We all have it: that one thing about ourselves we wish we could change.
We spend a lot of energy overcoming insecurity by seeking to eliminate those things we don’t like.
But what if overcoming insecurity looks less like trying to lose the traits we hate and more like embracing them?
And what if that thing—whether it’s your appearance, your personality, or your working style—is actually the thing that sets you apart from the crowd and creates your niche in the marketplace?
That’s one of the huge takeaways from my conversation with NYC photographer Madison Must on episode 2 of my podcast She Made It.
She turned what she thought was her weakness into her biggest strength, moved from Cincinnati to the Big Apple and brought her blossoming photography business with her—all at 19 years old. I love her emotive, natural style of photography (yes, she took the picture above! You’ll get to hear the story of this “styled shoot” in the podcast). But I love her story even more.
Tune in to hear:
- How she went from a high school student to a sought-after wedding photographer in less than 3 years
- How she copes as an introvert in the city that never sleeps
- Her genius strategy for networking with local artists (you don’t have to be a photographer to learn from these tips!)
- The magical thing that happened when she had a bold, risky idea and then just asked
- How to pay attention to what brings you energy to find your calling
- How to use Instagram to grow your creative business
- Why she believes that there really is work for everyone even in a saturated market
I had the pleasure of working with Madison for a couple of lifestyle photoshoots this past year, and I immediately felt like I was in the hands of an artist. (You can check out some of those pictures on my Instagram!)
Madison’s journey is proof that intuition is the best business coach and that when you align your life with your dreams, things really do start to fall in place.
Elle: Welcome to She Made It, the podcast that celebrates the journey of creativity. Today we’re talking about how to turn what you think is your biggest weakness into your greatest asset. And I have a secret. It may be just the reason people love what you do.
Have you ever felt deep within that there’s something more you’re supposed to be doing, but you’re not sure what? Have you ever felt like you’re producing a lot but not expressing at all? Welcome to She Made It. I’m your host, Elle Zimmerman, and I am on a mission to help you cultivate meaning through the path of creativity. Join me to eavesdrop on conversations with brave women who broke through their resistance’s into a life of authenticity.
Elle: Because I believe if she made it, you can too.
Elle: Well, hello and welcome to this episode of She Made It. Today, we are going to be sharing a conversation with an incredible photographer and Clara. I’m going to let you give us a little bit of information about Madison, because you brought her to our audience and you’re the one to share.
Clara: So I met Madison a couple of years ago through mutual friends. And I kept seeing these amazing pictures on her Instagram and it turned out she took them. So fast forward to this past November when my husband, Ben and I got married and Madison was our wedding photographer. So it’s been such a cool journey to know her both as a friend and as a photographer and now as a podcast guests. I’m excited to hear your conversation.
Elle: Yeah, and I love that you started it because we’re going to talk a little bit in the interview about the power of Instagram. Right. And that really that was your first introduction to her and then making the choice to have her as your wedding photographer and you’ll learn that she hadn’t even attended a wedding until she photographed one, which is a great story. She is so interesting because at 17, she was interested in photography. Got a camera, basically taught herself, ended up taking senior pictures of many of her fellow classmates. And then fast forward less than three years. She’s in New York City as a sought after wedding photographer, making a living in her art. And it’s just a great journey to share. And I can’t wait. And I’d love to welcome our next guest to Madison Must.
Elle: Hi, Madison. Hi. Well, I am so excited. This does not usually happen on this she made it podcast about Madison is actually in my office. I am so thrilled to have her here. As I said, you know, she’s been our resident photographer over the last year for a number of different reasons and different purposes. And we’re even going to do a photo shoot this week before she heads back to New York City. And so why were you here for this month of, you know, this month?
Madison: I’m also a Full-Time student along with my photography business. So I was completing a class over this month. Yeah. And I actually did the exam this morning. So it’s all done!
Elle: Awesome! So Madison, as I shared, you know, originally from Cincinnati, now living in New York, but she has really carved out this sort of unconventional path. She’s building a business in the Big Apple while completing her degree. What will your degree be in?
