What is the key to following through on your dream and creating opportunity? In todayâ€™s connection call, I am honored to introduce you to Katie Levine. Katie is a freelance photographer who has worked with countless celebrities and on huge campaigns, while also achieving a childhood dream of being a featured photographer on Americaâ€™s Next Top Model. Together, Katie and I are chatting about the longevity of grit, sharing our stories about working on set, and uncovering our tips for succeeding in entrepreneurship.
On Quianna Marie Weekly, we’re chatting about business growing pains, finding genuine connections, and celebrating wins of all sizes through the lens of a photographer at heart. Sprinkled throughout stories and interviews with past clients, photographers and other business owners this podcast is designed to help you step into your purpose and to truly create a life you’re proud of, a life worth photographing and sharing.
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Review the Show Notes:
Following a dream and working with the stars (2:35)
Working for Annie Leibovitz (5:38)
From assisting to photographing on her own (13:06)
Blending your own creativity with others on set (18:44)
The climates on set (32:16)
Surviving the pandemic as a freelance photographer (36:07)
Keeping big dreams on your vision board (42:03)
Key tip from Katie (46:26)
Connect with Katie:
Review the Transcript:
Every time I walk into new rooms I’m walking in with so much love and looking for new opportunities. The secret to calming your nerves and finding miracles is to believe that you’re a magnet for these opportunities. I just recently met today’s guests at a photo shoot here in Arizona and instantly we became friends.
After collaborating as photographers for a huge content day. I started following Katy Levine and my jaw dropped when I scroll to see she’s photographed huge campaigns work with celebrities like Amy Adams, Kourtney Kardashian, Ashanti, tan France, and lucky blue Smith to name a few. Katie has interned for Vogue worked right alongside any Liebowitz. Yes, Annie Leibowitz, and even appeared on America’s Next Top Model as a featured photographer.
The list of achievements, awards and accolades Katie Levine has acquired since she was a teenager with her camera and a really, really big dream. Those are all inspiring and noteworthy. But it’s her heart drive and infectious laugh truly makes her talents as a photographer shine.
Together, Katie Levine and I will be chatting about the longevity of grit and following through with your dreams, sharing stories about working on set with celebrities and how photographers can have such a deeper impact when we truly see and celebrate the humans we’re photographing. Even if you’re not a photographer, Katie’s journey through entrepreneurship is inspiring. And her tenacity is contagious. It’s my honor and privilege to introduce you to Katie Levine.
Welcome to Quianna Marie Weekly, a podcast for creatives who love to celebrate wins, big or small by dancing in the kitchen photographers who are excited to serve their clients and friends who are ready to chase really, really big dreams. You can find all of the resources mentioned in this episode at Kiana Marie.com/podcast. Join me as I share with you motivation, chat about growing pains, finding genuine connections and celebrating your wins through the lens of a photographer at heart. Come join me for a dance party. Ready? Let’s go!
All right. All right. Welcome to the party. Katie, thank you so much for joining today.
Of course. So happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
Oh my gosh. Well, Katie, I am so incredibly impressed with you and your portfolio and your beautiful images and in just your vibrant personality. You’re so fun. And I just I just have to say you have photographed celebrities, you have photographed some really iconic humans. And I just want to know what choices you made to put yourself in these rooms and I should say in these studios with these incredible humans?
Honestly started with a dream like I remember being 12 I think and I was like always obsessed with America’s Next Top Model and I was came from a really small town called Rockford, Illinois. And fashion photography was not even like in the dream or meeting a celebrity. Like, I don’t think I knew anybody that had ever met a celebrity unless they were like, oh my God got a picture on the street kind of thing. So, so crazy. But yeah, little dream basically turned into a lot of I don’t want to fuck units, but totally like my energy just came from that where I was like, Hey, I’m gonna prove everybody wrong. People saw me I can’t do this, I’m gonna do this.
So when I was 16, I kind of started breaking into like houses and photographing my friends kind of in this fashion world, and we kind of just there and then from there. The dream just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And I remember my mom told me to be an art history teacher. And I said, No, I’m gonna keep growing. And it’s just this idea that I just wanted to prove everybody that I could do it. So yeah, I from there kind of started, I got an internship with Vogue and Annie Leibowitz, and those are what really opened my doors.
That’s kind of what taught me how to be in the room with celebrities. When I was interning at Vogue, I sent everybody from, you know, Lena Dunham to Francis Ford Coppola to Posh Spice to like, you know, to everybody like that. And that’s where I kind of got that star struck pneus away from me because I didn’t have an option to and then same thing with Annie’s I had to be very composed. My first shoot was with Amy Adams on a cover shoot for Vogue with her. So it’s like you really had no choice but to like focus. So that kind of prepared me and got me like, at least in the room and comfortable. And then once it launched into my own career, it just honestly, yeah, it kind of came naturally to me. And I just always want to my biggest thing with anybody, no matter if you’re a celebrity or not, I want to make you feel like a star.
Wow, that is so inspiring. And I love your tenacity, being a little girl and saying I’m gonna just figure this out. And you may not know how to do it, but you just started you just kept pushing, you kept trying, you turned your friends into models, and you got really creative. And I I mean, I feel like a lot of us especially photographers and entrepreneurs, we have very similar drives like that we have those backgrounds were like, You know what, this may not exist in my current town or in my near future, but I’m gonna make it happen. And I love that I love your drive.
No, absolutely. I just think I’m truly Like, manifestation and like God and prayer and all those things are just so real in my life, like, even watching American accent bottle. Like I ended up being a guest photographer on the show on the last season of the season like and that was seriously my absolute dream come true. And it might sound silly to people. But like, little girl, Katie was ecstatic. Like, I couldn’t even believe that that actually happened. So just like, kind of with every check mark, you get in your like, bucket list. It just lets you know that like you are in control of your future and you like, create the outcome?
