Laura Chaleby isn’t a native southerner. She grew up in Michigan where, she said, the Great Lakes help to offset the cold. She got a taste of the south seven years ago after her husband’s career as a chemical engineer brought them, and their daughter, to Danville. Speaking about her husband, Chaleby said, “What they say about opposites attracting is true—one of us is an intellect and the other is a creative.”
Her creative eye led to Chaleby starting Laura Mae Photography. But the road to becoming a photographer wasn’t a point A to point B path. She spent over a decade as a master’s prepared social worker before giving a career in photography a thought. “I decided it was time to take a break from serving children and families and stay at home with Evelyn. I knew I would never regret the time I had with her as a baby and small child.”
Chaleby’s love for photography stems from her childhood. “As is true for so many people, the things that interested me in childhood are the things that still captivate me as an adult. There are two things I loved and still do–horses and photography.” After the birth of her daughter, she focused on learning the ins-and-outs of a professional camera to capture special moments. “What is better than photos of the cutest baby you have ever seen? Local and on-line classes taught me the basics, and the more photos I took of her, the more I longed to photograph others,” Chaleby added.
Her love for horses matched the internal craving to catch a perfect moment on camera. Chaleby purchased her first horse while in her thirties. “What started off as taking pictures of family and friends slowly led to a professional, profitable business. I wish I could say the same of my money-eating horse.”
When not riding, Chaleby is capturing special memories for families through her creativity. “Considering my professional education, and the reasons why I began my photography career, it is easy to understand that I chose to specialize in family photography. My ‘why’ or what keeps me motivated, has been and will continue to be providing a meaningful service to families. I like to say, ‘My passion, your forever memories.’” She understands photos are more than just images. They are reminders of landmark moments in life.
Interacting with families and familiar faces brings immense joy to Chaleby. “If you are a people person, then you understand. I simply love meeting and getting to know you, even if you are a total stranger,” she added.
Chaleby is a creative at heart. “For me, creativity in photography means using my love for people to make them feel comfortable, finding the dreamy light, and combining the two together to capture those sought-after images,” she said. Making people feel at ease is just as much of a winning shot as is great light and the perfect location. “People remember the way a photograph makes them feel. So, I work with my camera and my heart to blend beauty with happiness.” It only takes one click for Chaleby to catch a great shot. She encourages families to enjoy themselves during a shoot. “With kids, I am not worried about the goofiness, running, and half listening. In fact, it’s often in those moments where we find the best smiles.” Her clients appreciate the effort she puts into her work and often refer to her as a magician.
Finding the perfect photo is always a quest for photographers. For Chaleby, it boils down to creating something that feels positive, brings back memories, and evokes a smile. “All the technical aspects of a photo are secondary to those things.” Gorgeous backlighting and crisp greens with people enjoying themselves are what she looks for aesthetically. “It is the artistic side of me that appreciates photos as genuine works of art.” Chaleby cherishes that she can create work that is meaningful to others.
“Any creative will tell you it is impossible not to produce ideas as inspiration comes fast and is free flowing,” Chaleby said. She uses theses ideas to grow her business. “Many of my business ideas come from listening to audio books and from other like-minded business owners who freely share their successes, as well as their failures.”
Being a mother and a full-time business owner can be taxing on time. “The reason I pursued photography instead of a 9-5 job was it enabled me to have a sense of self by working outside the home, yet still prioritizing my role as a mother.” As Chaleby’s business grows, juggling the two has been a challenge at times. “I work from home, so I feel constantly torn between office work and what to cook for dinner and the laundry piles. Although I have not found the perfect solution, I have learned to set boundaries. One useful boundary is to block off family or personal days on my calendar, ensuring I have some time to fill my cup. If you need me, I’ll be at the barn.” She added, having a “supportive spouse and a rock-star babysitter,” is invaluable.
Chaleby hopes people remember her work by treasuring the memories she helped them to capture. “When I look at photos taken of my daughter as a baby I am taken back to those days and all the little things that I often don’t naturally think about—such as her squishy little wrists or the way she wobbled when she was learning to walk. I hope the same for anyone who I have had the privilege of working for and call friends.”