PROfile is a series of interviews with artists and creative souls who have built businesses around their craft and passion. We'll dig deeper to try and find out everything you could want to know from seasoned pros who have experienced the full gamut of highs and lows that come with running a creative business.
This week we are interviewing LA-based photographer Caroline Ingraham Lee, who is the other half of husband and wife team Woodnote Photography, and whose Instagram feed has gained tens of thousands of fans with its glimpses into her life bursting with vibrant colours. Her work always delivers a punch of inspiration straight in the gut, and we are so excited to hear more about what makes her tick!
What was your first ‘proper’ job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?
I’ve always been a bit unconventional with jobs, I think. My first job was as a piano teacher, as music is my first love, believe it or not. I started teaching private lessons when I was 15, having up to 30 students at a time, and taught until photography became my full focus in 2012.
Has photography always been in your blood?
Absolutely, yes. I was that girl carrying a film camera into public restrooms to take photos with friends when I was 11, 12, etc… I’m so grateful that I’ve always been obsessed with photography, because it means I have photos from moments that were very spontaneous and special. [Like the first time I hung out with Jayden in 2003.]
You work as a team of two, what are the best and worst things about working with a partner?
The best thing: we have completely different strengths and totally respect that the other person is capable of rocking that thing we can’t do ourselves. It is so rad. We couldn’t do what we do without each other. The worst thing: learning how to compartmentalise work. Turning the work off and the intimate, loving marriage on. It isn’t easy, I won’t lie. We’ve started working in separate spaces during the non-shoot days, and planning at least 2 non-working ‘dates’ a week, actually, which has renewed the fun.
How did you know you were ready to have your own business?
Being the ‘entrepreneurial type’ since I was a teenager with my own music studio meant that the idea of having my own business didn’t scare me, but the idea that my/our photography was ‘worthy/good enough’ for us to call ourselves photographers was what intimidated me. You’ll never totally feel ready, so don’t wait.
How did you go about starting your own business? How did you secure your first clients?
The very condensed story goes like this: I married an Australian (Jayden) in 2005 and we moved to Melbourne. This was pre-Facebook era, so I started a personal blog to keep my friends + family in the US up to date on our life in Oz. Jayden + I both took photos for fun back then, but through sharing our work on the blog, people started asking if they could hire us for shoots. The idea of taking money for taking photos freaked us out at first, but we did some small shoots here and there, and even second shot some weddings. Then, one day my friend told me that we were going to shoot her wedding. As in, she said we didn’t have a choice – she loved our work, and we were going to shoot her day. We were a bit nervous about it, but once we posted her photos online, it was all over. The inquiries kept coming, and our love for weddings, stories + love kept growing. We’ve never advertised or forced a fit with clients that aren’t right for us. I think you have to protect yourself and your art, and that means sharing a bond of trust with your clients is a non-negotiable.
What is your typical daily routine like?
Sometimes I wish I had a routine, but I don’t at all. Some days are shoot days, some days are travel days, some days are editing/inbox days. There is nothing ‘typical’ about a week for me, but on a really good day, I eat at least 3 times, drink at least a galloon of water, and bash out a quick 25 minutes of exercise. (T25 is saving my life this year! I’m not being paid to say that, either.)
What traits do artists have that help with running a business?
Artists think unconventionally. Artists are usually pretty good with making it up as they go along, seeing a need and inventing something to fit the need, and renewing on the run. You need that in business, for sure.
You do weddings and editorial work, and also have a gorgeous Instagram account with lifestyle photography. Is it difficult to serve all the different types of clients at the same time?
First off, thank you! Such lovely words – I’m so grateful! I’ve found that as my creative ‘voice’ develops, I’m freer to be myself and will still click with the clients that are right for me. My Insta feed is some personal, some wedding and some lifestyle, and yet if you’re just looking at the small squares, I think it all looks pretty coherent together. My focus across the board is colour, beauty and story, and all 3 of those things are relevant in my life, my wedding couples and my lifestyle clients, too.
What’s been the most beneficial business decision you’ve made?
To go full time! I was so terrified to trust that the clients would keep coming, and so I kept my job at another company far longer than I needed to. It is amazing how much more creative + productive you are when you aren’t giving the best of yourself to another job, and, it is really incredible how the work will continue to come in when you trust + also work your arse off. I looked back at my 3 years of working multiple jobs/almost killing myself with the 80 hour work weeks and thought, ‘Damn, I coulda done this a long time ago'.
Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work – do you experience an overwhelming desire to create something new?
YES, which is why I love being in LA. I’m surrounded by creative people who are always willing to collaborate, which means all I have to do is send a text or two, and there’ll be someone willing to model or do hair/makeup if I get inspired to create at the last minute.
Do you ever feel alone in your work?
No, but that is a fairly deliberate decision on my part. I love how I learn and am stretched when I work with/get to know other creatives, and so I reach out constantly. I’ve learned that feeling alone is usually more about me than it is anyone else’s deliberate effort to reject me. People are busy and people get self-absorbed sometimes, but they’re almost always keen to connect if you reach out first.
How do you relax?
I listen to Lana Del Rey in the sunshine. Or get a massage.
Where do you find inspiration?
I follow random people who inspire me on Instagram, and I listen to music and watch films. Films really, really inspire me.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Don’t doubt yourself so much. Don’t be a selective leader. Don’t wait for someone to earn your trust before you show them love.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I would like people to remember me for the way I made them feel their worth and beauty when they talked to me (or were photographed by me). I’m not there yet, but I hope to have s’more time to get there before I go.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
Visiting all 7 continents in 2014 was a wild dream come true. The people, the places… they changed my life. If I had to choose a single moment, it would be doing a nude photoshoot in Antarctica. I mean, c’mon?! Even typing that sentence out makes me giggle and realise what a ridiculous dream this is.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I get to connect with incredible, inspiring, beautiful, authentic and worthy humans who trust me to tell their story. That is frickin’ magic!
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your business and how did you overcome them?
Trusting my creative voice enough to build a portfolio that was truly ‘us’, and, trusting that our ideal clients would find us and be drawn to our authentic work. Some things take time, I'd say 3 years is the magic number to grow a new business, IF you’re hustling that whole time. Patience and hard work are definitely big ‘HOW’s in the overcoming game.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
If you could have dinner with any inspiring person (past or present), who would you choose?
Flea! The bass player from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He just really, really gets it at life.
Web: Woodnote Photography
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