AUSTINTOWN — S.Grace Photography is using the COVID-19 pandemic to temporarily shift its business model from wedding photography and senior sessions to lifestyle portraits on clients' front porches.
These lifestyle portraits, or “porch sessions” as owner Sarah Mickler calls them, capture subjects in an environment that is individualized and holds special meaning for them.
“Everybody has their own unique porch and their own unique way of living,” Mickler said.
Mickler is a teacher at University Academy in Akron and is newly married to Alex Mickler, a nurse at Mercy Health’s St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.
The couple is originally from the Valley but recently moved back to Austintown after spending a brief period in Cleveland.
“Since I’m a teacher and I have extra time off, I was thinking, ‘OK, how can I get people to get their pictures in a safe way?’ So I came up with the porch sessions. I kind of like the lifestyle theme anyway, where people are in their own element and it's unique to them,” Mickler said.
S.Grace Photography started in 2015 and the name originates from Mickler’s first and middle name, Sarah Grace. Mickler said she has always had a passion for photography.
“I’ve always taken pictures, basically my whole life and all throughout high school. I took pictures of everything. I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she said. “Then somebody asked me if I would take pictures for their wedding and I was like, ‘Sure!’ So I just did it for free.”
According to Mickler, her professional photography career started with that wedding more than 10 years ago. Within five years of having her first camera, she officially started S.Grace Photography — with the help of a friend in graphic design — with a focus on weddings.
“I kind of fell into that. I just started doing more and more weddings every year and now I get pretty booked for the summer,” she said.
S.Grace Photography’s wedding clientele this summer has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, however.
"Most of [my weddings] are in August, so I think a lot are playing it by ear at this point and hoping for the best. I just tell them I'll work with them and we’ll figure out something. So it's definitely a crazy business right now. A lot of uncertainty,” Mickler said.
In the midst of the uncertainty, Mickler is putting her energy toward the porch sessions.
“I’m probably going to continue [porch sessions] for the rest of the summer because of the success that I've been getting,” she said. “I think that a lot of people just feel safer doing it that way knowing I'm a safe distance away, they are at home, they don't have to travel anywhere and I'm wearing a mask.”
Mickler said her favorite part of the porch sessions has been reconnecting with people from her past.
“My old guidance counselor from high school actually messaged me and I have not talked to her in, I don't even know how many years ... It was really nice to be able, like after the porch session, sit in her lawn and just talk to her for like an hour after that. So it's really nice to be able to reconnect with people that I haven't seen in a while,” she said.
The porch sessions are $65 for Mahoning County residents and interested parties can contact email@example.com for booking inquiries.
Mickler said it's her job as a photographer to be able to “change with the times” and that porch sessions are a way to stay relevant and encourage people to get their photos taken in a safe environment.
“It’s honestly been a really good experience,” she said.