From my first interaction with KT Merry, I knew the professional wedding photographer meant business. Actual business. The photography veteran has honed her business acumen with as much fervor as her artistic endeavors.
With a successful career spanning almost two decades, it’s no wonder KT Merry’s attention to detail and time management was evident immediately, starting with her website and scheduling tools. Clicking a link in my email launched a beautifully designed and incredibly user-friendly meeting calendar. Within seconds, I had scheduled our phone interview and received a confirmation email. This woman had no time to waste, I thought. I continued my research, excited about learning more about the KT Merry’s brand, and the woman behind it.
Developing Her Photography Brand
To say a lot has changed since KT Merry got her first taste of the photography industry back in the late ‘90s would be a vast understatement. The now internationally acclaimed destination wedding photographer burst onto the scene when film was still king. But much like every other technological advancement, KT would be a quick study, adjusting and recalibrating over the years to offer her clients a mix of old school film technique and cutting edge digital artistry. KT sharpened her digital photography technical skills when digital was still in its infancy. Nevertheless, KT has maintained her love of film over the years and it’s still her favorite medium.
“I have a lot of nostalgia towards film; the change to digital is ultimately what steered me away from fashion.” KT loves shooting film because it requires a lot more trust in the photographer because there is no display screen to preview. “It’s really fun when little kids ask to see the shot. I show them the back of the camera and they give me this look like… you must have a broken camera.” KT laughed as she remembered those interactions with a generation built on instant gratification.
Moving from Fashion to Destinations
KT’s career would eventually span 17 years where she would move away from fashion into high-end destination weddings and simultaneously blend another realized passion of using her talents to help those with no voice. But none of that would have been possible without an important shift in her focus fairly early on.
During our phone interview, KT Merry went about her busy day, answering my questions while moving between locations. At one point she was in the car with her husband and business partner, Chad. She didn’t mention his being there on the call, but I could hear him offering support in the way of calling out lens specs and equipment when I was asking KT about their intricate and extensive gear bags.
Chad is also KT’s second shooter and a major part of her success as a business owner. Along with other critical areas of help for the business, he is also there to support her with the handling of gear so that she can stay focused as the artist, director, and shooter; a balance that KT says helps her thrive in an ever-changing wedding photography industry.
Putting Focus on Her Business
An accomplished photographer, KT Merry realized that no matter how impactful her artistry, her business wouldn’t thrive until she dedicated just as much time, energy and education to running her business. That meant understanding her bottom line, cost per hour and making tough choices to keep her business profitable. “I was 100% focused on the art side for probably the first 10 years of my photography career.” Over time, she started assigning importance to the business side of her company. “That curiosity really arose in the last three years, and I’ve had to fill a lot of knowledge gaps that my art school and art background did not provide me.”
The marriage of art and business, as KT calls it, is what catapulted her into incredibly profitable, high-end weddings. She used to believe that becoming the best photographer was the most important thing. “My sole focus was progressing forward artistically and business was completely back-of-mind.” KT believes, and ShootDotEdit joins her in this belief, that entrepreneurs have such an incredible opportunity to build their business however they want.
She says it was only recently that she really dug into the numbers and started to build on her business education. “Now,” she says, “it’s something that’s a monthly review and something that I’m really involved with”, KT shared with conviction, proving that she truly does love crunching the numbers. Along with her newly found zeal helping other photographers grasp and use these concepts. She would like to educate and teach about these critical parts of business that many photographers are NOT talking about; for example costs, margins, profit, and tax rates.
Climbing Literal Mountains for Her Clients
Knowing her way around the business side of her projects is how KT and Chad found themselves shooting a client at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. “We had done this couple’s pre-wedding session and then they wanted to do Africa and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro,” KT says. Having crunched the numbers ahead of time, she knew exactly what to charge to make the trip profitable. She created a package for the couple that included going on a safari and documenting the whole adventure. That meant she and her husband would be tagging along all the way up to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. “It was a great motivator for us because obviously getting up to the summit was the whole point. So we knew we had to get up there. Stopping was not optional for us.”
With no power for a full week, and all of their gear on their backs, KT and Chad shot the project while climbing. KT remembered being exhausted by the time they reached the summit. “I was surprised by how quickly I just snapped back into shooting after spending 8 hours climbing the mountain overnight.” When they finally got to the top, she says the sun was coming up and the light was beautiful. They had perfect weather and somehow she was able to just jump in and start shooting even though she was falling over on the ice.
If there’s one thing KT wants the new generation to embrace, it’s doing more good in the world. She talks a lot about starting where you are and giving back now, versus later. She always had a vision that someday she would be successful and have enough money to donate to a good cause. “The timing is never going to be perfect, so I think that the lesson is to just start where you are, with whatever is important to you.” For KT, it is the threat of vanishing wildlife, worldwide.
She recently embarked on a passion project called Render Loyalty. It is a “for good” company that focuses on photographing endangered wildlife species. And, it donates 20% of all sales and 60% of all first edition sales to its non-profit partners. She is working with three conservation partners in Kenya and has gone to Africa multiple times to photograph threatened wildlife. Render Loyalty sells the fine art prints and donate back to those partners. “I think the whole reason to do what we’re doing as photographers is to be able to fulfill a larger purpose. And for me, animals and photography have always been my passion.”
Having a successful and profitable business has afforded KT the ability to pour more time and effort into other passions such as Render Loyalty. But that wasn’t always the case. “Even though we weren’t fully prepared to fund the Render Loyalty project, we just started from scratch with where we were.” KT encourages her fellow photographers to stop waiting for the right time, and give back now.
In wrapping up this featured story on KT Merry, these points sum up her career nicely:
- A creative visionary forged by both passion and education.
- A focused businesswoman formed by the proverbial winepress of business and circumstance.
- The journey of a professional creative who merged personal and business into purposeful giving.
And, like most visionaries, KT still wants to explore and expand. And, in it all, she hasn’t lost sight of the little things that make it all worth it. Like vacations with her husband where the capturing of memories puts the focus on two lovely people.
“My life and my work have been driven by a search for meaning. I yearned to create images with a deeper meaning—images without a shelf-life. Something more than a trendy glossy for a passing season. I wanted to capture that which endures.”~ KT Merry
KT Merry offers amazing FREE resources for photographers as well as one on one mentoring and website / brand review. Click here for her Resources for Photographers page!
Written by Sabrina Sabbagh