How Did She Do It? Caitlainne Gurreri
Business: Gurreri Photography (one of our TRIBE photography partners)
This Girlboss is so much more than a pretty face. From acting to painting to photography, she is a triple threat ten times over. We are so honored to have her talk to the TRIBE family about her entrepreneurial journey and how it feeds her artistic and creative spirit. Guys, this is a good one, so get prepared to be inspired!
Tell us about Gurreri Photography?
When I started Gurreri Photography a few years ago, I thought it would be a great way to stay creative while still making a living as an artist. I fell into photography after being a painter and visual artist most of my life. So when I started fooling around with a camera during a two month stay in San Francisco something started resonating with me. I am also an actor so when I wasn’t consistently working, I had to find multiple side jobs to make a living in New York City. I started working for a high fashion photographer and he started to introduce me to the whole “photographer making a living” thing. Working in that environment sparked something magical in me, and now I've looked at the world through a different kind of business/artist lens.
What inspired you to start your business?
After working for other photographers and understanding how this industry worked, I soon decided to start picking up a camera and finding my own eye. After a few years of practicing and running around the city meeting up with random models, I began finding my own photography brand. I first started pitching my work as only a headshot photographer, but I soon realized that I loved photographing all sorts of people in motion. Whether it's a child first learning how to walk, a newly engaged couple, or a sexy boudoir shoot for a woman searching for self love, I am inspired by my own clients. That's what the art is for me, to find others who will let me into their heart for just a second so I can photograph it.
What are some practical steps you took to build it and bring your vision to life?
Honestly, it was hard to build a new business from the ground up. Being a freelancer, I had to slowly build a reputation in each city (first Chicago, then NYC, now LA) since the market is saturated with many other talented photographers. I really had to figure out what made my work so special that people would want to shoot with me. It wasn't always the easiest, but I really pushed myself when it came to shooting and also editing. I believe that a photographer needs to know how a camera works. What the light actually does to each setting. Understanding how the camera is fully capable of capturing someone's true soul in a single moment. That's when I realized I was a different photographer than many others. I saw it as an art that I wanted to share with my clients. It wasn't about the money. It wasn't about what they could offer me. I knew I was a vessel, a mirror, showing my clients how beautiful they are as themselves. I will always be working toward becoming better at capturing people at their most honest moments.
What kept you motivated through the journey of starting your business?
When I wasn't working as an actor, I had this constant need to create. Whether it was at home re-decorating my apartment or becoming inspired by the latest fashion trend, I was always recreating myself. As a photographer, I have to look at my own creations for hours. It's actually pretty daunting if you felt like you didn't capture enough in a session. But, honestly, those end up being my most beautiful photos. The ones that aren't perfect. The ones that have that weird imperfection on the side. Or might be slightly out of focus because my client and I were laughing so hard I couldn't keep the camera still. But I didn't want to loose that single moment of getting that smile. The real one. So I knew I had to start loving my art to further my career. Once I started to find my inspiration, and found what I loved to shoot, motivation was never a problem. Sure, I still procrastinate when I start editing, but once the colors are looking brighter and the photo is starting to all make sense in my brain, I feel this jolt of excitement and work until next daylight.
What have been some of your greatest challenges so far?
My greatest challenges have been finding new clientele quickly. The majority of my business is word of mouth and recommendations so it can be a strange rollercoaster when it comes to booking work. And I won't be the first to tell you, but being a photographer is expensive. Cameras, lenses, lights, assistants, reflectors, studio space, extra cameras incase one breaks... Need I go on? So, I had to also learn how to shoot gorilla style. Look around my environment and figure out how to incorporate it in my vision. I've shot through pieces of glass to get awesome light flares, and put things in front of my camera to challenge my depth of field. I've learned to trust my inspiration and weird ideas because that's when I feel most connected to my art.
What have been some of your proudest moments so far?
My proudest moment is knowing that I built a business from the ground up by myself. I have been my own accountant, my own manager, my own web designer, my own editor, my own assistant, and my own cheerleader at times. I have learned so much about myself and appreciate the world I see through a lens.
What have been some of the lessons you have learned along the way?
