Push Past Fear to Build Your Business: Kristina Wikle Q&A
June 2, 2023
One of Kristina Wikle's early photoshoots was with a high school senior. Every aspect of it — from planning the locations and wardrobe to finding interesting shots along the way — felt like her dream day, and from that moment on, Wikle was determined to become a professional photographer.
Kristina Wikle runs Visual Muse Studio in Dunedin, Florida, near Tampa, where she and her team of photographers take portraits in multiple genres, including couples in love. She recently sat down with Nikki Closser of The Portrait System Podcast to talk about her course Photographing Love. In this bonus Q&A, Wikle shares more about her journey from graphic designer to professional photographer. Below, you’ll find Wikle’s advice on how to build your business, including how the power of gratitude can help with overcoming fear, how to make a great connection with your clients, and what to focus on and what to disregard when you are just starting out.
Most artists have a point in their life when they knew this was meant for them. Do you have that moment?
My mother always had her film camera out, while my siblings and I were growing up. Also, my father shot images of buildings and cityscapes, as he was a professional architect. Photography, and all forms of art really, always deeply interested me. I loved design, composition, playing with color schemes and just overall, creating. I was in that weird stage in my 20’s where I was hopping from job to job, trying to find something that could stick. I got bored very easily. I was working freelance as a graphic designer when my son, Gavin was born. Naturally, I picked up a camera, and he was my daily subject…. I fell in love — both with this precious little person and also with playing with the camera.
I got some starter gear and messed around with Photoshop. Though I was not good and had very amateur taste, I was passionate about photography. I initially started offering it to my marketing and website clients who were already utilizing my graphic design services. It was always a fun little break to get out of the house and away from my computer. Eventually, friends and family started asking me to take photos of their children. I thought, “How cool that I could make a little extra money doing this!”
One day, I had the opportunity to photograph a high-school senior. This girl became my MUSE. Everything about her session — from hair and makeup, to choosing wardrobe, picking fun locations and hopping all over town photographing her — felt like my dream-day. I never wanted the sun to set. I climbed a tree to photograph her laying in the flowers below. We made a tulle dress/wrap and threw the fabric and even had her play her ukelele.
I had just begun to follow Sue Bryce Education (now The Portrait System), which was advancing me quicker than I could have imagined and made me think maybe I could be a real business owner! I came home that night from this particular Senior Session, unloaded the photos, and cried when they popped up on my screen. I remember thinking, “I am going to be a professional photographer from here on out. I am going to build a business, and I am going to spend the rest of my life in a career that I love, every day.” Everything in me was completely lit up, and I’ve run off that energy for the past decade. Connecting with people in this medium has felt like I was working within my purpose.
[Read: Not Your Mom’s Senior Portraits]
How did you push past fear when building your business?
At the beginning, I think the high-level of excitement and energy kept me above listening to my fear too often. It felt so “right” and in the flow that I felt like I was already winning. I never let thoughts hold me back. If I ever felt imposter syndrome creep in, I would combat it by saying, “You are good enough to offer an experience and a service to this person.” Or when I felt like my work and skill-level was 10,000 miles apart from the photographers I admired, I would find a friend and go shoot for practice and figure out how to get better one day at a time. I enjoyed the actual journey so much, of starting my business, that I never let the dreams or goals intimidate me. I knew I would get there, eventually. I replaced fear with SERVICE. If I was scared I did not have enough bookings to pay the bills for the next few months, I went out and networked and utilized other small business services, and in return, the money always returned to me.
DO NOT let fear keep you from getting started or from providing an amazing portrait experience to your clients. Know the joy of doing what you love, and never stop pursuing it!
Give thanks every day for the opportunity to live a life you choose and find financial success through not focusing on the money itself. Focus on the value of your work. Never lose sight of the gifts you have to offer the world because who you are, what you are meant to share and the way you value yourself, is what is most important. How could you let fear into that belief?
Making a connection with your subject is one of the most important parts of a great portrait. How do you make lasting connections with your clients?
Connection for me starts with that first point of contact — really getting to know the client’s needs, desires, fears, insecurities, passions, hobbies, etc. If you do not have any type of consultation, how would you ever find any of this out? You can utilize a questionnaire with a follow-up conversation or meet with them in-person over coffee to get to know them. There is no replacement for asking questions and listening to someone respond. I am always chatting during the session as well, which keeps the clients relaxed and distracted from having a camera in their face.
I feel like a majority of our clients become friends.
For someone starting out on their photography journey what advice would you have for them?
For someone just starting out, I would say hold back the urge to be everything to everyone. Find that one thing that lights you up, get really, really, really great at it, and go sell it! If I could do it all over again, I would have been more focused and specialized from the start. Also, you do not need ALL THE GEAR and every widget and all the programs and a full client closet, etc. You really just need a few nice lenses, a reflector, and a great client experience. Simplify! And don’t forget to have fun along the way.
How has The Portrait System changed your life for the better?
The Portrait System really sped up my success. It not only helped me improve my skills as a photographer, but it taught me about the business side, which has led to long-term success and more personal growth than I ever dreamed of. I took it in bite-sized-chunks and would work through videos focusing on one thing at a time. The courses and lessons kept me engaged and made me feel more confident with every session. It was a truly invaluable tool, and I am not sure I would have grown to this level without it.