On the Industry Expert blog this month we chat with the super creative, talented and humble international photographer, Natalie Waugh.
Not only do we see Natalie fly across her home country of New Zealand and the world shooting beautiful celebrations, we see her host photography workshops for all skill levels as well as offer her talent to pop up professional photo shoots. Natalie also produces highly curated content photography, beautiful collaborations, family portraits, engagement shoots and new born photography to make up her stunning portfolio and is an all round photography super star babe!
We talk to Natalie about her passion and drive for this demanding industry, how she took the leap from full time corporate employment to pursue her creativity and turn it into a successful full time photography business. Natalie gives us a behind the scenes look into her role and a typical day in the life of self employment to how she got started as a professional photographer.
Natalie, can you please tell us a bit about yourself, your business, your style, your background?
'Well, my name is Natalie and I am a photographer based in New Plymouth, Taranaki. I have lived in New Plymouth pretty much all my life after my parents moved us here when I was only 18 months old, with some small stints in Wellington, Hamilton and Katikati for study/family reasons. I went to New Plymouth Girls High School and worked for my parent’s business growing up, before moving into Tertiary study in 2011 when I finished school.
I started my photography business as a hobby in 2012 and have slowly built it up from there into a full-time job.
Although most of my weddings are in the Taranaki Region, I am lucky enough to get wedding photography work nationally and internationally on occasion. I have photographed weddings in Auckland, the Bay of Plenty, Wanaka, Manawatu, Fiji and Rarotonga. My photography style is mixture of candid, documentary style and a little bit of posed shots too! (After all, you must have those ‘mantle-piece’ style photos for the parents / grandparents to put up.)"
How did you get into professional photography?
"When I was about 10 years old, my parents and my grandparents on both sides went thirds in a combined birthday present of a Minolta Film SLR camera. They decided to do this as I was always using my Dads camera – he too is a bit of a photographer. My Dad taught me how to use the camera and all about shutter speed, aperture and more. So, I knew the technicalities of photography from a young age. Dad told me that I could take photography as a subject when I got to my final years of high school and I literally counted down and couldn’t wait to be able to take it.
When I got to year 12 and 13 at New Plymouth Girls’ High, it was of course my first subject choice and I loved spending time in the photography classroom and darkroom. I did well, with a 100% grade average over the two years. I knew that when I left school, I wanted to go study photography to be professional freelance photographer. In 2010 when I received my acceptance letter for Massey University’s Design School for a degree majoring in Photography I was over the moon. However, when it came to studying this degree in Wellington in 2011, I became depressed and really disliked living in Wellington. After finding out that only six graduates from the previous year had job offers, it confirmed to me that I didn’t really want to take that risk with four years of study and student loan debt building up. I left Wellington and decided to study a few photography diplomas extramural while working and see where that took me. Which ultimately lead me to my full-time career as a professional photographer in 2017.
I now have four photography diplomas from various tertiary institutes covering different aspects of photography! Which I am very proud of."
Let’s chat about turning a side hustle into a full-time business. When you started Natalie Waugh Photographer you were working full time. Can you tell us some of the background behind this?
"I worked in a couple of jobs while I was studying, and I knew that these jobs would just be temporary, so I wasn’t really too concerned about what the job was, I even worked in a Fishing store and I have no idea about fishing! Although in 2015, I took a job at TSB Bank as teller which was great as it was only Monday to Friday hours so I could do my photography in the weekends. This allowed me to pick up wedding photography gigs on weekends too which was awesome as wedding photography was what I wanted to predominately be doing. After putting myself out there heaps I ended up with about 12-15 weddings a season while working full time, which was full on but amazing and I felt so grateful… but like I said it was full on and I was getting tired."
When did you know it was the right moment to take the leap and become self-employed?
"Doing my photography was taking a toll on my full-time job at TSB. I was getting really run down with working 9-5 during the week, getting home, exercising, having a late dinner and then sitting down to edit from about 8pm through to after midnight. I knew I couldn’t continue with this and I knew it was making my workmates at TSB frustrated as I wasn’t able to give 100%. Something had to go, so obviously it was going to be the bank. I spoke with the HR team about stepping into a casual role to begin with so I could phase the bank out and I was offered a casual role in August 2017. I took this role, but it turned out I was saying “no” to so much casual work offered to me and there didn’t seem to be much point in it… in eight months I only worked four weeks’ worth of shifts at the bank. So, with some encouragement from my partner… I completely resigned from TSB and became a full-time professional photographer."
What were some of the biggest challenges or self-doubt moments at the time?
"My self-doubt moments mainly consisted of being scared that I wouldn’t get enough work to survive and my pay bills etc. While there have been some tough times, I just work hard to put myself out there, advertise and it might sound lame, but put good vibes out to the universe that I will get more work and I have always managed to be ok!"
What have been some of your biggest wins since self-employment?
"I think winning Taranaki’s Favourite Wedding Photographer in 2018 and 2019 at the Taranaki Wedding Industry Awards and coming in second in 2017 (which was the year I went self-employed!!) has been a massive win! Also receiving a highly commended award in Capture Magazines Top Emerging Wedding Photographers was amazing too! However, booking in at least 25-30 weddings a season and being very busy is the greatest!!"
Working from home can be a challenge. How did you integrate this into your life while keeping a good work/life balance?
"I am still struggling with this, even after two years of self-employment. I really struggled with the idea that I didn’t have to keep working into all hours of the night and I could set up my days like it was a 9-5 job. I try my best to keep editing and shooting now between the hours of 9am and 5pm. Obviously, this isn’t always possible as sometimes there are shoots to do in the golden hour of the day, events to photograph at night of course weddings! But that’s ok, I just make sure that I give myself a day off during the week if I work all weekend. I also make sure I prioritise my health and fitness and make time to go running which is one of my other passions."
Can you tell us a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes running a creative business?
"This is a hard one! I feel like I am constantly looking for ways to improve and putting myself out there. Making sure I use social media regularly to promote my work and engage with potential clients. Checking out other photographers works to see how the industry is moving, reading blogs about shooting techniques, editing and new gear. There is also a fair amount of chocolate eating that goes on!"
Not only is Natalie a super star Wedding Photographer but she produces beautiful editorial work, family portraits, collaborations and so much more. What can a typical workday look like for you?
"I usually get up around 8am, have breakfast and while I eat breakfast, I figure out what I need to do for the day. Sometimes that might just be editing, or I might have a shoot booked. Often the shoots I have booked during the week are for businesses creating content for websites or social media feeds. Sometimes there is also family portraits but those tend to happen after normal work hours or in weekends. If I am not out shooting, I will start the day by doing admin, sending out invoices for upcoming work, booking forms, emails and accounting stuff. Then I will get into the editing. Editing is a funny one because once you have culled through and organised images, the process of adjusting images etc can be quite monotonous… so I usually have two screens going for work and one with Netflix on in the background to listen to / half watch. Or if it’s not Netflix it is Podcasts. I will work until about 5pm and then will go for a run usually!"