Yes. Oh, 1,000%. And y’all know how woowoo I am? And how I love it. Yes, and how I believe in the power of prayer and the power of mindset. So we’re not gonna let you just kind of mention any Liebowitz and then just kind of fly right by that. So I want to go back and share, like, How did that even happen? I want to hear all the juicy details, and maybe even some surprising things that you learned from her. Like, I just want to chat all about that experience.
Yeah, I was thinking yesterday when you sent them, you know, the questions about what we’d maybe talk about, and I was like, What can I share that I haven’t shared on the podcast before. So I’ll kind of give the background but then I definitely want to give some kind of more like insight to what actually went on. So my first internship was in the middle of college, it was when I was a junior in college, and I interned for Vogue magazine, I ended up kind of at first not doing that well and kind of stumbling across the finish line.
Then I ended up kind of becoming lead intern over there and doing really well and I was like, I’m going to quit my job or quit school, I’m going to just work for Vogue, I’m gonna be a stylist, that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna give up on photography, it’s fine. And then my boss there said, I didn’t graduate college, you need to graduate college. And I promise you if you graduate college, I will recommend you to at least what studio and I was like, what like, so that was so crazy. And then Cameron, who was the past internet vote actually interned for Annie Leibowitz, so that’s who she connected me with.
But he ended up just like, it’s amazing what people want to give, sometimes not everybody wants to give, but Cameron really wanted to help me. So graduated college ended up you know, connecting with camera, and he set me up with the studio, got the job on the spot got told that they wanted me to start a week later, because I basically I graduated college had the interview. And then a week later, I was moving to New York City never had been there. Never had done anything.
It was really diving in deep. And how her studio works is they have like a production team and a photography team, as well as archivist and managers and all that other stuff. People that are printing stuff upstairs was kind of like this whole working horse. And I thought I was gonna be on the photo team right away, like, of course, right? I’m like, Oh, I’m just gonna be on set with any legal rights and carrier shit, and it’s gonna be great. But once I got there, they were like, Oh, you’re on the production team. Actually. Why is that? Because I can’t really lift most guys were production or photography assistants because they can carry stuff around set.
It was kind of a reality that I’d never like, like with me. So I was like, okay, okay, so I’m gonna start doing production stuff. So the production encompasses everything from Reese. Like, the main thing I would do for any is research before set, she really likes to come organized, which is also something I can give to anybody like right research who you’re photographing. So yeah, or like Amy Adams like research, all the new movies, she was in any recent articles get the most recent headshot, like all the stuff that then I would hand to Annie and she would prepare for that shoot. So that’s what kind of started for me, I just kind of put my head down, listened a lot, didn’t speak a lot, just kind of, you know, buckle down.
Then from there, I kind of was like, I gotta get on set. I can’t just be sitting here while they’re on shoots all day. You know what I’m just gonna say I’ll do anything. Like let me just be on set of anything. So anything meant driving trucks around New York City as a production assistant. So, so crazy.
My first time ever actually being on set with Annie was for our Mo player, ad. So it was like a whole campaign from Eau Claire, which included going to New Jersey for a day shooting at the sand dunes in the middle of the summer. These poor people were like passing out because one player is the you know, really thick jackets. So that was super cool.
Then I was driving around talent I just started an SUV so I drove talent around set and then the next day I drove them to the Chrysler Building where they were hanging off the side of the building like really insane sets. And then from there it turned into driving like cube trucks like Sprinter vans and cube drops with all the equipment and you know, all that kind of stuff and doing like what’s it called? I’m trying to think just a food on set, crafty or pick only.
So from there I did that for about the entire summer towards the end of the summer. One of the lead photo assistants ended up moving on had to go move somewhere or something like that. And the lead first assistant Nick Rogers, he was like I saw your hustle girl like you’re lifting shit all the time on set. You’re just quiet. You just want to be here. Do you want to become the photography intern or assistant like the fifth assistant and I was like, Absolutely, like let’s go. So then the next set from there that One on was that Amy Adams cover shoots my first time ever photo assisting was with Grace Coddington, Annie Leibovitz, Amy.
I just remember the main thing I took from that was, he told me to remember black absorbs and white bounces, he’s like, if you learn nothing else know that that’s like our main component of what we do. So if we have a light and we want to bounce on her face, we’re gonna put white like a reflector here. Like, if we want, you know, she’s got too much had like, here we’re gonna put black underneath or to absorb. So that was honestly like something I’ll never forget.
So that moment was crazy. And then from there, it just kept going. It was like, you know, I did a Louis Vuitton campaign with them brows photosystem, where I had to go on like the side of a building and in a construction elevator in New York City, like, what the most insane shit you’ll ever think of in your life. But it was honestly probably, I don’t know, I’d say like, not the highlight of my career.
But I loved it so much. I was so in it. And I was working like 40 hours a week, and now even more made like 80 hours a week, like just end for free. That’s the thing is like, I got paid on set days. But the rest of the time out there. I was doing it for free. And then got it like my parents support and work side jobs. But yeah, that’s kind of anti liberal. It’s a nutshell I kind of went off on a tangent, but those are just little moments that’s really stood out.
Yes, no, I love it. Because I just watching this. I’m like, as you’re speaking, I’m kind of watching a movie in my head. Like, I’m like, You explain it. So, so great. And I just, I love once again, I have to bring it back to your tenacity and your drive and showing up and I feel like sometimes we’re scared, right? Like, sometimes we get these opportunities. And we think, Oh, this is it, right? Because anybody else in that position may have thought, hey, I’m on production set.
This is great. Like this is as close proximity as I can get. And I’m grateful for this opportunity. And then they just kind of sit in it right. But like I love and I love surrounding myself with other humans like you where you’re like, yes, it’s this close, but not close enough. What can I do to help? And when you help, that’s when opportunities come like that’s when you actually activate the magic around you to
using your ears instead of your mouth using your hands instead of your you know what I’m saying? All these things make such a difference and like also just going for it like I remember I was photographing this event with all the shock hat from Arrested Development and stuff like that. I went to her event and I was at a gallery show and frickin Childish Gambino, Shai leboff, and Brad Pitt all show up and I was like, do I say anything?
