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.
Wedding photographer Nessa K is known not only for her unique vision and breathtaking photography but also for being an honest and authentic voice in the photography community. Below, she shares her journey to becoming one of the most sought after wedding photographers in the world. Enjoy!
What was your first ‘proper’ job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?
I was a photojournalist at a newspaper in a small town. I had a friend from college that let me know there was a photography job opening at his work. I really felt like my career after college would’ve been something a bit more commercial, but photojournalism was a great segue into weddings.
Has art always been in your blood?
I think so. Neither of my parents were particularly artistic, but they were both so supportive of me creating art as a child. I thought I would be an illustrator since the age of 7. I thought I would be a painter basically until I decided on a whim to go to college for photography.
What’s your main creative discipline and how did you get started in it?
I'm a photographer of weddings and I picked photography from random from a list of college majors (my high school art teacher was insisting I go to college). I got into weddings because a friend of mine from college had me second shoot for her a few times. After I graduated from college, I was editing weddings for her and it seemed like something I'd like to try. I put a terrible ad on Craigslist and got started.
Do you see yourself as introverted or extroverted, and does being either affect the way you work?
Introverted and then some. It's interesting to shoot weddings because I always have lots of energy when I'm creating and it lends itself to being more outgoing when I work, but I have to find a place of incredible quiet to be alone after it's all over because I'm emotionally completely drained. I do think introversion makes me more empathetic, so I'm more likely to notice shifts in mood, and I think that's invaluable when you're shooting people because being photographed can feel incredibly vulnerable.
What is your favourite kind of commission, and why?
Wedding days are my favourite part of my job. I just want to photograph happy people who like me while we all stand outside amen. :)
How did you know you were ready to have your own business?
Oh, I was *not* ready! I just jumped in. After I worked at a newspaper for a while, I moved to another state and wasn't able to find photographic work. Did you know no one cares about your art degree? Because I was pretty sure I'd be getting job offers left and right. I got a job developing photos at a one hour photo place. So I decided to try to do wedding photography.
How did you go about starting your own business?
Basically, I had a contract (from a friend), a business name (Nessa K – my last name is not easy to remember!), a website with photos of sushi and friends from college, but no idea what pricing should be. The first 2 years were a lot of trial and error. I mentioned I put an ad on Craigslist? My starting price was $400 for a half wedding day! I was so lost. Now I know that's what most people charge for an hour of additional coverage. Some really lovely local photographers found my ad and asked me to lunch, told me I was seriously uncharging myself, and that's when I started the invaluable act of networking. I made so many photographer friends that year!
How did you secure your first clients?
I met them in a stylish coffee house (Starbucks wasn't on brand – even in the beginning!) after they saw my ad on Craigslist. That's how I booked most of my first clients. I booked 25 weddings my first year, really quickly within a few months because my prices were so low. I couldn't justify raising my prices (in my own mind), even though I was booking like crazy, because I hadn't been able to shoot more than one wedding since starting my business. It was a bit chaotic and I barely broke even my first year.
What is your typical daily routine like?
I definitely have morning and evening rituals. I made a YouTube vide of my morning ritual, you can watch it here. Also, if you have difficulty sleeping, an evening/bedtime ritual is imperative! The rest of my day is incredible fluid, since I have appointments and sessions at varying times during the week. I'm always a mess of emails and editing. I usually set 10 minute timers to keep me on task with whatever I have to do during the day and I diffuse different oils around my house during different tasks (my work desk smells like bergamot, sweet basil, sweet orange, lemon, and clary sage; workouts/gym time is topical cinnamon and peppermint oil; photography on location is clove oil I have all over my shoot bag; sleep time is lavender and land ylang; relaxation time is vanilla). Scents are strongly associated with memories and I find this helps keep me in the mood to stay on task.
What traits do artists have that help with running a business?
I don’t think artists share a trait that helps them run a business. I want to say creativity should be helpful and I think most artists are very intentional with what they do so this could be huge in helping with business, but most artists I know don't think to use their creativity for self-promotion. There's a lot of imposter syndrome that's inherent in artists, I've found.
