Abby Williams’ interest in photography began when she discovered her stepfather’s Yashica film camera and began taking it to shoot in an abandoned mill in Uptown Greenwood.
Although her family has deep ties to Greenwood, Abby grew up in Columbia and came to Greenwood to study at Lander University. While she was always artistic, her photography began as a hobby that developed alongside her focus on a degree in business and marketing, a choice that she says has helped her to build a successful business.
Abby met her future husband, a Greenwood native, in her freshman year at Lander. They stayed in Greenwood for a year after graduation, then moved to Charlotte, NC, for three years. Six months after their son was born, they moved back to Greenwood. “I decided to stay in Greenwood mainly to build my business and start a life,” Abby says.
Greenwood is a place where people know each other, and that translates into a culture where locals make an effort to be supporters of the community and its growth. “When you run a business, you know how hard it is to even create a name for yourself,” she says. “It’s so important to have a good reputation.”
Part of building that reputation for Abby has been putting more of herself into her work, and that effort has grown into being a proponent of Greenwood’s many photographic assets.
The Greenwood Advantage
Many couples start out with a destination wedding in mind but discover that Greenwood’s venues are not only unique and convenient but also come with a smaller price tag than comparable places in Charleston and other cities. The variety of activities in Greenwood and the affordability of lodging also make the trip a fun and affordable one for out of town guests.
Sometimes the small, unexpected venue becomes the most memorable wedding. For example, a recent backyard wedding for 30 people replaced plans for a glamorous Carribean wedding when COVID-19 and an illness in the bride’s family forced rescheduling.
There’s no need to travel to other area cities to find the perfect wedding venue. “Local venues in Greenwood can be very genuine,” she says. She is drawn to locations that have great natural light, beautiful outdoor areas, and living elements that make them unique, and works to promote Greenwood as a destination for weddings.
Among her favorites are several local venues that brides often overlook. Wyatt Farms, with a greenhouse, pond, butterfly garden and courtyard framed by hydrangeas, is a beautifully landscaped but very underrated location, she says. Elegant Cokesbury College is a restored 1850s venue with dramatic architectural features and expansive grounds. Another exciting option is the new Enchanted Acres - a rustic, elevated barn venue complete with additional cabins that serve as bride and groom suites.
She especially appreciates it when a venue makes interesting changes to create unique backdrops for weddings. The Arts Center, close to Uptown, has rotating exhibits to make backdrops interesting, and more than 25,000 very bright square feet, with a beautiful outdoor space in its courtyard garden. Friend and respected photographer Jon Holloway keeps his Sundance Gallery fresh as an event space by changing the art on the walls. Sundance is one of Abby’s favorite spaces to shoot a wedding, with rich textures, the “old Greenwood charm, and a beautiful greenspace outside.” Holloway is also a photography professor at Lander. “I never took his class,” says Abby, “But he’s become a friend.”
The Personal Difference
An extra element of care and concern is what sets Abby’s work, and many Greenwood venues, apart from the crowd. “Anybody can be a photographer,” she says, “ but there’s a big difference between it being a part of who you are and just being able to take a good picture.” In Greenwood, and for Abby, weddings are not just about showing up the day of the big event and starting to shoot, but usually represent a year of involvement, from engagement pictures to meetings with the venue staff to make sure each event is shown to its best advantage.
Abby has been photographing Greenwood landmarks and venues since her first efforts in college. “Then I realized I could photograph people, and I could make money,” she says, “ and if I got good enough, I could work for myself,” meeting her own high standards.
She enlisted her college roommate as a model, photographed her in different places, then would rush home to develop the film. “I started a Facebook business page, and it grew so fast that I decided I would never work for anyone else.” While still in college, she shot her first wedding as a professional photographer, using a Canon Rebel camera with a 50 mm kit lens.
As an exit project for her business degree, she had to create a full-blown business plan; she created a plan for the photography business she had already launched—in the middle of a recession. “I was already implementing what I had learned in my marketing and management degree,” she recalls. The plan, and the business, were successful, and she was soon in demand.
Through a recession and, now, a global pandemic, Abby keeps shooting. COVID has thrown the wedding industry into disarray worldwide, and left vendors and brides scrambling to make new plans. There have been a host of postponements and cancellations, and for Abby that means hours on the phone with brides and planners and venues to reschedule everything.
Now, every weekend in August and September is booked, with an October lull, because every Southern bride knows to accommodate college football. Bookings are now stretching into 2021, but brides are generally sticking with their chosen venues, and Abby is committed to preserving their memories with her usual care.
Being careful in her interactions with couples and their loved ones will continue as the industry adjusts. Abby’s household includes her children, who are 3 and 6 years old, and her 94-year-old grandfather, who still goes to work at an antiques business.
That love of family, and love of Greenwood, continues, regardless of what the world brings.