Do I not say anything, whatever. And I just went up to Brad Pitt straight up and I was like, Hey, by the way, I know you’re known. I know your kids godmothers. I just wanted to say hi, like, I’m just gonna do it and and I shook Brad Pitt’s hand. He whispered in my ear, and like, I didn’t ever photograph Brad Pitt from it, and nothing ever came in it, but I just still went for it, you know? Yeah.
I’m saying the other day like to Vaughn Franklin. He’s like, my favorite music producers and movie producer just came out with a movie flaming hot. But he, he I saw one of his sermons one time at a church, and I just was like, he changed my life and my relationship with God, I’m gonna go up and just tell her. Yeah, and I did. And he was so happy. So I just think like, with anything you want life, life is short. And if you don’t go for it, in those moments, you might not get a second chance.
Oh, 1,000% I literally preach that like, yes. Oh, I love your energy. And I love your heart. So I would love to know what was next for you. Like, what at what point did you you know, assist any Liebowitz? And then you know, have all these opportunities either on set or on TV shows? And then what was kind of like that missing piece that then how did you start photographing and producing on your own.
So I left Annie’s after about a year, and it was one of the things were just felt like not forced out. But definitely, like, it’s time to go, it’s time to move on time to let other people experience what I’ve experienced. And just kind of make some steps forward. Right. So from there, I just kept assisting photographers for the time being just getting on every set I could sustain on Yeah, just like even HDTV sets, like lots of random things.
Then I became a studio manager for this photographer. Danielle, love it. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to say that. But yeah, I honestly had a miserable time with her. She’s a celebrity photographer. And she just didn’t treat me right to be honest with you. And I tried to do my best and I tried to learn as much as I could, but I ended up getting fired. And you know, as much as you say about my, like, my personality, right? I never thought in a million years I get fired. I was like me. Like, why would I get fired? And but you know, what it was is that, you know, again, God is good, right?
So that kind of pushed me into the direction of like, Hey, this is God telling me that it’s time to do my own thing. It’s time to take my next step. So from there I just started reaching out to every modeling agency and every person on Instagram and everything I could do and ended up just kind of slowly building my portfolio. And somehow the magazine found me on Instagram maybe and they sent me an email and they wanted me to photograph lucky blue Smith or actually he wasn’t even the first one it was like some influencer girl right? So we they wanted to do a little video series that was like, hey, it’s gonna be short two minutes videos for like IG TV, and then we’ll do some photos possibly, but I didn’t really do video at the time, but I’m like, I’ll figure it out. This is for a huge magazine.
Let’s go. I can of course I can do that. Yeah, I just started doing those videos for them and then ended up photographing and doing a video of Lucky blue Smith, who was the biggest male model of the Year at the time. So insane. And me and him ended up really getting along. So during that shoot, we kind of ran off, and I wasn’t even supposed to take pictures of them, but we just like ran off, took pictures had fun. He looked like James Dean. That was like the coolest thing ever.
Then what happened is, maybe nine months later, he posted one of the photos on Instagram and he just put the caption as biking. And my Instagram blew up like I was getting hundreds of followers. And at the time, I noticed that drew Elliott followed me back. And that just goes to speak of you know, I maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it but it was because I noticed he followed back and I had been researching creative directors, anybody that worked for a magazine I was following all these people I was like, I’m gonna go down the rabbit hole and do something good with it because we go down the rabbit hole with Instagram already watching really dumb stuff all the time.
So why don’t we use it for good so I just started following following following reaching out DM and commenting whatever anything. So I noticed your Elliot followed me back and if you don’t know who drill Eliot is he’s now the global Creative Officer of Matt cosmetics. But at the time, he was the creative director of paper magazine. So I messaged him right away. And I was like, Oh my gosh, I’m such a fan of yours. I love your blog. You know, I think you’re a visionary like thank you for following me it means a lot and he says, best photo of Lucky blue that ever been taken. Come see me a paper magazine.
Oh my god, I just got the chills
when Annie are taking this picture. So for me, it was kind of a really full circle moment. I’m like, you know, hey, if that’s the best picture that I took in 30 seconds, then 100 frames of the sky, maybe I have something you know. So we went and had a meeting and I just showed up like myself, I was living in Staten Island at the time, which if you’ve ever been to New York, people consider that like the absolute ass crack of New York. Like they don’t respect it at all. You’re poor if you live there, but that’s all I could do at the time. It’s all I could live in. I was dating a guy, he lived there. And I made a choice.
I was like I can either not live in New York City or I can live in an affordable part of New York City. Right? And that’s not going to stop me I’m not gonna let people’s judgement of where I live in who I am. Be that so I just went in there. I’m like, Hey, I took the ferry in I made my Timberlands I’m this girl from Rockford Illinois. What’s up? And he was like, Oh my gosh, like I just kind of like love your personality. Let’s get you start working at paper introduced me to Mickey Boardman who’s now become like my uncle. And he actually grew up going to Rockford so it was like one of those things where I used to like lie and say I’m from Chicago. But I started saying I’m from Rockford. And those kinds of little steps also helped make me have connections. So yeah. And then from there, Drew was also one of the guest judges on America’s Next Top Model. And by my second meeting, he was like, I remember he was going down for a cigarette and the doors closed. And he goes, you’re gonna be on America’s Next Top Model. And I was like, yeah, and then that type. And so I know, it’s a lot of like, kind of crazy stories. But that’s kind of how my life has been one thing really led to another, you know?
