as a phlebotomist and stayed in that industry for 5 years, working as a phlebotomist and laboratory assistant.
My plan had been to re-enter the funeral/mortuary industry and train to become an embalmer, but the day I got my dream job interview I found out I was pregnant with my son, so I cancelled the interview.
I guess my journey was about life, not death, so I cancelled the interview and stayed with the Pathology company I was working for. It’s a good thing I did because I ended up suffering with severe hyperemesis gravidarum (pregnancy sickness) and vomited for 9 months.
That time really shaped me as a person and forced me to really think about my life as it was and the job I was doing.
I was investing so much time into something that my heart wasn’t in, and after I had my son I knew I couldn’t go back to the corporate world.
I had just created a life and I wanted to keep creating, but I didn’t know how.
A doctor colleague of mine had been bequeathed an assortment of vintage film cameras from a long-term patient of his who had died; I remember fawning over the cameras and telling him how lucky he was to receive such a gift.
6 months later, my colleague gifted them to me. I was blown away, and planned to pursue film photography again – but this was just before I found out I was pregnant and film photography is quite expensive.
So I put an ad up on Facebook marketplace wanting to trade for a digital camera and a lovely young man by the name of Ronan, who was in a different part of the country, asked if I wanted to swap for his old Nikon D80. I bought a secondhand 50mm lens and started playing.
What started as pictures of my son and fiancé turned into me thinking, “wow, I could charge money for photos like these”.
Love, love, love stories like yours! Honestly, you’ve had a life full of such a broad range of experiences and thank you for being so open about everything! I’m very much an advocate for people doing what they love regardless of any stigma or social views surrounding their choices (as long as they’re not hurting anybody, obvs).
I love how people-centric your life has been too. What would you say is one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from someone you’ve worked with so far? And how has it helped you in running your photography business?
Also, how is it juggling life, work and family now that you’re running a business? Any tips for other mums out there who are planning to start their own small business journey?
Thanks so much! You’ve always been a very open minded person, so thanks for giving me the space to be honest.
I really love the range of life experiences I’ve had, the jobs I’ve worked in and the people I’ve worked with. It’s all helped me so much.
I don’t know if there’s a specific person who’s taught me a lesson, but the people I learned the most from were my geriatric patients, especially the ones in nursing homes. I used to do home-visits when I was a phlebotomist and the biggest thing I learned when spending time with elderly people, was the value of connection to family, and the value of capturing the essence of that.
These beautiful old men and women would show me photos from their lives with such fondness, and it was so important to them.
I guess it taught me the value of connecting with people too; how to make someone feel calm or comfortable in a situation. That’s been an incredibly useful skill working as a photographer.
Honestly, and I really mean this; I wouldn’t have half the time or energy I have to run my business if I didn’t have the support of my fiancé. I am so lucky to have such a good man in my life.
We share parenting responsibilities fairly seamlessly, so there’s a good work/life balance for me.
I also do a lot of editing during nap time 😂
My best advice would be to take it slow; don’t take on too much work and be prepared to give up a big portion of your weekends and evenings.
My son doesn’t go to daycare so I have him full time during the day, but my partner takes over when he gets home and has him on weekends too, which is when I’ll do most of my work.
That makes so much sense. I can absolutely see that human connection throughout your photography.
Great advice too. I think even without a little one in the mix, that advice applies to most new business owners as well.
So, do you see yourself branching out into any other creative avenues in future, or do you think you’ll mainly focus on Oak Tree Road photography for the foreseeable future?
To be honest, I’d love to get into birth photography and branch out into becoming a doula & photographer all wrapped into one.
My midwife snapped a few pics of me giving birth and afterwards I thought how amazing it would be to be able to hire a doula who also offered professional photography of the most incredible moment of your life.
I had the incredible opportunity to photograph a birth last year and it really solidified that I would love to offer doula support alongside maternity/birth/newborn photography.
It’s such an incredibly sacred time and it’s something I’d love to spend a lot of time and energy investing into.
I feel like I’ve come full circle from wanting to work with death, to now wanting to photograph life.
Yesssss! I can absolutely see you moving into that kind of role.
It’s amazing how much we change over the years, isn’t it? It’s so nice to hear that you feel like you’ve come full circle. You sound super happy with where you’re at and I’m so bloody glad for you!
I think it might be about time to wrap things up, so I’ll finish up with a question that I tend to ask in every one of these blogs…
What are three things you wish you’d known about running a business before going into it?
Thanks so much, dude. I’m actually really happy within myself and with my life. Life has been such a trip for me. Even looking back at where I was 5 years ago in comparison to now absolutely blows my mind.
Haha, that’s a good question!
I wish I knew how to set better boundaries for myself, not taking on too much work in a short amount of time. I burned myself out at one point which wasn’t good, but I learned from it.
I wish I knew earlier on to get booking deposits and to get people to finish paying on the day of the shoot. I had one client not pay for her wedding photos for nearly 6 months and the time I invested getting her to actually pay still haunts me haha.
I also wish I knew how much I would love it; I always dreamed about it and thought it would be extremely hard. Sure, it’s not a walk in the park but it’s so incredibly rewarding.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for chatting with me! Your three ‘I wish I’d known’ points are very similar to my own! I think a lot of small business owners are faced with those things at least once in their journey so I’m glad to hear you voice them 😊
Now, the time has come for you to send us off with a bit of direction as to where we can find your work (website, IG, FB links, etc.) and who you think would make the perfect client for your services right now.
Thanks for having me Katie, I feel honoured to be on your blog!
Honestly, my perfect clients are just real people – real families – who want real photos to show off in 50 years time.
Love it! Thank you again for taking the time out to chat with me 😊🖤
If you’re looking for a seriously talented and down-to-earth photographer to capture your most precious moments, you can use any of the links below to check out millie’s various links/details and contact her directly through them.
☕ Coffee and tea are delish. Sponsor Millie’s next cup here: www.ko-fi.com/iscribecreative
If you have any questions at all for Millie that weren’t answered in this article, pop them in the comments and I’ll follow up with her for you 😊
Creative Corner will be back at the beginning of next month so follow the blog to stay in the loop!