Last week I had the privilege to interview one of Fargo-Moorhead's most sought-after photographers, Kaytlin Dargen of Kaytlin Dargen Photography. What is unique about Miss Dargen is she is 17 years old. She has an amazing eye, and a creative flair that just won't quit. Her style and charming personality doesn't take away from her professionalism. Here's what she had to say about running a business at 17:
Q1:) You seem to have a lot of drive and passion. Tell us more about the source.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a very visual person. It started out when I was little and became really engrossed in the arts, like I don’t think there’s a school assignment I haven’t doodled on. So a lot of my passion comes from the love of art in all its forms and the way that images connect with me. My drive and passion seems to be fueled by the beautiful work that other artists are producing. I follow an insane amount of photographers and other visual artists on social media and seeing what work they’re producing definitely makes me want to keep stepping up my game. And sometimes I’ll see some of their work and it’ll hit me especially hard, and I’ll subconsciously take notes to be able to add to my own mental pallet so I can grow as an artist as I kind of absorb the elements that connect with me most strongly, if that makes sense hahaha.
(Q2:) You're 17. Did you ever think you would be a professional photographer at 17 years old?
Definitely not. It was only a year and a half ago where I was in probably the worst mental ditch of my life, because I had this great big dream of being able to make a living off of the one thing that truly makes me feel fulfilled but I figured I’d never be able to do it without a big, expensive fancy camera set up. The camera I had back then was an entry level DSLR that was a Christmas gift from my mom a couple years back. I loved the thing, but none of my favorite photographers were using $500 cameras and there was no way me nor my family could afford a professional setup. However, during my high school years I made the right connections and joined the right clubs and was the Historian for Student Council and DECA, so I was always taking photos for those clubs. With that I somehow kind of worked up the reputation of being my high school’s go-to photographer, and that summer I started getting bookings for senior photos. Convincing myself that my work was worth a reasonable amount was SO hard, but when I finally did it, I had zero backlash and ended up booking about 35 seniors that summer and used that money to buy my own top of the line camera setup, which is by far my proudest accomplishment to this day.
(Q3:) What scares you the most about being a CEO at 17? How do you handle that fear?
I’m really terrified of peaking early on, creatively and business-wise. My ultimate goal is to never stop getting better and find my niche and be on an upwards route from here on out. I’m still really working on finding my own style. I can look at photos from my favorite photographers that I’ve never seen before and instantly know who took it because they’ve found their own distinctive style and I’m really looking forward to the day I can do that too. Biggest fear would be not finding that distinctive style that I could be known for, and I’m handling it by of course looking forward to the fulfillment that would bring.
(Q4:) Let's lighten things up a little bit. You're doing shoots for rock bands is that right? Tell us more about what that's like.
Yes I do! Not a lot of people know that Fargo has one of the most tight-knit and remarkable music scenes of the country, and it’s all thanks to a little DIY venue called The New Direction. Tons and tons of local and out-of-town bands play there, and I’m usually there taking photos for the bands and the venue. I recently just got a wall of photos up in that venue, and that wall means the world to me. I love knowing that I get to document the talent and passion that those bands bring through this town. I also occasionally get to shoot big concerts, usually out in Minneapolis which is way incredible. That happens when I find out one of my favorite bands is coming through and I email them hoping to get a photo pass, and sometimes luck out and get a front row seat and the chance to shoot a band I love. I’m never happier than when I’m at one of those concerts, singing along while shooting. These concerts usually have awful lighting and you can’t predict what’s going to happen, so I love the challenge.
(Q5:) You've made a name for yourself in the high school senior pictures market. What was your favorite shoot?
My favorite shoot would have to be the first one I did with my new camera. It was with my friend Morgan, and I remember literally almost being in tears looking at how incredible the photos were turning out after using my old camera that was a fraction of the quality for so long. I still freak out occasionally during shoots when the lighting or setting is just right and everything comes together just as I’d hoped.
(Q6:) You just recently started shooting weddings. What are you thinking when you first arrive at the wedding?
Weddings can be kind of REALLY nerve-wracking. You have to be ready to catch every little detail, and don’t forget about any big details, all while staying sociable and friendly as to not stress the bride out any more than necessary hahaha. I’ve lucked out in that both the weddings I’ve solo shot have had the most laid-back, lovely couples and bridal parties and I leave those weddings with new friends and feeling on top of the world. Biggest fear would be getting home and finding that a memory card got corrupted or something like that. Before I started doing weddings, a lot of my photographer friends told me that they strongly advised against doing weddings because they’re so stressful, but I really haven’t felt that fear yet so I’m definitely going to ride that out and see how far I can get in that field. I am a firm believer that every single couple deserves beautiful wedding photos, I know that some photographers discriminate against the couple’s looks or chosen venue or stuff like that, and I frankly find that awful.
(Q7:) If you could choose any photographer in the world to mentor your career who would it be and why?
It would definitely have to be Jordan Voth. His portraits are what kept me inspired during that mental rut I hit a year and a half back, his use of light and setting leaves me dumbfounded every time. He lives in Seattle and takes advantage of all the beautiful scenery around there and is a huge reason why Washington is my #1 place I can’t wait to visit someday. Sometimes I look at my own photos, and I’m literally like, ‘What would Jordan Voth think of this?'
(Q8:) What are your plans for the future? College or no? Why or why not?
At this point, I have been lucky enough to make the right connections as to where I think I might be able to spare myself of any more time sitting cooped up in a classroom. I much prefer learning one-on-one with my photographer friends. I want to learn from people who are at a place in life where I want to be someday, and who are teaching me exactly what I need to know, not sitting in a college classroom getting generalized knowledge that may or may not be useful down the road. A year ago I thought I would go for Photography, but after talking with those professors I learned that their curriculum is really outdated and irrelevant to what I want to be doing, and frankly there’s no way I’m going to subject myself to anymore classroom time than I need. Which is funny to me, because I got straight A’s in high school because I would stay up all night making sure my assignments were perfect so I could get into a good college, but now I’m like ‘where would I be now if I had taken that time I stressed on schoolwork and focused it on photography instead?’ If anything, maybe I’ll take some business classes, because like what the heck are taxes?!
(Q9:) A ten year old with mom's old camera tells you they want to be a photographer when they grow up. What do you tell them?
I’d tell them to make that camera an extension of themselves and pour their heart and soul into it, and don’t get discouraged when recognition doesn’t come easy and fight to make a name for yourself regardless. Don’t get jealous of other people who are excelling in your field, befriend them and learn from them and be inspired by them. Make the right connections and never stop trying to find your own distinctive style.
(Q10:) If time and money were no object, what is your all-time dream photo shoot?
DESTINATION WEDDING IN NEW ZEALAND
Thank you, Kaytlin for taking time out of your busy schedule to participate in the Millennial Entrepreneur series on Butterfly Phoenix!
If you are interested in booking a session with Kaytlin, please visit her website at:
She is currently booking high school senior photos and weddings.Who knows where we will find her in ten years. Best of everything for the future, Kaytlin!