We are excited to introduce this month’s Spotlight Interview with Catalina Jean Photography! This science-loving gal from the Northwest has put her heart and soul into creating, growing, and running her wedding photography business. Wanting to stay true to herself and clients, Catalina has strayed from the “just ’cause” trends and has zeroed in on what brings her joy. Dive into Catalina’s interview as she discusses her business secret (here’s a hint: it’s only three letters) and how she has found her most productive workday.
photo by The Soft Season
Introduce yourself! – how long have you been shooting and how old is your business?:
Hi, I’m Catalina! I’ve been a full-time wedding photographer for just about 5 years. I have been shooting for as long as I can remember. I started on disposable cameras when those came out when I was in late elementary school. In high school, I would develop the disposable cameras on a disk and sit and edit them for hours in a basic program on my very first computer.
Then I got a nice camera in my mid-20s. A Canon 7D and a nifty 50mm 1.8. I was elated. I shot anything and everything I could force to get in front of my camera. I was working a typical 9-5 at the time but no one escaped my photo obsession. My co-workers, strangers on the street, random office supplies on my desk. I was obsessed. Eventually, my obsession led me to quit my job and try to pursue this photography thing. I definitely lived on cup of noodle for a few months while I posted on Craigslist and checked my shiny new business email that was very empty for what felt like an eternity.
Then I shot my first wedding at the beginning of 2014. I shot it for free, 12 hours of coverage of course, because I didn’t know any better. And I was head over heels in love. All the chaos, the moments, just constantly having to be on your toes. It’s all I wanted to do. After the dreaded mind-numbing 9-5 corporate cubicle “life” I had lived for over 10 years, this was the breath, no tornado, of fresh air I needed to finally have the guts to redirect my life. So I pumped hard. I went crazy finding and trying very marketing avenue. I was easily working at least 12 hours every day to make this thing a reality. My teeth sank in and I couldn’t let go.
all photos by Catalina Jean Photography
Describe an average day for you.
I think I am a more balanced worker now, though my boyfriend might disagree. Saying I love working is an understatement. However, I did find my 12+ hour obsession to not be healthy in the long run for sure. There is a certain pridefulness associated with workaholism and it isn’t a good thing. I now work in 25 min bursts with 5-10 min breaks. It has really helped me be more effective while also breaking to stretch or go for a walk or play with my crazy pups. I can get a lot more work done in less hours while not being so drained afterwards. Right now it is winter in the PNW which means it gets dark at 4:30PM. Ew. So I switch up my work in the winters so that I’ll do a few hours in the morning, then take a few hours break in the mid-day to enjoy some of the little light we get, and then do a few more hours in the evening. If I don’t see some sunlight I will go nuts for sure. So I’ve found switching things up can help to match our changing seasons this far north.
I’ve also made a point to actually get to the gym this year. That is what I often do during my mid-day break. And it is a life saver when it comes to shooting weddings. I’m usually incredibly sore after shooting a wedding day. But not after actually getting my butt in the gym and doing weights and such a few times a week.
Where do you find inspiration?
From my couples. I watch them interact with each other. I watch very, very closely. I build and play on that. If they are quieter, I focus on directing them and produce photos that are more peaceful. If they are loud and laugh a lot together, then I pull from that. I dropped trying to have a “style” a few years ago. Every wedding I shoot looks really different and I’m proud of that because then I know it is about them, not about me. And I do some random weird stuff at every wedding because experimenting is just fun. And if my experiment doesn’t work that’s fine. I learn and try again. I barely even share those photos anywhere. I do them just because it’s fun to create and mess around. But those weirder photos make up maybe .01% of the photos I deliver. Everything else focuses on the couple and the way the day felt.
Is there any specific figure/person who has influenced your work?
I always point to Abi Q and Brooke from Blush by B. They were the first wedding photographers I found years ago that shot something that was so very far from the traditional. I didn’t think I would ever shoot weddings until I found their work and was like “you can shoot weddings LIKE THAT?!”
What achievement, moment, or success are you most proud of?
