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Meet Jeff Watkins of KolorPHX Photographic Co. in Mesa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Watkins.

Jeff, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’m a Phoenix Wedding Photographer and I wanted to take a minute to introduce myself and tell you a bit about me and my family. Some of you have been following for a while and some of you are new, so I thought it was appropriate to give you a little glimpse at the red head behind the camera!

I am a 33-year-old (YIKES) Phoenix wedding photographer living in the great state of Arizona. I grew up in the small town of Oneonta Alabama with my wonderful parents Ken and Joyce and my big bro Chris. After graduating high school in 2002, I ventured into the world of Culinary Arts and graduated in 2004 from Culinard, The Culinary Institute of Virginia College, with a degree in Culinary Arts and Business Management. This, at the time was my passion and I loved being a chef! I had the opportunity to work at some of the top hotels in the world and create beautiful memories through food! In 2006 I moved to Colorado Springs Colorado and enrolled in a Leadership Academy by the name of TwentyFourSeven. TwentyFourSeven was designed to develop individuals that desired for something more in life. From crazy 4 A.M. workouts to trekking through the mountains of Burma and the Himalayas, I had the time of my life and such incredible opportunity! Little did I know, my life was about to take a drastic turn…

I am a firm believer that you come to different places in life and you have to make a decision, let’s call it a fork in the road. You decide to take the road to the left and your future will end up going one direction, decide to take the road to the right and you could end up in a completely different place. Sometimes those roads might even lead to the same place, but just might take incredibly different paths. I know that the road I decided to take was defiantly the path that God had lined out for me all along. While in TwentyFourSeven, we traveled a few times and one of those trips was to Southeast Asia. I spent some time in several countries all over Asia but there was one part of the tip that would change my life forever.

June 2007, we were traveling across The Himalayas and Burma taking part in relief work, doing different things from minor medical relief to supporting the nomads far up in the hills of Tibet. We had trained significantly for this endeavor and were in tip top shape to complete the task at hand. I woke up in the middle of the night, bleeding and in the worst pain of my life…I didn’t know what was wrong but I could not control the bleeding. I notified my team leader and found out that there was another guy on my team with the same issues. We were immediately evacuated by car down these rickety mountain roads, 36 hours to the next small town where we would be able to receive medical care. Let’s just say the next 36 hours of my life I thought would never end! Our Sherpa, we will call him “Frank”, did not speak any English and he had only been told where to take us and what to do. This entire journey was filled with screaming agony and pain like I had never felt in my life, I was scared, I didn’t know what was going on and what was wrong with me. To make it all worse, our Sherpa was scared as well and with the language barrier he was not able to communicate with us the entire trip. So what did he do to attempt to comfort us…he played Brittney Spears and N-Sync THE ENTIRE TRIP!! OMG, I was about to flip! There came a point that I was so sick the Sherpa handed me a hand full of pills and I took them without even thinking. (I later found out it was pills to help with altitude sickness) Finally, we reached the small town of Xining Tibet. We were immediately transported to the local “hospital” to receive medical treatment. I called my parents from a satellite phone and was not able to get a good connection. All I was able to say is…”Mom, Dad…I’m sick and being transported to a hospital. I do not know what will happen but just know that no news is good news.” And then the phone disconnected. I then called the only other phone number I had memorized, this hot blonde girl that I had met a few weeks previously at a church event…her name was Tiffany. I called Tiffany and told her what was going on and to please contact my parents and explain. I had no clue how things would end and no clue what to expect next. I had no idea that this horrible experience was the start of the rest of my life.

Fast forward…Turned out I had pulmonary edema as well as a severe case of food poisoning. My lungs were 70% full of fluid and the team doctor informed us that if we had stayed at that elevation for 12 more hours we would have died. WHAT!!! So let’s go back to the hot blonde that I called. Tiffany, WOW TIFFANY! Tiffany is now my wife. Remember what I said earlier about you have choices in life and can end up at different places depending on the road you take. Well I know that without a doubt that had I not decided to move to Colorado Springs that I would have never met Tiffany, the love of my life and my rock and the one that supports me through this entire journey. She has been there every step of the way.

