Interview with photographer KT Merry – every photography job is an audition for your next
Stories are the glue that binds us together and makes us stronger and wiser. We're lucky to have clients whose narratives are like bridges that connect professionals within the photography community. Our new series of interviews allows us to explore what uplifts photographers to go the extra mile and build solid businesses around their creative work. Having access behind the scenes and discovering a photographer's perspective on a deeper level is both honoring and meaningful.
KT Merry is a luxury wedding and editorial photographer from Florida, the United States, featured in many popular magazines, such as Vogue and Harpers Bazaar. She's a true professional who uses photography as a vehicle to grow, learn, and ultimately make a dent out there.
In this interview, KT Merry shares how it feels to run multiple businesses simultaneously, the importance of doing something different constantly, and what are the questions she asks herself when negotiating with clients.
How would you describe yourself on and off the record?
I would describe myself as an artist, entrepreneur, creator and lover of the natural world. I am a student of life and the world, and very driven to leave a lasting impact. I’m a runner, explorer, wife and dog mom.
On your website, you make a strong statement about meaning. What does it entail to you?
I think on some level we all understand that we need to feel our existence is purposeful. That we are making a contribution, connecting or impacting others. I see our clients meticulously crafting the biggest celebrations of their lives and it’s filled with meaning. Acknowledging and celebrating who they are, who they love, the start of a new story, it’s all very meaningful and I very much appreciate the opportunity to be a part of that, even in a small way.
What are the biggest challenges of working with your partner?
In having a business partner who is also my husband, I think the biggest challenge is that we are working a lot and often, and you truly have to learn how to be business partners and how to be romantic partners. Most often, there is little balance between these and so we’ve come to a more integrated approach with our rhythm of life. In some seasons it’s all-consuming, which, of course, carries challenges that affect your relationship. That said, working together has made our relationship so much stronger than if we didn’t; it’s connected us on a much deeper level.
What fills you up with energy to orchestrate every piece of the empire you're in charge of?
I am very motivated by the possibilities. It’s often still so inspiring that I can dream something up and then bring it to life. It reminds me of my days in pottery in middle school and that feeling of something coming fresh out of the kiln that hadn’t existed before. The fact that I can simply create something in the world, that energizes me.
Well, it’s creating an entire new business and one that requires more investment than my photography business did at the start. There is also the reality of having two jobs and essentially having a side hustle, which means I don’t always have the time I’d like to ideally dedicate to each business. I’m not a parent, but I imagine that it might feel similar to having one child who’s older and a bit more self-sufficient, and then introducing a newborn to the home. There is going to be some disruption, some lost sleep and the eldest child will probably get jealous from time to time.
How does the experience of being an educator for other photographers impact you as a creator?
They say if you really want to learn something, teach it. And I find this to be true in every way. I have learned so much through the experience of teaching that has allowed me to grow, learn and stretch myself. It’s helped me to become more confident as a creator, to trust in myself more, and really clarify what I have learned throughout the years. It has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, which I believe is where all growth happens.
When negotiating terms with a client, what are some things to always keep in mind?
- Who my ideal client is, and is this prospective client one of them?
- If so, is this an event that will allow me to grow my business in some way?
- Am I inspired by the client/event?
- To keep an abundance mindset and realize that not all the jobs (even the ones I really want) are meant for me.
- To clearly communicate with the client throughout each step.
- To trust the process.
You are a luxury wedding photographer - how do these events differ from the rest, and how do they impact you?
Luxury events are ever-expanding and changing and continuously growing in expectations and demands. It’s required us to continue to elevate our performance, which has been challenging and amazing all at once. There is not an event that goes by where I don’t learn something or have feedback for the team on what went well and what we need to improve. I think the main difference for these events is they require complete focus, performance and, most often, stamina. Let’s just say that luxury isn’t for sissies.
What are the best channels through which one can build their name and reputation in this time and age?
