I knew I wanted to be a photographer since I was 9. I won an honorable mention in a state competition, which I basically thought meant I won. There were four of us – for all I know I came in dead last (laughs).
We met photographer Katie Lewis for coffee at her adorable Fargo bungalow-style home where she told us all about her start as one of the area’s most popular wedding professionals with businesses Katie Lewis Photography, Fate & Love Photography, Fate & Love Stationery, and Fate & Love Handcrafted.
“I remember thinking this is what I’m supposed to do with my life,” she said, remembering that life-changing contest. “And I just stuck with it.”
Starting her career in 2006, Katie explained, “I had not shot weddings in my whole entire life and some brave people let me do it and it just went from there. It kind of grew really fast…”
But let’s back up. Katie originally graduated with a photojournalism degree from Minnesota State University – Moorhead and then moved to Massachusetts to attend the Hallmark Institute of Photography. From there, Katie moved to New York to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion photographer. Moving literally everything with her, she had no intention of ever returning to the Midwest.
“I went to New York after graduating to start looking for jobs and it just didn’t feel right. It was this gut feeling of you’re not supposed to be here,” she described. “In New York you have to hustle in such a different way than you have to hustle everywhere else that I felt I would have ended up hating it. I would have really started disliking New York and I love it so much.”
Eventually moving back to Fargo, it just so happened that close friends and family were getting married and asked her to photograph it. After giving it a try, Katie ended up making money shooting a few weddings that summer and slowly began to realize “how weddings work.”
When asked if she was terrified, she said, “Absolutely.”
Almost with a sense of PTSD she recalled, “I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I photographed my cousin’s wedding in Colorado when I got back and I remember her getting ready and me just sitting there. And her putting on her dress and me just sitting there. I didn’t know I was supposed to be photographing all of this stuff because I had never really been to weddings…I had been to two weddings my whole life before that and the photographers were never there for those moments. Early 2000s, late 90s people didn’t really do that.”
We asked when the moment was that she realized she was making a name for herself as a photographer.
“I think I moved back to town in just the right moment that just because I didn’t know any better I was doing photos in a very different way – it was still very old school, very traditional style here,” she said. “I did a few wedding shows to get my name out there and very quickly I realized people liked what I was doing. As soon as I got my first referral I though, ‘I’m doing something right here.’”
A few years ago she launched her first of many Fate & Love businesses, Fate & Love Photography. This business is a passion project for Katie, who brings on photographers for a two-year contract and mentors them whether they’re in the beginning phases of starting their own business or they want to photograph under the Fate & Love umbrella long term.
“This (business) is a way for to me to mentor other photographers who want to get started and have a built in business plan, if you will. You can work off of that and not have to figure those things out on your own. When you first start it’s very difficult to know what you’re supposed to do, so to already have that and to have a seasoned photographer to ask questions and pick their brain, I really enjoy doing that,” she said.
Explaining the process, Katie said, “We have a two-year contract, so you’re with me for two years and you can sign on again or not. Some people have full time jobs they actually really do enjoy but this is a nice hobby for them and they just don’t want to put the time and energy into the business side of it. With this you have a built in brand, people know of the brand and you have a business model so all you have to do is meet with your clients and go shoot – the fun part. So you don’t have taxes and marketing, etc.”
Otherwise photographers are then released to spread their lens shutter speed and fly, taking what you like and dislike from the program with you to create your own brand and business model.
Second up was Fate & Love Stationery, with a similar program with graphic designers.
“That (the business) is stationery for anything, really, but we’re focused heavily on weddings. You can have custom wedding stationery or we have a lot of designs you can choose from. It’s very price affordable,” she said. “I think it really sets the tone of your wedding day and is your chance to tell them about you as a couple.”
Last, but not least, is her new company, Fate & Love Handmade, where she gets behind her new love – the sewing machine. It’s pretty obvious that there’s a lot of it going one with her incredible collection of fabrics, and she just started last winter.
“In the summers it’s really easy to get burnt out with weddings. After nine years I needed something else as a creative outlet. And I’ve always wanted to learn how to sew and quilt, so I took a class last summer for sewing and found out I was actually okay at it. So it helps keep my sanity and works another part of my brain. I think that can only help everything else that I do that’s creative in my businesses.”
This year her goal is to start creating fancier clutches for brides.
When you think about it, it’s hard for most to create and run one business, let alone three (she used to have four with her wedding show Get Hitched). How does she juggle it all?
“It’s really hard because you have to focus on them or they can crumble pretty easily. Since I’ve been doing Katie Lewis Photography for so long I don’t have to concentrate on that as much, but what I really like to focus on is Fate & Love Photography because we’re always looking for photographers coming on,” she said.”Same for Fate & Love Stationery, we’re looking for more designers as well. Some days I think I’m just a serial entrepreneur. But I really love all these aspects of weddings.”
(When Katie was going back and forth about what to call her new businesses, she soon realized the answer was right in front of her – tattooed on her wrists. “It’s kind of wedding-like but goes with other categories, too.”)
We asked what advice she has for future brides when looking for their photographer.
“Booking a photographer is one of the first things people book – I’m already booking 2017 brides,” she said. “If you were at or have seen friends’ photos you really love, ask them how they felt about their photographers. Referrals are huge because they were with them all day long. Make sure you enjoy who they are. If you like their work that’s great, but do you really want to spend all day with them?”
Katie says her typical bride has been in her late 20s to early 30s and tend to love outdoor weddings. “They know what they want but they also trust my creativity. They’ve seen my work and have had friends hire me in the past and know I’ll capture what they need,” she said.
One of the biggest compliments was when she was called to do a Chicago wedding, recommended to the bride and groom by a former groomsman at another Katie Lewis Photography wedding.
“He recommended me for how ‘efficient’ I was. That was almost a higher compliment than when a bride recommends me,” she laughed.
Check out more of Katie Lewis Photography’s work here and more of Fate & Love Photography’s work here.