Keeping It Real with Shawnee Custalow of A Lovely Photo

Shawnee Custalow with caption: Keeping it real with a lovely photo

Happy Wednesday, y'all! Today we want to introduce our amazing sponsor, Shawnee Custalow of A Lovely Photo! She has been a strong supporter of Catalyst since the beginning. She also attended {un}convention Brooklyn, helped us to organize the Out of the Box Challenge, and has photographed some of our favorite #PhotoFriday posts to date (like this one and this one).

Shawnee took some time to give us a behind the scenes look into her photography business and share how she is disrupting the wedding industry by focusing on inclusivity.

What is the mission of A Lovely Photo?

A Lovely Photo is focused on capturing the most authentic and all-around awesome photos of you life, love, and celebrations. I am especially passionate about photographing LQBTQIA+ weddings that don’t fall into the societal “norms” of what a traditional wedding should (doesn’t need) to be. A Lovely Photo aims to work with couples that are blazing their own path when it comes to celebrating their love, and opting to focus more on the connection they share between themselves and their community. 

A Lovely Photo Wedding Photography kiss

What is A Lovely Photo's origin story?  

When I was first starting out it was disheartening to not see anyone like myself represented in the most prevalent wedding publications and blogs.

I’ve always been drawn to photographing people, and the emotion and energy that resonates in the space around them. I first found the magic of photography in a high school darkroom class, and quickly dove into learning everything I could about photography (much to the dismay of my other studies). In my teenage years I was constantly carrying around my Grandfather’s Pentax K1000, and felt most grounded and connected to the world around me when I was viewing it through the lens of that camera. I went on to attend both a community college and VCU for photography, and since then have found my niche in the world of wedding photography, and a passion for documenting others' lives and celebrations of love.

A Lovely Photo Wedding Photography woman smiling
A Lovely Photo Wedding Photography embrace on train tracks

What is one of your favorite projects you've ever worked on?

Each wedding is a new adventure, and always challenges me in surprising ways that I wasn’t expecting. It is a constant learning process and keeps me on my creative toes. 

My favorite project that I created while in college was a series of portraits created in the alleyways of Richmond. I have always been drawn to the stories of alleyways; where discarded items and furniture are entangled in overgrown weeds, and abandoned buildings are adorned in spray paint. I love the juxtaposition of old and new. It is a beautiful yet chaotic mess. I’ve recently been thinking that I want to continue this series. 

A Lovely Photo Wedding Photography couple among cherry blossoms
A Lovely Photo Wedding Photography shawnee taking photo of couple

How are you a "wedding space disrupter”?

When I was first starting out it was disheartening to not see anyone like myself represented in the most prevalent wedding publications and blogs. As a queer woman, I understand the worry of relaxing and interacting with your partner in a genuine way in front of someone who will never truly understand the hesitations we deal with every day to just be ourselves. I knew that I wanted to be a resource for the queer community, and create a comfortable and safe space in front of my camera. I want my couples to feel as relaxed as possible being photographed, and will never ask them to pose or act in a way that doesn’t reflect their gender identity, how they present themselves, or makes them feel awkward or out of place. I want them to look back on their photos years from now and relive a wonderful feeling of love and connection, while knowing they were uncompromisingly being themselves. 

A Lovely Photo Wedding Photography couple with wedding party in background

What three ingredients are necessary for a great day at A Lovely Photo?

1. Coffee and a long morning walk with my dog Sadie-Sue (bonus points if its sunny and 75 degrees!).

2. Music that makes me smile and dance around the office, or a podcast that makes me think while editing photos (I’m super into the “Stuff Mom Never Told You” podcast right now).

3. A home-cooked meal with my partner for dinner, followed by laughter and snuggles as we drift off to sleep.

A Lovely Photo Wedding Photography kiss in field

What are some traits of your ideal client?

My ideal client is looking for a photographer that is going to authentically capture their wedding day, and is more interested in real moments and emotions than silly poses and canned detail shots. My ideal client, really gives a damn about their photos, and want to make time during their day to create some gorgeous portraits of themselves. They dismiss outdated ideas that don’t resonate with them personally, and instead create their own new traditions. They are down-to-earth, embrace feminist ideals, and really, really love each other and can’t wait to shout if from the rooftops. They want a photographer who will really get to know them, and feel like a new friend by the end of everything, rather than the hired help.

A Lovely Photo Wedding Photography nuzzle

Shawnee Custalow of a lovely photo


Shawnee is a queer southern feminist who hangs out in Richmond, VA and loves traveling the world with her partner and their friends. She owns A Lovely Photo and opts to get to really know her clients, so that she is able to create the most authentic and heartfelt moments possible. 

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