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Annie Otzen: Self-Taught Wedding, Lifestyle, and Stock Photographer

Annie Otzen: Self-Taught Wedding, Lifestyle, and Stock Photographer

 photo credit: Katie Swatek Photography 

photo credit: Katie Swatek Photography 

Annie Ozten is the energetic entrepreneur behind her growing wedding, lifestyle, and stock photography business. Entirely self-taught, Annie honed her photography skills slowly over time with a lot of good old-fashioned practice. She makes it a priority to pick up her camera every single day! Learn more below about how she manages working from home, developed her business knowledge, and the fun brands that have featured her stock photos. 

Name: Annie Otzen
Business: Annie Otzen Photography
Location: Sioux Falls, SD
Year You Started: 2013
Website + Facebook + Instagram

Tell us about Annie Otzen Photography. 

There are two parts to my business. Mainly, I am a wedding and lifestyle photographer. I'd describe my style as a mixture of editorial, fine art, and classic photography.

I also contribute to a couple of stock photography agencies, the main one being Getty Images. I submit personal images, photo projects, and from time to time I will fulfill a request for a company or agency. 

What was your first job growing up, and what did you learn from it?

I started delivering home magazines at the age of ten. It was a coupon paper that I would hand out every Tuesday, and I made $20 a month. I have to say the biggest thing I learned was budgeting because $20 doesn’t go a long way! I would put a little bit in my savings account each month and watch as it built interest - which was fun. I was able to save up enough money to buy an American Girl Doll. 

Tell us about your career path before starting your own company, and how it got you to where you are today. 

I can tell you I never set out to be a professional photographer or to run my own business. It’s something I kind of fell into. I came away from college with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation and a minor in art.

I always loved taking pictures for the sake of documentation, and making collages, but never had taken the time to understand the fundamentals of photography. After college, I moved to Portland, Oregon where I got a job working for the city’s parks department at a small community center.

Around that time,  I became interested in learning more about photography and started to experiment with a few personal projects of my own. I grew a lot that year and came away with a small portfolio. I was then encouraged by a co-worker who was a photographer to sell my photos as stock.

From there, I took photos of friends and even a few weddings, until I got to the point where I was making enough money that I needed to register my business. 

 photo credit: Megan Zenk

photo credit: Megan Zenk

Tell us the story of how you started your business.

I began selling my photos as stock in 2009. I had my friends model so I could fill my stock portfolio. After a while, I started getting requests for actual photo sessions. I built my business slowly over time, purchasing new equipment as I earned more money.

I shot my first wedding in 2011 - charging very little and not quite knowing what I was getting myself into! In 2013, I realized photography was becoming more than just a hobby and registered my business.

That not only allowed me to run my business but also opened doors to professional print labs I didn't have access to before. Over time, I took on more weddings and began charging more, until I was making enough that I was able to quit my part-time job and do photography full-time.

Running my own business has been wonderful because it's given me the flexibility to have lots of time with my kids. My husband also works odd hours, so I’m able to fill in the gaps when he's gone. 

Her Own Path - Wedding Photographer

What is a typical day like for you?

One thing I’ve had to learn to do is block my time. Working from home is great, and I love making my own schedule, but time can get away from me quickly. Setting a plan and having a to-do list each day helps me be more productive.

On a typical day, I wake up around 7:00 and get my kids' breakfast and off to school. At 8:00 I sit down with my coffee, check social media, and do my Instagram posts for the day. I block off 8:30-10:30 for working out, housework, and grocery shopping. I like to be on my computer working from 10:30-2:30.

At 2:30 I pick up my kids from school. If they don’t have any after-school activities, we head home. Between 3:00-5:00 I usually try to finish anything I might have started on my computer, hang out with my kids, and get dinner together.

After dinner is our family time when we either play a game or play outside if it’s nice, I try to have my kids to bed by 8:30. Around 9-9:30 I head back to my computer and work on photo editing and submitting stock photos to Getty.

Eveings are a struggle for me because it's when I'm most productive, but I also know I have two kids to get off to school in the morning, so I try my best to head to bed around 11:00pm.

If I don’t have a session or wedding scheduled I try to take a little time every day to take photos. Even 5 minutes can be enough to pull out my camera and do some actual photography. 

Name a few of the places your stock photos have shown up - how do you find out about them? What's your reaction when you see them being used?

I have sold photos all over the world. Some big-name companies that you might recognize are Boeing, McDonald's, AARP, and Major League Baseball, just to name a few. I sell a lot of photos to news agencies, ad agencies, and publishing companies.

It’s always fun to see my photos show up in unexpected places or as they call it in the photography industry “in the wild.” My friends and family also really like finding my work.

