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Laurken Kendall: Combining parenthood with a successful photography business

You’re about to dive into the 3rd interview of our Entrepreneurial Women who Inspire series. Make sure to also check out the first two interviews – with Katch Silva here and with India Earl here. Today, we’ll be introducing you to an incredible woman, a talented photographer, a mother of 3 awesome boys and a loving wife – Laurken Kendall.

Interview #3: Laurken Kendall

www.laurkenkendall.com | Custom Design by Flothemes

Discover how Laurken Kendall builds trust with her clients to create intimate and honest photographs. Get a glimpse on what it’s like to live on a farm, far away from all the noise and hecticness of a city. Also, find out how she manages to combine the demanding roles of a mother, a traveling wedding photographer, an educator + running the farm with her husband.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your family & business. How did you get started?

I think, like most people, I’ve always loved photos. As a child, my dad always let me buy the disposable cameras at the store and would pay for the film to be developed so I have lots of photos of a 10 year old girls life in the 90’s. Later, I was always the person in college who had a camera during beer pong. Those were the days before social media really was a thing so fortunately for me, I don’t have any cringeworthy drunk photos in my facebook archives. I got my first digital sometime around 18. When I had my children, it became a real passion for me, because my heart was in it at that point. I started posting photos I was taking of my kids on Facebook, because I didn’t have an Instagram (that was 2013 already), soI was posting and people started to ask me to take photos for them, and it just kind of escalated from there.  My business was accidental. It was never my intention and when I first started, I hadn’t a clue about what I wanted to do with it.

Photo by Brooke Johnson

You have a very interesting lifestyle, you live outside of the city, far far away from all the noise, the busyness & everything. What’s the best thing about this lifestyle? Any cons?

Well, I’m almost 32, I have 3 children, all boys, and we live that rural farm life as my husband is a 6th generation wheat farmer. For right now, the only thing bad about living on a farm is that I can’t order Uber-eats. There are no delivery (or any kind) of restaurants anywhere and if I’m at home trying to cook something and realize I don’t have one ingredient, there’s no running out to the store real quick to get it. The store is an hour away. Everything is an hour away.

It’s the lifestyle that’s addictive though- you cannot beat it. It’s like having a golden egg, because nobody anymore has a lifestyle like we live. It’s very rare for children to grow up running wild on an active farm, catching tadpoles in the crick that runs in front of the house and building obscure forts in various tree patches. My kids have acres and acres of ground to play on. They help their dad with the farming. My oldest is 10 and can already operate a truck and tractor with a bank out wagon attached. I’m pretty handy with driving the farm rigs myself now since my husband basically dropped me in a manual truck and told me to figure out a decade ago. We do have more of a family operation, because there isn’t really any other option. Farming is incredibly expensive and you make next to nothing. In the summertime I’ll shoot weddings on the weekend and drive the harvest truck during the week with my husband and kids when I can. We have coolers filled with otter pops, lunchables, snacks & fruit – and we just hang out. Kids take turns jumping between his combine or tractor and my harvest truck. Our lifestyle allows us to be isolated and to really be forced to always do things as a family, to really only have each other.

As for my husband and I, as a parent you don’t get out and do much anyway. Your date nights are few and far between. Ours are very much grounded in the home because even going out to dinner is a four hour project with the drive time. Once we put our kids to bed we have a late night snack with ice cream we’ve been hiding from the them and watch R rated movies that we love. 

How old are your kids?

I have a 10 year old. He just turned 10, which has been a very difficult transition for me, because that’s that moment when you realize “He’s half way out of our home”. The baby years are gone, he’s becoming this teenager with a bad attitude and an affinity for girls I don’t like (laughs). So the 10 year old is Kolten, Wiley is 5 and Bowie is 2. 

You speak a lot about human imperfection, about how we should embrace the messiness of life and not allow our insecurities dictate our life choices. How and why did you take this approach?

It’s part of my personality really. I didn’t realize how hung up people were on the perfect feed or the perfect photo until I started shooting professionally, and clients would constantly need reassurance “Do I look good? Does this look good?” or “My house is not pretty, we can’t shoot here!” 

Now I love in-home photography, so I’ve had these moments when I’ve had to tell people: This is your home. You’re not going to live here forever. You guys are newlyweds, or maybe your building your own house, or you haven’t started your family yet. This space is not going to support you forever. It’s important that you look at this moment and realize you’re in the good old days right now. These are the moments that in time you’re going to look back on and say “Remember when we lived in that shitty apartment, and we hated it?” And yet now you’re gonna have photos of it. You don’t fight in the rooms of an airbnb. You fight in your home and I want to be in the place where you’re having these genuine interactions.

