SPRING GROVE – Sometimes happiness starts with reinventing oneself.
The path for Audrey Wancket started more than 20 years ago when she decided to close her one-hour photo lab in Crystal Lake to open a studio in Spring Grove focused on what she loves most – portraits.
That choice has led to an award-winning career centered on the “perfect shot” in an inspirational setting that includes 11 rural acres tucked away in northern McHenry County, and a studio that was once a barn now filled with backdrops and vintage furnishings.
“I have the greatest job in the world and tell a story with every portrait I take,” said Wancket, 50. “I want to create something that can hang in any home that is so beautiful that it stops people when they see it.”
Wancket grew up in the Skokie area and graduated from Niles East High School in 1980. She went on to attend the University of Iowa, where she studied fine arts and photography while working part time at a camera store “for discounts on equipment.”
She met her future husband her freshman year, and the couple moved to McHenry County and opened a one-hour photo lab with a small studio in Crystal Lake in 1985.
“One-hour photo labs were very popular at that time,” said Wancket, who has three children. “Crystal Lake gave me a great experience, but I quickly learned that wasn’t the type of work I wanted to do. I wanted to do bigger pieces.”
After moving to Spring Grove in 1989, Wancket sold the one-hour photo lab and started using a renovated section of the barn on her property as a studio.
The small section quickly turned into Wancket Studios, which specializes in portraiture inspired by the “Old Master Painters.”
To create her classic pieces, Wancket utilizes her property, which includes a two-acre wildflower meadow, horses, and outdoor and indoor family portrait areas, among other things.
“Customers come for either very classic or formal pieces,” she said. “You can go to a museum and look at a painting of a mother and child, not know who they are, and absolutely love it. That’s what drives me.”
With her classic themes, Wancket has had to adapt to an ever-changing photography world now driven by social media websites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
“It’s such an oversaturated industry and people are settling for mediocrity,” she said. “There’s so many people out there that are trying to give away their photography and people sometimes looking to purchase based on price and not the final product.”
With a background in the fine arts and training in print photography as well as digital, education can be the difference between a quality photo and the mundane.
“I learned on film, so there was no fixing it in Photoshop later,” Wancket said. “You have to understand all the technical aspects involved.”
That philosophy has helped certified professional photographer garner several awards, including photographer of the year the last two years in the Professional Photographers of America’s North Central District.
She also is a member of the Professional Photographers of America Board of Directors, and serves of the group’s certification commission.