Photography Business Interview Series: with Cat at Wild Connections Photo

Cat is a British adventure wedding and elopement photographer based in the Austrian Alps. She travels around Europe accompanying couples who choose to get married in epic locations, and it’s not unusual to find her skiing down a mountain or hiking up one with a couple on their wedding day. | instagram

Alongside her photography business Wild Connections Photography, Cat is the editor of We Are The Wanderers, a blog for adventure weddings in Europe, and the founder of the Adventure Wedding Academy, running retreats and offering mentoring to photographers and videographers looking to build a niche business in adventure weddings.

— photos in this interview are taken by + belong to Wild Connections Photo

Hi Cat! Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Cat. I’m originally from the UK, but I came to Austria to work a winter season as a ski & snowboard instructor at the ripe age of 25, met my husband here (who is Dutch) and we never left! I’m a huge introvert, and so is my husband so we don’t really socialise much. We spend most of our time outdoors exploring and doing crazy things. In the winter we’re skiing almost every weekend and in the summer we’re hiking a lot and in the climbing gym 2-3 times a week.

How did you get into photography, and when did you know you wanted to start a photography business?

I don’t have a background in photography, or in business. I graduated from university with a music degree. It was only after my own wedding in 2014 that I became interested in photography, and specifically wedding photography. Anyone who knows me knows that if I get my mind set on something, I won’t stop until I’ve got it.

So at the end of 2014 I went out a bought a camera, and a year later I started my business. The first 2 years I did it part-time alongside working as a hotel receptionist and at the end of 2017 I quit my job and went full time into wedding photography.

Your work is absolutely stunning! I’m in love with all the green color tones and the places you shoot at in your feed. What piece of advice would you give to those who are starting out and working on creating their own style?

Thank you so much. My style definitely evolved a lot from when I first started out.

At the beginning, all I did was look at the work of other photographers and desperately want my work to look like theirs. But I didn’t have their eye, their brain or shoot like them, so a lot of the time I wasn’t happy with how my pictures looked.

It took some soul searching to realise that I’m not really inspired by wedding photography (or the wedding industry in general). I find most of my inspiration in travel & adventure sports, and in things like National Geographic magazine. Slowly I started to realise that I wanted to capture the feelings that I felt looking at those kinds of pictures, but I wanted to put couples in them.

Whether you are just starting out, or you’ve been in the business for years, I think it’s so important to find out who you are and what you like, and I think the best way of doing that is to look at what inspires you OUTSIDE of your industry. That might be in art, in architecture, in music, in nature. It can come from so many places.

When you embrace these things that shape who you are and what inspires you, you find a unique style.

How did you first get into the adventure wedding industry and do you have any advice for those who want to get into this industry?

Adventure weddings were a natural progression for me because of the sort of lifestyle I lead.

I started off shooting traditional weddings but found out quickly that I didn’t really enjoy them. I already mentioned that I’m an introvert, and I’m a pretty socially anxious person when I’m around groups of more than about 20 people. Because I didn’t really want to show a lot of the stuff I was shooting, but I needed something to blog about, I blogged about my life, which was hiking, skiing and travel. I blogged about being a seasonaire and about being an expat.

And suddenly I was getting messages from couples who wanted to know if I could shoot their skiing wedding or an elopement halfway up a mountain that they were hiking up to. I immediately knew these couples were “my people”. They weren’t so bothered about the traditional wedding stuff (flowers, colour schemes, etc) and really just wanted their day to be about the experience of getting married somewhere awesome and doing something that felt more authentic to them.

I know that a lot of photographers want to get in to the adventure wedding/elopement niche. A lot of people are drawn to this niche because it looks epic and fun - and it is, if you like this kind of thing. Pictures of couples in epic locations might help you get more likes on social media, but adventure weddings aren’t always easy. You can be outside in the elements for hours at a time, sometimes in crazy weather conditions, carrying all your gear and making sure that your couple has an amazing time.

If you want to know if this industry is for you, I definitely recommend attending something like my Adventure Wedding Academy retreat, where we’ll be re-creating a real hiking elopement scenario. Regardless of the weather, we’ll be hiking to a location with a couple and photographing it as if it was their elopement.

