Making memories

David Bartholomew
David Bartholomew

Successful photographer Dee Airey, who specialises in wedding and family portraiture, is celebrating the first anniversary of her shop and studio opening on The Pantiles. Here she tells Eileen Leahy how having a customer-facing premises has not only enhanced her business, which she established 11 years ago, but has also enabled her to pass on the knowledge and experience she has acquired courtesy of the weekly photography lessons she classes from there…


“When I opened my shop on The Pantiles I was slightly terrified,” laughs Dee Airey. I’m meeting the successful wedding photographer at her smart premises in Tunbridge Wells to chat to her about how her first year of trading on the town’s famous historical walkway has gone.

“I created my photography business in 2011 but it was only at the beginning of last year that I made the decision to be based in Tunbridge Wells. And when I first opened my studio and shop in August last year I’ll admit I really didn’t know what to expect,” she continues.

After getting the keys to the shop, which is conveniently situated next door to The Pantiles Bride, in May 2022 Dee hired a contractor to carry out a major refurbishment. “They gutted the place and redecorated it in about five weeks – it was absolutely amazing.”

Having been to her studio a couple of times now I can certainly testify to that. But it’s fair to say that a lot of the credit has also got to be given to Dee as she really has done a stellar job on creating such a welcoming space in terms of the studio’s divine decor.

Everything is in white and cream tones – the walls, the plush carpeting, the luxury button back sofas – so you immediately feel a sense of calm as soon as you step inside. “I always want people to feel relaxed when they come here,” smiles Dee. “I’m camera shy myself, so I understand how much of a challenge a lot of people find it.”

In addition to the tranquil interiors scheme, there are lots of stunning pictures hanging up in Dee’s studio which perfectly reflect the type of work she specialises in. Her main areas are weddings and family portraiture.

“I am all about the happy things in life. I like to keep in touch with my wedding couples – forever if possible – so when they get pregnant or have children it’s nice to capture those moments. That’s what gave me the idea of setting up a studio in the first place.” Dee tells me that prior to opening her Pantiles one she had another studio in Crowborough.

Dee, who lives locally, says that since she has repositioned her business in Tunbridge Wells she has stopped ‘running all over the place’ covering weddings and the like.

“That has been a great result of being based here. This year all of the weddings I have done have been in the local area. I love shooting in Tunbridge Wells at places like One Warwick Park Hotel as it’s literally just around the corner!”

Entrepreneur Dee describes her creative style as natural and relaxed which she believes helps genuinely capture her clients’ true personality.

“For me it’s about reflecting the essence of people’s relationships and who they are. I see it as part of my job to make people feel at ease in front of the camera.”

Dee tells me that there is another aspect of her job that she is really motivated by and that’s passing on her knowledge to others. And this is where her Pantiles premises have also been invaluable.

“When I first took on this place I initially I thought about renting the basement out but I am so glad I didn’t as it has been brilliant for teaching my beginners’ photography courses.” On average classes of around 8-10 people can be accommodated down there she adds.

Dee admits that when she first opened the doors to her studio and gallery she thought she would get loads of footfall being based on The Pantiles but quickly realised that people don’t just casually stroll in there.

“They peer in the windows, see my pictures on the wall and then go home, have a look at my website and then they email me.”

But that’s something that Dee tells me has actually worked out for the best, as it means that unless people are coming in to have a shoot done or to discuss their wedding plans the space is relatively quiet for her to carry out her editing work and general admin.

In addition to the face-to-face classes she runs, Dee also coaches professional photographers online courtesy of the ClickStart 4 courses she has created. She launched these during Covid and they are continuing to go from strength to strength.

“During the pandemic I started doing Zooms and that has been an area of my work that has really grown. I now run a variety of Facebook groups and have over 3,000 people from all over the world in my community. There are professional photographers from the USA, Australia, the Caribbean and all over Europe tuning in every week. It’s amazing!