Madison: Small business management.
Elle: OK. And is it all online?
Madison: Yeah, it’s primarily online. Yeah.
Elle: And so when do you finish that?
Madison: That should be done within two years. A year and a half.
Madison: So it’s kind of getting close now.
Elle: Yeah. And how long exactly have you been in New York City now?
Madison: It will be, I think, about four months. OK. Yeah. Wow. So share with us.
Elle: What was the adjustment like? And you’re living with your sister?
Madison: Yes. So I live with my sister and her best friend, who’s basically like my older brother. That’s how I always describe him. So that’s been a really fun living situation, but I’m still adjusting. I think everybody still adjusts after a while when they move there. But it’s been really fun. That’s the word I have used to describe it.
Elle: And so what part of New York City?
Madison: I live in Brooklyn.
Elle: OK. So do you commute into like midtown area?
Madison: Yeah, I do. For shoots. I go to Central Park a lot, so I get to go out into the city like quite a bit. It’s a lot of fun.
Elle: And I read on your 10 things about me on madisonmust.com that you are an introvert. So tell me what it’s to like to live is an introvert in New York City.
Madison: Yeah. So living as an introvert in New York City and then also just an introvert as a wedding photographer. Are like two very difficult things. But I think it’s been really good for me. I think I’ve had a lot of growth doing both of those things, but especially living in New York. You meet new people every single day and you’re kind of forced to get out of your comfort zone in different ways. You’re always surrounded by people. So when it’s very exhausting to be around people, it stretches your limits. But I think it’s helped me come out of my shell a lot..
Elle: What ways have you found like coping as an introvert. Like, do you have like a special like, do you have to have so much time by yourself? Do you find quiet places in the city? Like, how do you.
Madison: Exactly. Yeah. So I do both of those things. I always have to have time by myself or I turn into a monster.
Elle: So the reason I ask is because creative artists, you know, often they’re introverted. Yeah. And they do require a lot of time alone. But yet so many of the artistic opportunities are in these busy, bustling cities. And the interesting side of an artist is that we have to learn to navigate the extremes. And what we need to take care of myself in order to be the best for our art. So it’s OK to be a monster every now and then. So tell me a little bit about how you went from growing up in Cincinnati and what kind of prompted the move to New York and then being there for now, for months, but yet being actively working not just on your education, but as a wedding photographer in such a short time? You’re obviously you’re either networking or marketing in a way that’s taking hold.
Madison: Yeah. So I think moving to New York was a big personal goal and a big personal dream. To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking of it as a career oriented dream at all. I just stayed really true to what I knew I wanted to do and what was a dream in my heart. And I just trusted that my career, my job was going to naturally align. This was something I really wanted to do because all of my clients were here. All my friends are here. My family is in Ohio. So it was a really scary thing to do. But I just trusted that this is what I really wanted. And I was visiting my sister like multiple times during the year. And every time I was there, I just felt inspired. I felt happy and energized and just this new way that I hadn’t felt before. So I just trusted that. And I honestly just hoped and made it a goal that I was going to align my career along with it. And it has been working out so far.
Elle: Since you’ve been there, how how have you gotten clients right in the city?
Madison: So there’s two main ways that I’ve been able to do that. When I first moved there, it was a little intimidating because it’s so big. And I was just kind of in this place of like I know not a single person here other than my sister. So how am I going to just attract people I don’t even know? So one of the main ways I’ve been able to do that is social media, which has been huge for the photography industry, especially wedding photography.
Elle: And are you on Instagram?
Madison: I am. Yeah. Like where you can find my most recent work and like, that’s where I keep up most often. Yeah. So a lot of my clients have found me through hashtags, like hashtag N.Y.C. wedding photographer, and that’s really how I get the majority of my clients there.
Elle: So I’ve a quick question, a little digression. So how much time would you say you spend on Instagram marketing?
