Interview with Kendall Aubrey – every photographer can benefit from a mentor

Starting and maintaining a photography business can be challenging. With lots of options, tools, possibilities, influencers and trends, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and feel uncertain about your work. You might need help figuring out how to kick off your business, where to find guidance, or how to approach a mentor, someone you admire, and ask for help. However, dozens of photographers from various niches are willing to pay it forward and support the upcoming generations on their photography journey.

Kendall Aubrey is a California-based photographer and educator who does precisely that. Her teaching background, next to her openness to help those starting out, makes Kendall a trustworthy professional and reliable mentor. With her guidance, photographers learn how to grow their business, refine their style and become more confident in their craft.

As Kendall says herself, "You want to invest in a mentor who has experience in the areas of photography that you are interested in. They should have the technical knowledge and skills to help you develop your craft, as well as the business insight to help you build your career."

Read the entire conversation to discover the importance of having someone who empowers you to strive for more. Also learn how to choose the right photography mentor and build a relationship based on trust.

You started your business in 2019, and soon after, the pandemic kicked in. How did you manage to grow it during such difficult times?

I believe I was in the perfect place with my business when this all happened—then again, life is really all about perspective. When the pandemic shut everything down I was lucky to only have a few weddings booked at the end of the year, so there was enough time for rescheduling.

Beyond that, I chose to think creatively. I felt like I had so much time and freedom to grow since the rest of the world slowed down.

It may sound woo-woo or silly to some, but I spent a lot of time manifesting the business of my dreams and planning for a successful future. Manifestation is the practice of focusing your thoughts, intentions, and actions on a desired outcome, with the belief that it will become a reality. I find that it is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth. On a quarterly basis, I intentionally designed my goals, mapped out my course of action, and thought critically and creatively about how I would achieve success. (Later I created a workbook on my website, Planning for Success Workbook to help others do exactly what I did to grow their businesses too. I still use this tool quarterly to keep me growing.)

During the pandemic I also engaged with my community at a distance. A local real estate agent was hosting a Porch-trait event, so I offered my services and took over thirty 15 minute porch family portraits documenting this experience in these families lives, it was such a heartfelt occasion to document.

Kendall Aubrey - House in nature
Kendall Aubrey - Rocks and ocean

Lastly, I spent a lot of time growing my brand through social media. Instagram is my platform of choice, so I spent my time communicating with my audience and posting intentional, heartfelt content. Half fun, half strategic—I set out to create a strong brand identity for my company that went beyond my photography work. I remember seeing photographers images that were instantly recognizable without looking at the Instagram handle…that was one of my goals. I focused on consistency (images and messaging), authenticity (honest brand voice and creating a connection), differentiation (being uniquely myself full of personality), and emotional connection (tapping in to my audience's values and aspirations). It was a slow and steady process, but every day my goals got closer and my community grew stronger.

How did your teaching background influence your photography work?

Teaching is part of my essence. Since I was young I always wanted to help people, but I never knew how. Once I became a teacher the stars aligned.

I always had multiple jobs through college that related to mentoring, advising, and teaching. After I graduated with my Masters, I taught Public Speaking for two years at the University supporting over 300 undergraduate students face their fears and grow their speaking skills confidently.

There’s the everyday skills like communication, organization, and patience that support me well as a photographer, but I think the most prominent skills is my ability to genuinely connect with people and tell their unique story.

I approach my clients like I did my students in my Public Speaking classes. I start by building a connection. I’m all about trust, honesty, and vulnerability. To truly share their souls with me and my camera, vulnerability is necessary, and that requires a deep level of trust. When I am trusted wholeheartedly, my creativity is unleashed. As a wedding photographer, I am privileged to be welcomed into the lives of my clients and embraced by their families. I witness profound love firsthand and hear stories of beauty, pain, and legacy. Often, I am the only one privileged to listen to their vows, and that's a responsibility that I do not take lightly.

Once the relationship is in the building stages I focus on their confidence. I am first to admit having your photos taken can be the most intimidating experience. Through the years photographing hundreds of humans I have realized one of the most important pieces of the client experience is the confidence you instill — this along with trust and vulnerability allows photographers to capture the true essence of someone at ease. By establishing a true connection, I can capture unique stories in all its perfect and imperfect moments.

Kendall Aubrey website:

What motivates you to be an educator for younger generations?

I am motivated to educate upcoming photographers because 1. I am a natural big sister and want to see everyone succeed and 2. I just love what I do! I want to make a positive impact on the photography world by helping to shape the future generation into supportive, confident photographers.

It was never part of my plans to become an educator in the photography space, but as my community grew I was approached to be a mentor and fell in love with learning all about photographers in my community and helping them discover new ideas and develop new skills to support the growth of their business.

