Communication Connection

Friends of Com Newsletter

Alumni News

Pressure Player Picture Taker

Monday, December 21, 2015

How one UNCW student uses his competitive edge to succeed in wedding photography

By Adam Ballhaussen

Not every student starts a business doing exactly what he loves immediately after graduating. Blake Cissel, however, is no average student. Cissel started and now runs a successful photography business in Raleigh with his fiancé, Stephanie. The company’s name is Foxtail Photography and they specialize in weddings, engagements, and portraiture.

Cissel became interested in photography after his eighth grade year in middle school. He bought a Canon Rebel XTi (an entry level DSLR) with the money he got from making good grades. He then continued to pursue photography by joining the yearbook team at his high school and becoming the photo editor. “At this point in time I still hadn’t gotten much into portraiture, but it was nice to take photography a step farther than simply going out in my back yard and taking pictures of birds,” stated Cissel. “It wasn’t until I got to college that I truly found a passion for photography and began to develop my own style.” Cissel started shooting more on his own and then began shooting weddings and engagements with Zack Hamby of Zack Hamby Photography. This is where he realized how much he enjoyed shooting events that put him under pressure.

Upon graduating from UNCW with an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies in the Spring of 2015, Cissel moved back home to Raleigh to start Foxtail. “After I realized that I had reached the cap of my potential with photography in Wilmington,” Cissel said, “I decided to move back home and try to make it with my own business. I learned a lot shooting with Zack Hamby in Wilmington, but shooting for a company under someone else’s name could only take me so far. I wanted to set my own pace and see how far it could take me.”

Cissel discussed how some of the key courses of his COM degree prepared him for client meetings. “Being a COM major at UNCW forced me to take a lot of performance-based classes,” said Cissel. “These classes taught me a number of valuable lessons that I still use to this day. I really enjoyed the pressure that performance days put on me. I would be nervous no doubt, but I enjoyed having to overcome the pressure and perform. Wedding photography is the same way. I am put under pressure and have to make sure I perform. I only get one chance to capture each moment.”

He compared the client meetings to actual performances he did in classes like storytelling. “In a sense,” Cissel began, “pitching to my clients is much like putting on a performance. No, I’m not pretending to be another person, but sitting in Jubala across the table from a bride and her mother, I have to sell the idea that I am confident and capable to deliver for them and that I will be able to capture potentially the most important day in the girl’s life. So in that sense, I put on a performance every time I meet with a client.”

There is always fear in starting or trying something new. Cissel’s greatest fear in starting Foxtail was the uncertainty that lay ahead in a creative field. Most of Cissel’s relatives and closest friends work in fields that have fairly high job security. Photography, however, is not the most secure job in the world. At first, Cissel had a very hard time looking 30 years down the road and seeing himself still creating great original content and providing for his family through photography, but now he said he can see it and would absolutely love for it to happen.

Of any degree Cissel could have pursued, he is thankful he chose communication studies. He knows that it best-suited his needs and that it helps him run his business every day. He is thankful he chose UNCW because it led him to his fiancé and gave him an opportunity to pursue what he loves to do. Without the COM department, Cissel does not think he would have been able to start the business that he runs today. Cissel’s fiancé, Stephanie, was a marketing and communication studies double major, which Cissel says really helps the company. “Steph’s experience in business has really helped me in understanding some aspects of business that I would not have known without her. I’m glad she has her business degree as well,” Cissel said.

Cissel and Steph are excited to see what lies ahead as they continue to run Foxtail photography and they look forward to their wedding next fall. They are both extremely grateful for their experiences in the COM department and are two of the thousands of excellent examples of students putting their UNCW communications degrees to good use.