Part of what I do when a client books me for an in-home or couple session (I do this with weddings too) I do a detailed questionnaire. I add to it regularly so the process keeps expanding. I’d like to know the bad things about a relationship as well as the good things so its a very personal document. I ask how they cuddle in the morning, what they do together, etc.,  because I feel that you can’t truly document a soul to the best of your ability unless you have empathy for it and understand what its been through. So much of truly documentary photography comes from that place of empathy.

I’ve been with the same man for 15 years, so we’ve gone from being kids together to having these traumatic experiences as adults. We had a lawsuit within the family and we were kicked out of our farm for 2 years. I was 7 months pregnant with my second son and my oldest was 4. We had no jobs, there were no houses to rent and my husband had also lost 3 immediate family members that same year. We had to go from being kids who were spoiled, had this breezy farm life and a people taking care of us – to being adults who had nothing all of a sudden and now had 2 children to support. It was really hard, but we went through that process. It took us 3 years until we finally got our farm back. It was really hard and we grew a lot from that experience.

So I like to recognize that, and sometimes I write posts about fighting with my husband, because people usually try to sweep it under the carpet. I don’t know why it’s perceived as bad to try and speak about the negative aspects of your relationship – we are human beings and we all feel this crazy inexplicable multitude of things simultaneously. Love is on the same coin as hate. When you’re hurt by someone you love, when you feel betrayed – love can immediately swing the opposite direction, and it’s intense across the board. So I really like to ask deep questions and I tell my couples “No one is going to see this questionnaire, but you and me.” The reason that I ask so many personal questions is because I don’t feel like I’m doing them any service if I don’t know why they are together and who they are apart. A lot of my couples cry when we’re shooting, and I cry sometimes too because I take the time to really get to know them. I pride myself on a truly intimate experience with my clients.

My age group is not the early 20s bubble gum couples who maybe haven’t had any true life experience yet and are just learning how to grow in love. I am all about the early 30s married couples or people who have been together for a long time. I get a lot of high school sweethearts because on my About Me I talk about how I’ve been with my husband since high school. And that’s a whole different animal, to be with one person for so long, to go through your crazy wild days together and then to try and find each other again when you fall away, which is as inevitable as the cycles of the moon. Add into this businesses, add children, and constantly trying to remember WHY you love each other so much. I like to recognize ALL of that in my photography, and I like the mess. I always tell my couples “Don’t clean your house, it’s going to be fine. If something is so messy its distracting, we’re going to move it out of the way. We don’t need you to do this whole deep cleaning. I don’t want it to look like your showing your home for a realtor. I want it to look lived in. So leave your dishes, we’ll move shit as we go” and that’s my policy in everything that I do.  We are in an age of removing stigmas, so why not be messy if you are or acknowledge that yes, you sometimes want to smother your partner with a pillow. These are all normal parts of life. 

Apart from the questionnaire, how else do you help clients feel comfortable & less self-conscious during a photoshoot? 

I think it comes from connecting with them on a human to human level, and eye contact. I like to Facetime right away, after they book me. I’ll be like “Hi, what’s up, this is my face, I want to see yours.” I like to Facetime with both of them, and I acknowledge the awkwardness of what it’s going to be. I talk about it over and over and say “Hey, I’m going to ask you to do some weird shit. It’s going to get weird in here today, but that’s ok. And you’re going to feel awkward, and that’s ok. Everybody does, but I want you to know that I’ve been in front of a 100 couples, we’ve done this every time and it has turned out wonderful, and nobody has cried.. well, not because they’ve hated it so much.” I even tell the guys that all of the dudes that I’ve shoot with say “that was easy!” or “that was even fun” and they’re surprised.

I have a masculine quality and it’s served me well being the mom of 3 boys. So I always try to make a connection with the man in the scenario, because they are the hard ones. They are the ones that are more likely to resist the direction. I usually say “Let’s just have a couple of drinks, just for nerves. I don’t want you to get drunk so you take your pants off. I want you to have some drinks so that you’re calm, and you don’t feel so tight and stiff.”