Yeah, well, this is really inspiring. And I think you’re right, every little choice, every little decision, every opportunity that comes our way. And whether it’s doors slammed in our face, or doors opening and Windows peeping open, but us just like hijacking them open to crawl and like I just like there’s so many opportunities waiting for us. I love that
one. That’s either thing about 23 year olds, or 24 year old Katie. And I’m like, dang, she was bold, like I straight up was in everybody’s DMS, I was straight up commenting on everything. Like, it’s all I would do for hours. My brother used to be like, can you just watch a show without being on your phone? And I was like, No, I have a dream.
I’m working. I’m working. Exactly. I love that. Well, I would love to chat a little bit more with all of your experience being on set, whether it’s with campaigns or for celebrity shoots, or just all the really fun things that you’ve had the opportunity to photograph. I know, for example, so I kind of want to get back to kind of set the scene. So with the wedding industry, and with the portrait industry, really our job technically as photographers is to kind of have the documentary approach, right, like or documentary approach, where we’re just kind of capturing things unfolding, right, like we are kind of interjecting a little bit of posing, and we’re trying to like really, really shine like have the subject and the people, the humans in our photos shine in their best light.
But I would love your perspective about working with these campaigns and working with these celebrities where you’re actually taking the lead from the like creative directors, right? So like how do you kind of blend your own creativity in your own visions with what they’re expecting of you if that makes sense? Totally.
No, um, I just think like remembering collaboration is key. And that’s what really truly being a leader is. I always think of the photographer’s kind of as the captain of the ship when it comes to that but we’re not like the dictator of the ship. You know what I’m saying? I’m definitely the leader, the people that kind of bring us all together. And that’s the responsibility also that like comes with it, which is a beautiful honor. Right? But everybody, you have to respect everybody on set, because everybody there was picked for a reason, right?
So the makeup artist, like, I don’t need to question her talent, I don’t need to like, micromanage her, she should do what she needs to do more he needs to do. Same with hair. Same with styling, same with that. Same with the talent. So there was actually a shoot that I did with tan France from Queer Eye for paper magazine. And it was one of those because he has great hair. So it was a hair story. That was our idea, right? So, you know, whatever, there was a lot of creativity that could be done with that. But I’m not a heretic, like I’m not a hairstylist.
So I said to everybody, I kind of we didn’t have as much creative direction from the magazine. So I just like kind of pulled everybody in. And I was like, Hey guys, some miscommunication happened. You do you you do you can you let me know if you feel authentic, or if there’s anything direction or anything that doesn’t feel good? Let’s come together. And that was one of those moments where I did trust everybody. And I didn’t micromanage and look what happened. That photo that I did for free for paper magazine, Ken ended up buying for his book cover in England.
I have like the soft cover of his book in England is my phone. So you know what I’m saying? Like, just by trusting others and going with it. And then also like, don’t be an asshole and not do something for free. If it’s a huge opportunity, like paper magazine. I hate to say that, but like, some of the things I’ve done for free have led to me being able to charge way more than other photographers. So you got to just like go with the given full and then yeah, with the taking their direction on set. Like I love creative directors so much like even drew Elliott, like, every time he works with me, he doesn’t like overly step in, but he steps in when it’s needed. So you just gotta trust everybody on set and know that they’re just as talented as you.
Yes, that’s great advice. And I love your definition of photographers just being captains, right. Like we’re the guides, were the leaders, we are we are ultimately setting the tone. And I even know this from my own personal experience, like walking into getting ready rooms, right? Like, I’m dealing with so many emotions, and a whole bunch of bridesmaids that are frantic. And we really need to have a really good, like our high energy and our confidence to collaborate and collaboration is key.
How do you feel like with wedding photography, that you’ve been the captain on ships, like like, because obviously I’m talking about campaigns, but what’s your experience with it? Like, how do you conduct yourself as that Captain on set?
Yeah, so Okay, so I am definitely am a really good reader of the room. So if I come into the room, and there’s really fun music playing, and I just feel like I’m back in the eighth grade, right? And I’m just like listening to all these pop hits back in the day and, and I am like a matchmaker for energy. So if it’s happy, like I’m coming in and I’m, I’m directing, and I’m introducing myself, but in a very kind of like energy match way. Now if I come into a room, and I’m going to explain a different version of that like different version of Quianna when I come in, and let’s say the room is frantic, right?
I can just feel the energy, that maybe the timeline isn’t quite going as fast as it should be. Maybe hair and makeup is falling behind, not to their fault. I want to make that perfectly clear. Like it’s not always the hair makeups fault that the timeline is late. They get blamed for it a lot, but it’s really not their fault. Yeah, yeah. And so like sometimes things kind of fall, I have the power to like to literally shift the energy in the room. And I don’t know where that came from, I think I don’t know, my mom can do the same thing. It’s a very just kind of being in tune with your surroundings, and then kind of having that magnetic personality.
So like, that is how I can Yeah, and I can set the precedents for the day in the morning. And that’s why I love getting there early. I’m in control of my own emotions, like those are on check. I already have a game plan prepared, I already have my shot list. I already like know the locations I have everything that would potentially stress me out covered. I think that’s the number one tip with photographers is like, we need to be prepared.
Totally. And like I’m just again, knowing you right, I can just also like see that you’re quick to adapt. You can like you know, have a good like you’re organized, you’re prepared, you’re doing all these things that you need to do to like make it and I think also the there’s a difference between just a normal wedding photographer and a good wedding photographer like you are a great wedding photographer like you. And I think that’s like feeling like family at the end of the day because say something’s going wrong. Like I know you’ve I know for a fact you’ve already done the same thing.