Madison: Yeah, timewise. I mean, I think that’s the great thing about it, is it doesn’t require a lot of time. You really just have your work on there. And I like to network with different people and, you know, I like chat with people on there, but it really doesn’t require a lot of time and it doesn’t require a lot of money. So that’s, I think, why so many photographers have shifted towards Instagram.
Elle: Would you say that you like every day I get up and I do 15 minutes or is it just like go with the flow and write how it fits in and feels right? How do you what’s your approach?
Madison: My approach I try to post at least once a day just so my work is recent and fresh. But between traveling, I haven’t been able to do that lately. But that’s a goal that I have. And I think a lot of other photographers use that same technique as well.
Elle: So then you were in Cincinnati and you were building some momentum as a photographer in a small like, you know, you call it the big fish in the little pond. And there was something that I heard that you did called. What is it, a styled?
Madison: A styled photo shoot.
Elle: So tell me a little bit about what that is. Yeah.
Madison: So for people who aren’t photographers, the styled shoot is basically where a bunch of people in the wedding industry, normally a bunch of different vendors and small business owners will collectively work on a project. And there’s normally one person who’s kind of leading it and has a vision. And then you have a photographer, somebody who provides the dress, hair, makeup, artists, all these things. And it’s basically like a fake wedding or a fake photo shoot.
Elle: Oh, fascinating.
Madison: So it’s really fun. But yeah, a lot of control over like all the different aspects of it. But that was like one of my biggest business goals last year was just to organize a styled shoot and shoot one. And you did that? Yeah, I did. Yeah. So that was last February. And I think the most fun part about that for me was it introduced this whole aspect of community and just the wedding photography industry as a whole that I hadn’t really tapped into yet.
Elle: So you basically just had an idea and then you just picked a date, right? Then you started networking, right?
Madison: So it started with just like a picture I saw on Pinterest that I thought was really cool. And it just kind of turned into this concept. And my concept for that shoot specifically was just like Valentine’s Day, kind of a really romantic bohemian vibe. So I wanted to create something that I could use for my portfolio and that the vendors I was working with. It would also be useful for them and the type of clients they were hoping to attract. So then it was just like a lot of cold emails and just following people on their social media and reaching out to them and all the things provided in the style shoe. The hope is that it’s free. So people are providing like a lot of their time and effort and being really generous. So it can be kind of hard to organize.
Elle: Yeah, I’m sure.
Madison: But I was surprised by the really positive and exciting response and people’s generosity and their talents. And it all came together.
Elle: So for you, it was a huge success?
Madison: It was, yeah. Just when I did that, I think I was 18. So I felt a little intimidated emailing these like professionals in the industry who had done style shoes before. They they knew a lot more than I did, but they were still so willing to work with me and just super kind and giving with their time.
Elle: Isn’t it funny how it’s like sometimes it you just have to ask?
Madison: Yeah, you just have to. I just have to. That’s like the biggest lesson I learned last year. Yeah. In my businesses, you just have to ask and reach out to people. And I was so surprised. Yeah. By the community that I found.
Elle: And I think, Madison, you bring something fresh for people who have been in the industry. So it’s there’s a win win there.
Elle: You know, you’re bringing a new sort of concept or idea that maybe they maybe it’s their clientele, but maybe they haven’t really pushed it as far. So I don’t know. Yeah, you probably have a lot more to offer that they were willing to be a part of too. So that’s really cool. And so then you move to New York and you’ve been working there. And so you’ve talked about your business vision goal. Do you have a bigger goal than the New York City?
Madison: This is like I think going to be one of those goals that you’re constantly working towards. But bigger than New York City, I think is just traveling. And my ultimate goal when I graduate is just to be a traveling wedding photographer and be able to do weddings and jobs around the United States. But I would love I think everybody would love to be a destination wedding photographer.
Elle: But you could be THE destination wedding photographer.
Madison: The nice thing is that everybody has different tastes and styles. So there really is work for everyone. So it’s really interesting how weddings have taken a shift and a lot of people are eloping and they want to travel and they want to have pictures of that. So my goal would just be to be based wherever it feels right. I don’t know if it will always be New York, but I think travel is something I hope that I can learn more about and really get into after I settle my roots.