So it’s all about taking time to really connect with your clients. From the moment they book me I’m very available to them. I do 2 Facetime meetings at least, I send that questionnaire, I don’t email – I text. The whole goal of this is to help the session get going to an emotional place faster. I’ll take as long as I need though. We sit and have drinks before we start shooting, then I take them outside around their space. I do get in their face right away, that’s how I’ve always done business. I don’t think that stepping back and getting them used to you shooting, and the slowly going in is doing any good. I’d like them to know that this is how it will go, but I’m doing it outside so they feel more comfortable, as opposed to their bedroom where we’re headed anyway. 

Do you also share personal stories to help them relax?

Yes, I absolutely do! I will tell stories about fights that I’ve had with my husband. Right now I’m trying to document Conflict in Marriage, and I hope to make it a series this year. So I’m asking every couple in their session “How are they feeling when they fight. Let’s take a picture of how you feel when you’re fighting.” So I have people that are laying with their backs to each other, couples where one of them is standing and the girl is curled up like a ball with her hands on her face. It is so cathartic, but it’s beautiful too. I get chills just thinking about it, because they feel it in the moment. The air changes in the room, because shared so much together. I know where their hardest moments have been so far, and I’ve told them stuff about my life. It’s a very intimate process, and I have to be able to strip myself down too in order to get what I need out of them. As well as for them to get what they need from me.

Image by Brooke Johnson

How do you manage to be a mom of 3, an amazing traveling photographer, a successful business owner, educator & loving wife? How does one fit all that into a 24 hour schedule & what does your day to day look like?

I am my harshest critic and my hardest boss. Everyday I know what I need to do. I narrow it down to 2-3 things that I’ve got to do everyday, no matter what. At the same time, I want to stop and play with Bowie, have lunch with my boys, take them to football practice, so I need to work that in. I also need to go to the gym, otherwise I’ll burn my house down. Sweating is part of my self care, it’s the thing that I do so nobody in my life gets assaulted when I hit my level of “can’t take it anymore”. 

So I get up early in the morning around 5.30 and go to the gym. The kids are not awake, so it’s not taking anything from them. I feel a lot of mom guilt because I travel so much so I like to be with my kids whenever I’m home. Even when I’m working in the same room, with them coloring or siting in my lap, I like to be in their space. I work really hard to be present when they’re talking to me and practice mindfulness.

After gym I get everybody up & we go to school. Then I come back & I still have a 2 year old at home. I try to work a regular schedule of around 10-5. Granted, I break 80 times to make snacks for children, go pick one up from preschool or take phone calls. If I have to do farm stuff that day, I’ll space my day out so I have a few hours reserved for that. With my business, since I typically work in the field on weekends, I try to keep my working hours to Tuesday – Wednesday – Thursday. Mondays & Fridays I like to relax and plan things with my kids.

I am strict to myself though. I put a rubber band over my phone and I’m not going to touch it if I didn’t get my work done. It’s one of those things when you have to learn to say No to yourself. You also have to know when to say Yes to yourself for a break, because there’s a fine line between overworking and letting yourself slack too much.

Are there any tools that you uses to help manage your day to day?

I am incredibly reliant on the Swipes app. It is just a to do list app and I’m sure there’s a hundred of them, but it’s so self gratifying. You swipe it and it makes this “Ping” sound and I love it! I love swiping and getting that little reward with “Wow, I’ve done something! Look at me!” (laughs).

I have a perpetual mom brain so I can never remember anything. The second I realize I need to do something I open my phone and put it on my Swipes app, so I never forget it. I also do a sticky note system, on my mirror. My monthly and weekly goals are there. If I have something I need to do tomorrow I’ll put it in blue. I’m very visual, so that helps, and I have to have it, because then I’ll shame myself every time I go to the bathroom and be like “Look what you needed to do, that you haven’t done!” Self shaming is a powerful productivity tool! (laughs).

How many weddings or couple shoots do you do per year?

Last year I did 27 weddings, and probably around 30 shoots. It was a lot. This year I’m doing less, and focusing on workshops more. This allows me to travel less, so I’m experimenting.

The problem I run into is that I book quickly for weddings now and I don’t really have time to do sessions. So it feels like I’m losing when I’m winning, because I love doing those couple sessions. So I’m trying to make time for them, and to work it in just for myself. 

Do you have months throughout the year that you take off?

