Contributors: Cate Cannavino | Artsy Couture & Ute-Christin Photography | Professional Photographer
In 1988, in a dark room located in a small Elementary School, in an even smaller town in East Germany, a love for photography was born. Ute-Christin Photography didn’t have the most conventional start, but then again many of us don’t either.
Cate: How did you get started in photography?
Ute: In fifth grade, I started learning more about photography in school and took a liking to the process of developing photos in our little dark room in East Germany. That interest continued to flourish as I got older.
Cate: What was your first time someone paid you for your images?
Ute: Well, when I was in my teens and early twenties I really enjoyed music and going to shows. I started taking photos of my favorite bands & celebrities, both during their shows and then backstage. Back then everyone was always trading and buying pictures – so I was able to sell some of my images to other fans. With the money I earned, I was able to continue traveling and going to even more shows throughout Europe.
Cate: That must have been an amazing experience. Did it influence your career choice?
Ute: Yes! It was really exciting to be a part of the backstage experience, so much that I wished to be a manager of a superstar one day! So in my early 20’s I applied to be an intern at Mercury Records and later on landed a job as a marketing assistant with Polydor and then Sony Music. I was able to work with local artists and see their talents being discovered and watched stars being made. It was a dream to work in the media business.
Cate: Why did you decide to leave Germany and when?
Ute: I actually applied for an internal job at Sony Music, and my very bad English skills kept me from getting it. One of my friends at the time was applying to be an AuPair in America to improve her English and I thought it sounded like a great opportunity. So I applied as well! In 2002 I signed up to stay for a year but then met my now husband and ended up extending my visa.
Cate: So, when did you start your photography business?
Ute: Not for a very long time! As an AuPair I started taking photos of the children who I was working with. After my AuPair time I went to college to get my Bachelors Degree. After graduation I got married and started my career at Sony Music in NYC. In 2010 I founded my photography business while working for Sony and started shooting paid gigs on weekends. My passion for child and portrait photography continued to bloom and after a half-decade I was finally able to work as a full-time photographer.
Cate: What helped you move from the ‘amateur’ world of photography into a professional?
Ute: There is so much to learn in Photography and back then, I always shot in auto mode and it was very evident in my photos that I needed to refine my skills. So, I started saving up. Once a year, I would take a workshop with a top photographer. I knew that if I wanted to invest into the business, I needed to put the time and effort into growing both professionally and personally.
BEFORE & AFTER
Cate: When did you realize that you could really make a business out of portrait, and family photography?
Ute: Taking workshops really helped me develop. The first one that I went to where I had this “AHA!” moment was one held by Julie Paisley and Rachel and Crystal from Pure Photography. Rachel taught me how to shoot in manual mode and see how she was able to create something beautiful with just a little bit of tweaking. She opened my eyes to what photography could be, and for me it was worth all the time and effort.
From there, I continued to work at it. I would focus on correcting the errors I was making after each shoot. I studied techniques and skills. I reinvested in new workshops and mentor programs with other photographers. I was most intrigued with newborn photography but it also scared me the most, as I was simply not good at it. I signed up for workshops with the amazing Sabine from Living Dreams Photography and the one and only Kristen from Son Kissed Photography. It was an absolute life changer and I am so happy I invested in both. Once a year, I try to find a continued education opportunity and sign up.
Cate: So, you honed in on your skills as a photographer. What about the business side of things? How did you grow your client base?
Ute: Great question [haha]. To me building a business is really hard work. I did everything I could to network and meet new clients. Most importantly, I started connecting with other mothers and families through mom groups, school and events. I also reached out to other businesses to build a local community. This was hugely helpful in growing my network.
Most importantly, I had a really great photographer friend who helped me with my clients when her business plans changed. She gave me the opportunity to take on more of her work, and this drove my business to where it has grown today.
BEFORE & AFTER
Cate: Would you say it has gotten easier, or more difficult to be in the photography industry with the advancement of camera technology and digital photography?
Ute: There are so many photographers who are working hard to build their business, and this can be quite difficult if you don’t have the relationships to get the business growing. The current health of the industry has made it very difficult to get started. It took me five years working part-time to get my business to a point where I could focus on it full-time. I am so grateful that I am able to call this my full-time business right now but I also work very, very long hours every week to make sure I keep it that way.
Cate: What would be your best advice to a new business owner trying to make it in the photography field?
Ute: My best advice is this:
- Invest in good education. Look for a photographer as a mentor, or someone that inspires you. This will help you define your style and spend money on the opportunities that will actually help you improve. Plus, hands-on experience is the best way to grow in your photography and editing skills.
- Believe in yourself. You have to know that what you do is different, but don’t look at other people and compare what your work is to theirs. Know your worth, and don’t waiver from it.
- Build a good support system. Running a business can be scary, especially if you don’t have anyone to help you along the way. Make sure you have a strong network to help you, even if it is just a dog, husband, or family member!
- Get involved. For me, this was really important. I tried advertising online and through Facebook, but once I actually got out into the community I felt like my business started to take off. A few years back I started a Facebook group for other female photographers in Connecticut. This community on Facebook has given me and its members the empowerment to grow as photographers and female creative entrepreneurs. It is genuine, positive reinforcement and my happy place because we all have the same dream and goals.
- You can’t please everyone. This last piece of advice was really important for me as I started to scale my business. I was dumping money into everything, from sets to equipment, and packing my schedule tight. Unfortunately, I was undervaluing my product and charging too little. Once I raised my prices I was then able to justify my work, and actually, begin to make a living. Otherwise, you’ll burn out from too many shots and not enough time. You’re worth more than that, so make sure you show that. It’s hard, but work towards what you want. Whether it’s full-time or as a passion or hobby, still value your worth.
Cate: Thank you so much for sharing this with us. You’ve made a lasting impression on our business and I’m delighted to be able to share all of your experiences in an effort to inspire others to follow in your footsteps.
Ute: Delighted to be a part of the Artsy Couture family! Thanks Cate, and Artsy Couture, for sharing my story.
Interested in booking a session with Ute-Christin Photography? Visit her website today for additional information, booking details and galleries.
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