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Shelby succcess stories: Laura Park Wills-Coppelman is shooting for a new career

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You may know Laura Park Wills-Coppelman the theater in Shelbyville, but she’s on a much bigger stage now, having debuted a new photography business in Miami.

By Todd Martin

Laura Park Wills-Coppelman had a good job, one that fit perfectly into her career aspirations.

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Having majored in journalism and Spanish at the University of Kentucky, she was putting her knowledge to the test as a sales manager for a medical device company, living in Miami and covering sales in Florida, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.

“Anybody that knew me knew that I always wanted to learn Spanish and the culture and put that to use in my career,” the former Laura Park Wills of Shelbyville said. “I thought this was going to be perfect – I’d be traveling to exotic locations, using the language and meeting people. But there was no creative outlet.”

And that’s what led her to the next phase of her life. Now she’s the owner, president and sole employee of Laura Coppelman Photography and making a new name for herself, a name that’s reaching well beyond Florida.

She had her first gallery opening in October in conjunction with artist David “Lebo” Le Batard and the Pink Ribbon Project to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, has been printed on The New York Times’ social page and has done commercial work for the New York City Ballet, Kettle One vodka and the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” she said of opening her own photography business. “It’s been scary at times, especially coming from a solid job with benefits and a paycheck every two weeks. Really in the past six months, that’s when it has started to pick up some. The opening and the gallery show, that’s provided a lot of publicity.”

But the road to a full schedule wasn’t easy.

Making the change

“Growing up I was always appreciative of the arts,” said Coppleman, who is the daughter of Bobbie Hardin and Park Wills of Shelbyville. “And in Shelbyville, that meant a lot of theater and acting. That’s probably something that people in town remember about me.”

Telling stories are what attracted her to the arts, she said, and it’s what she still strives to do with photography. “I’m still trying to tell the story, but now it’s just with still images,” she said.

And that was what she missing by being in sales.

“For me personally, the turning point was, I love the show The Office, the British version, and there was a quote on there from a character, Tim, and he said, ‘It’s better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than halfway up one you don’t.’

“And that’s when I realized that there was never going to be a perfect time to take this risk [of changing careers and opening a new business].”

So Coppleman took stock of her savings and made the decision to quit.

“I called my boss, and he was just shocked,” she said. “For three months after I quit, he kept calling and trying to get me back. It was comforting to know that if this didn’t work out, I might still have somewhere to go, but I continued to forge ahead.”

She left Miami and moved to New York to attend the International Center of Photography and then returned to Miami in 2010 to start her business.

She counts the support of friends and family as the reason she’s still open.

“There have definitely been some scary weeks,” she said. “But it’s helped to have a couple mentors in the area, photographers who I really respect their work. And my husband, Ben Coppelman, has owned his own [marketing] company for 10 years. When we first met, he was running the company out of a room in his apartment, and now he has his own office and five employees.”

Her path

Coppelman said she knew it wouldn’t be easy to get started, but she used her background in sales to keep the business moving.

“At the end of the day, no matter what business you’re in, it’s all about building relationships with people, and that’s something my experience in sales really helped with,” she said. “And it’s something I try to use in my everyday work.”

Early on, Coppelman said she just wanted to get her name out there.

“I gave a lot of my work away in the beginning,” she said. “I just wanted to get out there, get my work out there and let the community see what I wanted to do. I wanted to build relationships with the clients and make them comfortable, and the next thing you know, I’m getting referrals.”

Now, within the past six months, she says things are starting to pick up for the business, and part of that has to do with the exposure earned from the Pink Ribbon Project.

The event, in its second year, featured 10 Miami-area socialites –  including Karent Sierra a reality start on the Real Housewives of Miami, Lissette Liz Garcia, Miss Florida 2011 and several other notables –  in an effort to raise money for the Susan G. Koman Foundation for breast cancer research.

“That was a lot of fun, and we had a really good turnout,” she said. “Working with David Le Batard was great. He’s a really high profile artist.”

And that was just the beginning of a big month for Coppelman.

This past Sunday her photo of a Miami couple was printed with their wedding announcement in The New York Times.

“That was super exciting, to be in the Times,” she said. “He [Jorge Mejia] was also named one of the Top 40 under 40 in Billboard magazine, and I got to do his photo spread for that as well.”

Now, as she looks to the future, Coppelman wants to add more commercial work to her business with individuals and families.

“I think the business is taking on a shape of its own,” she said. “I’m doing more and more with people and especially with kids. I love shooting kids; they’re so natural and uninhibited. I like capturing that authenticity.

“I’d love to do some large-scale commercial projects with kids, like Gap Kids or Target or Toys ‘R’ Us.

“But I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing that personal side. The process of shooting a family and getting to know them....I really enjoy connecting with people rather than a brand.

“In an ideal world, I’ll get to continue doing both.”

Remember: Laura Park Wills

FULL NAME:Laura Park Wills-Coppelman

JOB TITLE: President/owner Laura Coppelman Photography

EDUCATION:Shelby County High School (2001); Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kentucky with majors in Spanish and journalism, International Center of Photography, class of 2010.

HOMETOWN:Shelbyville

NOW LIVES:Miami (7 years)

AGE:29

FAMILY:Husband Ben Coppelman and 2 cats and 2 dogs

About the series

The Sentinel-Newswill profile Shelby County natives and former residents who have established business success elsewhere. If you have a suggestion for someone to be considered, send an E-mail to sdoyle@sentinelnews.com.

More information

Coppelman still does several shoots in Kentucky each year, and examples of her work can be seen at www.lauracoppelman.comand on her Facebook page.

“I come back to Kentucky every October for two weeks and again in the spring and every December,” she said. “I love to be able to reconnect with old friends and take photos in Kentucky. There is no more beautiful place in the world to shoot than Kentucky. And I’ve been dying to do a shoot in the snow, it’s on my bucket list.”