BEHIND THE LENS: Angela Shoemaker
ARTICLE BY STARLA GATSON and PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
Perhaps you know the recently-wed Shoemaker by her maiden name, Groce, and the business she owns and operates called Unveiled Radiance. This year marks her tenth as a business owner and photographer, a milestone she herself can’t believe she’s celebrating.
WHEN ANGELA SHOEMAKER first arrived on Louisiana Tech’s campus, she was sure the journalism degree she was working toward would be her ticket into the world of sports broadcasting. She would stand on the sidelines with a microphone in hand and a camera fixed squarely on her as she scored exclusive interviews with your favorite team’s coaches and players. But after she made her way across the Thomas Assembly Center stage to shake the university president’s hand and receive her diploma in 2010, some of that certainty had begun to fade. “After college, you’re kind of in that whole headspace of like, ‘Maybe I want to change my mind. I don’t know now,’” she explains.
So, rather than race to put her initial career plans into action, Shoemaker returned to West Monroe, the city she’s called home since kindergarten, and accepted a job at State Farm — a position she wasn’t passionate about — while she weighed her options for what would come next.
Fast forward to the present day, when her occupational uncertainty is gone, and Shoemaker is totally convinced her photography career is the path she is supposed to be on. Perhaps you know the recently-wed Shoemaker by her maiden name, Groce, and the business she owns and operates called Unveiled Radiance. This year marks her tenth as a business owner and photographer, a milestone she herself can’t believe she’s celebrating. And though her stream of clients has been consistent since the beginning, Shoemaker admits she never imagined being where she is.
Shoemaker’s photography career began when Jamal Miller, a good friend of hers, asked if she was willing to photograph his best friend’s wedding. “I had shot pictures at Tech of friends for senior pictures and families at church here and there but never thought about it as a career at all,” she says. “I was like, ‘People actually do that as like, a real job? I thought that was just for fun.’”
Despite having no professional photography experience, Shoemaker accepted her friend’s invitation and, after consulting YouTube, Google, and Pinterest, shot her first wedding in October 2011 and fell in love with the job. “I was able to kind of portray this beautiful thing that was someone getting married, and it was literally frozen in time for the rest of eternity; I thought that was the coolest thing ever,” she says before adding with a laugh, “Also, I really liked telling people what to do and being in charge.”
THEN, THE RECENT GRADUATE was left to wonder if professional photography was a path she could pursue. So, she prayed. “I was like, ‘Alright, Lord, if this is what I’m supposed to do, I just need like 15 weddings next year to know that I can pay my bills,’” she recalls. Her prayer was answered quickly; in November, the aspiring photographer shot her second wedding, and by the time January rolled around, she had booked 12 ceremonies for the upcoming year. So, it was decided: Angela Shoemaker was going to be a professional photographer.
The worlds of sports broadcasting and photography are very different on the surface, but Shoemaker believes the two are more similar than you might realize, and the jump from one passion to the other isn’t as drastic as it sounds. Considering the environment in which she grew up, pursuing sports broadcasting just made sense. “My dad and I were always watching sports, always going to sporting events, and I played sports,” she explains. “That was what drew me into doing broadcasting; I just loved that aspect of getting to be in the excitement of it all.”
With photography, on the other hand, she’s still part of the action and excitement, only instead of chasing a famous quarterback down for a quote after an awesome game, she’s using a camera to document the major events of a client’s life. Both jobs focus on storytelling, she says, which is one of the things that led her to journalism in the first place. “I realized I’m able to still tell those stories, but just in a different aspect,” she says. “It’s still through my vision and viewpoint.”
Her images, some of which can be seen on her Instagram profile @unveiledradiance or website www.unveiledradiancephotography.com, have kept business booming for the West Monroe resident, with her sometimes shooting up to 30 weddings a year. Even with the busy weekends filled with shoots and weekdays packed with editing and booking, Shoemaker loves what she does — “Ten years, and I haven’t hated it yet!” she exclaims — not just because she loves looking at the world through the lens of her camera, but because of the bonds she’s built along the way.
She and her community of local photographers, for example, lean on one another, and having their support goes a long way. “You’re like, ‘OK, there are good humans in the world that want you to succeed and do well,’ and they’re also in your world, so it’s nice to have that, too,” she says of her friendships with other people within her field.
