Family finds success in rural photography business; new Richville studio opens

Photography by Sarah Jean has been growing for 12 years and was finally able to open a new studio a couple of weeks ago.

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Sarah and Rhett Pearson, photographer and editor behind Photography by Sarah Jean, smile as they sit next to one another in their new studio.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
With her new studio space, all Sarah Pearson needs to do is move her lights instead of completely setting up a new backdrop with new props, making photography a fast and easy process for clients.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

PERHAM — Sometimes, returning to where you grew up can be how you find happiness and success. For one Richville family, the Pearsons, this is certainly the case. After 12 years of building their business, Photography by Sarah Jean, photographer Sarah Pearson and her husband/editor Rhett Pearson recently got to build just what they'd wanted for years: a brand new photography studio.

In fact, this new studio itself was built by Sarah's father. Her mother, Pam Donley, even acts as "groundskeeper." The Pearsons' son, Aiden, will soon learn to edit himself, and their daughter, Piper, helps entertain the young kids and babies that enter the studio. Not only do clients receive photos of memorable moments when they enter this new studio, but they're also welcomed with open arms by this full-family operation.

"In the long run, (my old studio) has been a small space, which is why we needed to build something," Sarah explained. "It's taken a long time to get here — 12 years to get to this point. It's something to be excited about."

Continuing with the "homey" and familial roots of their business, the new studio is built right next to their rural Richville family home. While Sarah is mostly an outdoor photographer — hence the beautiful outdoor space of their property — it's nice to have indoor options available for clients when the weather cools.

Sarah and Rhett smile as they stand with their two kids, Aiden and Piper, who help out with the business when they can.
Contributed / Sarah Pearson

Though this new studio symbolizes yet another huge step forward for the Pearsons and Photography by Sarah Jean, it did take them many long years to get there. It all began when Sarah was growing up in Richville, just a couple of miles from where she currently lives. At around 15 years old, she moved with her sister and mother to Stillwater, a suburb of the Twin Cities, where she later met Rhett. It was here that she began to discover her love for photography.


"She wanted to be a model when she was 16, 17," her mother, Pam, shared. "So we got her into modeling school, and she started sitting in front of the camera. She was always asking the photographers what they were doing. I guess that's what (made her think), 'I want to be on the other side of the camera,' and that's when she started venturing into it."

Sarah continued, "And I've always kind of been an artist — drawing. In high school, I did photography. It was like, 'I don't want to be in the picture; I want to be on the other side of the picture.'"

And so her passion for photography began. She earned a bachelor's in fine arts and photography at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, and once she graduated, she began pursuing her photography career in Stillwater.

A photo of yours truly (Elizabeth Vierkant, writer of this article) as taken by Sarah Pearson on the day of our chat.
Contributed / Sarah Pearson

Things were a little rough near the Twin Cities, however, and she and Rhett were struggling to get by. While Sarah had some photography clients, she wasn't able to quite make a living off of it, especially with rent being about $1,100 a month for the couple. Once they had their first kid, Aiden, they really started to reconsider what they were doing.

"I was working two jobs," Rhett said, remembering the struggle. "I was doing construction, and then I was going and working at a deli at night, until 9 or 10 at night … We were just throwing our money away to rent and kind of just spinning our wheels … We're just kind of wondering what the heck we're going to do with the rest of our lives, and Sarah said, 'Well, we could move back to my home town and kind of start over.' And at the time, I was just like, 'You know, what do we have to lose?'"

And so, the Pearsons got a U-Haul on a Tuesday and moved to Richville on a Wednesday. Rhett interviewed for a job on Thursday and started working on Monday. Everything happened so fast, but clearly, it worked out. Rhett joked that he and Sarah are polar opposites. While he tends to be quite pessimistic, she's ever the optimist. She was the one who wanted to buy a house in Richville. She was the one who wanted to start Photography by Sarah Jean. Eventually, she was even the one who wanted to get the new studio done.

"She's always right," he laughed.

"And it always worked out," Pam added.


Sarah shows off her new studio space, complete with multiple backdrops and set-ups.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

The family spent the last 12 years continuing to build the business side-by-side. Though Rhett was originally a landscaper, the business grew to the point that Sarah asked him to be her "chief editor." As quite the tech-savvy guy, he ended up being the perfect person for the job. Soon, their oldest, Aiden, plans to learn how to edit to help the family business grow and keep up with the busy client list.

The Pearsons are now able to completely live off the money earned from Photography by Sarah Jean, which is a big step forward from their struggles to get by in Stillwater. With the new studio officially completed as of about three weeks ago, the business can continue to grow.

"I'm really excited to start this new chapter," Sarah said. "(The new studio) is great."

Now with a new, much larger space, Sarah can set up multiple backdrops and sets with a variety of furniture and props. Whenever she wants to take photos at a new set, all she has to do is move the lighting and help the client make the perfect pose. There's no more completely tearing down a set to put up a new one. Not only is the process a lot smoother, but it's easier on both Sarah and the client.

Complete with a lounge space for people to relax and chat during a photo session, clients can enjoy the cozy atmosphere of sunny lighting, wood floors and music in the background. Though close to the Pearson home, it's also separate, allowing for the homey feeling to stay without the chaos of a family house. A separate room was even built in the back with long tables and a fridge for a comfortable editing space.

Photography by Sarah Jean is currently hosting a grand opening special for their new studio. For more information, visit Photography by Sarah Jean on Facebook , email or call 651-472-3381.

"(I love) being around people, and the outcome of photography is happiness," Sarah said. "People are excited to get a picture taken or to see the results."

Elizabeth (she/her), 24, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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