Ask an Artist: Interview with Photographer Kate Lemmon

Woot woot! This is our first interview in a series I'm calling "Ask an Artist". I got to meet Kate in person (we both live in Boston) and she's such a talented, delightful person. So excited for you guys to meet her and hear some real world advice!

RWC: What’s your creative title? And how long have you been in this role?

KL: Owner/Photographer at Kate Lemmon Photography. I officially opened business in 2008 while in high school, but I’ve been full time since 2014.

RWCWhat’s your art education background?

KL: I studied 6 years of conservatory (to be a classical flutist) and then went right into doing photography full time. I'm a mostly self-taught photographer though. I went to a communications magnet high school and my senior year I took a mentorship with a photographer. I actually had to reach out 3 times before she answered but she agreed to meet with me on a weekly basis. And she showed me how to set things up legally, and how to organize and really got me thinking about marketing and getting clients. It was such a huge gift to have her insight.

RWC: What makes you excited about your work?

KL: I love helping people see what’s beautiful in their lives. As a portrait photographer my goal is to bring out the best side of people in every session. For engagement sessions having people see what their love actually looks like is really special.  That's why I first got into photography- the idea of creating family history. I love that my work has meaning in people’s lives, and will for generations to come.

RWC: How did you decide what you wanted to do?

KL: When there’s so many people telling you what path they think you should be on it can be really hard to figure out what YOU want. A lot of people wanted me to be a classical musician and it took a lot of courage to say no, that’s not actually what I want. But I’m so grateful that I did!

RWC: What's the best part of working in a creative field? 

KL: My favorite part of this job is that I get to set my own lifestyle. I can set my agenda on a day-to-day basis and have days that vary. If I’m really excited about a project I can just focus on that. Some people think paying self-employment tax is outrageous, but I look at it like I pay to have the lifestyle that I want and it’s the best.

RWC: How do you keep your creative juices flowing? 

KL: This past year I did 140 shoots, so I’m constantly behind my camera, and I can see that I improve with each shoot. I make little tweaks and learn along the way. It’s great to do a year in review, and I can see all the work I’ve done and people I’ve met, which makes me happy. Sometimes we forget that we did really awesome stuff because we’re so busy!  

RWC: How much did you charge for your first client?

KL: Great question! In high school I started doing class photos for my friends and I charged $50/shoot.

RWC: What are your thoughts on doing work for free?

KL: Something that I learned from my mentor was to never charge $0. So because of that from the start people respected what I was doing. A couple times of year I donate time for a session and it’s given through school auctions. I’ve found that people who are actual friends want to pay me, and support what I’m doing. And people who kept asking for discounts are not real friends, and don’t respect my business.

The key is if you’re going to do something for free make sure that it’s for someone who you’d want to work for in the future and that it makes sense for your own marketing purposes.

RWC: What are the challenges of owning an art business?

KL: The biggest challenge for me is setting boundaries. Going home and trying to turn off work was tough, so I now actually leave my computer at the office so I can go home and have family time. When you’re an entrepreneur your to-do list is never ending so you have to find a balance that works for you.

RWC: Any advice for students?

KL: Get your financial act together as soon as possible! Even the most enjoyable art won’t be enjoyable at all if you’re struggling to make a living. If you can’t pay your bills then you won’t have time to make your art in the first place. The more quickly you can eliminate the stress financially, the more you’re going to enjoy creating and working. Having a financial buffer in place was the best thing I did my first year full time, so that if anything came up or I got sick I wouldn’t be stressed.

RWC: What resources have been beneficial for you?

The book I Will Teach You to Be Rich- by Ramit Sethi. I love that book so much I bought copies for my friends! After reading it I put together my whole financial plan. Also - is a software and methodology to personal finance and budgeting. You can sign up and they have a ton of educational resources, and I use it on a weekly basis.

Finding a community of people that do what you do is also so important. Online communities are great, because even if you can’t meet in person you can log-in whenever and get support. I talk to photographers in online forums on a daily basis, and we support and help each other.  The key thing is you’re not alone in doing what you’re doing! 

RWC: What about equipment? What's a good place to start for photographers?

KL: Don’t spend too much money on equipment before you understand composition and lighting. I’m grateful I didn’t have top of the line equipment when I started because shooting with a mid-level camera forced me to find and work with the light more because my camera would just not shoot well in low light! 

RWC: How do you set goals?

KL: It’s really interesting what you realize about your business when you take 20 mins to seriously think about it! This year I wrote down all my small and large goals and next week I’m going to put my goals into my calendar so that by the end of the year everything is done. I put everything down and schedule it out day by day, week by week and sometimes minute by minute for the crazy days!

RWC: How do you define & acknowledge your success?

KL: Success for me is making my clients happy because nothing makes me more fulfilled than hearing I’ve made a difference for them. Success is knowing I get to do what I love on a daily basis. I’m a huge fan of setting goals and checking them off so if all my boxes are checked off at the end of the day I’m happy!

RWC: What do you wish you’d learned sooner about living a creative & happy life?

KL: A friend of mine shared an article that totally shaped the way I view being a creative person. I used to feel a lot of pressure to be happy all the time, and it’s stupid because everyone has their ups and downs and you know that, but you feel like you should always be striving to be happy. But the article talked about how creative people have higher ups and lower downs than most people which is normal and that’s why you’re creative- you’re able to experience all facets of life and feel in a wider range of emotions. Seeing that I fit all those qualities they talked about took the pressure off for trying to feel happy all the time, and makes it easier to deal with when I do have a down day.

RWC: Any other words of advice for creative pros?

KL: There’s never going to be a day when everything is done, so just knowing and being comfortable with the idea that as creatives we’re constantly going to be striving to do better and move forward, is helpful.  

Thank you so much, Kate!!

To see her beautiful work click here.

Peace, love & pixels,