Interviews

Creative Profile: Katie Snyder

We first met Katie when her and her husband moved in next door to us at an artists' center in Atlanta, Ga. Since then we have stayed in touch and followed one another's creative progression. Katie is a thoughtful and insightful creator and has been kind enough to share her journey and thoughts with us here.

My name is Katie Snyder and I’ve been a photographer since 2003. I started out shooting anything and everything – I have since narrowed my focus to mostly weddings, portraits, and travel work. I’m based in Atlanta and have a fabulous creative team that help make everything run beautifully.

Why did you decide to pursue photography as a career?

In college, I studied two things that interested me greatly: psychology research and photography. Everyone kept telling me the same thing over and over – good luck finding a career with a psych degree. Even I didn’t believe I would ever do photography for anything more than fun. Super encouraging.

After graduation, I worked for a year and a half doing grief counseling at a local hospital in one of the most unorganized and under appreciated systems I could ever imagine. We were all required to work 1st, 2nd, and 3rd shift in the same week – making healthy life routines impossible. My coworkers were amazing humans and all desperately burnt out. I stayed a year longer than I should have and was on my second interview for grad school for counseling when my husband and I decided to leave the small town we had grown up in to move to Atlanta. He had been working a similarly grueling job as an armed car driver. He would come home from 15 hour days of breathing in fumes of the old truck vomitting from intense migraines. He was required to be at work by 6am and was usually in bed by the time I got home from whatever crazy shift I was working. Did I mention we were 21 and 23 at the time? We knew something had to change and fast.

We’ve been asked over and over, “Why Atlanta?” and I honestly don’t have a great answer. It was the path that was made clear to us at the time. Living in the southeast, Nashville and Atlanta seemed to be our most logical choices and we met a friendly face who encouraged us towards Atlanta. So we did it.

That first year was one of the strangest of my life. I remember playing a lot of Super Nintendo and emptying out our savings to pay for fast food while we looked for jobs. There was a lot of hustle, too. We found jobs to pay the bills and started working towards our independent creative endeavors. (photography for me, music for him) We took a big financial risk to pay for some advertising for my photography business and it worked. Within 10 months, I had quit my job (managing the corporate office of Teavana) and was a full time photographer at the ripe old age of 23. Dan also became self-employed only a few short months later and began touring full time with his first band.

So, to better answer the question- I guess photography as a career represented a lot of freedom to me. I remember thinking that being able to make my own schedule and not work for “the man” sounded like the best thing I could ever imagine. In hindsight, I had no idea the double edged sword I was getting myself into. I had no idea I would work around the clock in the years to come to earn my keep. I had no idea the bad that would come with the good, I suppose. But, of the options I had at the time, photography seemed like the most exciting and the most fun. So I went for it. 🙂

Where did you study/learn to become a professional at your craft and what events led up to you becoming comfortable positioning yourself as a pro?

I studied film photography at Milligan College in east TN. I’m grateful to have gotten my start there. My classes were a lot of definition tests, learning to develop and print in the darkroom, and very little shooting instruction. What shaped me the most though, were the critiques. It was engrained in us, above all else, that to be an artist you had to be able to explain your work and stand behind it. Others would have differing opinions – they would even tear it apart, perhaps, but that was just part of your job and you had to grow a thick skin to endure it. 

Probably the most trying of these experiences was when a classmate cussed me out in the dark room because he thought one of my abstract assignment shots was bad. (He’s now Instagram famous for taking pictures of his dog standing on things, so I guess things ended up working out for both of us.)

Anyway, early on I was shooting a lot of bands and I was absolutely terrified to talk to record labels on the phone. I was convinced they would find out I was just an inexperienced kid and not hire me. I didn’t know how much to charge to get the jobs and was chronically under pricing myself. And don’t get me started on learning how to do the other business stuff like marketing, taxes, etc. There was tons of stuff I didn’t know and even more I did wrong, but at some point, I just remember Dan (my husband) saying, “You’re really good. You have to know you’re good.” This was about four years in and I honestly hadn’t known. I had just been running from job to job, living in fear of getting fired from each one—of not being able to make my clients happy— no good workflow, etc. So when he said that, when he actually sat me down and tried to convince me that I could do it, I eventually let it sink in and started believing it for myself. That in turn made a huge difference in my confidence level and my ability to focus on each job and be a better photographer in general. It was a good hurdle to get over.

Was there a point in your journey where you felt like maybe you weren’t good enough to make a career out of photography? What did you do to get beyond your self doubt?

Yes. (See last above) But despite all those feelings, I always had incredible friends and family support as well. I never really thought about the reality of failing a lot, probably because there were always people encouraging me in some way or another. 

When I was fresh out of college and still living in the small town I grew up in, I actually typed up letters to my friends and told them I was going to go for it and that I would appreciate their support. I mailed them! (With stamps and everything) And, you know what? It worked. Those friends became my first clients and longest supporters. I still remember those first paid sessions and I couldn’t be more grateful for them.

What piece of advice do you have for beginners looking to either go out on their own as photographers or looking to build a large following on social media?

To photographers trying to get started, I would say you have to put yourself out there. Tell people what you’re doing and ask for their support (see last question). You will be surprised at people’s generosity. 

Four lessons I learned early on about pricing:

1. Different people think about money differently.

I’ve had people come to me and say they’re on a “budget” and end up booking a package for $4,000+. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by assuming you know someone’s price range. Always ask what their “budget” is and then quote them your normal prices anyway.

2. People spend money on what is important to them.

Some of the smallest/low budget weddings have the largest photography budgets because that is where they’re placing their worth. Again, assume nothing and be confident in your price list.

