Perfect Exposure: Sarah Kierstead Q&A

Sarah Kierstead, born, raised and bred in Fredericton, took a gap year that lasted a lifetime. Now she travels the world and makes a profit doing it. How? With the camera she bought the summer before Grade 12 hanging around her neck.

Kierstead is a wedding and lifestyle photographer and has been in the independent photography business for two years, full-time since September of 2016. Photography has enabled her to meet new people and travel internationally, all without student debt.

Caitlin Dutt: How did you get started with your independent photography business?
Sarah Kierstead: I was always the classic academic student growing up … University was always in the plan. The summer before I graduated high school I bought a camera and it was basically a hobby, a creative outlet in between studies. Two months before I graduated high school … I encountered God like I never had and everything in my life shifted. Everything I thought I wanted and I knew, didn’t make sense anymore. A month before classes were about to start, I knew it was not the time and I knew there was something else I needed to do and I needed to take a step back and just experience life …
[During that time], all my friends were in university so my pride was hit and I didn’t have anything else to turn to except the camera. It was the only thing I was holding onto that year. I got booked for fourteen weddings the summer after the gap year. From there, I looked at it and realized this is something you can pursue as a long-term career even without a degree behind you.

CD: How did you get the wedding gigs at first? Did people contact you? How did you put yourself out there?
SK: I started shooting portraits for people and then a friend of mine [got me to photograph] my first wedding. I ended up getting booked last minute for four other weddings [the summer after I graduated high school] just by putting word out there … I didn’t think this would ever be a thing for me. But then the gap year happened … From the portrait work I’d been putting out there and the wedding material I had in my portfolio, people … starting reaching out for weddings [coverage] … Once I stared getting more comfortable and understanding the whole process of wedding photography, I was hooked.

CD: Did you always envision yourself here when you started practising photography?
SK: No. I pretty much told myself 100 per cent I would never go professional with this ever. Especially because so many people scared me out of it. I think there’s this fear … when you turn your passion into your career, you can lose the passion for it.

CD: Why is photography so appealing to you?
SK: I think I’ve always found myself struggling to express myself. I feel like that sounds so cliché, but the things in my heart and my mind, I’ve never been so good with expressing that in words or verbally … Photography allows me to share how I see the world.

CD: What would you say to anyone who is looking to pursue a non-traditional job, like photography?
SK: If you are questioning if this is a weird idea or it’s not going to sell or no one else is going to understand it, embrace [that others might not understand] because that is 100 per cent true and a lot of people in your life aren’t going to get it … Be realistic about how much work it’s going to be. Photographers [appear to] have this outwardly glamourous lifestyle, but it’s so much more than that. The more I take photos, the more I realize actually 20 per cent is actually taking photos and 80 per cent is doing business that I don’t understand.
But overall go for it. If the reason you’re not going after what you really feel like going after is because you don’t have a degree behind you and you’re insecure about that, get over it and just do it.

CD: How did you get to travel the world and practice photography world-wide?
SK: It began with hopping on a plane. I went to New Zealand for five months and from there connections unfolded … I met a couple in New Zealand who got engaged while I was there. I did an engagement shot for them and two months later they asked me to fly to England to shoot their wedding … Through Instagram and social media, I’ve gotten more connections across Canada.

CD: What would you do if you weren’t a photographer?
SK: I think I would actually go into history because I’ve always loved history.

CD: Where do you see yourself in the future?
SK: My goal is to be an international wedding photographer. Where I see myself is just pursuing God more and wherever that leads. I’m very goal-driven … and I’m really invested in [photography], but I’m also open to wherever He leads and wherever that goes.

CD: If you could go back, would you change anything? Would you still choose to become a photographer?
SK: Yes absolutely … If everything fell through I had to go back to school … and I had wasted three years out of school when I could have been working towards a degree, I would not change anything. [I wouldn’t] change the experiences, the travel, how my mind set has changed, not at all.

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