I photographed a wedding where I had to fix the bride’s hair. Oh, yeah, yes, she didn’t hire a hairdresser. And I was like, holy, this looks more like I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna be your girlfriend in that moment. I’m gonna be a bridesmaid in this moment. Hell no. Yeah. So I just think that’s like the difference is when you and I can I already know that you’re the same way. You’re the photographer dancing in the crowd. Like there’s that energy where your photographer should feel like family at the end of the day. And that’s the comfort that’s like our responsibility. I was actually just talking to this woman. She has a right. Like I’m a group called badass bombs. And it’s kind of you know, child trafficking and sex trafficking, all this stuff. And she was talking about how one of her friends couldn’t even get photograph for years because she felt so violated and then I started crying and I was like, Oh my gosh, this really is our responsibility.
As geographers like to make people feel safe, comfortable, not at all violated not at all, like we’re impeding on their lives, especially are they you know, obviously, that’s an extreme case, but on their wedding days, we don’t want to add stress, right? And we want to make sure they feel honored and protected when we have such a like, it’s the responsibility as a photographer to capture people’s images, you know?
Yeah. Oh, 1,000%. And I think in addition to that, is having the confidence and having the experience to know, because if you think about it, a wedding photographer, now, there could be wedding planners and coordinators that are there by about the same time as we are right. But typically, they’re not the wedding coordinators typically isn’t popping in at seven o’clock in the morning, when they’re getting their decorating tables. Go do it. Yeah, yeah.
The photographer, like your wedding photographer is really the heartbeat and the kind of like the framework throughout your entire not just your wedding experience, like from the moment you send that first email to the time that you either get your gallery or your album, but like, on the wedding day, your photographers, the one person you’re gonna spend the most time with. And there are they’re kind of like the I would say like the spiderweb of the all the vendors, right, like the vendor totally.
We’re the Monica Gellar, we’re the glue that holds everybody together on a wedding day. And I think we can do that so beautifully. And kind of like bringing back with your captain of the ship thing where it’s like that definition. I love that because we really are a guide for our couples. And, and it’s funny because believe it or not, like my couples, obviously, my number one concern is making sure that they’re stress free, like all they should have to worry about is like where’s their fiancee like, you know, where’s their person on their wedding day? And where’s their glass of champagne?
I don’t want them worried about anything else. But I think they also want to be told what to do. They are looking, they’re looking at us for guidance. They’re looking for us saying, Hey, how’s the timeline? Hey, should we line up? Or mothers of the bride? Or when should I get dressed and the bridesmaids are Hey, what time is the limo or the Uber sometimes even today, when does that come should be arriving, we have to be seven steps ahead of everything. And I think when we can learn from these things, whether from past experiences, or just be really proactive about it, that’s when your couples are going to be stress free. And they’ll take pretty pictures.
So in my best like Elle Woods voice is like pretty people just take pretty pictures. That’s just like stress. Yeah, when you’re happy, you genuinely love your photos and, and I’m such an emotional attach her to images. So like let’s say for example, during sunset photos, right? Let’s say for example, the bride is just so irritated that the food, something’s wrong with the food. And maybe her sister in law brought her kids and she didn’t want her kids running around and ruining her first dance.
She just experienced that whatever. Like there’s so many things that could go wrong. And no matter how perfect her makeup is, no matter how eloquently like her veil is flowing in the wind and the perfect weather. And I mean her husband is just adoring her, right? If she stressed about those things, she’s gonna look back on those photos and hate them. She’s going to nitpick her double chin, she’s going to nitpick her back fat on her, you know, under her strapless bra. Like she’s going to nitpick these because she wasn’t joyfully actually in the moment.
What did you say for me when I was like, as I’m getting married this year, so yeah. So you said in the words of Elsa.
Oh, yeah. So yeah, we were talking before we hit record that you’re just letting things go and try not to stress about a girl. You got to let that shit go be like Elsa, let it go.
It’s so true. It’s a that’s the best advice I’ve ever heard for wedding photography, because, and then also just when you’re even chatting about like the back fed or whatever. And this is gonna sound controversial. And I said this to my like, as a bride myself, right? I was like stressing so much about losing weight so much about that. And just remember, like, there’s guys, again, I’m only saying this because you might not agree. But like, when your arm is pressed, it looks different than when your arms like that, right? And I told myself, I’m like, if I don’t like one of my photos, or there’s one I’m gonna get printed super big. And I don’t like it. And it’s something we’ll talk I’ll just yeah, like, I hate to say that, but it’s true. It’s like this.
Remember, we’re living in a modern age and don’t stress out about little things. Like if you have unread bags, well, you can pay us and we’ll spruce it up for you like, and not in the bad way but every that’s the world we live in right now. And I hate to say that, like I said, this might sound controversial, but like Don’t stress yourself out on something that’s easily fixable, like you don’t like I’m not saying make yourself a size zero when your size 10 But I’m saying if there’s something you’re really unhappy with just know that stuff like that is fixable, and don’t stress out on your wedding day, pay your photographer a little extra work an extra hour figure it out, you know what I’m saying? And yeah, just like don’t stress thing is not going to Yeah,
well, and I want you to think too. I mean, I’ll even say this, for example, some of my favorite photos. Some of my like the photos that I look back on in their core memories in my life. Sometimes they’re blurry, sometimes they’re dark, sometimes I have red eye in them right or I you know, I have like this ridiculous lie. If on and I can see like, like when your spit like goes from the top teeth to the bottom teeth, you know, I just I’m just giving you a visual here like this is probably not like a technically sound, perfect photo. But because I was in that moment and I was just so happy. That photo means everything to me and like I said, I’m not worried about all those imperfections because I am going back in time I’m physically remember it my, my
moment, not the thing. And like, if you’re so hard on yourself about something that’s just so trivial, it’s gonna ruin it. So yeah, that’s the photographer’s coming to So yeah, that’s why I wish you could photograph my wedding. I should have followed your girl.
