At just 20 years old Emma Weiss is kicking ass already. Born in Baltimore, Emma is a full-time student at the University of Maryland and manages to run a flourishing photography business, mostly specialising in weddings. To be honest, I'm just gonna let you know; if you’re having one of those shitty days where you’re wondering where you’re at now that you’re 30, 35 or 40, then reading this interview with Emma might just make you feel a tiny bit worse. But persevere dear reader, persevere...
Do you have a morning routine?
"I usually get up pretty early, around 7am; I feel I’m more productive and get more stuff done in the morning. I usually wake up and workout right away. I feel like I have a better start to the day if I do that. I like to run, lift weights - I do yoga a lot - but it’s more about whatever I’m feeling that day. For me, working out is a hobby. I also love creating my post-workout breakfasts. I live in a dorm so I’ll use the microwave to make oatmeal or a sweet potato or maybe I'll just have a bagel."
It's at this point that I find out Emma's just 20 years old. I ask her how an average day looks...
"I'm studying full-time and living on campus - this is my second year at university and I have two more years to go. It really depends on my classes schedule. Sometimes I have a good amount of time before class, so I’ll use it to look at homework or answer work emails. Other times I’ll wake up, workout and go to class. Sometimes I think that’s better, because it won’t let me even get into business mode!
My class schedule is pretty much every other day. If I have a class at 6pm on a Thursday I’ll schedule in shoots during the day, or on Fridays I have one class at noon so I’ll schedule stuff before and after that."
So...how do you do it?
“To be honest, I’m tired - a lot! I’m pretty much constantly caffeinated (if you follow Emma on Instagram you’ll know the full extent of her coffee addiction.) but I’d rather work on my business and do shoots than work for someone else. Sometimes it’s hard to balance but I love doing both."
You’d think Emma would have help, but she doesn't. Which means she does it all; the emails, the photographs, the editing, the social...
So, do you have a social life?
"For myself, I take some time to do yoga every day, it helps to clear my head. On weekends, when things are more flexible, in between shoots, I’ll perhaps do some schoolwork with friends on campus."
When did this all start?
"About 10 years ago. I started with my dad’s point and shoot and would just take pictures of leaves! Then I started getting into blogging, which is very embarrassing – I was only 12. I met some people through that, and started doing portraits. I started doing more portrait stuff around five years ago. I never had any intention of actually doing this. I would do stock wedding photography, which I still do because they’re gorgeous. Once I realised that I wanted to buy my own camera I knew I wanted to get more serious with it."
What comes after graduation?
"I’d love to continue doing this, I really love it and love working for myself. I’m kinda looking forward to having some freedom once I graduate. It depends on whether I get into graphic design (Emma's currently studying a Studio Art major with a focus on Graphic Design) or do this full-time, although the two definitely work hand in hand."
Okay, so Emma's only 20, so I'm not really expecting any major failures here, but I still have to ask the question.
"I have personal failures, but when it comes to my business I have made tons of mistakes. They’re great learning mistakes – nothing that’s affected a client - they're usually more about how I could have done something differently. One time I accidentally double booked and I freaked out. Then I ended up losing both weddings and it was awful, and I was depressed for about a week. But I learned a lot from that. I love what I do so much, I never see it as being challenging at all. If anything, each mistake helps me in learning how to run my own business. I love, love, love shooting weddings. They get challenging once you’ve been there for eight hours on your feet, but other than that, I love all of it!"
When did you realise, 'I could really make some money from this'?
"The moment when people started asking me to do shoots, instead of me asking them. For a while I was working for free and then I realised, 'I should be getting paid for this'. Once I set up my first website, no matter how simple it was, that was when I knew this was a business."
What do your peers think?
"It can be a bit lonely, being an entrepreneur. All of my friends just have jobs that they go to and come back and don’t have to think about it. My parents are always saying that I’m doing too much. It’s a weird mix and it’s hard for people to relate unless they’ve been through it. But I have some friends who get it 100 percent."
Who or what inspires you?