I have definitely learned to trust myself. I would be so focused on making sure my client was happy, that I sometimes look back at the session and think “I should have... Why didn't I think of... If only I...” I hate when I have that feeling. I quickly learned the more present I am in my shoots, the less I think I miss.
What tools or resources did you find helpful as it relates to starting & running a business?
Running my own business came naturally to me. My father is a business man and secretly hoped I would ditch the theater degree for a marketing degree. Sorry, Dad. But after a few years of realizing there was no way I was capable of a traditional 9-5, my Dad and I began talking about branding. I learned a lot about what people look for in working with a business and how you should present yourself to be considered as a professional. Soon enough, I felt like I was a business woman who was equally an artist. This has helped me make a path for myself and not let other people take advantage of my art. I have stood up for myself and know how to present myself as a professional. That's where it's most helpful for me. Understanding my value as an artist and not letting others undermine me.
What does creativity look like or mean to you?
Creativity is a feeling for me. I get this tingly feeling in my toes and goosebumps on the back of my neck when a shoot is starting to dance with me. The client and I are connecting on a different level. You have to fall in love with the person you're capturing. There's no way around it. When they are happy, you are happy. So, I find something about each of my clients that I love and the shooting starts to flow naturally. I will laugh with them, learn about them, and more importantly start to deeply understand them. When I start to see someone take down their guard and show their vulnerability, that's the winning shot. That feeling I get when everything happens at the perfect time and all I can think is “Oh! There is it! Get that! Get the shot!” and then it's just trigger happy from there on out.
What vision do you have for your business? Where do you see it headed?
Well, I always want to be a photographer. Whether it's to capture other people's lives or my own, it will always be there with me. I just hope that my business can flourish with that same feeling. I want people coming to me because they want to experience who they are from my point of view. And I’d love to be able to afford a small studio space with never ending windows to let in all the natural light I could ever want. Yeah, I see it heading in that direction.
What advice or encouragement would you give to other women entrepreneurs?
Ask questions. Help each other out. I have so many photographer friends who just give me tips about editing, and I give them tips about shooting, and it's the best. It's not a strange competition about whose getting more clients that the other, it's a community of artists bettering each other. And I love that. So, whatever business you're building, don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Take your mentor out for coffee and ask them questions about how they did it. It might help you find your way a little easier through this crazy creative world.
Favorite thing about being a photographer:
My favorite thing about being a photographer is the process of getting to know my clients during a shoot. It's so cool for me to begin a shoot hardly knowing someone and by the end of the shoot really feel like we've connected.
Favorite photographer (whose work you admire) and why:
I follow a lot of photographers on social media. I love street photography and coming across photographers who really understand how to use natural light in a super creative way. I'm constantly inspired to push my eye and try different ways of shooting. I'm also a huge fan of Annie Leibovitz. I mean, who isn't? She is the original genius when it comes to capturing a little piece of someone's soul for all to see.
Favorite thing to shoot:
I love shooting dancers. There is something so magical about a dancer who gets lost in movement. I usually just encourage the dancer to move based on how they are feeling in that exact moment. It doesn't have to be happy and jumpy like they are performing. They start to dance like no one is watching, I get to be the one focusing on them and grabbing that perfect shot of their vulnerability and strength. Plus, put a dancer anywhere and it's beautiful. I've had dancers dance in the ocean waves, dance in the middle of a littered street, and dance in the muddied rain. All three shoots pushed my creativity in ways I couldn't imagine because I had to keep up with those incredible dancers. I didn't want to miss a single shot.
Favorite place to shoot:
I love to shoot in the water. I recently moved to LA and never experienced living near the ocean. It's amazing what the ocean can bring out in people. Fear, happiness, grief. Plus, I'm in the water with you. Knee deep in water, having the faith I'm not going to be taken down from a wave for the perfect shot. It's amazing, actually, that I haven't lost a camera by the ocean gods yet.
Favorite photography gadget:
My favorite gadget on my camera is the wifi function. So, if I just took a photo that I, impatiently, cannot wait to edit until I get home, I can basically move it off my camera and onto my phone. I can then edit it right there and post it on the internet in under 10 minutes. It's amazing and also dangerous all at the same time.