Well, I’m so excited for this experience for you. Like you guys are gonna have a magical time. Oh my gosh,
oh no. Oh, Kiana took the magical engagement photos of me. And I’m so grateful. And what I can say about Kiana and like, I just we were talking to earlier and I was just saying that you’re always interviewing people. And I just like wanted to highlight you a little bit. But my experience with you was I felt so comfortable. I felt so beautiful. You also got tons of incredible BTS, like there’s gonna be walking and I just feel so good in it. And there’s something that we’re gonna cherish forever, we’re getting one printed, and I couldn’t have imagined having anybody else photograph me. So from Yeah, from, you know, peer to peer, right? I just, that’s why I picked you is because I’ve respected you so much. I see what you’re doing. And you’re light in this industry. So
Oh, my heart, you’re gonna make me cry. Thank you so much. And it was an honor for you to even reach out and ask because when we first met, and I’d love to talk about this, too. So we met kind of being associated shooters for branded with V real productions. And we were doing kind of this like Mega headshot day for a bunch of realtors and loan agents and stuff here in the valley here in East Valley.
I remember needing for the first time, and I literally thought I always this always goes through my mind on, you know, opportunities when I’m meeting new photographers. And I literally thought, Alright, this photographer and I are either going to be best friends, or we’re probably just going to be nice to each other and never see each other again. And that’s kind of how this industry rolls. Like we have to be kind of like on our toes a little bit thinking, hey, like this either is going to be a great friendship, and awesome collaboration and great opportunities in the future or so you never you don’t like it.
That’s kind of how it rolls. So I would love to hear from you. Tell us about kind of the climate, as you would say, what it’s like on these sets, like I were familiar with wedding days. And I feel like especially with the rise of rising tide, society and community over competition, a lot of us and it may just be my own bubble. Let’s be honest, I know maybe not the world this is. But like, I feel like we do have really great friends in the industry. But can you walk us through because I just think of Hallmark movies or TV shows where these top top photographers are just mean like they’re, they’re so happy, like they’re demanding and I just can’t, I can’t imagine that. So I would love for you to kind of chat about the different climates you’ve experienced.
So first of all, nobody should ever be unkind to anyone. There’s a difference between confidence and cockiness. And there’s a difference between like, having like a connection, like, what if I had been a bitch to you that day? Like, what if I’d been rude to you? Or what if I said, Hey, girl, do you see how many whatever like followers I have, and juicy this and whatever. If I acted like that, like, who does that acceptable way to behave and who raised you truly, like, I My mother raised me to be kind and to always treat people with respect.
I think that’s also part of the reason I don’t live in New York and LA anymore, just to be honest, is I started feeling that my morals and what I was doing didn’t become congruent anymore. So I just think you always gotta like, ya know, who raised you know who you are, and always speak to everybody with kindness and never be little people. Because that’s the thing is also, is if you start acting too cocky, you’re gonna say some shit to the wrong person.
It’s going to screw up a relationship, because maybe that person has 500 followers, and you think they’re a nobody or like, and again, I hate that we like I value people like that now, or like, maybe they’re not like they’re dressed a little underdressed, or whatever it is that you judge them on, that person could be the CEO of a company, and you have no idea. Or it’s like, it’s just one of those things that you just never want to like, again, I could not have my beautiful engagement photos.
If it wasn’t for being having a connection, and say, We never saw each other again, I still would want to leave you with a good moment. And I still would like us to have a collaborative day. Like I remember us doing that shoot, and I was like, Hey, are you going over there? I’m gonna go over here. Do you need more time? Can I get out of your way? Like we were so fluid with it, because I know somebody told me one time they’re like, if you like try to be competitive with photographers, you’re only going to screw yourself and as all like if you don’t have photographer friends in this world, and you don’t have somebody to like talk about pricing with or if you don’t have somebody to talk about advice with or lean on. You’re going to be alone and you’re going to be undervaluing yourself and undervaluing all of us. So that’s like my biggest thing is that yeah, just have photographer friends.
We kick ass and most photographers are so similar. Like, it’s very rare to have the odd cuz you know, anybody can take a picture but it’s, that’s what I noticed with the you’re so good at the moments, right like and the angle and like from here to here people don’t really just such a difference and the fact that you see the same way I do like I don’t know about like if you’ve ever thought this but I literally see in compositions constantly, like with you Yeah, like every photographer I know, we see like that that’s just how our eyes work and what a beautiful thing to connect about like, and then you don’t feel alone. Like, I don’t know, it’s like a kind of lonely thing to be a photographer at times, but you have to have community.
Yeah, 1,000%. And I’d love this, this is a great little transition to so I know that my business survived 2020 Because of community because of my friends. And because of I mean, even past clients, I had families that I had photographed weddings, like a decade ago, and they were purchasing gift cards for me during the pandemic, so I could really pay my mortgage, like it was insane.
It was kind of like an IOU thing. So they were paying me between March, but you know, March, April, May that summer of 2020. And then I would hopefully shoot them that fall, right, like, so they were just so generous. And the community that I leaned on was just incredible. And, and I would really love to know, especially being a being your own boss, being a freelance photographer, what are some ways that you survived the pandemic
100% I was living, I just moved into like my dream, single girl apartment during the pandemic, like in February, then I went to, I was in New York, maybe March, you know, six to the 13th, or something like right before the country shut down. And I was honest, like, I was just like, kind of it was like my killer week, I just shot like an editorial just made like a ton of money, like this whole thing. And I was like, That’s it. I’m about to explode. And then the world shut down.
Then I was living in Los Angeles where I could not do anything. And it was just one of those things where I’m like, I can either stay non creative or feel like I’m gonna get in this really bad depression. Because I know, for me, I can wait during the pandemic, I really got depressed. I you know, but also a lot of beautiful things happen. But the main thing was, I tried to stay creative. So I started trying to stay creative by doing FaceTime shoots, which is something that now is like the bread and butter to my business. But it’s something I figured out in the pandemic by just trying to stay creative.
