Back story/about me: I am 22 years young, and I started photography at 14. Starting 14 was great, because it kept me from getting into trouble in high school, and for the whole whopping semester I was in college.. but, it made me grow up really fast. I think it contributed to a lot of my anxiety honestly. When you're a business owner, you have to be on top of it; you have to be mature, professional, and on it 100% of the time because (if you're doin' "right") you are in the public eye non stop. You have to make sure that absolutely everything you do won't end up as a negative in someone else's mouth. Imagine being a 16 year old in high school, with raging female hormones, haters comin' your way and you have to be "professional". I learned young that the world is hard and it can be mean, and not everybody is going to support what you do. When I started, our town didn't have very many photographers. Digital editing consisted of super saturated and contrasty edits, blurry photos, selective color (shutter with me, y,all) and weird angle crops. There was absolutely no one willing to help a 14 year old girl who had a passion for making people feel great, and creating art with the click of a button.. or as I had been called once, "a teenage girl with a camera". I went from shooting any chance I could get for free or $30 here and there, to shooting over half the senior photos in our yearbook my senior year. I went from that "teenage girl with a camera" to a full fledged business in just the blink of any eye. It was, and still is, the most rewarding part of high school, but as I said, I grew up fast! There was no joining a sorority in college, or even going out on the weekends. On the weekends, I came home and often times shot a session on Friday evening, a wedding Saturday, and up to 3 sessions on Sunday before I went back to school... on top of trying to pass Composition I! I dropped out after my financial aid didn't go through, but mainly because the pressure was way too much.. I couldn't continue on at the caliber I was. I had a boyfriend that college semester whose mother didn't like me much.. and she told him this:
"She's going no where in life.. you need to end it. Now."
I took a $5,000 loan out to pay off my semester and decided I was going to pay it back with my business in under a year; I paid it off in 5 months. I didn't stop. I kept going, kept shooting, kept hustling because I knew the minute I didn't, she would be right. Inevitably, he did listen to her and did end it, but you can bet your ass that her words are burned on my mind forever; not because it hurt me and I'm still salty about it, but because it's what drives me still today. I've now shot over 100 weddings, hundreds of seniors and families, dozens of boudoir sessions, and I'm marrying a man whose mama thinks I'm great enough to concur the moon and stars!
And I suppose for the lighter, fun stuff about me (ha): I run on Jesus and pizza, I live for 30 seconds of gratitude from my clients, I am ObSeSsEd with The Bachelor Franchise, and if I had an endless supply of money, I would have the worlds largest animal sanctuary... like ever.
Do you remember the day you found your calling? What about the day you found your style?
I do remember the day I found my calling, actually. It may have actually been one summer rolled up into one, but it was the summer between my freshmen and sophomore year. I was using a Canon Elf point and shoot to take photos of the little kids my mom babysat. I would have them dress up in cute outfits, one of which being my old flower girl gown, and edit the photos in what was the awesome sauce of the 2000s, Picnik. As for my style, I'm still figuring that out and I honestly always will be. I don't like to be boxed in and forced to do what everyone else is doing. Some weddings look great shot in film, so look better shot in a more classic, clean edit. Boudoir? Oh, give me alllllll the moody. My style is more adaptive to my surroundings and the image at hand. #unpopularopinion per usual!
What has been the hardest time in your entrepreneurial career? Your lowest low?
(This is such a tough question, which I knew there would be some because you are the queen of tough questions and I love that to my core!) I think as an entrepreneur there a ton of highs and lows so they can tend to run together, however when something big happens, you know its your lowest low. That happened for me last year. I thought everything was going super great, I had a record year; 30 weddings, taught my first workshop, traveled around the world, and was planning my dream wedding. It should have been the best year of my life.
It wasn't. Not even close. I lost one of my absolute best friends to the cattiness of this industry. It tore me apart and sent me into the deepest depression I had ever been in. I trusted this person with not just my life secrets, but I trusted them with my business. I couldn't trust anyone after that, and it's still hard for me to completely open up to others now. I find myself always questioning people's motives and wondering if they truly want to be my friend or if it'll leave me victim of circumstance. I was also burning myself out and I had no idea how or why it was happening until I sat down with my Fiancé and he asked me "What are you going to do about photoshoots when we move to Rolla? You shoot a lot here at the farm". BAM. It hit my like a red fire truck heading to save a kitty out of a tree. I was allowing myself to get into a rut because I was doing what was easy. I wasn't educating my clients on outfit choices, or locations. When they didn't know where to go, I didn't question them when they said our farm would be great. It got so easy and convenient to just walk out my door and shoot without any prior knowledge to what outfits they were wearing. This winter I have been shooting a lot for me, and stepping out of my box and I remembered why I loved my career. It felt like a true passion again. As for the friend thing, we'll chalk it up to cutting my losses and knowing now I have a tribe of people who I was better suited for.
What is your biggest accomplishment thus far?
I don't think I've reached my biggest accomplishment yet! If I had to choose one, it would be shooting 30 weddings in one year last year!
Has being an entrepreneur changed you as a person? Do you view money, relationships, time, or anything else differently?