I grew my mentorships like I grew my photography business, by seeing where others were lacking and providing an unparalleled experience from there. I was a mentee for three different photographers and felt like it was just a quick call where I would come prepared with a list of questions and they would just shoot off answers. It felt choppy, disconnected, and surface level. So this motivated me even more to provide an elevated experience for my mentees. I provide them the experience I want: a conversation that flows, specific action steps and plans, and a friendship that transcends the Zoom chat. I’m all about manifesting your dreams, because it really just boils down to if you want something, put it in your mind and start working towards it.

Kendall Aubrey - Young people red car

I did get some flack for educating while I was in the early stages of my business, which was unfortunate. I had veterans send and post hurtful messages saying I wasn’t qualified to support others. I also saw veterans post not encouraging things about different photographers' style, aesthetics, editing, etc., that all put a bad taste in my mouth and made me more motivated to be a supporting voice in the photography community.

I also felt unnecessary competition starting out and I didn’t want anyone to feel the way I did. There are countless clients for all of us to have enough, we all have specialties and style that will be a perfect fit for our clients. We all deserve to achieve our dreams.

Do you have any specific tips for photographers who plan to get into education?

I have two tips:

  1. Do it. In my opinion, you can learn something from everyone. There are so many photographers out there at so many different levels, with all different types of experiences and areas they are an expert in. So do it! Everything from tutorials, guides, and educational reels are so helpful in this growing community and if you are inspired to share what you know, go for it. The sky is the limit for how far you can reach and how many people you can support with social media these days.

  2. Have a mentor support you. Invest in a mentor yourself or minimally surround yourself with other successful educators who you can chat ideas with. Photography is a very independent industry if you don’t push yourself to open up to the community. It can also be a very overwhelming one since you see ideas and inspiration everywhere. With differing strengths and expertise everyone can benefit from a mentor to guide you through a new process or challenge. I invest in education all the time to make sure I can provide the best support for my mentees. Everyone has to find their perfect match in an educator, so there are mentees out there waiting for a mentor just like you!

When we create, we inspire, and our unique styles shine through—everyone wins and the bar of photography raises.

What should photographers who are looking for a mentor pay attention to?

I have a couple of values I think are important to pay attention to in a mentor.

A mentor should be someone whose style and approach to photography resonates with you. Look for someone whose work inspires you and who you believe can help you grow as a photographer.

You want to invest in a mentor who has experience in the areas of photography that you are interested in. They should have the technical knowledge and skills to help you develop your craft, as well as the business insight to help you build your career.

A good mentor should be someone who can communicate effectively and clearly. They should be able to provide constructive feedback and guidance that is tailored to your specific needs and goals.

A mentor should be someone who is willing and able to invest time and energy in your development as a photographer. They should be committed to your growth and willing to provide ongoing support and feedback.

Lastly, a mentor should be someone with whom you feel comfortable and able to build a trusting relationship. You should be able to ask questions, express your concerns, and receive feedback in a supportive and constructive environment. Finding the right fit is crucial, just like finding the perfect photographer for your wedding. That being said — I will not be the right fit for every mentee. Mentees and mentors are both putting their hearts and souls into their work, so it's extremely important that you find a good match.

Kendall Aubrey - Couple black and white
Kendall Aubrey - Couple running in nature

How do Pixieset tools impact the experience you offer to your clients?

Pixieset was one of the first investments I made for my business. I believe in the strength of branding and professionalism for a positive experience for clients. As my website hosting platform and gallery delivery system, Pixieset allows me to update my website with ease and deliver my galleries easily and beautifully.

Kendall Aubrey Client Gallery

How do you envision your business evolving in the long haul?

With constantly changing technology and trends I have a few plans for my business evolution. I will always prioritize client (and mentee) experience first, continuing to creatively and intentionally provide excellent service, clear communication, and personalized attention to detail. Also as I grow in the wedding photography community I have connected with so many amazing vendors and love recommending them which in turn grows my network and attracts more likeminded dream clients.

I have yet to invest in any marketing tools, such as paid advertising, so I am excited to dive deeper to learn more about that to reach a wider audience. I am excited for what the future holds in the photography community.

What advice would you offer for those who are just starting in the photography field?

Be authentically you, lean into your natural strengths to start, invest in education, practice your technical skills, dial in your client experience, connect with your community, never think you’ve ‘done enough’ learning, don’t stay comfortable, block off free time for creativity, be patient as you grow, always believe in yourself, dream bigger, and reflect daily gratitude for this amazing career you ‘get to have’, not ‘have to do’.

Starting a photography business doesn’t have to be a solo journey for you. Fortunately, there are many professionals in the industry who can lend a hand and help you reach your creative potential. The photography community is welcoming and offers plenty of opportunities to connect with educators who enjoy sharing their experience. Kendall Aubrey is one of them, and you can find more information about her mentorship and coaching options on her site.

Discover more inspiring stories on our blog. Chloe May describes how having a team of photographers allows her to offer better client experiences. André Morgan shares how his sports photography work contributes to a good cause. Elizabeth Messina talks about the way her beliefs influence her unique approach to portrait photography. Adam Wells reveals how he builds genuine relationships with his clients, so they don’t feel transactional.

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