3 Beliefs That Are Holding You Back From Reaching Your Full Potential with Katie Engelhardt
Not so long ago I was paralyzed by limiting beliefs about my talent, my abilities, and my business as a portrait photographer. I made excuses as to why x photographer was successful, consistently booked, had a greater following, and why I did not. Always finding comfort by filling in the blanks with which obstacles (finances, equipment, knowledge, time restraints, or life circumstances) were holding me back from being the artist, creator, and business owner my heart longed for. I believed that the “something” that would transform me into who I wanted to be was answered in my lack of obtaining this or that and didn’t realize all the answers were available through honest self-talk and authentic artistic exploration. Once I ended the “if only” record on replay in my head, my business and my work elevated, propelling my “sort of” business into a bespoke business that began to attract not only my ideal client, but also a growing following, more business collaborations, and allowed me to create work that sets my soul on fire.
You believe your spatial limitations are preventing you from producing beautiful work
I couldn’t count how many times I have either heard or thought, “I need a studio space to be taken seriously” or “I don’t have enough space/the right space to take portraits.” It is amazing how little space is needed to create magic. My “portrait studio,” aka my living room, has been my greatest challenge and my greatest blessing. Prior to every session, I move a six-foot sofa, a coffee table, an entry table, and an arm chair in a Tetris game to create enough space for movement and shooting. I roll up an area rug and conceal it underneath my canvas backdrops. I pull out my studio wardrobe from Rubbermaid containers stacked tightly in the corner of my garage and rally all of the vintage step stools, benches, chairs, and props that double as my personal home goods when not in use. I have been doing this routine for every portrait session since establishing my business. It is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but it is what I have done to nurture and grow a passion into a successful business over the last six years. My exact studio space measurements are 7 ft x 6.5 ft x 8.5 ft. I am a natural light photographer and utilize the light available from the window in the room. When I am not able to get the right shot within the confines of my space, I have been known to crawl through the window and shoot knee-deep in my front yard landscaping to fit all family members in the frame. I have even put up a tailgating tent and photographed a client on my driveway in order to overcome lighting or spatial challenges. I am sure some of this has created interesting conversation amongst my neighbors, but I have not allowed my space to limit the unwavering desire in my heart to create.
I stopped focusing on the judgment I felt for not having a “proper shooting space,” comparing my space to other photographers, and apologizing to my clients for my lack as a way of making me feel more comfortable. Only then was I finally free to own, cherish, and be inspired by what was possible. I stopped looking at my space as an obstacle but instead as an opportunity. I began to relentlessly explore what was possible within every inch of this beautiful space, studying form, posing, and the way the light danced across the walls. Today, I know that most importantly, my clients trust me and hire me for the service and experience of creating intimate heirloom quality portraits. Within my small studio space, we laugh, cry, and giggle as I capture the light reflecting in their eyes and the beauty in their hearts.
Change your thinking:
- Get creative.
- See possibilities where you once saw barriers.
- Master your space, your posing, and your light.
- Take on those less-than-ideal challenges to turn your “sort of” business into your dream business.
You believe your lack of high-end equipment is preventing you from producing high end results
Over the last few years, I have been fortunate enough to slowly upgrade my equipment from beginner to professional by selling back and buying used from my local camera shop. My first DSLR camera was a Canon Rebel, which I used for many years, and three years ago I purchased a 5d Mark III. When I invested in my first backdrop, the largest size I could afford was a 60 in x 44 in, clearly not ideal for a portrait photographer capturing images of children and expanding to families. This of course provided loads of problem solving with posing and hours of post-production. Trying to clone and extend backdrops seemed to be nearly impossible at the time. There is no doubt that equipment matters and can produce significant enhancement in outcomes, reduce sacrifices, and increase time availability, but I refuse to believe that it is a barrier to creating beautiful, high impact images.
Each time I upgraded my equipment, I was impressed with the fun bells and whistles, however, the quality of my work never changed significantly. I still approached the sessions the same visually and creatively.
