Photographer tweaks her career’s focus as economy changes

Susan Gomez, owner of Light Images, has been a professional photographer in Las Vegas for 35 years. When the economy turned sour a few years ago, she scaled back her operation, let her employees go and reduced the size of her 2912 S. Highland Drive studio. Now she’s rebuilding and wants new and old customers to know one thing.

“I am back,” she said with a grin.

Truth be told, she was never gone. Her bread-and-butter work has shifted many times over the years she has shot portraits, weddings, bar mitzvahs and boudoir photography, and for a time, she did a lot of business shooting pictures for real estate agents’ business cards.

“There was a time when I did on average 10 real estate agents a week,” Gomez said. “For two years, I didn’t do one sitting. I would go out to Laguna Beach every month and do 20 or 25 portrait shoots. Now I do about four or five. I lost 70 percent of my business. I’m a luxury business, and when people started feeling the pinch, the luxuries go.”

Gomez credits her business’ recovery to sticking things out and Internet promotions.

“I was subsidizing my business from my savings for about three years,” Gomez said. “I lost all of my money, and I’m like everybody else, I’m struggling to get back.”

Gomez grew up in New York, but 35 years ago, she decided she had her fill of shoveling snow.

“I told my boyfriend that I was moving to Las Vegas in a year,” Gomez said. “He could come if he wanted to, but I was going either way.”

They set up a studio in Commercial Center, but within a few years, she struck out on her own, building the studio of her dreams in the industrial area off the beaten path.

“I’ve been in the same location 29 years. I don’t rely on walk-ins,” Gomez said. “I’ve had a lot of customers over 30 years, and they know my work and they respect it. I’ve photographed most of the prominent families in town, and word gets around that I do good work. I’ve photographed casino owners and their families, politicians, lawyers — you name it. They come to me. If I was somewhere else, I couldn’t have all the space and setup I have here.”

Her studio walls are covered with large samples of her work, including several familiar faces.

“I deal with high-profile people who want to be done in a New York minute, and I do them in a New York minute and I make them happy,” Gomez said. “I shoot people from all walks of life. I know the people of the town.”

Gomez speaks her mind, cracks jokes to lighten the mood and can make her customers comfortable with her openness and familiarity with them.

“I was shooting a wedding and I told the bride I’d seen her husband naked,” Gomez said. “She looked a little shocked, and then I told her it was when I shot pictures of him when he was 6 months old, the whole family cracked up.”

While technical aspects of her profession have changed over the years, Gomez still believes that there is value to a professional photographer’s eye and knowledge.

“Everyone thinks they’re a photographer now,” Gomez said. “If you broke your leg, would you let a friend fix it? No, you go to a doctor. A professional photographer doesn’t just take a picture. They make you look your best.”

She still shoots a range of subjects, from advertising to family portraits, but lately, her passion has been boudoir photography, which she has been doing for her entire professional life.

“Every single day, I make people look beautiful, feel beautiful and know that they’re beautiful,” Gomez said, “especially women who are insecure about their looks. Everybody wants to be naked and sexy and revealing, but they just don’t know it.”

Ann Harris, a retired city worker from Michigan, said she was delighted with her recent shoot.

“She made sure I was relaxed and enjoyed it,” Harris said. “She was easy to talk with and so positive.”

Harris, who lives half the year in Las Vegas and half in Michigan, said she had never done such a thing but thought it would be the perfect gift for her boyfriend’s birthday.

“You have this aurora of love, and you want to show it,” Harris said. “She can make you beautiful in a boudoir shot without making it look trashy.”

Gomez’s services are pricier than chain studios at malls, but Harris said that even though she ended up spending more than she had planned, it was worth it.

“It’s a lasting memory,” Harris said. “I’ll be 62 soon, and she made me look hot. It’s great.”

Gomez said the best part of the job was letting people feel good about themselves.

“Everybody is beautiful,” Gomez said. “When people say they’re not photogenic, it just means they haven’t been shot by the right photographer.”

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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