Capturing the moment: Wanninger's photography business inspires

Refusing to look back, Heather Wanninger, owner of Sweet Lemonade Photography, was faced with a difficult situation and an even more difficult question when the former stay-at-home mother of three boys suddenly became a single mother.

"In 2011, my husband left me," Wanninger said. "I asked myself, 'What does our future look like now?'"

Divorce is a bitter pill to swallow, but Wanninger knew she had to move forward and provide for her family.

Recalling her delight in taking photos at a young age, the Tolono native remembers family photos of her sporting a camera around her neck.

Despite those memories, Wanninger said she would have never dreamed she would become a professional photographer.

"It was actually my friends that pushed me into this," she said.

Beginning her trade by wielding a camera in front of her children, Wanninger went from being an amateur photographer to producing stunning images for the Mahomet-area community.

Realizing her talent, Wanninger sent an email to her friends indicating that she was going to start charging people for her photos.

"It was the scariest thing," Wanninger said. "To get pushed out of your comfort zone is scary, but it can also be the most rewarding."

Shortly after, Wanninger decided to create a base for herself and rented a space in the Gray Chiropractic building's basement, 207 E. Oak St. Here her efforts became full-time and she began providing senior and executive portraits, family sessions and wedding photos.

"My photography business started when life gave me lemons," Wanninger said. "This has been the sweetest lemonade I could have ever imagined."

Wanninger partners with other photographers occasionally, such as with friend Kristin Darling. The pair photograph weddings under their business name Sweet Darlings Weddings.

The self-taught photographer said she spent countless hours watching YouTube videos and taking part in area workshops to hone her skills.

"It's been quite a learning curve," she added.

Taking another leap of faith, Wanninger moved to her new 106 E. Oak St. studio in January. Though the new studio provides a relaxed environment for her to greet clients, she notes the business side of the trade hasn't always taken precedence.

"Creatives, they don't go out searching for a business," she said. "They just start out by doing what they like."

Recently becoming the Mahomet Area Chamber of Commerce's official photographer, Wanninger is glad to see her business thrive.

Beyond the nature of the business, Wanninger credited the relationships she builds with clients who "become friends" as her favorite thing about being a photographer.

While she values each client session, the photographer said she especially enjoys working with high school seniors.

"I love to see their excitement for life; there's nothing going to hold them back (mentality); they're unstoppable," Wanninger said. "They have dreams and they're chasing them. It's fun to connect with them on a level beyond just taking pictures of them."

Wanninger treats each high school senior session as a way to uplift the student and showcase him or her as an individual. She realizes high school isn't necessarily easy for everyone, and bullying is often the culprit in a young man or woman's dealings and understandings of self-worth. Through her efforts, Wanninger hopes to utilize her lens to capture the essence of each youth.

"Taking pictures of them, there's so many of the girls that later on their parents or even themselves will tell me that they don't feel pretty. They don't have confidence in themselves," Wanninger said. "So when they can look at the pictures I've taken and I see that excitement and that confidence in them and they're like, 'Wow, that's me?'

"To me, that is such an extraordinary ability that I have because these girls and boys, they have such talent, they have such beauty inside and I want the pictures that I take of them to have them see what everybody else already sees," she added. "I want to be one more person that can be in their corner that can be a cheerleader for them, someone who believes in them."

Much of Wanninger's passions for youth to realize their self-worth stems from her personal inner dealings with self-esteem. Admitting that while she is an outgoing, optimistic person, Wanninger reiterates that professionals often experience self-doubt and may from time to time lack self-confidence.

"I want to focus on the good in life and all of the positives," she said. "I think sometimes they maybe don't realize that I have doubts within myself that's common that everybody has."

Finding the right angle and snapping the photo at just the right moment, Wanninger shared there is no other place she would rather be than behind the lens of her camera.

"That's my zone," she said. "It's my comfort place."

Behind the camera is where Wanninger's true talents unfold. Her No. 1 priority is to create lasting memories for families to share and enjoy "little connections" with one another during her sessions.

A November session stood out to Wanninger as a prime example of the importance of capturing tender moments between families. She had the opportunity to photograph a family of one of her senior clients who had a father who had been battling cancer.

"It was emotional for me," Wanninger said.

The family waited weeks for the father to feel well enough to hold a photo shoot. Now in remission and stronger than ever, Wanninger realizes the importance of this family photo shoot for the senior student.

"I kind of teared up even as I was taking the pictures, because I thought they might not have had these," she said. "At some point, I hope it's 40 or 50 years from now, but her parents are going to be gone and she's going to have these pictures."

Expressing the need to document the little moments, Wanninger encourages others to consider photo sessions or to push themselves to hop into photos in the here and now in an effort to create lasting memories.

"I always say as much as I don't want to be in front of the camera. Because I'm like, 'Oh I'm always overweight,' or I want to wait until this or that, but you know, don't wait because your kids are not going to see that," Wanninger said. "They're going to look at those pictures and they're going to see the love and the connection and that's really what I strive to get."

In an effort to expand her business, Wanninger will begin destination senior sessions where local seniors travel to a specific location or venue to capture the final moments of their high school careers. Wanninger said she will travel to Chicago and Nashville this spring and hopes to broaden these efforts. She looks forward to incorporating her love for travel and photography skills in this new experience.

"It's an exciting time to grow," she said. "These are good days and they just keep getting better. I started a business when I knew nothing and it's been an amazing ride. I'm excited to see where it takes me."

Wanninger's portraits range from $50 to $100 and photo session fees begin at $200. For more information about Sweet Lemonade Photography, visit sweetlemonadephotography.com.

The Mahomet Area Chamber of Commerce will celebrate Sweet Lemonade Photography's move to its new Oak Street location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 22.

Categories (4):News, Miscellaneous, People, Business

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