Being one of the Rangefinder Rising Stars for 2018. I had always looked up to every photographer who was on that list. Other than that, every email I get back that my couple watched their slideshow several times and are crying and remembering how their wedding day felt. That is why I do what I do. It sounds corny and cliche but I live for that. Pretty photos are fine and fun to create but giving someone a part of their life, their history, their community, this thing they can hold on to for their lifetime – now that is something that matters.
What’s your favorite part of the wedding day to capture?
Toasts. It is one of the only times on the wedding day where the whole community involved becomes alert, alive, and connected in. It’s a time for remembering what family and friends mean to us, all the funny memories from growing up, what the couple has done for each other to cause them to flourish. The energy in the room becomes palpable. In every corner people are watching, arms around each other, and time slows down to remember where we have been and why we lock arms and come together for each other.
What are you doing to market your business to couples?
My joke advice is to not have your eggs in one basket, but to have all the eggs in all the baskets. SEO is a BIG one for me. I became obsessed with it a few years ago and now that is definitely my biggest traffic driver to my website. I teach it to other small business owners over at SEO is Fun. Another one is definitely getting on preferred lists for venues and wedding planners. I really do try to go above and beyond to make sure they know I loved working with them and that they get photos quickly. I even look up their Instagram accounts and websites beforehand and will shoot content during the wedding I think will fit their aesthetic.
What are you doing with your branding to attract clients?
I honestly use my branding to equally attract and detract potential clients who come across my website. My branding always reflects space/science. Ever since I was a little kid I have been obsessed with space and how the universe works. When re-doing my branding, I’ve learned to always just trust my gut with what I like and not just copy what is the new style out there. It can definitely be tempting to do that. But I know what I love, my kind of couples will love. I also usually try to put the weirdest aspect of my branding on my contact page to try to deter anyone who wouldn’t be into a bit of the weird since that is part of my style. Right now my contact page has a lady with her head half cut off and science diagrams coming out of it. If you aren’t into that, then we may not be a great fit, and that’s totally OK!
How do you get your clients comfortable in front of the camera?
I’ve always had this thing where if I can very strongly sense people around me who feel uncomfortable, and I can’t help but do everything I can to make them feel comfortable. Sometimes that is becoming quieter. Sometimes it is getting overly excited and dancing around like a buffoon. I just sort of sense what vibe is needed. It isn’t conscious at all, it’s a bit of an out of body experience, but I’ve really learned to trust it and follow the vibe.
What is your data management workflow?
My system has been the same way for almost the entirety of my business. I use Photo Mechanic to import and cull. I have two large hard drives for the year that mirror each other on my desk. I also then have all undelivered weddings on a small hard drive I keep in my purse. I also never clear the cards until a wedding is delivered, they are kept on little jars on my desk. Then all the final photos are uploaded to an online gallery and left up indefinitely. I used to provide flash drives but many new computers don’t have them anymore so I provide the online gallery as the final delivery method and cloud backup. Personally, I think having a cloud backup of every single raw file is kinda overkill. So just find a safe system that works for what you need.
How do you keep your business organized? Do you use a client management system?
Nope, I use a spreadsheet and my Google calendar. Very old school. I always found most client management systems to be really overkill. I only shoot weddings so I have a max of 45 clients a year so it’s pretty easy to keep things organized with a simple system.
Do you have any tech hacks to have a more productive business?
Meistertask! I use it to plan out my blogging to-do, keep track/brainstorm potential projects, and store my list of SEO reading to do. It’s a totally customizable system to help you plan out any and all to-do items. It’s like a place you can jump dump your brain and start masterminding big goals.
How do you organize/schedule your work week?
I have “themed” days. So one day may be culling, another may be blogging, etc. I always try to focus on the big tasks first that apply to the theme of the day BEFORE checking emails, social media, etc. I am a way more effective worker and get the real things done. I leave emails and other smaller tasks to the end of the day and set a 25 minute timer to focus and knock them out.
How much of your time is taken up by social media?