Elle: I also read on your your Web site. She had this cute little thing, the 10 things about me, which I just think is really, really great. Because people, when they hire a photographer, it’s not just somebody coming and taking pictures. You’re gonna be part of their day. Part of a milestone moment in their life. So giving them a glimpse into who you are is just really smart. It makes you so likable, like I want you to come take my wedding picture and I’m already married. So I love how you say that you never attended a wedding until you photographed one.
Elle: Yeah. So what was that like? Like you did you know, where did like what was important?
Madison: No. No idea what was going on. I had no idea. You know, all these different traditions like. And people are doing different things now. But when it was a big tradition to do like the bouquet toss or like getting the garter. I was so confused. So I’m like, is this happening?
Elle: Why are we giving the bride’s underwear away?
Madison: Yeah, I just I was like does this need to be photographed? So that was something really interesting for me to experience, but it made it more fun and more special when I was photographing because I was just like taking it all in and I wanted to photograph everything. I don’t know what is.
Elle: Yeah. Do you have any really funny wedding stories?
Madison: There’s there’s a lot of stories. And I have to be careful because they’re funny to me. But I feel like in the moment if I was a bride. But there is one that I remember. And the bride was really she was very relaxed about it. But it was an outdoor wedding and it was like beautiful. We were in Kentucky, like northern Kentucky, and it was like basically in the woods. And this is the ceremonies happening. Like the bride is walking down her aisle and we all see that there’s a frog in the back of her dress like caught in the lace between her dress. So it was just like sitting there and one of her bridesmaids tried to kind of get it out, but it might just lie there. And nobody wanted to cause a scene. So she they got married with a frog in her dress. And it is you know, I think that was Photoshopped,.
Elle: Very symbolic. You know, the kiss the frog thing and the prince shows up and the frog didn’t want to let go.
Madison: She just laughed it off, So it was OK. I think it was definitely Photoshopped afterwards. But I it was funny, you know? Yeah. So it was funny. Yes.
Elle: So a lot of the listeners of the podcast are either stepping into a creative endeavor or they’re feeling the yearning toward a creative endeavor. And we always talk I like to talk about the myth of arrival that you never really arrive at and that the process is such a journey. And I guess if you could share something about your journey that either was maybe a surprise or even like a setback. And how did you then overcome it? I guess. Well, what would you say has been your biggest challenge in the growth of your experience as a photographing artist?
Madison: Right. Yeah, because we don’t always, as you’re thinking about it, we don’t always want to share the failure. Right.
Elle: And sometimes we don’t look at failure as a failure. We look at it as an opportunity where we learned it, but we it didn’t turn out the way we thought. Right. But those are the things that often either lead us down a new path that opens up more opportunities or teaches us something. So, again, take your time.
Madison: Yeah, well, I. Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s definitely and this is still a challenge for me. I think it’s something that will always be a challenge. But going back to the introvert thing, when you yourself are—and not all introverts are like this, but for me, I have always been pretty shy and not until recently did I have to break out of that, because when you’re photographing people, a lot of times they’re nervous and they’re shy and you have to break them out of their shell. So starting out with that was really discouraging for me because sometimes people were just really like excited and naturally like able to be in front of a camera. And then sometimes they weren’t. Which is totally normal. And I always felt like if I was kind of like had an off day or I wasn’t able to pull out their personality, then that was a fail on my part because of this thing about my personality that I felt like I couldn’t change because I am an introvert and this is just how I am or I’m shy or whatever label I was like putting on myself. Yeah. And I think in overcoming that, I just kept doing it anyways, even on the shoots that I had not felt great about. You know, when I said in those pictures, they still love them and people are a lot kinder than you think they are. And I yeah, we’re just always our harshest critic. So even on the days where I just felt super discouraged and like frustrated with myself and I’d be working with photographers who were just so outgoing and just easy to be around. And, you know, you could tell that they were really personable and everyone loved to be around them. I just told myself that, you know, they have days like I do, too, and I just kept doing it anyways.