Well, I’m supposed to (laughs). I was supposed to not work in December, but did. Then I wasn’t supposed to work in January, but I did. So this year, I’ve promised my husband that I’ll take some time off. We both have the same high season. The farm hits a peak in the summer, so does the wedding industry, and we’re both caught up in things. During the week I’m home, trying to find that balance between farm life & running my business. I constantly have clients needing things from me, as I’m very involved in the wedding process. My couples text me about anything and everything all the time, and I love it, but it can get taxing on a soul to be ON all the time. So I’ll be taking the entire months of December and January off to respawn as a better version. Also, my husband and I are going on our first tour of Europe this summer and I’m pretty excited. I’ll be working, but still. 

Do you outsource any of your responsibilities?

Last year I was outsourcing my editing. I edit at least 200 photos, a sample from each section and I give my couples preview galleries within a week. I like to include stuff for their mom too, because when I started out I noticed that I was getting texts after about a week from parents wanting family photos. So I decided that it would be easier to take a selection of the entire day, including bridal party & family photos and give it to them right away. Those serve as my anchor images if I’m going to be outsourcing that wedding, they serve as my submission gallery if I plan to submit it anywhere and it’s the preview gallery for my clients. It’s 3 birds with one stone. 

Anything else you outsource apart from editing?

I am a control freak above all. I don’t even know if I’m going to outsource this year, because it’s something that is very hard for me to let go. But I do have my friend and coordinator Jessica, who helps me organize my workshops. She’s very Type A while I’m not, so she has been a great help. She also loves to be on my ass when she knows I have something I need to do that I’ve been putting off. Otherwise I am very hands on. 

What does success mean for you?

Finding a nice balance between how you make your money and how you spend your time. I want to be present with my family and present for my couples. Finding that middle ground would mean ultimate success for me.

Obviously the wedding business can be very profitable and I’m blessed to be continuously booking, which is amazing and unexpected. Of all things I never expected to go anywhere with photography. My biggest struggle has always been finding that balance between making my family happy and feeling like I’m present. I want everybody to feel fulfilled. I want my couples happy and my wallet happy, because that means that I have everything I need to take care of my family.

The thing about success is that it’s fleeting. You never know how long you will be relevant to anyone and how long you can demand a certain price point. So you do it while you can.

Image by Brooke Johnson

Who is a woman you admire and why? What have you learned from her?

My grandmother (my fathers mother) Anayomeda Moreta or Mama, as we call her, is my favorite woman walking this earth. She is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who instilled in me a deep love of maduros ( hers in particular), reading and hydrangeas. Growing up, she was always cooking big delicious meals for all of us or letting my sister and I spend hours with her while she arranged flowers in her shop. I once wanted to be a florist because of her. We spent all the summers wandering the shelves of Barnes and Noble, where she bought every possible floral and wedding magazine and stuffed them into one of her many canvas bags. She did flowers for some high end celebrity weddings and magazines with my aunt.

She also used to take care of the plants for banks and businesses around New York City and she would load us up in her van, hand us spray bottles and watering cans and let us go to town watering the plants of whatever business we were at with her. She taught me the importance of not taking any shit and I think its because of her that I never flinched when starting my own business. She had an entrepreneurial spirit while also being dedicated to her family. And she’s just a bad bitch, across the board. 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself when you were only starting off?

If we’re talking from a level of artistry, I’d probably tell myself to stop looking at other people’s work, because I feel like it influenced me and it took me longer to get what I wanted and where I wanted to be.

When you’re starting off, you feel a certain pressure to give people what you feel they want, instead of doing what is honest to yourself. I spent some time in that hole and I wish that I had understood where it was coming from. The source is social media and falling into other people’s websites, making yourself feel awful. It’s like when you don’t work a muscle. You’re not using your true creative muscles, you’re just replicating images you see repeatedly, and that muscle starts to atrophy and it’s hard to get it back working when you finally decide to do it.

So I spent some time not doing honest work for myself until one day, I put the smack down on me and said  “you no longer need to be engaging in and looking at other people’s work, or even looking at Instagram this much.” I do not do that at all now. I get on Instagram only to post. I write whatever I’m feeling in the moment and then I just continue living my life. I love to to Instagram story though and share things about my life and family, one of my favorite parts of social media.  I’m highly opinionated and I’m a polarizing personality. I know it turns off some people right away, and I’m ok with that. It’s actually a great thing for business, since I don’t want to work with the wrong people. 

You have an interesting brand positioning “not just for the adventurous”which is obviously a brilliant way to stand out today.

