Haverlee Colyer

Haverlee's life is an adventure as a single mom and always wishes being in bed with Netflix was a thing. 

Take us back to you as a kid. 

My childhood started in Texas digging in the red dirt and running through fields behind my house. We moved to Canada when I was 7 and I had to figure out how to stop sounding so different from everyone else so I'd quit getting extra attention. I was shy whenever I was outside of my comfort zone and had just a few close friends. My best friend and I spent most of our free time inside reading books on opposite couches. But when I did decide to go outside, I always wanted to keep up with my older brother and his friends, climbing on roofs and to the tops of trees. Not much has changed there. I want to either be lounging around or doing something completely adventurous.

What's keeping you busy? 

This question almost makes me laugh out loud. I've never had to keep up a pace like I am now in my entire life. I'm a part time single mom of three boys, ages 10, 8, & 5. I try my best to make time with them quality time and save other work for after they're in bed or the days I don't have them. I work full time during the day and I run a photography business on the side (mainly family sessions, with weddings and senior photos sprinkled in). I'm just entering my busiest few months of the year where every spare minute is spent editing. I also just jumped into a direct sales position with Monat hair care. (That started because half my hair fell out due to stress. Go figure! Ha). I didn't want to do any direct sales but I'm desperate enough to slow things down and I'm hoping that will eventually supplement my income enough so I can quit my day job and jump to full time photography. I'm not a high energy person or a go-getter at all, so it's a challenging season. I always wish I was in my bed with a snack and Netflix.

"One day I got home and a brand new camera body had been delivered to my door."

Walk us through the days leading up to starting your own thing? 

I definitely never imagined I'd own my own photography business. I wasn't passionate about it when I was young. I never took photography classes like so many of my friends. I've never learned to shoot film. But I realized how much I was enjoying improving my iPhone photos and learning about light and composition. And then all of a sudden I was going through a divorce and supporting myself for the first time. I took photos for a lot of friends and every little bit of extra money made a big difference at the time. People continued to request me to photograph their families and other photographers said I had an eye for it. Little by little I gained confidence and fell completely in love with it. It's a steep learning curve and I have so much growing to do. But the second I start clicking that shutter, something comes alive inside me and it feels like it fits so perfectly within all my gifts. 

How do you focus on the work you love doing? Walk us through a good day. 

I don't always get to focus on exactly what I want to do since half my time revolves around my kids. When I'm with them, we leave the house often and find some adventure in our city. We go downtown, hop around to different libraries, walk down the block to the smoothie shop, eat dinner on the front porch and spend lots of time reading before bed. The days I don't have them, I book my photo sessions and spend the rest of my time editing, outside of my day job hours. My ideal day would be a slow morning and a late night. I love photo shoots but I also love the editing process, particularly when it was a fun shoot. Often times you'll find me smiling at my computer because I fall in love with the photos just as much as my clients do. 

"Humility will take you far."

What have been the challenges? Who and what has helped? 

I have so many challenges. Limited time and finances sum them up. I'd also credit my lack of self-confidence in the beginning as a huge challenge. I didn't think I was good enough or creative enough to make art I'd be proud of. I was in the middle of my separation with almost no money to my name. It was a very dark time in my life. I was taking any photography job I could get just to earn a little extra money. I had outgrown the equipment I'd been working with and was almost prepared to borrow money to get a new camera so I could take my business to the next level. One day I got home and a brand new camera body had been delivered to my door. I found out a friend had sent it to me. I knew that gift took some sacrifice on their part. I opened it up and felt the weight of it in my hands and started sobbing. It felt like hope.   

Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them? 

Humility will take you far. Admit your weaknesses and find someone who will come alongside you and teach and encourage you. Ask tons of questions and keep asking until you understand. If it makes you come alive, you'll want to keep going even when it's difficult. Have patience. There will be a long while where your progress is slow and then it starts clicking and then the progress comes more quickly and it's so rewarding. 

"And then all of a sudden I was going through a divorce and supporting myself for the first time."

Why Des Moines? 

I didn't choose Des Moines. I moved here in 11th grade. When I was moving away from Illinois, a bunch of my classmates signed a card for me. Half of them said good luck in Idaho, and half said enjoy Ohio. Nobody outside of Iowa knows anything about Iowa. So I had pretty low expectations. There was a good long while where I never went downtown unless it was a class trip to the Civic Center and occasionally Java Joe's. We drove to Coral Ridge mall or Omaha to go shopping at the "good stores". There wasn't even a Starbucks here for the first five years I lived here. (That was my gauge for how uncool Des Moines was.) It's come such a long way. I tolerated Des Moines when I was young but now I truly love living here. I'm so proud to take friends around when they visit me. 

"I tolerated Des Moines when I was young but now I truly love living here."

Des Moines is growing. What’s one new thing that caught your eye? 

I'm so glad we have Horizon Line here now. I didn't know I was a coffee snob until I had one of their lattes. An oat milk vanilla latte or a matcha are my go to's. 

If you could grant the Des Moines one wish what would it be and why? 

I'd plop an ocean or even just a great lake in the middle of Iowa if I really had my way. But a more realistic wish would be a really great local bookstore in the city. There's a cute one downtown but its tiny and out of the way. But browsing through a big bookstore with creaky stairs and tons of shelves you can disappear in and a well-curated  gift area too, is my favorite way to waste a few hours. I went to a shop called Browsers Bookshop in Olympia Washington this year. She had the best selection of gifts and such a cozy shop. I wanted to move in. 

Convince someone new to DSM your favorite place to go on your day off. 

 I have a lot of friends who've visited me here and they've always quickly seen why I love it. The day always requires brunch (Eatery A is my favorite), a stroll through the East Village to hit Eden, Porch Light, Ephemera, and Domestica, a late lunch at Miyabi 9 (Box Lunch C), possibly wandering through West End Salvage, and then it always includes sitting on the lawn in the Sculpture Park. I love stretching out on a blanket on warm days, people watching. It's this perfect little oasis in our growing city. It's a good place to catch the sunset too. Dinner might be street tacos from the truck on University, East of Drake, and drinks at The Library. 

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why? 

With kids, it would have to be playing in the waterways between Ingersoll and Grand. It's one of my favorite spots in the whole city to sit while they run around. Otherwise I'd have to say the box lunch at Miyabi 9, hence part of my perfect day. You get a little smorgasbord of Japanese food, it's SO delicious, the owner is so hospitable, and it's only $8 or $9. 

"Look for someone to help or encourage today."

What are you most proud of and why? 

I think it might be equally split between raising my children who are turning into wonderful humans who sometimes do kind things all on their own, and growing my own photography business. Either that or learning how to mow a lawn. There are so many things I thought I couldn't do by myself until I was forced into it. 

In three months what do you hope to accomplish? 

In three months I hope I've managed to stay on top of all my fall editing! I'd also love to have more weddings booked for next year. 

What’s one thing people need to know you really care about? 

Guacamole. And bacon.

But seriously, I just want people to feel seen and heard and cared for when I interact with them. I send my kids out the door most mornings with the words, "look for someone to help or encourage today". So I suppose that's my daily goal too. 

Photo credit: Joseph Leaming

Derek Jensen