One of the craziest times was when one of my images appeared on The Daily Show with John Stewart! I don’t have cable, so it wasn’t a show I watched. One night while doing dishes, I started getting all sorts of text messages about my photo being on TV! I was able to track it down the next day, which was pretty fun. 

Here's a link to my Getty Images Portfolio, it's a site where big companies or agencies to go purchase stock photos. 

Her Own Path - Lifestyle Photographer

Tell us about a hard time in your life, career or personal. What did you learn from it or how did it make you stronger?

Personal: I lost my father when I was ten years old. He was only 36, and losing him at such a young age made me realize how fleeting life can be. Because of that I have a hard time doing anything I don’t love.

Career: I don’t have one specific time in my career that I went through a rough patch but I do think being a photographer, in general, can be very humbling. I put my heart and soul into what I do, and people are not always going to like it. I've learned that's okay. 

I think you have to be resilient and willing to take criticism if photography is something you want to do for a living. Also, you need to listen to your clients and provide excellent customer service if you're going to run a business, even if it hurts your ego sometimes. 

If you were to start your business over today, what would you do differently?

I would have done a lot of things differently, haha.  

First off, if I knew when I headed off to college that I was going to be running my own company, I would have gone to school for business or marketing. I think so many people who want to have a career in a creative industry do not realize how essential business skills are and how having that knowledge can put you ahead of your peers.

The funny thing is once I learned about business and marketing I fell in love with that side of my job.

I also would have spent more time assisting and second shooting for other photographers. I did a little of that early on in my career, but I think so much can be gained from watching your peers. 

What do you believe is your single strongest skill that’s helped you succeed?

Skill wise it would have to be how well I know my way around my camera. I pick up my camera every single day, and at this point, I operate on muscle memory. This skill took many years to harness and did not happen overnight. If you are going to master anything you must do it every single day. 

Her Own Path - Award Winning Photographer Career Story

What's next for Annie Otzen Photography? 

What’s next for my business is I just keep working on adding to the number of weddings I do each year and build my stock portfolios.

Short term, I would like to continue booking weddings, taking photos in new and interesting venues, and I would like to have 2,500 photos in my Getty Images stock portfolio by the end of 2018. I’m also hoping to do more projects specifically for stock in 2018.

I was recently  named as one of Getty Images four On Trend Photographers to watch in 2018. This such an incredible honor.

The end of last year I went out on a couple of pheasant hunts and photographed those for stock which was really fun. I look forward to doing more shoots like that.

Long term, I would like to come up with a plan for how to work in other areas of the photography industry. Whether that's me taking on more commercial photography jobs or working as an in-house photographer for a company. 

Tell us about your life outside of your business? What do you like to do?

I love spending time with my family. We love camping and hiking and doing all things outdoors together. I also enjoy doing little art projects with my kids. I like to travel and go to new places, though I don’t do nearly as much of that since having kids.

This year, one of my resolutions is to try out some new hobbies or pick up some of my old ones. One thing about being a professional photographer is my hobby became my career so now I need something else to fill that space.

One of those things that I’m exploring right now is embroidery - though my husband thinks that mowing the lawn would be a great hobby for me! 

Her Own Path - Photographer Career Story

How do you balance your career and family/personal life?

This part can get tricky. For the most part, I get to make my own schedule and family always comes first, so I schedule around my kids' activities. I’m the calendar keeper in the family, and as my kids get older, the calendar does get more full. 

So far though, I have managed my daily schedule in a way that allows plenty of family time, even if it means a late night now and then.

On the other hand, my husband and I both have jobs that require us to work weekends often. I’m fortunate that I have family who pitches in and honestly, I would not be able to do what I do without them (Thanks, Mom!). 

Quick fun facts...

What’s your favorite charity? The Gold Hope Project, Its a charity I volunteer for that provides family photos to families dealing with pediatric cancer.

What age do you want to retire at? At this point, I’m aiming for 60. I highly doubt I will be taking wedding photos at that point in my career because it is so physically demanding. I do hope that I am still doing some creative work at that age. 

One travel location on your bucket list? I have never been to Europe! I would love to go to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark first but honestly, I would go anywhere in Europe if I could. 

Are you an introvert or extrovert? If you meet me while shooting a wedding, you would probably guess that I’m an extrovert, but I have to say as I’ve gotten older I’ve become much more introverted. I think when it’s your job to go to a party every weekend home feels extra relaxing. 

What is your favorite blog, podcast, or book? I love podcasts because they are something I can listen to while editing. One that I gained so much from was Full Time Photographer with Josh Rossi; If you are thinking about starting your own photography business, I can not recommend it enough. My all-time favorite podcast is Reply All on Gimlet media. 

Her Own Path - Annie Otzen Photography



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