Mother Run: Natalie McKnight of Natalie McKnight Photography
Natalie McKnight’s love of the arts began back in her childhood. “I always loved art class in school and my parents even bought me sketchbooks, charcoal pencils, and acrylic paints as a kid,” she says. “But it was when I went to Europe with my high school the summer before Junior year started that I began to fall in love with photography. It was a dinky film camera that I had for the whole trip, but I took pictures of everything. I went through so much film. When I got home and developed the pictures, I was blown away by the sun setting over the Swiss Alps, the perfectly clear picture of the Eiffel Tower, and all of the sights in between. I still have that Eiffel Tower picture in a frame. That’s when I began to recognize the power of a good photograph.”
While the photography bug took hold of her in high school, it wasn’t until just last year that she began to consider it as a career. “I had always been drawn to photography,” she says, “but once I had a baby, I really started snapping and sharing pictures a lot more.” Her oldest, Luke was just about 3 and her youngest, Maggie, was about 9 months old when she finally decided to pursue photography officially and became an LLC. “There was a stretch of time when I really didn’t feel like I was good enough,” she explains, “but over the summer of 2017 I realized that I was either going to take the plunge and try, or regret never having tried at all. So, here I am.”
She started her business on the side of her full time job as an account manager. “I was largely happy with the company I worked for for a very long time,” she says. “Then some things changed that affected morale on a large scale. I realized that if my satisfaction could change that quickly and remained so far out of my control, I was just going to remain unhappy. So I started looking into starting my own company.” For the past seven months she has worked to grow her photography business on the weekends with the goal of eventually doing it full time.
One of the advantages to still having her full time job is that it gave it her time to plan and research. “I offered free photography sessions to build up my portfolio and also did a bunch of work around defining my target market and how I’d reach them,” she explains. “I researched best practices for social media outreach and also joined a TON of private Facebook groups for photographers and entrepreneurs to learn more from others in the business.” One of the best things she learned is “I actually make people sign contracts now!,” she says. “Even if I’ve known you since birth, I’m making you sign a dang contract! No hard feelings, that’s just business.”
While being a mother and starting your own business is usually not an easy feat, doing it with a full time job is an added challenge. “I learned my limits VERY quickly,” explains Natalie. “I could not work a full time job, be a present parent, and do four photography sessions every single weekend. I started spending every evening coming off my work laptop to go downstairs onto my photography laptop while the kids ran around and tried to crawl in my lap as I edited photos. I started waiting until they were in bed to edit and sometimes even escaping to a coffee shop with free wifi if I could. Obviously without my husband stepping in to help I would have gone off the deep end, but with his support I’ve been making it work.”
One of the biggest roadblocks we come across as entrepreneurial mothers is the dreaded ‘mom guilt.’ Natalie was no exception, she explains that one of her biggest challenges so far has been “feeling like I was being selfish by jumping into this venture. I guess on some level it is, but the more your kids see you doing things you truly enjoy, the more they learn to see that that’s OKAY. You CAN do what you love. You don’t have to be stuck in a job you hate for the rest of your life because ‘that’s just what people do.’ I want my kids to know that there are a million different paths to happiness and everyone’s definition of happiness is going to vary. They need to live for themselves.” Wise words.
On of the most important aspects of being a good photographer is the ability to connect with your subjects and capture those perfect moments. Natalie already has that part down. “I’ve always had a knack for making people feel at ease, but I definitely learned over time that providing a tiny bit of structure to the session can really go a long way, especially with young children,” she says. “I didn’t realize that you can ‘create’ candid moments by telling jokes, playing games, and asking your subjects to reminisce about memorable moments in their lives. Coming to each session with some ideas on what to say and do definitely helps people loosen up and forget there’s a lens in their face.” Her advice to other budding photographers is to “start with your friends. You’re already comfortable around them, so if things get awkward, you’re more likely to laugh it off!”
While she currently focuses on lifestyle and family sessions, she has big plans for her business. “I would love to get into weddings eventually,” she says. “I’m dying to shoot ‘on location’ somewhere exotic or different!,” she adds. “I see some photographers posting to groups like, ‘hey, I’ll be in Germany next month, who wants a session?’ and people swarm to get a slot with them! I’d love that opportunity to merge travel with my passion.”
As small business owners, it can often be hard to receive support for what we are doing from the people in our lives. “There are definitely some people who seem to think it isn’t realistic for me to want to take this full time eventually, or that I haven’t fully thought out the risks associated with running my own business,” says Natalie. “I stopped sharing information with those people. Interestingly enough, they also don’t ask how business is going, so it just never comes up. It’s a little hurtful, but also feels good to weed out the negativity. If you’re going to take a risk, you need to make sure to surround yourself with those who will lift you up and support you, and be ready to do whatever it takes to tune out those who try to bring you down. It can be hard, but ultimately brings you closer to realizing your dreams. And you DESERVE your dreams!”
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Thank you so much for reading!
Yours in business and motherhood,