I went to school with a ton of super talented people that aren’t doing what they should be for a living. I had a roommate who was an incredible artist who would get tipsy at his gallery openings, make friends with the patrons, and give away thousands of dollars of art because that's what made him happiest. I think a trait that makes a great business person is work ethic; creating regularly, even when you aren't inspired; not being a perfectionist; and the ability to outsource things that take you too long. This can be in artists, but I don't know if it's a trait all artists share. :)
How does being an introvert (or an extrovert) help or hinder you when it comes to business?
For a wedding photographer, 90% of our job is back end work, funnily. It's really only 10% spent actually creating art. Editing, emails, paperwork, blogging. I feel incredibly grateful, as an introvert, that most of my interactions happen online and that interactions can be really scheduled so I can prepare myself mentally. But I do well working by myself; I have extroverted friends who find it a bit too lonely and sometimes invite other entrepreneurs over to work and keep each other company.
Do you have a favourite medium or technique?
In photography, I'm a minimalist when it comes to techniques – just light and shadows and prime lenses (the 50L is my baby). I'm glad I found photography as a medium because it allows me to show light in a way that my illustrations never could, and light is the thing that effects my mood the most. I do entire workshops emphasizing how to use light to show mood, to flatter clients, and to reshape scenes.
What’s been the most beneficial business decision you’ve made?
Making friends and being active and giving back! Networking has been the backbone that's kept my business going.
Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work – do you experience an overwhelming desire to create something new?
That’s 100% true. The thing about being an artist is that you HAVE to do it. If it’s down season and I don’t have any shoots coming up, I’ll work outside the medium, drawing, painting, writing songs, just to get the itch out of me.
Do you ever feel alone in your work?
Editing can be lonely, but my boyfriend, Sam Hurd and all of my closest friends are also wedding photographers. If I need someone to talk about my work with, I have a bunch of people who really get where I'm coming from. I feel lucky that, even when I'm working on my own, someone who can relate is always a post, text, or a call away.
How do you relax?
Swim, playing with my awesome dog, and, admittedly, I watch a *lot* of movies. Like, a lot. All day while I edit, too. :)
Where do you find inspiration?
Films, music, illustrations. I especially am drawn to graphic design and new wave art films from the 1960s. For new work, I’m thankful that Instagram has made an amazing network so it’s easy to find new artists based on who you follow and who they follow. I follow a ton of illustrators.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Chemistry is cool and all and I know chem lab is basically magic, but you really need to take a business class!
What would you like to be remembered for?
I don’t care to be remembered. I just want people to like my work and to be able to connect with it. I wrote something similar in a journal when I was 7 (‘I don't want to be famous; I want people to want to buy my drawings') and I mean it to this day. But, you know, Photos.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
I met my boyfriend because we're both photographers and members of the same networking groups. It's not technically career related, but the relationships I've made after getting into wedding photography have been invaluable. Boyfriend included. :)
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Oh, this is the most emotionally rewarding and taxing job I could ever have, I think. *All* the emotions are tied up in doing weddings. It’s common for there to be crying at every wedding, it’s common for tensions to be high. Wedding days themselves are a time for remembrance of lost family and friends. It's about love and togetherness. So much is riding on the photography because this is the take away from what most people say is the most important day of their life. And since my job is to encompass how that feels, the credit I’m given for just doing my job is immeasurably rewarding.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your business and how did you overcome them?
Not knowing where to get started, not knowing how to find other people doing what I do, not understanding business in general (it wasn’t my background) and literally all of those issues were talked through and remedied by friends and colleagues. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of networking and making friends in your industry.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
‘You look like a Freshman trying to turn in a shitty photo.’ Context – I was trying to re-crop, add contrast to, and dodge & burn a photo that wasn’t remarkable by justifying what it ‘meant’ and I asked an upperclassman what she thought about it. ‘Be honest’, I said.
I value constructive criticism so much because people can see when you're messing up, but when you're surrounded by friends, it's too easy to get caught up on the pats-on-the-back for you to acknowledge it. I need to have people around me who can call me out on it.
If you could have dinner with any inspiring person (past or present), who would you choose?
Miranda July. I love the way she writes – like a stream of unconscious thought, the movies she’s directed have been some of my favourites, she had a lovely idea for an app – she’s a true Renaissance woman.
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