I live in the PNW which is where all the mountains are – Oregon, Idaho & Washington. Everybody comes and does their big hikes here. But that’s not me, I am not a hiker or an adventurer or a camper. I don’t want to go 9 miles up the hill with all my gear on my back, just so I can get THE SHOT. If the couple wants to do it, and we connect with as humans, well then you can catch me hiking, but otherwise no. Thats not me.

I also felt like that was marginalizing a whole ton of clients when you get on somebody’s website and it says “I’m an adventure photographer.” First of all, what does that even mean? If they don’t like to hike, you won’t work with them? I think it’s such an overused phrase and marketing technique and I don’t like it, so I’ve moved the other direction.

I wanted to pointed out that I’m not for the adventurous. I can be, in some ways depending on what way you are adventurous, but also it was a way of saying that I’m for everyone. If you have love in your life and want it documented in a way that is true to you and your story – then Yes, I am for you.

Is that why you rebranded? To reposition and emphasize that message?

Yes! It was almost like shedding of skin. I felt like I grew just by changing my online persona with the website, because that’s your storefront and that’s the first impression people have of you. I wanted my website to be very much me. I wanted to write all the copy on it and have my fingers in every single page.

I also wanted it to tell how I serve, because I am here to serve. The problem that we all have as human beings and as artists, big fat egos. We often want to satisfy ourselves over satisfying the other person that we’re working for actually. I think that’s a rookie mistake . So I try to find that balance by suggesting concepts for shoots but letting my couples dictate the final word.

www.laurkenkendall.com

I have a couple who are active campers. They contacted me and said ”We want a True Story told about us. This is what we do, we disappear in the woods for 5-6 days, and we don’t shower and we’re very self sufficient. We don’t want to put on a big dress and walk around.” They knew exactly what they want to do, and I said “What if I get there on day 4. You’re dirty & smelly, but you wear something a little whisky and have your bare feet in the dirt and he’s shirtless and barefoot too.. and we just see where it takes us.”

So this was my way of saying “Okay, it’s yours, but let’s make it a little bit mine.” I like to inject parts of myself in everything that I do (that’s the ego part), but I do love to stay true to them, and if they really want something – I’m not going to fight them on it. I want them to have exactly what they want.

What was the biggest lesson you’ve ever learner from your kids?

So many things, I don’t even know. They often slap me in the face with perspective and introspection. There was a time when I was super stressed, and I found myself yelling at my children all the time. So I took a moment, looked in the mirror and asked myself “What are you doing? They are children, they are so innocent and trusting. You are their safe place. ” Everything they do comes from a place of natural curiosity. Children start out truly fearless and then we smother them with our own doubts and short comings and ruin everything. Wiley, my middle son, he will paint his toe nails. He is a little boy with long curly hair, covered in dirt, has a fort in the backyard and painted purple toe nails. He is a wonderful magical monster. When I think about letting go of control of things and embracing the things that scare me, I think I can probably trace that back to them.  I’ve learned from my children is to have more imagination, be a little more carefree, more open to just whatever, more laid back. Also to try and look at the shortcomings of others without judgement, because kids are so forgiving, they are open hearts and we tend to kill their spirit too young.

That’s probably the one of the biggest things – they’ve made me hyper self-aware of how I treat other people, and how I make them feel. So I guess they have made me a more empathetic creature all around.

What advice would you give to those who are starting out or trying to grow their business further?

Have a good contract. This is why I started selling my contracts actually. This is not a plug. This is to PROTECT YOU, because I ran into a few situations early on where I was not protected and people took advantage of me. Having that contract is so important, because people are just mean. If they sense that you’re naive or not confident in your business yet, those types of people are going to eat you up and spit you out. You’re going to learn it the hard way, and it’s going to hurt. So protective yourself at 100%.

**

What a fantastic piece of advice to give to any business owner, not just a photographer – protect your ass, as Laurken Kendall states on her website. Also, do everything with kindness and empathy. This will not only help you connect with your clients on a deeper, more personal level, but will also impact your creative work, the way you see people and show them through your images. What was your favorite part or idea that you’d like to take away from this interview? Let us know in the comments below!

P.S. Our 4th interview, next week will be with an amazing business lady & rockstar in the events organizing field – Caryl Lyons from ROAR events. Also, we’re bringing in a 5th interview with our favorite Italian photographer, amazing soul and outstanding creator of the Cosmos gatherings – Lelia Scarfiotti. How exciting is this?

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