Jenny Rhea Has A Plan for the Future
by Bill Hedrick
Whenever you ask someone why they became a professional photographer, they’ll most likely tell you they simply love taking pictures. Some of the more fortunate ones are born with an innate ability to capture exquisite images with seemingly little effort while others require years of practice. But a common thread among all of them is that, sooner or later, they learn that being a successful professional photographer requires good business sense. All too often, it is a lesson that comes too late. Jenny Rhea Eisenhaur is one exception to that rule. Her daring journey into the world of professional photography actually began while working behind the scenes and learning the business end first.
Jenny Rhea was in the 5th grade when her family moved from New Jersey to the small town of Friona, Texas, in the Texas Panhandle. During her high school years, she was on the yearbook staff, and it would later lead to a job in college working with the yearbook and city newspaper at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. She was the perfect fit and spent the next four years photographing events, sports, group photos, marketing materials, and even traveling to New York to photograph the college choir. But even with this experience, she was a long way from becoming a professional photographer.
As a sophomore, she heard about an opening at a local photography studio. The job description did not include taking pictures but rather more common tasks like bookkeeping, putting albums together, moving equipment, posing proms, and packaging volume orders. She would be very busy, but would NOT be taking pictures. Still, it was the kind of work and the hours that fit into her schedule, so Jenny Rhea applied for the position and was hired. As it turned out, she enjoyed the work of proms and t-ball leagues, even cleaning out file cabinets during slow times. Little did she know, this part-time job would be a turning point in her life, because the studio owner was Don Dickson, the Director of the Texas School of Professional Photography.
After graduating from college in 2001, Jenny Rhea moved in with her fiancé’s cousins in Austin, Texas, to be closer to him. Her exciting new life started with a job at Blockbuster video, she did some baby-sitting, working as a substitute teacher, and working at a dentist office while planning her own wedding. Jenny Rhea got her DBA and officially started a business in Austin, Texas, as a wedding photographer with one of the first five ads on www.theknot.com in Austin.
Before long, she was married and raising a family of her own. New times and new circumstances would require a great deal of adjustments but Jenny Rhea never lost sight of her goal. If her experience in college and working for Don Dickson had taught her anything, it was that any successful business must have a plan and one must stick with the plan. Her husband, Chris, was a Chiropractor and wanted something more. He tested, was interviewed, and ultimately was accepted to Medical School at UTMB. “I got the news of his acceptance while sitting at the pool at the TPPA Summer Seminar in 2012 at the YO Hotel,” she recalls. But it was something both of them had been planning for and were ready to tackle. For the next eight years, the couple lived hours apart while Chris studied in Galveston then did his residency in Amarillo. Jenny Rhea raised their children and ran a studio in Austin. “The plan changed, but it stayed the same,” says Jenny Rhea. “Graduation couldn’t have been any sweeter. We celebrated in style with a cross country trip: Summerfest in Conroe, flight to Vegas, drive to California, Starlight Train Ride, Texas School Alaskan Cruise, a new car in Seattle, and road trip home through three national parks.”
That original ten year plan in 2012 included a systematic approach to the art and business of photography from the very beginning. For nearly two decades, since 2000, Jenny Rhea has attended the Texas School of Professional Photography and was always heavily involved in the Texas Professional Photographers Association. “In the beginning, I see now, I had no clue what I was doing. But I did what I could with the tools I had and invested wisely in equipment that was necessary to get where I wanted to be. I’ve stayed true to this theme, planning my trajectory and sticking to my plans as I go,” she explains. “I believe that we can be our biggest obstacle sometimes. Being a professional photographer can be overwhelming at times and an unhappy client or a unique situation can affect your mood or motivation for the day. The challenge is to stay the course.”
Her studio, Photography by Jenny Rhea, is located in a building behind their home on Old Stage Trail in Austin, Texas. “It is the perfect arrangement for me because my commute is the fastest ever! I step out my back door and into my studio to work each day.” The business itself has come a long way since its conception in 2004. When Jenny Rhea hired a designer in 2013 who rebranded the business, designed price brochures and order forms… the whole nine yards. “I stepped up my game, bought new equipment, and cleared out the studio with a more targeted concept for how to gain the right client and how to manage my work flow with a 10 year business plan,” she adds. Even so, Jenny Rhea is currently in yet another phase and it is time to revamp and renew that plan.
For several years now, Jenny Rhea Eisenhauer has been serving Texas PPA as a dedicated volunteer and an officer. In January, she took over as President of the Texas PPA, a position she does not take lightly. “Texas PPA has more to offer than ever before. While we are known for great events, classes, speakers, and opportunities to learn, the network of photographers is a huge value. Knowing photographers who can help you when you need it is priceless.”
It was a journey that began with being at the right place at the right time and being introduced to the right people. The knowledge and experience that followed has made a big difference in the lives of those who have known Jenny Rhea Eisenhauer over the last two decades and will be beneficial to the Texas Professional Photographers Association in the year 2020 and beyond. She would like to thank many people and photographers who have helped her along the way, but she will also tell you, “I truly believe I would not be where I am today without the experience of working at Don’s Photography and the mentoring and friendship of Don Dickson.”