Getting Creative, Making Money From Home
So yeah, I started doing and just taking screenshots of people on my phone and just with model friends, and they turned out super cool. And then I figured out that there’s this technology built into iPhones. And from there and just posting, somebody had saw that that’s what I was doing. And a past client of mine said, Hey, there’s this. Like, it’s called the board. It’s like 25 people, and they want to do virtual headshots. And so that was like the first company that ever hired me for that. And I didn’t even think about it. And I was like, I was gonna hire me to do FaceTime. Like, it actually paid me money to sit here, like this and be like, Oh my God, you look gorgeous. Yeah.
Totally. Um, and I started off charging like $75 per one, but like, still pretty good from sitting at home for 15 minutes, right? So yeah, I started working for that company. And that company ended up expanding to now from 25 people to 250 Wow. All board members people who work for you know, the founder of One Kings Lane, old Diane Von Furstenberg. See, like, everybody’s in this thing.
So from there, word of mouth happened and that actually changed my business. So like, since the pandemic and just being hard to be modern. That’s my always my thing to photographers stay modern. Like, I used to be the girl that said she didn’t I don’t want to use Photoshop. I’m a I’m a film photographer. I don’t use digital cameras. I’m a film photographer. I don’t I don’t retouch and one of the what would have happened is I would have failed if I didn’t adjust. So yeah, that that pivoting to the FaceTime shoots has changed my business. And since then, I mean, I probably made like 50 grand and FaceTime shoots. It’s insane.
Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.
Yeah, like that contractor and injured $11,000 contract like just from one company. Because yeah, what’s 250,075 Right. So yeah, from there, now I do them for people all over the world. I’ve done them at least I’ve done campaigns for Sephora. Then it’s called I’m a mother. It’s like a magazine. I did hold like I’m a voter times mother tongue magazine, a whole campaign via that just take some from Make A Wish Foundation because the kids couldn’t leave the hospital. So or somebody was in a wheelchair or like things like that. It’s just turned into something that turned like a pain in the ass to get a new headshot or capture these moments into something really convenient.
That’s the biggest way I pivoted and then another thing i did was i i used to do art in high school. So I used to like physically draw and everything like that. It was the only real consistent thing I had. And I ended up getting procreate on my iPad and I started inputting my images into procreate and drawing all over them, because I never really had the patience to paint. So this was like a way to digitally paint so I mean, honestly tons of money off that in the pandemic by just drawing like pictures of people’s dogs or, you know, wedding photos. I was or whatever. So those are like the two ways I was able to survive the pandemic. And it was just strictly out of like, survival mode. And being quick, I think and just like that, I figured out that the technology was built into the iPhones was a total accident. So if I hadn’t been just practicing with friends and reaching out, it would have never happened.
So yeah. Oh my gosh, well, that’s really inspiring. And I think anybody that listening can apply that to anything, right? It’s this is not just a photography conversation. This is a small business hustle, big dreams. This is, you know, taking your life taking your livelihood in your own hands, and being creative and tapping into either our natural or I call it like the natural born talent, but then also your, like your grit to make things happen. And oh my gosh, I love how you were such a hustle as
well. And also though, it hasn’t always gone well like keeping like at some point I got so overwhelmed with them that even keeping them organized because they all are on my phone. So like and then keeping them organized. And like because now I did I ate today like That’s insane. Like, so for me to keep and keep that organization while also still doing in person shoots while also still traveling for campaigns and attending like planning a wedding. Yeah, like it’s I honestly like it. So not saying that don’t do screw ups and not saying I don’t deliver photos a little late sometimes and not saying that. Maybe I messed up contracts. Sometimes that’s also the key thing to learn this is that I definitely made mistakes along the way. It wasn’t like I just figured out this technology now people pay me 1000s of dollars. It’s it took a long time to get that and part of it was me realizing that this has gone way over my head.
In a great way a great way I’m thankful for but I had to hire an assistant. And then there’s the the growing pains with an assistant and then you know, maybe eventually I’ll have to hire a photographer. It’s like maybe I’ll train you to do this. And then you get out and you don’t I’m saying like a whole team for it. Exactly. So that’s the thing is, yeah, like there definitely been mistakes along the way and up and downs with bent pandemic, but I survived the pandemic. Yeah, modernity and creativity.
It’s so amazing. So please tell me, Katie, what’s next for Katie? Like, what I feel like we’ve been, I think, collectively, we’ve all been in this kind of like, Hey, we’re in survival mode. And I think for a lot of us, we’re just on that tipping point of thriving. It’s like, you know, we’ve like, thankfully, we’ve put the time in, we’ve taken these risks. And now it’s time to get into education, it’s time to really expand our wings and just open our arms for abundance. So I would love to hear like what’s next for you? Do you have a big goal that you’re working on anything else that we can support you with?
Big, big goal right now is getting a show in Phoenix Art Museum. So, okay, that’s my biggest goal for right now is trying to curate a show that I can pitch to the Phoenix Art Museum. But I will say in general, like, when I moved to Phoenix, I had no idea if it was going to work out. And I did it based on a gut feeling and feeling like, oh my gosh, am I going to totally push away everything I worked for the past 10 years. But I did it to have a better quality of life to have a family to put family above career. Not instead of career, but above, because family and God and my husband comes first. And then it ended up working out. I just think if you go for what you want in this life, um, there’s gonna be ups and downs.
Yeah, I just think like, I was telling someone today didn’t have it all. Like I was in LA last week, I’m still shooting campaigns, shot magazine covers, still did all the things made great connections, but then I came home and got to cut on my dog, you know, and got to do FaceTime shoot.
So I think like, for me, the world is balanced. But I’m gonna also start doing mentorship where I help just like whether it be looking at somebody’s work once a month, and we go over it and I critique it or help or give advice and some sort of mentorship program, art museums, and books. Those are my next three kind of big ticket things. But life gets in the way. Yeah, weddings are happening.