In 2007, I finished the leadership academy and Tiffany and I got engaged shortly after. We lived in Colorado for a short time after we married and decided that God had bigger and better things for us and we moved to Arizona where we now live. I was still a chef at one of the top hotels in the country and just felt that our life wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be. The life of a chef is not enjoyable. I wasn’t happy and my wife wasn’t happy but it’s all that I knew and I had no other option at the time of changing careers.

Sept. 1, 2011 my son Koen Levi was born!!! Such an exciting time and incredible experience! When Koen was born we had noticed a large black mark on his head that we assumed was just a birth mark or something. We returned home and within the next 2 weeks we visited our pediatrician and he sent us to a specialist to have it checked out. We were informed that what Koen had, was cancerous and would require immediate surgery. The surgery would be scheduled for the following Monday. As most of you know, I have a Culinary Degree and I was working at a large prestigious resort in the Phoenix area. I spoke with my boss and explained what was going on with my son and informed him that I would need Monday off so I could be with my son. My boss let me know that I could not have that day off due to business demands and that if I didn’t show up for work, that I would not have a job when I returned. This left me upset and confused on what to do. With the medical bills piling up and a family to support, I felt that I was left with no choice other than to work and miss my sons first surgery.

Surgery day came and I was at work…not quite what I had expected. I would have to say that was my worst day of work EVER!!! I was not focused and un able to concentrate with my kid having to go through all of this crap and I, his father was not there. I felt like the worst dad in the world! How could I do this to my son! What was I thinking! I soon realized that I had made a huge mistake. I met my wife and family at the hospital soon after work to see my son bandaged from the top of his head to the bottom of his neck. Tubes everywhere, medical bags hanging. It was pretty much in my eyes the worst way to have to see your kid and it seemed we were going to have a long road ahead of us.

I ended up quitting my job due to the situation and I took another position with a company that would allow me to spend the time needed with my son and family. 6 months after Koen had his first surgery, the second surgery day came and then 3 months after that, the third surgery came. Don’t get me wrong, these next 2 surgeries were just as bad as the first, but my wife and I had become kind of numb to the situation. It was a strange feeling, like I had no feeling. At first I just thought it was from kind of being in shock to the severity of the procedures or God giving me a different type of strength in order to be able to handle all of this. I soon realized that I was definitely not handling this with my own strength.

Finally!!! Koen had finished all of his surgeries and was on a positive road to recovery. Running around, playing, laughing and keeping us very busy!! To be completely honest, this entire process had put a strain on us physically, financially and most of all emotionally. We were left with a pile of debt (insurance did not cover the procedures totally) and a lot of un chartered waters to navigate. We ended up selling our home to help cover the financial portion but I was still left with a crazy work schedule and the stress of the culinary industry weighing on my shoulders. I was approached by my boss of my new job 1 year after I had started and offered a promotion!! This was huge and not to mention a promotion that came with a raise of about $20,000 a year more than what I was currently making!! This new promotion would put me in a different sector of the company and under a different district manager. I met with the new DM and we talked through the job and I felt that this was an opportunity that I could not pass up. My family and I left for a vacation to New York City the day after. We were enjoying a great time in New York with all of the sights, sounds and culture of the city, we were having a blast!! December 26,2013…my wife and I had come back from exploring the city and I had received a text message from my boss. I opened it and it read…” Thank you for your help Jeff but we will not be needing you anymore” Are you kidding me…. it’s the day after Christmas and you lay me off by a TEXT MESSAGE!!!! I was furious, I called my boss to discuss what in the world is going on and his only response to me was “I don’t have time to talk about it” and hung the phone up. So great!! I had just been laid off and I didn’t know why AND I’m in New York on vacation.

We returned home and I went through a lot of strings trying to figure out why I had been laid off but the conversations really got me nowhere and I finally figured out that what my former boss had done wasn’t entirely truthful.