“I’ll host lots of Q&As for those who want to improve their photography business and popular questions are things like ‘how do I grow in confidence’, ‘what do I put in my Terms & Conditions’, ‘how much do I charge’. They are mainly practical things and I am happy to pass on my knowledge.

“I have one chap from the last in-person group I ran who came to the shop after the course had finished and said he was thinking about changing careers so I invited him into my Facebook community and now he is learning things from a business point of view as he already has all the basics after doing my course.”

I remark that it’s quite unusual for successful professionals to willingly share all their knowledge and trade secrets with others.

“Most successful people don’t want to share, they hoard it to themselves but I get no joy from that whatsoever,” she replies.

“I think the way the world goes around is by sharing what we do. I genuinely like giving something back. With my experience of being a professional photographer I believe that I owe it to others to share that. I believe that the more I give, the more I get back and I teach a lot about that mindset too. What you put into the universe you will get back.”

Dee, who undertook an official teacher training course back in the 1990s says this is where her passion for passing on her wisdom, tips and tricks comes from. She also informs me that she has just finished writing an online course and is also just about to publish her second book which will be available on Amazon.

She describes it as a ‘How To’ book for budding photographers.

“It’s called Start and Grow Your Wedding Photography Business and is out later this month. It is peppered with lots of useful information. I wanted it to reflect all my experience – even my mistakes! In it I also talk about marketing, social media, how to create a website, self-belief – and also self-doubt. I really hope it will help others.”

The reason for this she says is that there just aren’t enough good quality wedding photographers out there.

“There are so many people taking photos but they’re not necessarily photographers. I would rather train them up properly so they can add value to our industry because if you look at the number of people getting married every year there’s definitely enough work out there for everyone.”

And when I ask Dee what her dream wedding to shoot would be she says: “I love couples who are in it for the same reason as me. That’s the love, passion and investment for having a wonderful day and wanting the memory of everything delivered back to them in photographic form to treasure for a lifetime.”

This, she adds, is where her work doing family portraiture has grown from as a lot of Dee’s couples will come back to her when they are expecting a baby or have just had one. “We’re making memories for the rest of their lives together and that really is priceless.”

And since opening her studio, Dee now has the opportunity to do these kinds of special shoots in a professional setting where everything is set up to be, quite literally, picture perfect.

“It’s been an incredible year so far and I’ve met some really wonderful people coming through the studio,” the recent Kent Women in Business Award Winner reveals.

“If I’m honest I didn’t anticipate it to be up and running this quickly but that just spurs me on to aim for even more numbers during my second year of the gallery.”

This year Dee will also be doing Christmas shoots for families. “I’ll run these over the weekend of November 24 – 25 and it should be a lot of fun! Families can come in and have a festive time of it. I’ll also be offering people the opportunity to have their pictures made up into Christmas cards. I want everyone who comes along to feel like they are having a really unique experience. As with all the work I do I never want anyone to feel they are just being processed. People are trusting me with so many important things – their wedding, their newborn baby – it really is an honour and that’s what drives me and my business.

“I think the pandemic made people really value memories. We want those pictures that mark life’s milestones and I am more than happy to help people do that.”

As I get up to leave I tell Dee that having such a multidimensional approach to her business is inspiring. She is not only a photographer but a benevolent teacher too.

“Well staying in one lane just isn’t interesting to me,” she smiles. “Working the way I do helps me to spread my creative wings so much more and I’m still learning every day. I always want to keep doing that and passing it on. I really want to give the best I can to both my clients and those I mentor.”

It’s no surprise to learn then that Dee’s business plan for the next 12 months is enhancing what she already does so more people can benefit.

“I want to keep improving my A Game and ideally I’d like to recruit a couple of photographers who I can train up so they can work for the Dee Airey brand as it’s a really rewarding thing to do.”



36 The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells TN2 5TN

Tel: 01892 341367

FB: @deeaireyweddingphotography

Instagram: @deeaireyphotography

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