"Ellie Berry (@elliebe_); she's a photographer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She’s always been one of my biggest inspirations. About four years ago when I was a sophomore, she did this photography workshop at her house and I think that was the catalyst for me; I learned so much about being myself and having a business. Ever since then she’s been a mentor and a really great friend. She chose not to go to college and lived with her parents for a while and she recently moved out by herself to Oklahoma. Just seeing her follow her own path of not being traditional, and showing that it’s okay to live at home and not to go to college has been amazing. She’s very successful and it’s very inspirational to watch someone chasing their dream."
If Emma ever gets time to relax…
"Usually I’ll be in a coffee shop. Even when I’m editing, it’s still relaxing to work from a coffee shop. A favourite place is The Bun Shop. That’s my relaxing place; it’s kinda dark inside yet very open. It’s very artsy and just great for relaxing and getting stuff done. If I really want to relax I’ll be watching Netflix in the basement with my family. I finished Game of Thrones a month ago and I’m kinda in withdrawal. Otherwise it’s all about Parks and Recreation and The Crown!"
When it comes to beauty, Emma’s more of a get up and go type.
"Sometimes I think about getting into makeup but I already spend all my money on food. I’ll put on mascara if I’m feeling special and maybe straighten my hair – but that’s about it."
You're stranded on a desert island and you can only take three things - what do you choose?
"Coffee: there’s no way I could survive without it – I’d have to have some form of comfort. My camera; it might be a beautiful location. I’m an introvert so I don’t mind being alone, but if I was by myself for days and days I think I could go crazy, so maybe the third thing would be a journal, so I could feel like I had some form of company."
Fave Instagram accounts?
"I love to follow fitness accounts. If I was less introverted and more comfortable with being in front of the camera I would probably be a fitness person in another life. They’re so inspirational and so real, so definitely @gofitjo – she’s incredible! (and I’ve been trying to get an interview with for months, so I hope you're reading this Joanne!). Also, @kal_fitlife is amazing – I’ve shot with her a couple of times. She’s just very real, and just really, really cool. Also @chinaealexander; she’s just a badass, sarcastic and funny, but also very real and open about her struggles.
On the photography side of things, @bensasso; he’s an amazing guy to follow. He’s been going through a bit of switch with his artistic vision. He used to shoot a lot of beautiful bright and airy client work, but lately he’s been pushing himself with new concepts and crazy angles and he’s really open about it. He always encourages questions and will reply to you. He’s great!"
Let's talk (a little) politics. I don't usually do politics here on the blog, but I had to ask Emma about the after-effects of Trump becoming president. I'm sat here in the UK, still pissed off about Brexit a year later, and Emma's in the US, just one month after Trump's inauguration (this interview took place in January). I tell Emma that I'm not assuming she isn't a Trump supporter, before asking her if anything changed in the days that followed Trump's rise to power.
"I am not a Trump supporter. Being so close to D.C., it's been really interesting. I'm still kind of in shock. I still can't believe what's happening. Without getting too political, I really miss Obama. I feel like we didn't know what we had until he left. The night Trump got elected I was on the phone with my parents because it was terrifying. It's so odd to me that people would vote that way. I'm a white, middle class college student so nothing has really changed for me in that aspect, but I've been thinking about doing some photography work on the after-effects. It's opened my eyes to see what I can do to tell peoples' stories. I want to use my work to tell those stories."
Emma spends most of her time in between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and as me and the man are equally enamoured with coffee shops, I thought I'd ask her to share her favourite spaces with me. Here are her must-do’s for Washington, D.C.
The National Gallery of Art: It’s my favourite museum ever, except for the Met in New York. They just opened the East Wing; it’s so beautiful, I could spend hours and hours there. There’s a ton of modern art and a really cool terrace outside.
The Renwick Gallery: This is a gorgeous, really cool mini gallery that opens for a couple of months and then closes to switch everything out. Last year I saw this amazing installation art there.
Vigilante Coffee: D.C.’s food and coffee game is on point, but if you ever come across Vigilante Coffee, it’s one of the best I’ve ever had.
The Coffee Bar: I love this place; it’s really cute, homey and just really, really good.
Amsterdam Falafel: so good.