In high school, Ariel Perry wanted to take a photography elective but couldn’t fit it in because of her graduation tract. So her first semester at Temple University, she enrolled in Photography. “And my teacher was an asshole,” she grinned. After their first class critique, he point blank told her, “I don’t think it’s for you.”
The comment was hurtful, and she never took another photography class. Instead, she planned to major in film, but found she didn’t really like the industry after an internship in Los Angeles. She graduated with a communications degree and no clear view of a career.
So Ari decided to join some family in Charlotte and took a job at Portrait Innovations. “You didn’t need any training in photography. They would hire anyone,” she remembers. She hated the job, however, and they let her go after only a few months, even though she was their top earner.
After that, she worked for Teddy Bear Portraits which specializes in photos for daycares, preschools, and Montessori schools. It was not a great job, but she did earn some confidence behind the lens. One school requested an outdoor photoshoot, and no one else wanted to do it. Though she had no training–“I had no idea what I was doing”–parents raved about how incredible the photos were. “And that’s what lit the spark.”
Ari started taking classes at The Light Factory and went to workshops and shoot-outs with top photographers around the country. She made photographer friends and constantly practiced with her family and friends. With prompting from her father, an entrepreneur who owns his own law firm, she opened her own business: Ariel Perry Photography.
One friend suggested she research professional photographers to find out what kind of work she is most drawn to. She kept coming back to senior pictures. She remembers being a high school senior lacking confidence and kept thinking that having some knock-out quality portraits like she was seeing would have changed her personal outlook at that time in her life. It’s now her goal to empower young men and women through photography. “They can be whoever they want to be; they can be themselves just amplified,” Ari explains.
Ariel Perry Photography’s business model is to be a one-stop shop for senior portraits, including hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Ari also does headshots and branding, family portraits, engagements, and other photo sessions, but her main focus is on senior portraits.
New clients start with an in-person consultation where they discuss the looks they want and decide on whether to use their own clothes or a boutique. She currently uses Five13 Studio or Jade Sky for wardrobe, though many seniors prefer to shop their own closets. The session fee covers hair and makeup and the shoot. Finally, the pictures are revealed on a big screen TV in her studio.
She partners often with stylist Alyssa Green of Artistry by Alyssa. Four years ago, they had a blind collaboration and were both impressed enough by the other’s work that they arranged to meet. Hitting it off instantly, they’ve been working together ever since.
In addition to being a talented photographer, Ari has an eye for networking. Alyssa is just one example. “She just exudes a sense of community. Meeting her was a blessing,” Alyssa told me. Ari works regularly with videographer Aaron Dorn-Long. She also ran into Marissa Willinsky on a photo shoot, and they later discovered their shops were almost right next door to each other. Now Jade Sky provides wardrobe for some of Ari’s clients, and Ari does several of Jade Sky’s modeling shoots. Through other connections and word of mouth, Ari annually covers the Charlotte Hornets’ Christmas party and is Michael Jordan’s daughter go-to photographer.
Many of her photoshoots use the varied textures and colors of NoDa as the backdrop. She often works with Popbar, as who wouldn’t want to pose with a delicious prop? Still, the most amazing service she offers is a destination photoshoot. She and another photographer took two girls and two stylists to London and Rome a few years ago. The resulting portraits are magazine amazing. She’s also taken clients to New York City and Charleston. “I’m thinking about Greece now,” she says, and I am in awe of her genius.
Needless to say, Ari loves to travel and has currently expanded her senior portraits to Chattanooga, TN, where her brother lives. She books all her appointments in one week every month or two. She has other clients in her home town of Durham, NC.
Find Ari at 3574 North Davidson Street in the Renaissance or see her work on Instagram.