Very, very little. Maybe 20 mins a day, tops. I moved my social media apps into a folder on my phone and moved that folder to the second page. That makes it two layers deep. I did that to break the habit of just opening it when it was the first thing I saw on my home screen. It was such a huge time waster for me last year and I feel like it mostly adds nothing to the joy in my day or towards my life/business goals. I have replaced it with Reddit when I do want to just scroll stuff in my downtime. I spend maybe an hour a day on there during my breaks. I can control what I see so I have chosen to fill it with things that make me happy – science facts, cute dogs, and videos animals doing dumb stuff. No wedding photography. No politics. Nothing that doesn’t help me relax and laugh a bit. I sorta applied the Marie Kondo theory of “getting rid of what doesn’t bring you joy” to my relationship with technology. My home page on my phone is filled with the only apps that make me happy and add something to my life.
List all of the gear that you bring to your weddings:
- 2 Canon 6Ds
- Canon Mark III back-up (I actually like the 6Ds more than the Mark III)
- Canon 35mm L
- Sigma 24mm Art
- Sigma 50mm Art
- Sigma 80mm
- Sigma 70-200mm
I mostly have the 50mm and 35mm on my main two camera bodies. I dual shoot using the Hold Fast Money Maker.
I will probably switch to mirrorless for this coming year. I’m eyeing either Fuji or Sony.
Describe your editing process.
I currently use the DVLOP presets (KMP for color, Samm Blake for BW). I outsource all my editing to Freedom Edits. Learning to outsource saved my life. I do love to edit but I want to just tweak a few photos and really get the look down pat. I then flag the tweaked ones/sneak peeks I have edited and they just apply the same settings to all my photos. Its like I have a clone of myself that does the biggest part of the work. That way I can focus on other avenues of my business and actually have a life during wedding season.
What gear would you recommend for a beginner photographer?
Get anything with a nifty 50mm 1.8 and shoot on manual. No auto. No zoom. The camera really doesn’t matter. Being able to zoom doesn’t teach you to move to compose. Shooting auto will become a crutch that is harder to break away from over time. Learn the basics of the exposure triangle and a bit about setting up your camera. Then screw everything else. You don’t need to memorize your camera manual or blogs that will tell you what the perfect settings are for each situation. Just keep shooting and playing and getting the camera to connect with what you see if your head.
What’s your biggest pet peeve in the wedding industry?
The wedding industry.
Ha. Let me explain…
Yoga is a wonderful practice that brings about mindfulness, relaxation, and extending movement in the body to achieve overall wellness. However, there is also the yoga industry. This is filled with expensive classes, overpriced stretchy pants, looking like the perfect YouTube yoga instructor, etc, etc. The industry has the power to take away the core goodness that attracted the industry in the first place.
So let’s come back to weddings. Weddings are a celebration of our lives, communities, and families. We found this other person in the world that we want to spend all our time with. That’s nuts and amazing. Let’s eat and drink to that. This is the core goodness of weddings.
And then there is the wedding industry. With its “your perfect day” slogans, expansive tablescapes with expensive forks and perfectly color-coordinated everything, and that model in the dress you want with the goal size 0 that you need to be happy. That you need to have all this to have “your perfect day.”
Well, I say the hell to all of that. Truly. The beauty of life is not in perfection. It is not in the industry with its main selling tactic that we are not “enough.” I am enough. You are enough. And I hope to the gods your wedding day is not the best day you ever have. I hope you have many, many great days before and after and in-between. The wedding day celebrates all of those days. All of the love of your family. The funny stories shared. The family vacations. The couple’s counseling you had to go through to build to a strong relationship. The death of a family member. The birth of another. This is the core goodness. This is why we have weddings. Let’s never, ever let anything take away from that core.
Best advice you’ve ever received about being an artist, business person, or happy human?
Take a deep breath, relax, and remember…
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
Yeah, I just finished up this interview in the inspirational stylings of a high school yearbook quote page. 🙂 BUT SPACE IS COOL. And Carl is the man.
Is there anything you want readers to know about that you’re working on or where they can learn more from you?
SEO! It’s my obsession. And becoming good at SEO is attainable for every business owner. It’s really easy and fun! You can find all the info here: https://seoisfun.co/
Where can people follow you and your work?
SEO in FUN Business Coaching
Is there a wedding photographer or videographer you’re dying to know more about? Tell us below and we might just have them in an upcoming interview!