Anna Zajac’s live/work studio is truly an extension of her personality—cozy, welcoming, and artistic. The talented photographer, who specializes in capturing weddings, relocated from Ohio to pursue her photography and design career and hasn’t looked back. At the age of 24, Anna has already started her own successful freelance photography business. When she isn’t shooting or designing, she loves to spend time in her Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago, tending to her plants, and trying out new breakfast spots. Read on to find out more about Anna’s unique home and her design process.
Name: Anna Zajac
Current job/company: Freelance photographer and designer
Education: Kent State University
When did you first know you wanted to be a photographer?
I picked up an SLR camera when I was 16 and never thought I would become a professional photographer. I loved making photographs of people and started shooting weddings in college by accident. The first wedding I ever did as a freshmen in college really opened my eyes to this whole other side of me that came alive. I decided that I wanted to pursue photography seriously so I began working for a professional photographer in the area and taking every opportunity I could to learn and grow in the business. A lot of hustling to say the least!
Tell us about your college experience. What did you study and how has that shaped your career?
I originally started out in art education and when I looked into switching majors I learned that Kent State University didn’t offer photography, so I studied graphic design and minored in photo journalism with the intention that these things would support me as a business owner moving forward. Having graphic design as a background has given my business a visual edge that a lot of businesses don’t naturally have. I have also saved a lot of money doing my own branding, website and collateral creation.
Why did you decide to follow a design job and move to Chicago after years of pursuing wedding photography?
After pursuing wedding photography for a couple of years, I became lazy and got stuck in a rut with my business. My heart wasn’t in the work that I was making anymore and it was clear that I was taking my established business for granted. This season really messed with me and I decided that I wanted to pursue a graphic design job and take a break from photography for a while. I submitted my design portfolio to a bunch of places and landed an internship at a branding and marketing agency called VSA Partners. To work at VSA meant that I had to move from Ohio to Chicago! I had never visited Chicago before, but accepted the internship anyways knowing that it would be a huge risk and adventure.
Taking that risk and moving to Chicago for the design internship, which turned into a full-time job, was one of the best things to ever happen to me. At VSA I worked with some of the most creative people I have ever met. Their standards for detail and design blew me away, but after 6 months of working my 9-5 job I realized how much of a gift my photography business was to me. I missed doing photo work and decided to do some side projects for fun.
Doing those side projects ended up bringing me paid photo work and when that happened I realized that pursuing photography was something I must do again full-time. I set a 1 year timeline for myself and worked like crazy to book enough work in order to leave my full-time job at VSA. It was a crazy year filled with unglamorous hard work, late nights and following through with all of those tiny business details. After a solid year of working like a crazy woman, I was thrilled to be on track with leaving my full-time job as a designer. That was about 3 months ago! At 24 years old, I know that I’m still really young and I feel so thankful to be chasing this creative work! The past year has been all about “living into” the dreams and passions that are so much a part of who I am.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to transition from their full-time job to independent work?
1. Embrace the hustle and witness the dreams becoming reality.
Working a full time job and doing a side hustle is a crazy amount of work but SO worth it. Set deadlines for yourself. Share your goals with others to give yourself accountability. Open a business bank account and start saving money! So many people talk about doing great things, but the truth is that 90% of those people aren’t willing to sacrifice what it takes to allow for their dreams to become reality. I’m always shocked when I meet girls who want to be a “wedding photographer” but they haven’t even started saving money to invest in their camera equipment yet. You’ve got to walk before you can run. In my experience, paying attention to all those unglamorous little details is what owning a business is all about. Sure there are a lot of rewarding moments being a business owner, but most of what I do is just self-motivated hard word and being creative with my time, money and resources.
2. Be professional. Celebrate those small wins.
Take every job seriously no matter how small or “cool.” My best learning has always come from photo jobs that were awkward or left me feeling unprofessional. And when things go well, I’ve learned to celebrate and treasure those small wins even if that means singing out loud in my apartment and saying some thankful prayers. I’ve recently gotten to work with a Chicago start up to create an image library for their website. It was my first time working with a start up, and it went super well. At the same time though, I know my background in design and my previous experiences working with wedding clients really helped me handle everything professionally and smoothly. Every job moves you forward to the next if you have the right mindset about it.