Over the next 4-8 weeks I had put out about 35 resumes for the Culinary industry. I’m not boasting, but with my resume, I should of had nothing to worry about in searching for a new job. 35 resumes later, and I had not been contacted by anyone…not a single phone call. I was confused and in panic mode! I had a family to support and a child with medical issues and everything financially had pretty much been depleted through our son’s medical journey. What do I do…

The first thing I knew to do was pray. Sometimes we as humans turn to panic mode when something bad happens. Our nature says “I have to fix this” But when in all truth, when you have a relationship with God and you know his promises and know his word, then your first reaction is…” God, you have to fix this” and then stand back and watch!! Don’t get me wrong, I was freaking out but I knew that he had never let me down before and he sure wouldn’t now. It was just a bigger opportunity for an example of what he has done in our lives.

I had picked up photography while living overseas and so that’s where it began, I started KolorPHX. We were at a place in our life of uncertainty and I knew that I had a family to take care of and a son that needed me. The culinary field of 100+ hours a week just wasn’t cutting it. So while some say it was probably not the best time to start a business, I say it was the perfect time. Many times God brings you to a place where you are not able to do things on your own. I had explored everything and had come up empty. I believe that everything we went through was all in Gods timing and happened for a reason. When I decided to start KolorPHX, I had $4.33 in the bank. We literally had nothing but the clothes on our back and our family. Without our family we would have never made it. Both of our parents walked along side of us and gave us the support and prayer that we needed to get through each day. I was photographing pretty much anything that would pay and I was doing it with a $30 Fuji camera from Walmart. I look back at this now and laugh because some of my early work was horrible! I spent day and night praying for God to open doors and fully relying on him to supply all of our needs, after all that’s what his word says. I had never stood on a scripture more in my life than I did over the next few months.

Philippians 4:19New King James Version (NKJV)
19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

I repeated that over and over in my head. I had written it down and knew that it would not be easy but that if this was truly what God had for me, that I had nothing to worry about as long as I relied on him. And if it was not what God had for me, I knew that my faith in him would lead me to where he wanted me. It’s funny how we make things so hard sometimes. We try to do everything on our own and fail most every time or fall short of Gods true calling on our lives. I believe this was Gods way of telling me to stop trying to do everything on my own and just to trust him. TRUST HIM.

This was so much harder than I ever thought it would be. Over the next several months, it was not easy but a few months into starting KolorPHX, things started to look up. People were actually paying me to take their photographs. This was mind blowing to me! I had never dreamed or wished or even thought about being a photographer. Never! Not one day in my life! Heck, I didn’t even know that I had a passion for it! Months went by and I fell in love with this craft more and more each day. I did not start out shooting weddings but about a year into my new venture, I booked a couple of weddings. I will say, those clients mean the world to me! They trusted me. These were some of the most stressful times in my career to this day! I had no idea what I was doing for the most part, I was just “along for the ride” that God was taking me on. I knew that I was good at one thing, and that was surrounding myself with people that were smarter and more knowledgeable than I was. A mentor once told me, “If you are the smartest person in the room, it is time to find a new room” This stuck with me and I still use that piece of advice today in my career as a Phoenix Wedding Photographer. While the first few weddings that I did were crazy…I loved it! I fell in love with having the opportunity to be a part of such a special day and given the opportunity to freeze the moments in time that will last forever. This was when I knew that I had found my passion. After all of the hard times and uncertainty, I had landed right where I needed to be all along. I took the next 6-8 months finished up various jobs that I had already booked in event photography and then I strictly focused my business and future goals on this newly discovered passion as a Phoenix wedding photographer.

