Bringing Stills to Life
A professional photographer makes posing for portraits fun
By Naila Jinnah
She’ll take the typical headshot you asked for, but Kate Fellerath will make you laugh as she’s snapping away. She will make you comfortable, and no matter what, she will make you look good.
After all, that’s her job. A professional photographer aims to make the client happy.
But for Fellerath, that’s not enough.
“I think I try to make a connection with the person I’m taking a picture of,” she said, “because as boring as the process can be, it must be extra boring for them!”
Fellerath’s personality and personableness has earned her many smiles over the years, but it’s the quality of her work that has brought her jobs.
“When you’re in this kind of business, you really need to get along with everybody because you rely on word of mouth,” she said. “I don’t do it on purpose, but I think I do get along with everybody, and that’s the key.”
The key to her success. Fellerath was a customer service representative in Toronto when she realized that she was unhappy with her life. Her friends recommended that she look back at what she loved as a child.
“I actually got into photography when my dad gave me a camera for Christmas when I was 10,” she said.
Fellerath’s life had brought her elsewhere, but a trip to Europe in the late 90s made her rediscover her passion. It was time to return to her roots, and her hometown of Montreal. There, she enrolled in the rigorous three-year commercial photography program at Dawson College, where she had previously completed a creative arts diploma.
While in school, Fellerath started working for Lawrence Clemen, a prominent Montreal wedding photographer. Clemen became her mentor, teaching her all about being a professional photographer. Through his generosity, he encouraged her to open her own business.
And so she did. It was a progressive endeavour, with Fellerath gradually taking more projects of her own, and spending less time at work.
“Soon, I got so busy, I just gave up all my other jobs,” she recalls. “That would have been probably in 2005. I was on my own.”
Two years later, Fellerath’s business is thriving. She has a solid client base and spends her summer photographing weddings.
“I basically started my business in weddings,” she said, “because that’s a word of mouth business.”
“If you do a good job, people will tell other people, so I didn’t have to invest in marketing or advertising. I just naturally started getting my name out there, and got more and more jobs.”
From weddings, Fellerath has expanded her business to include travel photography, still life, documentary photography, commercial advertising projects, and now, portraits.
“I think that’s the next step for me, to photograph family pictures, and kids, and stuff like that,” she said.
“And then I might get a studio. I’m pretty careful with my finances so I’d have to make sure that that’s a good investment for me.”
So far, Fellerath owns two film cameras, and two digital cameras. She also has six lenses. That’s not a lot for a professional photographer, but it’s not because she can’t afford the equipment – or the studio.
“I try to buy my equipment really smartly,” said Fellerath. “I try to buy the best equipment that I can, and then I just add a little bit at a time. I make sure that I actually need it first!”
Just like starting her own business, Fellerath is expanding slowly, but by choice. She even rents equipment to try it before buying it.
The one step Fellerath took faster than most small businesses and artists was creating a website.
“It’s an incredible tool,” she said. “It’s gotten me a lot a lot of work because when people recommend me, they just send my website. It’s like a calling card.”
On her website, Fellerath displays a selection of her favourite travel, wedding, and portrait photography. Throughout her portfolio, Fellerath demonstrates a unique blend of photojournalism techniques and fashion with an artistic eye. Her work shows a strong use of light, composition and colour that seems instinctive.
What truly makes Fellerath’s photography exceptional is her ability to channel the intrinsic beauty in every shot.
“I love beautiful imagery,” she said. “Something that’s sad, something that is going to move somebody. I love colors, I love interesting compositions. That’s what I really enjoy.”
What Fellerath loves to create is what she enjoys seeing in the work of others, like fine arts photographer Keith Carter.
“First of all, I look at it, and there’s no way that I would be able to take those photos,” she said. “That’s one thing that I really like.”
“When I see a photographer that just has that sort of artistry, and it’s a traditional method of photographing and it’s all kind of warped and blurry and suctions…” she goes on passionately.
She also admires Henri Cartier-Bresson, a pioneer of modern photojournalism.
“It’s really beautiful street life photography,” Fellerath said, “and it’s really interesting because every day you look around and it’s not as exciting as what you see in his photography.”
Luckily, Fellerath manages to make all her photographs exciting, even her still life. In fact, some of her favourite still life and architectural shots of Montreal are currently displayed at Sur Bleury Restaurant, in the downtown core. Her work has been displayed in galleries and local cafés before, but it has been tough for Fellerath to find the time to devote herself to creative endeavours.
Even though she only schedules one job a day – in case a client needs more time or more work – Fellerath’s months have been busier than ever.
“When you work for yourself you’re always working,” she said.
But striking a balance between the photography and the business side is the real challenge, not time management.
“My goal is to take on lots of interesting projects,” said Fellerath. “Maybe expand my business, get a studio, and hire someone to do all the tough stuff.
“Then I can just concentrate on the shooting,” she laughed.
She still has a long way to go, but those who have worked with Fellerath or simply seen her photography agree that she has made it as a professional photographer.
“I never actually expected to become a professional photographer,” she said. “I thought that it was a really hard thing to get into. Everyone was saying that there wasn’t a lot of work for photographers.”
“I just thought it would be just a nice skill to have to take beautiful pictures, and it would be a nice way to see the world,” said Fellerath.
“And it just happened that things worked out.”