Who knows what will happen. But I will say just keep dreams on your vision board. And they will come through one day whether or not it’s like in the capacity that you think like the other day I did this song campaign for youth skincare line, and it was supposed to come out in 2020. And it didn’t come out until 2023. And then all of a sudden, some of the photos were on a billboard in Times Square. And I had no idea but that was something that was on my bucket list from like 2015.
Maybe it wasn’t an Yves Saint Laurent ad in Times Square. Yeah, but I still did it. So just know that like you can have specific it’s really good to get specific with your dreams, but just know that like God will do he’ll create your dreams, maybe just not in the way that you wanted. But you’ll still achieve those goals. You know what I’m saying? So yeah, that’s kind of like my I don’t even know if I answered your question. Yeah,
Absolutely and I think that’s beautiful. I mean, you’re gonna get in that gallery. And you know, it’s it’s just crazy how there’s so much power in writing these things down, and then letting either God Do the work but like you ultimately being boots on the ground making it happen for yourself. And that is just such a beautiful reminder.
Like, even just so I worked for Kourtney Kardashian for a year for her brand push, and I remember, maybe four years, or four or five years before that actually came into fruition. I was buying, like, physically buying their episodes has showed preference, like why don’t you bootleg the show? Why don’t you just watch it on Hulu or write on this? And I said, No, I was like, it’s one of my dreams is to photograph them. So and I know I get entertained by them.
Why don’t I support them, even though they have millions of dollars, I’m gonna support them because I get one entertained by them be I think it’s good karma. And what happened, I made all that money back, you know, by a photograph and coordinates. So I just think like, just always be generous and kind and not don’t really end to manifest your dreams. And I think that’s like the biggest thing with being a photographer, because ultimately, we’re not curing cancer, like, taking pictures is super important. But it’s not. We’re not actually saving lives, even though sometimes we can like I know, I’ve taken pictures of like people that have gone through like domestic violence.
They said that this photo gave them strength to go off. And so it’s not that we can’t have that impact. But don’t take it so seriously, that you stress yourself out to like, an extreme level. Like it’s like cryptocurrency. It’s funny when like, what we’re doing is like, you know, it’s it’s a lot that goes into it. And it’s a business, but at the same time we’re we’re living our dreams.
Yeah. I love this. Oh, my gosh, I’m having so much this conversation. So in closing, Katie, I would love to ask, even though we kind of just went over all this. But if you have a like, Do you have a specific key tip that you would like to share with us today?
Of course. I think like, I don’t need to use honey book. But if I could start my business over again, I wouldn’t use honey book. Um, I use pixie set in QuickBooks now. So I kind of a combination of the two, maybe I’ll eventually go to honey book. Just get like, fast track as much stuff as you can have a Calendly link, have a honey book, like automate as much stuff as possible. And I know for me, I never started a photography business. I started making money off taking pictures. That makes sense. Yeah. So I sat down and made a business plan. Because I started this when I was 16. I’ve been doing this for literally half my life. I’m turning 32.
There was no business plan. And there was no like marketing plan. And there was no this there was kindness that led to referrals and mistakes that took me out of things that I wasn’t meant for. Right. But if I could say anything, yeah, organization and reaching out to other photographers, taking those meetings, even if you think nothing will come of them. And yeah, and also, like offer discounts for people that maybe will be good in the future. And I’m not trying to say that to short company.
If there’s any somebody that you feel like, Hey, this is worth my while, offer the political thing, and I’ll make people feel good. And yeah, like, I offered to do something for this producer. And she was like, I’m obsessed with you, you’re going to become the queen of the valley. Like, just prepare yourself, but it’s because I you know, maybe something that would have cost her $500 is gonna end up earning me $10,000. Right?
Yeah, like at your next shoot, you know what I mean? Like, there’s gonna be multiple opportunities coming in from that type of lead. That’s
one of those shoots that you recommended before, it’s gonna lead to my next 1000s of dollars. So that’s the thing is just don’t ever like, it’s great to always value yourself, but also value connections.
Oh, I love that. That was a mic drop moment.
To me, though, too. It’s like, you just did that for free for each other. And you know, and we even talked about doing it again. It’s one of those things that it also just I love spending time with you. I love hearing your story. I love hearing how you run your business and inspires me. And I inspire you in different ways. And like, how beautiful is that? So? Yeah, just get out there and do your thing.
Do your thing. I love it. Well, thank you so much, Katie, please share with us how we can find you. How can we stalk you? How can we scroll through your feed and go find all these really awesome celebrities? Like how can we work with you baby?
So Katie Levine photo that’s on everything. So Katie Levine photo.com Katie Levine on a photo on Instagram and studio at KB Levine photos my email. So I would love to work with anybody or if you’ve got a remote company you work for and you want some new headshots.
Alert your girl is credible. Well, I appreciate your time.
Appreciate what you’re doing for the community. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I like what you’re doing for all of us because I listen to your podcast too. And it inspires me and helps me learn so thank you for all you’re doing.
Thank you. Oh my gosh, you’re the best.
I’m gonna see you soon. You’re okay.
Yeah. Thank you hope you have a beautiful day.
You too. Love. Alright, bye.
Wow. I’m all fired up and inspired by Katie. Your Katie is out there, my love. She’s on sets of big campaigns, spotting her photos in Times Square and living life at the edge of your comfort zone. It’s still mind blowing to me that we could have such similar business models. And instead of having that push us away with competition with each other, our friendship is built on celebrating each other’s wins, supporting our wildest dreams and holding us accountable to simply become a better version of ourselves every day.
Your Katie is not waiting for you to catch up. She’s on the move, and I cannot wait for you to to collide. That’s a wrap on another episode of Kiana Murray weekly. Thank you so much for your listenership and support. You can find the resources and show notes for this episode and more at Kiana murray.com/podcast. I’d be honored if you show your support by leaving a review and rating on your favorite podcast app. Until next time, keep on dancing.