Starting a business is not easy. Deciding when it’s time for a big change or evolution can be even more of a challenge. Leilani Banayat is a good friend of the studio’s (hint: she’s the creative behind our most recent brand photos!) and an incredible lifestyle and wedding photographer here in Portland and her year is off to a pretty big start.
After several years of running a photography and videography business with her husband, she is rebranding solo (don’t worry, there are no hard feelings). Leilani shares with us how she knew it was time for a change and how her entrepreneurial upbringing is foundational to her success.
Thank you so much for having me, I’m such a fan of this series!! My name is Leilani, I’m a digital and film wedding and lifestyle photographer based in Oregon and Northern California. I’ve been a part of the industry for about 5 years now and truly love what I do! It’s a dream. During my free time, I love to blog and share personal reflections and other creative endeavors.
I’ve been taking photos ever since I had a flip phone with a camera. From a young age, documenting was important to me, even though I didn’t understand my “why” behind it. I tried documenting any way I could: making digital photo albums on Facebook, scrapbooking with my mom, and keeping memory boxes every year. It became a sacred act of fostering gratitude, remembrance, and presence.
When I was in high school, my mom set out to become a photographer and I learned so much through observing her journey of shooting weddings and portraits. When she upgraded her gear a couple years in, she gifted me her first camera, a Canon Rebel XTi, and that’s where I learned to shoot manual for the first time. I was so intrigued by the entire process and loved being able to document my life exactly the way I saw it.
Fast forward to college in 2016, I met my now husband, Keanu. He was a film major and a photographer who introduced me to the magic of 35mm film photography. He let me play around with his Canon AE-1 and I learned how to understand camera settings and light in a way I hadn’t before. Being limited with how many photos you could take and not being able to look back at what was shot challenged my skills as a digital photographer and it grew a newfound love for film photography.
Once Keanu and I started dating, we decided to start our own business together, Viewfinder Collective, where we specialized in wedding photography and videography. I love that we didn’t begin when we had more experience or more resources—we worked with what we had and chose to not be dictated by fear. We ran it together for 5 years, and just this past month, we decided it was best to rebrand it to Leilani Banayat Photography since Keanu was ready to pursue other business endeavors. I’m excited for what’s next and I’m channeling that same fearlesses as I explore new territory with photography.
Entrepreneurship can totally be scary, isolating, and vulnerable. I’m lucky I have parents who are entrepreneurs, friends who work in the same industry, and I was able to step into my first business with my best friend. It makes it more manageable when you have a support system that you can learn from and who can encourage you to keep going when things get tough.
Keanu has had other dreams outside of our business and they are finally starting to take off, which left him a lot less time to be involved. When he stepped away, I no longer felt connected to our business name. It made me lose my vision and it caused a lot of confusion for clients, so we decided it would be best to rebrand the name altogether to better reflect the new vision and direction for the business.
So far, the transition has been awesome! I marketed the rebrand by getting a group of family and friends to help share on social media and celebrated with my community by offering a big discount throughout the month of February. It has helped build so much momentum and I am moving forward feeling extremely hopeful for what’s to come.
Honestly, I was struggling more trying to market myself solo under the Viewfinder Collective brand because initially, the vision of VC was two people (Keanu and I) and two services (photo and video) which represented the “Collective” word in the name. Now, being one person, I felt lost as far as direction and branding. There was a natural transition already happening with the business and I became less fearful once I committed myself to that change; everything began to make sense!
I was SO inspired after deciding to rebrand. Since I also love to blog, I am already comfortable being more public with my life and showing my face online. Plus, it was awesome that my blog was able to seamlessly merge with my photography under one website. My blog became a part of my photography business and vice versa. Branding under my name is helping me communicate to my audience what I holistically bring to the table. I’m able to show others that the person you’re hiring is not just into photography, she is passionate about a lot of other things and you get to see that when you work with me. Every part of who I am informs the foundation of my business and that’s why it feels so right.
This is a great question. There are a couple of things that come to mind. I describe my style as documentary, meaning that I approach it in a more photo journalistic way where I’m fabricating less and instead I’m more present and capturing the story that’s unraveling before me. I love to shoot small details throughout my sessions such as hands, heirlooms, embraces with loved ones, and so on that tell the bigger story of that client’s life. Secondly, I edit very simply and true to color, which really highlights the truest narrative of whatever I’m shooting. These are the biggest ways I would say I incorporate storytelling into my photography!
I am excited to offer studio shoots this year as well as more 35mm film shoots! In addition, I’m elevating my entire client experience to better reflect my passion for storytelling and hospitality. I’m so ready to share these new opportunities and details of LBP!
As I mentioned, my parents are business owners and have always told me their stories of how risk and failure have led them to their success today. As entrepreneurs, growth can’t come without some kind of risk and a whole lot of trial and error. And that would be the exact advice I would give to someone who is on the cusp of making that leap—it’s scary as hell, but it has the power to birth something incredibly beautiful and life changing.
Usually the answer correlates with fear of how others will perceive me or fear of failure. But honestly, life is TOO SHORT to worry about those things. I like to bring awareness to my thoughts whenever I can and challenge myself to stop believing that the worst is going to happen and to shift my mindset to believing that the best could happen. Positivity isn’t shallow, it’s a powerful tool. What if instead of failing, you succeed? What if your risk ends in the best case scenario? You’ll never know until you try. If you have the privilege to take an opportunity, do it!
MY MOM! She ignited this flame inside of me for photography and helped me grow any opportunity she could. I carry her spirit with me every time I go out and shoot. I can’t thank her enough for helping me unearth one of my biggest passions.
In addition, I am always inspired by the true community I have in this industry. My close friends Alanah and Charmaine are both phenomenal photographers who I find so much solidarity and support in. My wedding photographer-turned-friend Elisha is someone who inspires me as well. I look up to her work and strive to do business as genuinely as she does. And of course, I have to shout out my girl Rachel! She is such a dedicated and hard worker—I’m amazed at all she continues to accomplish. She is also a huge inspiration and encouragement in my life, I’m lucky to have a friend like her.
I love playing music when I’m editing! I’ve been listening to a lot of reggaeton these days to hype me up—I love the La Formula playlist on Apple Music. For those slower days, I’m usually playing jazz artists like John Coltrane or Stan Getz.
I’m just grateful to have been able to do this interview and share with other communities my “why” behind what I do. I’m looking forward to all that’s to come on this new journey.
You can keep up with all I’m doing on my Instagram @leilanibanayatphoto and my website leilanibanayat.com. You can also find my blog on my website if you’re interested in connecting with me in that way!
We hope you loved getting to know Leilani and hearing some of her story. We are so excited to see where this rebrand takes her. If you know someone who would be a good fit for this series, please email email@example.com! Want to be the first to know when a new interview goes live on the blog? Subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the know on all the studio happenings.