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What has become a rewarding career for Raleigh photographer Kathy Howard started out as a leap of faith.
The Maryland native studied business management and marketing at NC State before moving, on a whim, with her then-boyfriend, now husband, Shannon, to Kailua, Hawaii. The couple spent 12 years on the islands before marrying, having three children and moving back to Raleigh.
Howard worked as a stay-at-home mom for years, a job she says couldn’t be better or harder. Once her children were in school, she decided she wanted to learn something new, which led her to picking up her first DSLR camera. At the time, online blogs were popular, and Howard challenged herself to photograph something every day for 365 days and blog about the photo, a bigger challenge, she says, than she originally realized. But Howard learned about cameras and the art of photography, watched online webinars, and, at the end of the yearlong project, emerged as a self-taught photographer with neighbors inquiring whether she was for hire.
So, in 2011, Kathy Howard Photography was born.
With her newfound passion, Howard signed a lease on her own studio space in 2014 in the historic Carter Building on Glenwood South. She reflects on the move and on wondering how she would balance motherhood and a job, whether anyone would hire her and the many other unknowns in opening a business.
“Turns out it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Howard says. “I was fortunate to have found incredible online mentors to guide me through all the aspects of starting a photography business, from taxes to pricing to posing.” While Howard initially photographed families and weddings, she found herself searching for something more; after seeing work from the photographer Sue Bryce online says she fell in love with her portrait style.
“I knew that was it,” Howard says. “I wanted to empower everyday women (and men) with photographs that they love.” Kathy Howard Photography became Kathy Howard Portraits.
Howard says her clients motivate her daily.
“I love my job, when clients tell me ‘good luck, I’ve never owned a photo that I like of myself,’” Howard says. “Portraits can be so powerful, and many who come to me discover or rediscover parts of themselves they haven’t seen in a while, reconnecting to their value and their worth.”
In 2017 and 2019, WRAL named Kathy Howard Portraits “Photographer of the Year” and Howard was recently accredited as a Masters Level Portrait Photographer through The Portrait Store and Sue Bryce Education.
Howard also values giving back to the community and has worked with Headbands of Hope over the years to help with branding photographs. She supports local nonprofits such as Designed for Joy and Awareness Through Aesthetics, donating portrait sessions to silent auctions. She runs her own “True Beauty Campaign,” a no-makeup, black and white portrait fundraiser to benefit a suicide prevention hotline and empower girls and women of all ages to embrace their natural beauty.
“Believe in yourself,” Howard says by way of advice to other entrepreneurs. “Mistakes happen, always learn from them. Exude positive energy into the world and it will come back to you. Put out negative energy, that also comes back to you!” Her mantra in life and in business, she says, is to treat others as she would want to be treated.
“The hats you don’t like to wear, outsource as you can afford,” Howard says of being a one-woman business. “Always take at least one day (I try for two) completely off per week. Stay away from the computer. Rest and recharge is more important than answering that email. You’ll avoid burnout, be more productive and much happier and healthier.”
So how does Howard define success after nine years of work as a photographer?
“Of course, being profitable is a part of the answer, but honestly, success is loving what you do,” she says. “I am so grateful to have found what I truly love to do and to get to do it every day.”
Howard’s favorite place to shoot:
“The Warehouse District downtown Raleigh. All of the new architecture mixed with some of the old, it is a photographer’s dream for backdrops. And when you catch the light just right, perfection!”
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