3. Your friends have to pay, too. 

I used to have a really hard time charging my friends full price until one day when some close friends hired another photographer for their wedding and paid them over $3k. I quickly got the picture: they have to pay someone, why not you? If you provide a service you’re proud of and know it’s top of the line, charge people—even your friends—what you’re worth. 

Another side note on this: remember that in the creative field, you alone place the value on your services. Charge too little and people will assume you’re not good at what you do. This concept was especially hard for me to grasp, but it is oh so true.

4. Not everyone is your client.

It only takes a few to pay the bills and fill your calendar. If people don’t hire you (for whatever reason) it’s ok. It’s business, don’t take it personal. Handle it professionally and offer to help if they need it in the future. Especially if they’re your friends…do not take it personal.

If you could have done anything different when you first started in your career, what would it be and why?

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To make it short: probably everything. 

Seriously. My advice (based on my biggest regrets) would be: don’t quit your day job until you have the professional gear you need (or the ability to rent what you need per job), a full calendar, and a business plan.

By business plan I don’t mean an old school, typed up list of rules on paper but I do mean learn business basics before you start. You’re either going to have to be your own marketing strategist, book keeper, accountant etc or you’re going to have to hire those services. So, have a plan before you begin.

How do you stay motivated and creative?

Good question. I’m not sure I know the answer. I’m a fan of waiting to be inspired before doing creative work, but any creative person can tell you that that’s not really good enough. (The artists I’m most impressed with are those that get up day in and day out and actually do the hard work of creating, even when they’re not inspired.)

For me personally, I’ve been telling myself for years that starting next Monday I’ll start better habits and I’ll make more time for creative personal work. It hasn’t happened yet but what I have learned is that I tend to be most inspired when I least expect it. When I’m spending time on myself, when I give myself a few moments in the day to breathe, when I’m traveling, etc. 

So, I’ve been trying to give myself less grief for the things I’ve done wrong and give myself more time off… It seems to be working so far.

Who’s work inspires you?

I’m inspired most by honesty and hard work. I’m inspired by people who do whatever necessary to adapt to industry changes and by people who stick to their guns and stand up for what they know is right and care less about popular opinion. And, I’m inspired by people who’s work is unique. I think Jeremy Cowart and Zack Arias embody all of these these things. And their work is amazing too. 🙂

What gear do you shoot with and what advice do you have for beginners that are trying to figure out what gear they need to get started?

For portraits, I shoot with a Nikon D800 and a Sigma 24-70. I also have a Sigma 70mm Macro.

For weddings, I also have a Nikon 80-200 2.8, a 50 mm 1.4, a 20 mm 2.8, a whole slew of Yungnuo manual flashes and triggers (I prefer these over Nikon and they are much more affordable! The triggers are $20 a piece and they rock

I also have a backup Nikon camera body-which is a must. I used to be lazy and only take one camera to portrait sessions, until the day my camera’s shutter stopped working at a shoot. That was a bad day.

If you’re just shooting portraits, you can get away with one or two really great lenses. Invest in a fast prime and milk that perfect golden hour light. If you’re shooting weddings, though, you have to be prepared for anything. It’s part of your job. A lot of people get into weddings thinking it’s an easy way to make a lot of money. While they money can be great, it’s a lot more difficult than most people imagine. You risk getting sued or having a very unhappy client if you miss any shot of the day so you literally must be prepared for anything and everything that could happen in a day (rain, sun, wind, snow, dark cathedrals, dancing in the dark, etc.)

If you don’t have all the gear you need to do weddings, I recommend renting what you need on a case by case basis. For instance, if you’re shooting an outdoor wedding and the couple want you to be up close and personal, you might not need that telephoto. If you’re shooting a Catholic Mass where you’re required to sit in the balcony with the organist, better make it a 400mm. There are several great rental companies that have emerged over the last couple of years. I love Atlanta’s own Aperturent.

What program do you edit in and do you have any advice for aspiring photographers on how to approach photo editing?

This is not the answer I would have given several years ago or even a year ago, and I know this might not be a popular opinion, but I’ve come to realize over the years that editing photos doesn’t actually have to be a part of being a photographer. 

It wasn’t a part of it when I studied film in college. Yes, we spent a ton of time in the dark room developing, dodging and burning, but for the most part, the photo taken was the photo.

Am I saying you shouldn’t edit your photos? Absolutely not. Use the tools technology has given. But, there are a million other parts of running a photography business and someone very smart once told me to delegate any part of it you don’t enjoy. If that’s culling, delegate it. If it’s cleaning your house/cooking, delegate it for more time. And if it’s editing, delegate it.

So my best advice to you is find what works best for you and don’t feel like you have to do it a certain way just because someone else told you to do it that way. If you love taking photos but not editing, there are some great outsourcing options available these days. If you love editing, find a program that makes sense to you. We used photoshop for years before realizing how much faster Adobe lightroom would allow us to edit thousands of photos. I now outsource to a company called Photographer’s Edit and it has literally given me & my husband so many hours of our life back.

What type of photography do you most enjoy doing?

I most enjoy creating work that I find meaningful. For me personally, this could be anything from documenting humanitarian work around the world to a family that’s just truly in love and committed to remembering special moments. That last part sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I’ve photographed a lot of people in the last fourteen years. I’ve watched brides get stressed and cuss out their moms on their wedding days. I once watched a groom try to run out on his wedding only to be drug back by his groomsman and guess what, nobody told the bride. I’ve seen a lot. So when I see two people who are truly in love, who you can just tell are ready to face the hard days along with the good, those are photos I love to capture. That’s the type of thing that inspires me and makes the work I do feel meaningful.

Check out katiesnyder.com to view more of Katie’s work and get in touch.

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