If a picture is worth a thousand words, then there are myriad words to describe the beautiful moments captured by Lela and Lyla Photography—but some of the first that come to mind are “joy-filled” and “authentic.” What started as college suitemates taking pictures in fields for fun, turned into a business between best friends who now celebrate nearly a decade of photographing their clients during some of their happiest moments.
From the Delta to Dickson Street and everywhere in between, Jessica and Anja have photographed weddings across the region. Committed to providing an experience, as well as beautiful imagery, they have always aimed to reflect the meaningful, in-between moments of their clients’ lives and love. As their business has flourished over the years, they have come to realize the worth of working in their local communities and are excited about focusing their talents in central Arkansas.
Named after co-owners Anja DeWitt’s and Jessica Barksdale’s daughters, Lela and Lyla Photography began as a dream of two young moms who wanted it all—a career they were passionate about that gave them the opportunity to spend their days working from home with their babies.
Spending time with their kids during the day and working on nights and weekends made their schedules hectic, but helped strike a balance for the duo. “Our biggest motivators were our families,” explains Jessica. “Photography gave us the flexibility of being able to raise our babies at home when they were little. That has been one of our biggest blessings.”
Fresh out of college, Ouachita Baptist University was the perfect starting place for a wedding photography company. “Ring by spring” is a common saying on campus, and as graduation grew closer, many of their friends were getting engaged and married. College friends knew them as the girls with cameras in their hands—from parties to new profile pictures, they were always documenting the moments.
While Anja was drawn to Ouachita Baptist University because of its strong graphic design program, she found herself on the other side of the camera. “I majored in Graphic Design, and in my senior year of college I geared my senior project towards photography. I purchased my first camera and got to work shooting everything I could,” explains Anja. “I love the ability to create art that makes sense and captures people. I loved the idea of creating my own schedule and being able to contribute financially as I grew my family and while my husband, Clinton, went to law school.”
Jessica graduated from Ouachita Baptist University with a degree in Biology, and while she loved science, she felt a calling pulling her in a different direction. “I always considered us creative people,” said Jessica. “Even though I was decent at science, I always wanted to fill my time with something else. I wanted to be with my friends and a camera gave me the perfect excuse. We always joke that Anja was my first muse, but after enough photo shoots together we realized that both of us being behind the camera was where the real magic happened.”
While on the Ouachita Baptist campus, Jessica met Dexter Barksdale in her Chemistry 1 class. It was love at first sight. They shared the same friend group and had several classes together and by January of their freshman year they were a couple. They married in college and after graduation, moved to Dexter’s hometown in Bryant. Dexter served as an educator before becoming the assistant principal of
Bryant High School in 2020.
As Jessica settled into her new hometown, she was offered an opportunity to shoot for Saline County Lifestyles by owner and publisher, Josh Elrod. “He asked me if we would be interested in taking photographs for the magazine and we jumped at the chance,” explains Jessica. “I’ve met so many amazing people through this magazine and it really brings people together. Bryant feels like home.”
With an established clientele base and their children now in school, Anja and Jessica are adjusting their sails to the changing winds of this new chapter in life. “We love weekends with our families and we typically shoot 40–45 weekends out of the year.
That can be hard,” said Jessica. “We had a great focus on high school seniors this year, which has given us more weekends at home.”
While weddings will always be the core of their company, senior portraits have become an equal focus. “Seniors are so carefree and fun—the best feeling is when someone walks into a session nervous, and leaves feeling confident,” says Anja.
Jessica and Anja have worked together for 10 years now and have kept their “why” at the center of every moment they capture. “While photography is important, how people feel at the end of something that is so personalized is the most important to us.”