Tips on Establishing a Fashion and Celebrity Photography Career from Kate Owen
Kate Owen had no strategic plan for launching a photography career, other than to move to New York City with her camera and her moxie, and take any work she could find, she told our parent publication, PDN. Last year, she shot her first cover for Paper magazine—a photograph of #Horror star Chloë Sevigny covered in (fake) blood “that sort of blew up all over the internet,” Owen says. Around the same time, she landed her first fashion campaign, for designer Rebecca Minkoff, and her career has been snowballing ever since.
The 28-year-old photographer says, “Establishing a career is a slow process of one thing leading to another.” Here are a few tips she offered about starting a professional career. (For more info, check out “From Assistant to Photographer: Kate Owen, Fashion and Celebrity Photographer,” PDN July.)
Start early: Build a portfolio
Owen, a graduate of Brown University, says she studied “a lot of photography and film, and music and art.” Although she wasn’t a photography major, she started building a portfolio by wrangling “my most stylish friends, and we would do shoots in different places around town,” she says.
Enter photo contests
In her junior year, Owen won the grand prize in American Photo magazine’s 2009 GoPro contest for college students. Her prize included a DSLR camera, which enabled her to start shooting immediately when she arrived in New York. “Not needing to rent equipment, not having to think ‘Oh, if I don’t get paid, I’m losing money’—I think that made a huge difference,” she says.
One of Owen’s college friends was the daughter of New York City-based gallerist Peter MacGill. He critiqued Owen’s work, and also sent it to Annie Leibovitz and Jim Goldberg for their feedback.
Owen says, “I had never received such harsh critiques.” It shook her confidence, but she doubled down, and says one of the lessons she learned was the value of having others critique your work. Another lesson was that every element of a photograph has to be intentional, and contribute something to the image. “My need to be a perfectionist was honed.”
One of the first things Owen did in New York City was answer a “desperate plea for assistants” on Craigslist, “no pay at all, of course.” It turned out to be a shoot for Paper magazine. She met editorial director Mickey Boardman on the set. A few months later, she ran into him and re-introduced herself. “He was like, ‘Of course I remember you. Come on in and show me your portfolio.’” From there, Owen started getting small assignments from Paper. A few came with promises they would be five-page stories “and then they would cut it down to one [page], yet again.” She was surprised when her Chloë Sevigny shoot ended up on the cover last fall. Since then, she’s been shooting for Paper more frequently, and working with celebrities higher up the food chain.
To learn more about how the 28-year old Kate Owen created a successful photography career, see “From Assistant to Photographer: Kate Owen, Fashion and Celebrity Photographer” from PDN‘s July issue.