3. Show up, show up, show up! Keep making honest work.
Nobody is going to know what you do unless you decide to do it and share it with the world! Be less concerned with how many people are seeing your work and be more concerned with how honest it is and how it moves you forward towards your goals. I think we all go through awkward periods of making things and we all go through seasons of taking our gifts and our business for granted. Those seasons are ok and necessary, but don’t stay in those places forever and quit! It is such a gift to create and collaborate and share your talents / ideas with others – let that point of view drive you and the work you produce.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I start my day by making coffee and then walking around my neighborhood with it. I work from home so it’s really good for me to wake up, get dressed and get out of my apartment for a bit. It’s almost like a fake commute. Then I come back to the studio and work at my desk. It can be hard to separate my work from my life since I work from home so I always try to have evening plans to get out for a bit even if it’s just running errands.
Tell us a bit about your neighborhood.
Lincoln Square, Chicago is pretty quiet and full of families, but I love it’s quaint neighborhood vibes and breakfast places. I’m a big fan of the “underdog” and Lincoln Square is definitely one of those hidden gems.
What was your apartment hunt like? How did you decide on this space?
I found my place on Craigslist in the middle of Chicago’s Polar vortex 2 years ago- memorable to say the least1 When I walked into the studio for the first time I just knew that it was the one- as cheesy as that sounds. The building I live in is old which gives my apartment some naturally great character – I love that it still has the original clawfoot bathtub in the bathroom and exposed sink in the kitchen. My closet is huge and so large that I keep my full-size bed in there! Having my bed in the closet makes my studio feel like a true one bedroom apartment. In the summer, I use my sofa bed to sleep on because of the great light, plus it stays a little cooler than my closet. It’s a little weird, but it works!
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
My personal decorating style is a mix of classic vintage and timeless newer pieces that still feel old. I love pairing darker masculine colors (like my charcoal and navy painted walls) to offset my more feminine possessions. I think that creates a really good vibe for me when I’m at home too.
Did you decorate on a budget? What are some of your favorite go to stores for furniture and decor?
Yes! Most of what I own is from garage sales around Ohio. I think there’s something so rewarding about curating unique pieces instead of buying everything entirely new. If I do purchase new things I love going to West Elm or small shops around Chicago like Fleur or Gather Home & Lifestyle.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What an open ended question! Hospitality is my second gift and I want to use that more in the future with my creative and entrepreneurial background. Right now I host my place on Airbnb when I travel and absolutely love it! To be honest, I can see myself owning a bed and breakfast and still shooting weddings 5 years from now. I’d also just love to be a mama and run my business while doing that! Oh the beauty of the unknown…
Anna Zajac is The Everygirl…
Favorite way to begin the day?
Watering my plants and a morning walk.
Spending the whole fall season in Barcelona, Spain.
Anything from Madewell. Swoon!
If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I’ve been a fan of Olivia Rae Jame’s work for a while—she’s a wedding photographer living in Charleston and I think she is a total entrepreneur babe! If she was in Chicago, we’d go to The Publican and order cocktails and oysters and talk about being lady bosses.
Plants, Gethsemane Garden Center
Lamp, garage sale
Coffee Table, MegMade
Pillows: Target, TJ Max
Blanket: West Elm
Coffee table bowl: Mish Mosh Paper & Clay
Desk, Maker & Meadow
Wall Art, The Social Dept, Oakland Illustrated, Blockshop Textiles and Target for the frames
Chair, The Bomb Shelter
Berry Bowl, Anthropologie
Bedroom (in the closet, not pictured)
Bed frame, garage sale
Bedding, TJ Max
Letter box, Thrifted
Red Chairs, Target
Table, garage sale
Red bench, Ikea
Hanging cheeseboard: Mish Mosh Paper & Clay
Berry Bowl, Anthropologie
Marble slab, Crate and Barrel
Art, Tiffany Wong, Studio on Fire
Wall clock, Target
Pour over coffee maker, Beans and Bagels
Coffee tin, thrifted
Floral art, Thrifted
Hand soap, Tatine
Plants, Gethsemane Garden Center