Tell us about your model program. I started my model team in 2018 for the class of 2019, so this is only the start of my 3rd year. I think like most studios, I started a model team as a way to market my senior portrait studio. I wanted a new way to build my business and get my name in the community. I realized my style and approach to photography was different from the other studios within my area. I'm not traditional— I make each session very personal and I approach this more as an overall experience. I thought the best way to show my vision was to recruit girls that wanted an over-the-top portrait experience. I also wanted to create more business-to-business connections that could benefit other small businesses in my area. Lastly, and most importantly, I wanted to create a program that would help empower young women. These kids are growing up in a social media saturated environment where everything appears to be perfect and they can't escape who they think they're supposed to be online. I have chosen to encourage these girls (who are from different schools) to come into this program and just be themselves. Celebrate their differences. And understand that this group is a clean slate and a safe place for them to just be who they are. Every year we start with the Headshot session and pizza party. I invite the team to the studio all at the same time, put out snacks and beverages, encourage them to mingle, and one by one I'm taking their personal headshots for their rep cards. This is a great opportunity for my girls to get to know one another and for me to learn more about each one in a stress free environment. They have a ton of fun and by the end they've exchanged snapchat information and all the nerves are gone. I encourage them to chat on social media and get to know one another. This gives them another group to lean on when maybe their other circle of friends are not being so supportive. Every year I have 5 different stylized sessions planned. Depending on which level the girls choose to be involved, we plan and style them accordingly. I try to come up with something new for each year. However, in at least one of the stylized shoots I ask the girls to give me something about themselves that makes them unique, describes them, or is maybe an obstacle they've had to overcome. I then create something around their idea that's super personal to them. I want to celebrate what makes them different and enforce that being different is okay and is beautiful. This year I have expanded my program to include a "Dude Crew". I have 3 young men that have signed up to be involved in this experience and I'm already blown away by their energy and excitement. My model team from the past would all say they LOVE the crazy stylized photoshoots. Of course, they love being pampered in hair and makeup and doing crazy themes. However, I've always heard this from not only my team but their parents: Mandi was an amazing mentor to my daughter! She had a once in a lifetime opportunity that resulted in stunning pictures, new friends, and a new-found confidence that will carry her into college and beyond! Candid crew is a once in a lifetime opportunity that has changed my life greatly! I have gained both confidence and another family by being a part of the crew. When I started this program I had hoped it would be more than just pretty pictures. I truly wanted to help build these girls up over the course of a year. I'm so humbled to have such amazing feedback from my girls and their moms to hear I've helped prepare them to entire their next chapter with a new found confidence and love for themselves. That makes this all worth my time and energy. My biggest goal for the 2021 team is to successfully include my Dude Crew into the mix and hope that I can have the same effect on these young men as I do my young ladies. In regards to recruiting new team members for the following year, I'm lucky enough to say that I post a model call and get an amazing response. I do take any recommendations from a previous model team member very seriously. My past models know what I expect from a rep team member and they're very open with who they think would be a good representation for not only my studio but a great fit for the team. Last year was the first year I held a Tween Model team and I had a huge response. I wasn't expecting to get as many applications as I did. It was a crazy experience working with a younger group. They certainly bring a lot of energy and they're so excited to be on a shoot. What I found interesting about my tween team is they were more open about what they were concerned about or self conscious about going into the program and they were also more willing to be crazy and different. I was lucky enough to have 7 girls and 1 boy who all supported one another amazingly well throughout the program. I plan to do another tween team in the future.
What was your background before photography? I've been shooting photography for 11 years and full time for the past 6 years. However, my background is in Interactive Media and Design. I've designed everything from website, software, interactive training for the D.O.D, to museum exhibits, and even motocross graphics. I think my very broad design background has helped to bolster my creativity in my photography business.
How/why did you get started in photography? My start in photography was because I wanted to give a family member something special as a gift during a very difficult time in their life. I realized doing this impromptu shoot how much I loved the fact that a single portrait could be so completely priceless. I was giving a gift that they'd be able to cherish forever. After that I was hooked. I loved the art aspect as much as I loved the emotion behind capturing the portrait and then delivering. This was my start but my decision to go full time and put my all into my studio is because of my mom. In 2014 my mom suffered a stroke. My mom and I have always had a close relationship but when this happened it made me realize how precious time is with our family. I wanted to be in charge of how I spent my life and my time. Going full time was always the ultimate goal but this event made me realize that life is now and to do what's important and what I love for those I love. So, for 6 months after her stroke, I moved in with my mom and helped her get stronger and rehabilitated. I left the 9 to 5 world, became my own boss, made my own hours, and spent time with those that meant the most to me.
Do you work alone or with a team? What are the pros about this choice? I'm a lone photographer but I have an amazing team that helps behind the scenes. My mom is actually my assistant, she would say gopher, but I couldn't run a big shoot without her. I have an amazing hair and makeup team for my large stylized shoots that are the backbone to helping make all my crazy ideas to life! I think having a supportive group of people around you and being able to rely on them to help you create the ultimate goal is vital to being successful. The most important thing is always communication.
Do you have a studio or primarily shoot on location? (Or both?) What have been some pros and cons for this? Two years in August, I moved into my big, new, beautiful studio space. I love having the option of shooting indoors and out. Before having a studio, I was predominately on location and living in Wisconsin; this really stifled my shooting season. Not everyone wants to freeze for portraits in the snow. I think having the versatility of both is absolutely key for me. I used to think the only way I could be creative and think outside the box was to shoot on-location. However, now having the space it's pushing me to be even more creative and test my technique. I'm always learning and I love that challenge. Having the flexibility is awesome too!
Did you go to school for photography or where would you say you got most of your photography education? I didn't go to school specifically for photography, however, I had photography courses to obtain my degree. Frankly, if I wouldn't have been so focused on getting done with my BA as quickly as possible, I would have minored in photography. I really enjoyed it when I was in school but at the time I thought that web design and interactive design was the right way to go for a stable financial future. I think if I would have been more comfortable to lead with my heart and passion, I would have gone for photography and marketing. My learning and education specifically for photography has been through online workshops, mentorships, conferences, as well as trial and error. I think it's important in this industry to have a desire to continue to improve your skills and techniques.
What inspires you? Over the course of my career, I've had several people ask me this question. It always seemed like I had a different answer depending on where I was at within my career. Starting out I would mention photographers or other artists I loved. Then It would be a trend or new style that's gaining hype on the internet. I think it's wonderful to admire other artists or really find the emotion in something new that sparks your interest. However, in the past few years I've tried to drown out some of the noise. I wanted to be me when it came down to creating. Not to say I haven't continued to learn, be mentored, and take workshops from amazing photographers but I have found I'm now more excited to make it my own. I love finding a location that is a challenge or to others is hideous and, through how I see it, making it desirable and unexpected. I often tell my seniors, "I have all these crazy ideas running around in my mind and I've brought you all here to help them come to life". I love being inspired by everyday life or taking a concept and figuring out how I can turn it up a notch to make it into a fairytale. I guess my inspiration truly comes from the fire and passion that my clients give me, especially my seniors. I think I've opened the door to allow them to challenge me and I'm always game.
Mandi has had teens featured in multiple issues and as of 5/4/200 has had two scholarship winners in issues 31 and 32 with Sophia Sander $1000 and Kristen Lee $500, and a cover win from issue 31 with Sophia Sander!