Her love for photography sprouted among the flowers and trees at the Englewood MetroPark, where as a young girl she would hike for hours after school and capture nature on film.
That led Chelsea Hall to Wright State University, where she earned her degree in mass communication with a focus on photojournalism. Along the way she worked at The Guardian student newspaper, taking photos of everyone from Vice President Joe Biden to pop superstar Kesha to the athletes of Wright State.
Today, Hall runs Chelsea Hall Photography, a growing Dayton business that specializes in wedding photography and portraits. She was voted best local photographer in the Best of Dayton 2018 contest, besting a half dozen other nominees.
The honor brought Hall to tears, who called it a “big win” for her team and the clients she has photographed.
“I think winning Best of Dayton definitely validates our work,” she said.
Hall’s love of photography developed at a young age. When she was 8, she would walk around with a disposable camera. She staged photos of her teddy bears and loved to play Pokémon Snap, a video game in which players take pictures of Pokémon and are rated on them.
Hall’s family and their vacations were popular photo subjects. And hikes in the 1,900-acre Englewood park with its forests, wetlands and waterfalls stoked Hall’s dreams of someday being a photographer for National Geographic magazine.
After graduating from Northmont High School in 2009, she enrolled at Wright State to pursue photography. Her grandparents had given her a new DSLR digital camera, which she used to take photos for The Guardian as a volunteer before she was promoted to chief photographer and then editor-in-chief.
Hall was also in the Delta Zeta sorority, worked as a resident assistant in Hamilton Hall for two years and was social media coordinator for Residence Life and Housing her senior year.
“I loved my experience at Wright State,” she said. “I feel like a lot of experiences you get out what you put in. I spent a lot of time building my community there. It helped me to start my business and to sustain my business.”
After graduating in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree, Hall began concentrating on that business.
“I started training myself in portraiture, which is a lot different than photojournalism,” she said. “I really practiced showing people how to pose and making them feel comfortable in front of my camera and really capturing them.”
Hall started the business on her own, but she now has an associate photographer and an office assistant. She is a co-leader for Tuesdays Together, a group that meets to discuss business topics and foster community among entrepreneurs in the Dayton area.
Hall’s high-ceilinged office in downtown Dayton shines with polished hardwood floors and Persian rugs. On the wall are framed vintage Kodak posters that proclaim “Your snapshots tell the story best.”
Hall takes a photojournalistic approach to photographing weddings, quietly looking for those special spontaneous moments instead of trying to stage shoots.
“All of my clients typically hire me for my style,” she said. “They love the candid, natural approach. They love that I can capture emotions.”
Hall says weddings can be a bit of a blur for both the participants and the photographer.
“What I want my clients to feel when they look back through their images is to be able to relive the day,” she said. “I want them to relive every emotion they felt — the butterflies, the excitement, the tears of happiness.”
Hall said knowing that her clients have photos to enjoy for the rest of their lives is “super exciting” for her.
“It’s really cool to leave a legacy for my clients and their children and their children’s children,” she said.
Hall also does non-wedding photography, shooting couples during special life moments such as engagements and births.
“My goal is to be their lifetime photographer,” she said. “I want to grow with them and their family.”
For Hall, chronicling a wedding on camera is a deeply moving experience.
“I’ve photographed quite a few weddings over the years and I’ve managed to cry at almost every single one,” she said. “I think of every couple as very unique and I’m capturing their unique love story.”