It’s not just about getting portfolio images (they are important too) but also about…

…learning what gear you need, how much you can carry, and being able to get amazing images for a couple no matter the weather. After that, I definitely think it’s really important to have a portfolio and a brand that attracts the types of couples that you want. Couples are very unlikely to book you for an elopement if all they see on your website are hotel or church weddings. Show what you want to shoot.

Why do your photography clients come to you specifically?

Very few of my clients actually book me because of my photography skills.

Of course I need to know what I’m doing, but my clients can see from my social media or my website what my style is and that I’m competent with a camera. There are countless amazing photographers out there for them to choose from, so why do they choose me?

I share a lot of my personal life and my personality on my social media, especially on my Instagram stories, and a lot of my clients come to me because they feel like I’m the sort of person they would probably be friends with because we have the same hobbies, travel to the same locations, sometimes even simply because we love the same brand of skis! They connect with me because I get them, and their reasons for why they want to do something different for their wedding.

What was your favorite wedding that you shot?

Oh my. It’s so hard to pick a favourite because they have all been so different and unique.

But I think the one that sticks out in my mind the most is a 3-day hiking elopement that I did earlier this year. The couple wanted their whole trip to be an epic adventure, so they planned a multi-day hike through the Dolomites, and asked me to join them to capture the final few days. Even though the hiking was pretty challenging at times as we were on some pretty gnarly terrain, it felt like we were simply old friends on an adventure together.

On the day they chose to say their vows, the weather wasn’t at all what we wanted (it was heavy rain and thunderstorms all morning), but they were so relaxed and happy to just roll with it and improvise a new plan. In the afternoon, the rain stopped and the clouds started to clear, and the views were out of this world! (see photos below)

How has starting your own business and being your own boss changed your life?

I grew up with self-employed parents, so even from a young age, I used to dream of running my own business. As a young child, you learn a lot about life from your parents, and what I learned from my parents was that being self-employed meant being tied to your business, working long hours, few holidays and not earning a great deal of money either.

So when I started my photography business in 2015, I had to do a lot of work to try and re-write that story. At the start you need to learn about so much more than just your craft - you need to learn about licenses and taxes, about marketing, creating a website, customer service… The list goes on.

But being able to choose who you work with and create your own working schedule is really amazing. 

What do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to being your own boss?

Most big companies have a business plan, but so many entrepreneurs don’t.

It’s so important to assess where you are and where you want to be going at least once a year. And I’m not just talking about dreaming about where you want to be “one day in the future”. Get really specific about your goals and when you want to have achieved them by, then chunk them down in to weekly and monthly action points. For example, if you’re a yoga teacher whose goal is to run residential retreats, mark a date in your calendar for when you want to do the first one, and write out a whole action plan of every step you need to do (and by what date) to make it happen.

Another thing I think that’s really important, and has been a game changer for me, is to invest in a mentor or a coach.

When I started working with a business coach, I saw huge changes in my business in a pretty short space of time. I had someone who could give me specific advice related to what my goals were, keep me accountable for the things I said I’d do, and call me out on the things I “thought” I needed to do that really weren’t that important at all. Online courses and self-study programmes are great, but sometimes having someone take a close look at you and your business, and work with you one-on-one can stop you wasting time on the things that aren’t going to help you and keep you focused on the things that will.

A lot of creatives struggle in the beginning. Was there ever a time in your business when you questioned if it was the right path for you? If so, how did you deal with it?

I think for anyone in a creative business, moving from doing something for a hobby (which is were a lot of people start) to “I charge money for this now” can be really hard.

At the start I found it super challenging to charge for something I enjoyed (so much that I’d probably have done it for free), so I often quoted waaay to low in the hope that they’d book me. Every time someone booked my top package, I felt sick because I didn’t believe I was worth being paid that much even though I told myself that I needed to turn a profit if I wanted photography to be a business rather than an expensive hobby. And if someone asked me in a conversation about how much I charge, I would be super awkward and apologetic, mumbling the prices under my breath.

“But I found myself completely exhausted and making no money.”

So I started raising my prices, which was absolutely terrifying. Slowly, after every few bookings, or when I’d get great feedback from previous clients, I’d put my prices up bit by bit, and I realised that people still booked me!

Working with a coach definitely helped me move past a lot of the issues that I had with my pricing - especially making me realise that not everyone out there is a price-shopper. Now I have no hesitation in talking about my pricing, and if I don’t have at least one person telling me I’m too expensive in a month, I know it’s time to raise them again!

InterviewsMolly HoComment