Let’s fast forward until now. The last several years have been such a roller coaster of emotion and opportunity. God has opened so many doors and provided me with so many opportunities that only he can get credit for. I have invested into my business and become successful as a Phoenix wedding photographer and I wouldn’t take it for the world! We have had the opportunity to travel all over Arizona and the world photographing these special moments and providing an experience for our wonderful clients that will last a lifetime! I am so in love with what I do! I could have never imagined that a few short years ago, that this is where I would be today and I am the last person that was ever qualified to do this, but that is the great thing about God, he takes the willing and the most unlikely to create something amazing! KolorPHX Photographic CO today has been named one of the “Top Wedding Photographers in Arizona” 2 years in a row from Expertise Magazine! We have been featured in many publications such as “The Knot”, “Arizona Weddings Magazine”, “Arizona Bride Magazine”, “Borrowed & Blue” and many more! We were a finalist for “Best of the Valley” From Arizona Foothills Magazine. I say all of this not to boast but to brag! To brag on God! He took someone like me, the last person to be qualified to do what I am doing today. He turned it into something so wonderful and something I get to call a career! There is something I love about being trusted with all of the special moments that I only have one opportunity to capture. I love meeting the bride+groom for the first time to see the love that they share and the smiles on their faces. The way he looks at her and she blushes over him is magical! I love seeing the bride on her wedding day so anxious and excited but at the same time so scared. I love seeing the father of the bride as he holds her close as they dance and whispers “you will always be my baby girl” I love seeing the groom as the bride turns the corner to walk down the aisle and that one single tear races down his face. All of these moments are so priceless to me and I am so humbled that I get to live every day making memories! I love what I do and I cannot wait to speak with you about the details of your big day and how we can make memories for you that will last forever.

So many things happened through the past several years. From almost dying in Southeast Asia, to meeting the love of my life to the birth of my super cool kid Koen Levi to building a business from scratch. God had been so good to my family and I! To my family back home in Alabama, thank you for believing in me. Thank you for putting up with a feisty red head and pushing me to be the best that I can and never saying no. Thank you for investing in me and raising me to be the man of God that I am today. To my in laws, thank you for being my mom and dad on the other side of the country. Thank you for trusting me with your daughter. Thank you for continuously pouring into us and being an example. To my son Koen, dude, you are a ROCKSTAR! You encourage and challenge me every day. To see what God is doing in your life blows me away. I am so honored to be your dad and walk alongside you and support you (until your 18) and see you develop into a man that will change the world!

So I saved the best for last…to my super-hot wife Tiffany. Thank you for being you. Thank you for answering the phone when I called you from the other side of the world. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for falling in love with me over and over again every day. Thank you for challenging me to be better than I was yesterday. Thank you for walking beside me every day, through the tough times and through the wonderful times, you are so beautiful and I could never do this without you. I would never want to do this with anyone else.

To all the KolorPHX brides! You girls are amazing! Thank you for trusting me to capture your oh so special moments! We love being such a small part of such an amazing commitment on your special day!

So this is me! This is who I am and how I got to where I am today. So the next time anyone tells you that something is impossible, just take $4.33 and tell them “yes it is”. Know that God is on your side and if you trust him and believe in him, he will guide you in every place that you go.

Hebrews 11:6New King James Version (NKJV)

6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has definitely not been such a smooth road. There have been and always will be up’s and downs. From thinking I am not good enough or my work isn’t good enough, to being on top of the world that I am actually getting to do this as a career. No road in live is every easy. The easy road isn’t where you learn and grow, it is the hard road that develops you.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I am a Phoenix Wedding Photographer specializing in unique fine art wedding photography. We service all of Arizona as well as world -wide. There are many great photographers in Arizona as well as all over the world. What I feel sets apart from those photographers is the experience that we provide to our clients. I think it is one of the most important things for our clients to have fun! Wedding photography shouldn’t be just something you “have” to do, it should be something you can’t wait to do! That is our goal for each and every one of our clients! From the time we meet them until their photograph collection is delivered and even after, we strive to create an atmosphere of enjoinment and an experience that they will remember forever!

What were you like growing up?
I was a pretty extroverted kid growing up. I always liked to have fun and experience new adventures. I started learning music at a young age, (drummer) and I am still a musician as a hobby to this day!


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All images were taken by KolorPHX Photographic CO.

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