I say often that every job is an audition for your next. When we talk about building your name and reputation, it’s about showing up and giving 110% every time, even when no one is watching (spoiler alert: someone always is!). Additionally, you need to understand what your secret sauce is, what your zone of genius is — so you can leverage it. Once you know that, everything gets a bit easier.
What role does Pixieset play in your photography business, and how it impacts your clients?
I am very honed in on the client experience and want to ensure every step of the way is as beautiful, on brand and easy for them as possible. At the end of the day, luxury is simplicity and ease too. Pixieset has been a very easy way to ensure my clients (and their family and friends) can effortlessly review their images. My clients are busy, important people and this part of the experience should be intuitive and simple. Pixieset checks both boxes which allows me to continue to deliver the client experience I desire.
How do you handle the cultural and identity differences across your projects?
I remember that no two clients are ever the same. I remember that we must never assume anything and the importance of reading the room. As a photographer you need to be chameleon-like in some ways, morphing your methods to what will produce the best results for that particular client.
Do you believe style evolves in time along with your own transformation?
I believe if you’re doing it right, it should be ever-evolving. It should always feel like your own and connected to where you started, but also boldly progressing is one of the most important marks of a successful artist and business owner. I’m often reminded that we need to let the past inform us but also we often need to let it go in order to create our best work. Be willing to do something different.
What's one particular story you documented that changed a strong belief of yours?
Well, it’s not a wedding story, but one of the most profound stories that impacted me deeply was that of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in the world. I came across his story one day on CNN. He was being guarded 24 hours a day by armed guards to protect him from poaching, as the last male of his kind. It stopped me in my tracks. I’ve always been passionate about the natural world, conservation and animals and yet, 10+ years into growing my photography business I wasn’t really doing much about it, and the fact that we are slowly killing our only planet.
I realized in that moment that the world couldn’t wait for my ‘success’ and that this is happening right now. I immediately weighed my options and how I could have the most impact. I could quit what I was doing and immerse myself in saving these animals. Or, I could leverage the skills and experience I had developed, and become a beacon of awareness and financial support for the experts — the boots on the ground doing this life-saving work. And that’s what I did.
I founded Render Loyalty, a for-profit company that is now partnered with three non-profit conservancies in Africa. We donate 20% of all sales to our respective partners to support their work and help to generate awareness to the issues they, and wildlife, are facing. It’s taught me that saving the world isn’t just for the few rich cooperate CEOs. If it was, we wouldn’t be in this situation. It’s up to each and every one of us to take small, yet mighty, action—right where we are, right now.
Where do you source your inspiration from and find the drive to keep going on your path?
I find inspiration everywhere! From nature and books, to movies and fashion photography. I love coming across things that inspire me to try something, push myself a bit and see what I can create.
The drive to keep going… that one is pretty engrained in me but I think it comes from the feeling that failure isn’t an option and that I’m on a journey; and while I’ve been on it for a while, I’m truly just getting started.
I also find inspiration everywhere: demonstrating that it’s never too late to make your dreams happen.
How would you describe the impact of photography on your life?
Photography has been a portal for me. In my early years, it was the vehicle for me to travel the world and learn from fashion photographers. Later, it taught me about the human experience, to see the inner workings of so many families and their most intimate moments has taught me so much about how others live and how families and relationships can be.
More recently, it’s encouraged me to truly become an entrepreneur and stretch myself even further intellectually and spiritually. It’s allowed me to make an impact in the areas that matter most to me — like conservation, and to feel that I’m experiencing life more deeply, having documented so much of it.
It's encouraging to see photographers such as KT Merry, who reached a high reputation, stick to the beginner mindset. It's a proof of humbleness that makes room for growth and openness to explore the world from a fresh perspective. Moreover, her passion for educating photographers to enhance their craft shows, once again, that giving back is a great way to gain more confidence as a creator.
Make sure you don't miss our first interview with Ashlie René, outdoor & wildlife photographer from Oregon. It's an inspiring conversation about letting go of your ego and focusing on helping clients.