The funny thing about being a creative person is you’re rarely working on just one project. Stacy Keck is proof of that. The successful San Diego-based photographer has had her work published everywhere from Imbibe to Martha Stewart Weddings and if that weren’t enough to keep her busy, she and graphic designer Nic Roc recently opened You Belong Here, a work and event space in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood. Here, she explains how her grandmother inspired her to get into the field, why having a camera serves as an “all-access pass,” and the big mistake she—and many other creatives—have made along the way.
How did you develop your love for photography? And when did you know you wanted to elevate it from personal hobbies to professional endeavor?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed looking at photos. Growing up, my bedroom walls were plastered with photos cut out of magazines—mostly portraits of celebrities and musicians, and full-page ads from Rolling Stone. My grandma was also a huge influence; she was constantly snapping photos of our family. When she passed, she left behind 18 photo albums, meticulously organized and labeled.
I’ve always enjoyed capturing candid moments of my friends and travels. Working in PR after finishing college introduced me to editorial photography, and sparked an interest in creating work that would be featured in print. I started photographing arts and music events for a local lifestyle magazine and eventually left my day job when I landed a week-long gig in Las Vegas. That was over 8 years ago and I’ve been freelancing full-time ever since.
Do you have a favorite subject to photograph—weddings, food, landscapes?
Working with small businesses, lifestyle brands, and capturing intimate events is my jam. I really just like photographing interesting people in interesting places. Photography has been such an incredible tool for connecting with people whom I would not have otherwise ever crossed paths with.
Most glamorous part of being a photographer? Least glamorous?
The most glamorous is having a camera in your hand, a sort of all-access pass into just about any situation. It’s an excuse to be a fly on the wall in a room when I have no other reason to be there. It’s a tool to create whatever reality I want to make. It’s a tool to create more beauty in the world.
The least glamorous part is lugging gear around. It’s the worst—getting dressed up for a wedding or gala, and then having to roll a Pelican case around. All the administrative stuff that goes along with it (taxes, contracts, invoices, etc.) is a close second.
You also co-own a creative space called You Belong Here. What motivated you to open it?
I really just wanted a space where I could grow my photography business and connect with other creatives in the community. Working from home can be great but also very isolating. I wanted to create a space where people could share ideas and collaborate on projects, host art shows, do photo shoots, and play. It’s been incredible to see it evolve into so much more than just a photo studio or event space during the past several months. It’s become a place for marginalized people to come together and share their stories, be seen and heard, and connect with one another on a deeper level.
The You Belong Here design is simple, yet beautiful. What was your vision?
My business partner, Nic Roc, and I wanted to create a space that felt like home. We wanted it to be comfortable and have some personality. We wanted to break the rules, like painting colorful walls in a gallery space. (Gasp!) Because it functions as a collaborative work space during the day and an event space at night and on weekends, we also needed it to be a dynamic space that could accommodate a variety of uses. Most of our furniture can be folded up and put away, which is pretty cool.
What are some mistakes you made along the way in building your businesses, and what did you learn?
I believe that making mistakes is an integral part of growth in any form. One of the mistakes that I made, and that I often see other creatives making, is to undervalue my worth. Creatives often get taken advantage of because it’s assumed that since they love what they do, that they should give it away for free (or in exchange for exposure). Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but it’s important for artists to set boundaries and educate their potential clients about the value of their skills and talent.
The comparison game can be strong, particularly in this Instagram world. How do you stay focused and not let people in the same industry cloud your vision?
It’s really a matter of focusing on abundance. There’s enough work to go around, and we each have our own particular specialities. I have a rule that if I’m feeling not so great from looking at someone’s Instagram account, then I’ll just unfollow. Instagram can be incredibly inspiring if you’re following the right people.
What are your favorite career and business resources?
The Mastermind group that meets at YBH the first Friday of each month
Brunch Crunch business workshops at YBH
The Pretty Okay podcast with Julia Wheeler and Samantha Welker
Deepak & Oprah’s 21-day meditation challenge (they’re free and they release new ones a few times a year)
What are some tips you’d give any woman who wants to launch her own business?
Surround yourself with supportive people who encourage you to follow your dreams, work hard, and never give up.