It isn’t just the support from fellow photographers that make her job worthwhile, however. The friendships Shoemaker shares with her clients play a significant role in making her love what she does. In fact, those client connections are her favorite part of the job. “You get to make relationships with all these couples,” she says. “You get to shoot their weddings, but then after that, you’re shooting their families, their births, their kids, and so on and so on, and then you get to shoot their sister or brother’s wedding. You really become family with them. They invite you into their home and all their big moments after that.”
Fortunately for her, capturing those special moments is exactly what Shoemaker had in mind when she named her business as a recent college graduate years ago. The name Unveiled Radiance is a nod to 2 Corinthians 3:18, Shoemaker explains, which is a passage of the Bible that references humanity being seen in the light and radiance of Jesus Christ. And that — snapping images of people in both light and radiance — was exactly what she set out to do. “When I read that verse, I was like, ‘That’s it.’ That’s exactly what I want to portray, letting people be seen in their best light, and my faith being an important part of that and letting the Lord just kind of lead me where I was going to go with my camera.”
Though she often finds herself capturing her clients in their best light during senior and family sessions, weddings make up the majority of Shoemaker’s work, and for good reason: because “wedding cake is awesome,” she says, laughing. Then, she goes on, “I think I just love weddings because you’re able to give someone a lifetime of memories. Not that I don’t love seniors or families, but I really just love love, and I love being able to document that for them to look back on.” Plus, she adds, each wedding is different, and being part of each unique ceremony is another pull to the job.
The unique ceremonies of which she speaks have led Shoemaker to destinations like Switzerland and Ireland, where her photos have been used to promote tourism in each country, respectively. “The travel part was also a huge pull, getting to go to all of these amazing places and getting to shoot them and shoot people in them, and that’s been more than I thought was going to happen.”
It’s clear that Unveiled Radiance has come a long way since its establishment. Shoemaker’s small beginnings as an uncertain college graduate who decided to try something new have blossomed into something much larger than she thought it would be, and she attributes her success to her willingness to go all-in from the very start.
“Sometimes, you just have to jump off that cliff, and even though it seems really scary, it’s so worth it,” she advises. “Even if it doesn’t work out or if it fails, you tried. You dreamed big and you gave it your all. I could’ve easily been working at State Farm or doing something else, but I really did give my all to it. If you work hard and put in the effort, and you do things with integrity and excellence and you’re kind to people and show grace, I think that brings you a lot in life.”
And one more piece of wisdom she offers: be authentic. “I think that’s what people are drawn to with Unveiled Radiance,” she muses. “I’m just going to be me and I’m going to have fun and bring joy and be ridiculously goofy and help them know I want them to have the very best days and sessions and moments with their families and people.”
Though she is grateful to be where she is in her career, Shoemaker hopes her hard work and dedication continue to bring new things into her life, specifically a wedding venue of her own to operate in the future. But for now, she mostly hopes to make time for the things that inspire her creativity, and she encourages other creatives to do the same.
“Burnout is definitely a real thing,” she says. “It definitely happens with creatives because I feel like you’re giving so much not just emotionally and mentally, but physically, too. I think it’s healthy to give yourself outlets of keeping yourself inspired.” Her outlets include spending time with her friends and family, including her new husband, who she met while shooting a wedding, by the way. “They encourage me all the time to do my gift, but they also don’t see me as just a photographer. That’s a healthy thing for me to know I don’t have to just be ‘photographer Angela.’ I can just be Angela with them.”
She says she also draws inspiration from traveling and looking at other artists’ work and adds, “Anything that gives you new ideas and new elements to your work and your craft is always good.”
And speaking of her work and her craft, of course, Shoemaker’s future plans include continuing to take photos and establish connections with people. She loves her job and at this point, can’t imagine her life without a camera in hand, she says. “I really, really enjoy going to work every day, and I wanted that aspect of it being a joyful thing I was getting to experience, not something I dreaded going to every day,” she explains of Unveiled Radiance. “I know not everybody has that luxury, but I just felt like the Lord really opened up that door, that it was going to be a place where I could use my gift and really have fun doing it.”