Being an entrepreneur has changed me greatly! I wish I could say in all good ways, but that's not really the case! haha. It has made me more aware of how a consumer's mind works, which can be really fun, but at the same time I just want to be like WAKE UP PEOPLE YOU ARE BEING FOOLED BY BIG BUSINESS! But I mean, you can't really say that because they look at you like you're a witch in Salem during the 1600s. I view money way differently. In busy season, I'm used to getting checks in immediately the day I work. I don't want to sound spoiled, because I truly have worked hard to get where I am, but it would be very hard for me to go back to a life where I was paid every two weeks making an hourly income. I view relationships way different, because my brain is wired to think absolutely everyone I meet is either a potential client, or a potential business partner in a future endeavor. It's also made me value my real, hardcore friendships more because trust is a hard thing in our industry. People are so quick to use you as a stepping stone, and sometimes they do it without even realizing. (I can't tell you how many times someone messages me asking a question about how to do something, how I do something, without even saying hey girl! hope everything is great with you! Or even saying thank you after replying). I also view my time differently. My life is constantly made up of "what can I do to provide myself more time for the things I love most?"
How does your faith influence your business?
My Faith is the core of my business. I truly believe I would not be where I am today without relying on God. God gave me the tools I needed to accomplish all that I have, and all that I will, and it was up to me to use those tools and work for it! I try to pray before every session, and I pray about my business every night. I'm not afraid to post about my Faith on my social media accounts or to say that I pray for my clients. Having a Faith based business is what makes my business successful!
How do you defend your profession against older generations who do not understand the power of social media and being an entrepreneur?
Honestly, you cannot make people see things your way if they don't want to, and our older generation doesn't. They just don't get it because they didn't grow up in our generation's time period. They didn't grow up with the world of Facebook or e-mail marketing. They grew up with junk mail they tossed out at the site of it. The main complaint I hear from older generations is "It is unreal how much you are getting paid for this". My grandma once told me that she remembers not knowing if she could afford her senior photo... it was $17. Can you imagine? In a way, that talk with my grandma really made me take a step back and wonder how did we get here? How did we get to the point where people are paying $10,000+ for wedding photos? I'm by no means knocking photographers who get paid that, because holy moly, that would be awesome! But it does make me a little sad for the brides who are like me, who are paying for a lot of their wedding by themselves. My whole wedding budget is $10,000, and while that may sounds crazy to some, it's the reality for a lot of our brides. Sorry, I'm rambling! haha very passionate subject of mine. Back to the question. I guess in short, you can say that I try educate them on how photos are an investment, because in the end their your memories frozen in an album for you, but if they don't understand, I just smile and say that's okay! They don't have to understand, because our generation does, and they are who my clientele is.
What do you think you do on social media that differentiates you from everyone else on the platforms? Why did you amass such a following when others could not? Was there a moment that it all clicked for you?
I really wish I had a perfect, polished, glamorous answer for this, I really do.. but the truth of the matter is, I'm just being me. I don't obsess over my Instagram grid, or come up with beautifully written captions. I love to write, but photos speak for themselves. I can tell a story through those images, I don't need to write one out for my viewers. Some may argue "how would those who weren't there know what's going on?" but I think a little bit of mystery allows the imagination to go to work, and that is when pure magic happens. I gained my following over the course of 8 years. I don't think people realize that. I get asked all the time "How do you have 12k (which is low to me because I want 120k! haha) followers? I want that many right now!" but I didn't just wake up one day have 12k followers! I did my fair share of networking in groups back in the day and I still go through the 'likes' on my photos and invite every single person who hasn't already liked my page to like it!
What is the best advice you have ever gotten and why did it stay with you?
Start your business by asking yourself WHY you are doing what your are doing. And don't write down the "Sunday school answer". Write what you really feel. If you want to make the money, go for it. If it's because you like to meet and talk to different people, cool! If it's so you will get some sort of recognition, ok. Then really analyze that answer. What are your real intentions? REAL intentions" This. This was the best advice I had ever gotten.This is copied and pasted from a conversation in 2013 when I was debating whether I wanted to stay in school or do photography full time. My why still remains the same: I want to make people feel good... REALLY good about themselves, while doing something I love, that allows me to have flexibility in my schedule to travel, be with family, and eat pizza in bed while I work. It's suck with me because whenever I need to remember why I do what I do, all I have to do is write it down.
What advice would you give to other young female entrepreneurs just starting out?
I give everyone this advice... stay in your own lane. Don't get caught up in who in your industry is doing better than you, or if they're doing something different than you. My friend Ashton Werkmeister always says “If you think the grass is greener on the other side, it’s probably photoshopped." and it's so true! Social Media is all about that highlight reel, boo. Don't be afraid to show them the dark, ugly places, because someone is going to think they're beautiful. Be real with your clients, and be real with yourself.
Where do you go for inspiration? What do you have coming up that excites you?
I typically don't turn to places like Pinterest or another photographers site for inspiration, but I do turn to pop culture sometimes if I want to do a styled shoot! Travel inspires me a lot too, just getting to do different locations, new change of scenery. Coming up I am teaching a workshop in Utah and I am so excited! I'll be teaching boudoir & a styled wedding, but we're definitely going to be doing a lot of passion projects along the way and exploring!
You can find Kaitlin at https://www.facebook.com/Kphotography1521/ and at www.instagram.com/kaitlinsphotography