My whole kit and kaboodle consists of one camera, one lens, a collection of backdrops, one backdrop stand, two sandbags, a hair dryer for blowing hair, two sheer white curtains, and the rare use of a piece of foam core purchased from a local drugstore to bounce light.
If you are a photographer who has the means to buy the high-end equipment, by all means go after it and purchase all of the tools available to meet your needs. For those photographers who are unable to upgrade and feel that lack is preventing them from attracting their ideal client or create swoon-worthy images, I am here to firmly advise you that this is a false narrative you are telling yourself. I am incredibly lucky to say an overwhelming majority of my clients are not only repeat clients and have gone on to refer other repeat clients, but those initial clients were the ones with the entry-level camera and me using thumbtacks to hang up my fabric backdrops (purchased with a coupon at the local fabric store). They were attracted to my vision then and have stayed with me since.
The magic is not found within the camera, the lens, or any vintage market treasure find. There will never be a prop, gadget, or a post-production preset that will change your vision or make you more of an impactful artist. These tools are simply enhancements to honing a craft that begins with how you see the world. High-impact images are created through a love of creating, in deep connection and collaboration with your client, and through the mastery of form and light.
Change your thinking:
- Play with composition, depth of field, and light.
- Dive deep into building confidence in all technical aspects of your craft.
- Master the equipment and tools you own.
You believe you need to duplicate another photographer’s work/process to attract your ideal client
I made decisions early in my career based on this false narrative. I spent way too much money purchasing the exact backdrops and props used by very successful photographers to recreate their setup with the assumption that it would make me just like them—successful, profitable, fully booked, and equally admired. I would spend hours researching their sources, camera settings, lighting equipment, looking for behind-the-scenes pull-back shots to better help me nail “their” vision. I thought the secret to success was in duplicating what was bringing others success. At times when I did nail the shot, it still lacked in so many ways because it was never my vision, and in that disconnection came clear inauthenticity.
This narrative was also ingrained in my offerings and services. When I opened my business, I was the “photograph everything but specialize in nothing” type of photographer. I knew I loved taking portraits, but other than that, I had no focus. I started advertising what I saw local photographers doing and took on clients based on those ads. I photographed newborns, outdoor mini-sessions, engagements, and highly themed and bold-colored studio sessions. I started to notice this intense sense of dread and sickness the day before certain sessions. I was uncomfortable and self-conscious and once I became honest with myself and my heart, I knew my work was not serving me, and certainly not properly serving my clients. I had spent so much time focusing on how other photographers were thriving while I was not growing at all. Through providing the services that “everyone else was providing,” some as blessings, some as lessons, and through the pain of consistent failure to produce work I was proud of, I became honest and clear about what types of sessions brought me joy and excitement. Today, when I approach a photo shoot, I truly believe that my camera is a tool in creating my life’s purpose and I am incredibly intentional about the portraits I create. I have only been able to attract my ideal client through standing boldly behind what is unique to me as an artist. I am not the photographer for every consumer. That is of great significance because I know I am attracting clients who share my core values. My business has allowed me to capture portraits for clients who continuously inspire me with their beauty and forever captivate my soul with their stories. Our clients know when our work is authentic and made with intention and love. Early on I felt that I served my client well by knocking off someone else’s vision, providing them a requested service for payment. I believe that through portraiture everyone has a story worth telling, a life worth celebrating, and a legacy worth creating. Today I know that only when I show a mother a portrait of her child that captures the light in their soul, and the love in their life, have I served them well.
Change your thinking:
- What about your sessions excites you? What do you dread?
- What specifically do you love about another artist’s work (the fashion influences, lighting, their ability to connect with their subjects, posing) and how can you play with that concept?
- The moment you think, “Every other photographer…” STOP.
- Create a vision for your brand. What does your client like, where do they shop, what do they value, etc.
- Be brave enough to pursue a life that is unique to only your soul’s calling.