Elle: And you know what? Madison, I think that you have a way of connecting that’s going to attract the right people, you know? I mean, not everybody wants that big, motivated, in-your-face photographer. And so sort of the sensitivity and the intuitiveness that you have, I think shows so clearly in your photographs that you take it like it. Like, I know the reason I can speak from this is that you’ve photographed me.
Elle: And you were so I would say gentle in how you directed me and you made me feel so comfortable. But it wasn’t in that, you know, put your arm here, turn your face there, smile. I’m wondering how trusting I think going back to what you’re saying. Trusting that your way is the right way for you. You know, and you will attract the people who resonate with the way you work because they’ll see it through the photographs.
Elle: You know, I don’t know. I just I love working with you and I. Yeah. And I just. Again, we’ve we talked a little bit about with Clara about her wedding photographs. And they’re also on your website or so you see the photographs. So you could peek at her wedding photos, too. But I guess if people wanted to know more about you or if they have a wedding coming up or a friend has a wedding, how is the best way that they can connect with you?
Madison: Right. Well, I would say definitely on my Instagram, that is where I’m trying to post like more recent work. And I think Instagram is kind of a fun platform to post on because you get to see more of your photographer’s personality for sure and learn day to day life. So I would definitely recommend that.
Elle: And is it just Madison Must or what?
Madison: Madison Must photo.
Madison: It’s not a pun. It’s just the name. But I always have to like. Yeah I it’s that but it’s through my Instagram I say is the best way to reach me and then yeah. If you like what you see I always respond to my messages and.
Elle: And one of the things I just want to reflect as we wrap up is that I think that there’s so many ways to build a creative business and there’s so many paths that are unique to each artist. And one of the things that I feel like you so clearly exemplify is that you are just very intuitive and you’re very clear about what feels aligned with who you are and not just with where you live, but the style of photography, who you work with. And I just think that’s a great lesson for those of us that want to be more planning focused or strategically focused, that sometimes you just have to stop and really listen to yourself and just, you know, you have the big picture. You don’t have every single step mapped out, but you move in the direction that feels right and feels aligned. And I just I love that. So thank you for sharing that.
Madison: Well, thank you for saying that. I appreciate that so much.
Elle: Yeah, it was great having you today. And we’ll be taking our pictures in a couple days together so you can check out my Instagram to see Madisons photos. But thank you so much for joining us today, Madison.
Clara: Wow. I loved that interview and getting to learn more things that I didn’t know about my friend. I think my favorite part, though, was how she kind of showed the power of being uncomfortable and that that gives you a level of empathy for the people that you’re working with and can actually be a strength.
Elle: Yeah. That’s awesome. And also the fact that she is even though she’s in an industry where people tend to be more extroverted, especially if they’re the ones coaching other people while they’re getting a photo taken and she’s not that way, she’s still staying true to who she is, just settling into her strengths, finding how she can bring out the best in people without being somebody different and just. I also love how she just follows her intuition all along the way.
Elle: You know, we talk about there’s this yearning for something more and that it’s there for you and she’s just going for it.
Elle: I’m gonna ask that same question of our listeners. What is the insecurity, the weakness? The one thing that makes you feel so uncomfortable that could actually be your greatest asset. It could be your strength or what I like to call your secret sauce. The thing that makes you stand out from the competition.
Clara: Elle, what do you think that is for you?
Elle: I think for me, I have this raging inner critic, but I’ve also come to understand that it also makes me very tuned in to how to improve things, how to make things better, because I see the flaw not only in myself, but sometimes in other things. But because I can see the flaw, I also can improve. Almost anything I’m a part of. I love that.
Clara: And I get to see that every day at the office!
Elle: I do it gently, though.
Elle: So if you were inspired by my conversation with Madison, I would love for you to share it with a friend. And also, reviews are the number one way that this podcasts will be able to help more people step into their creative life purpose. And I would be honored to have yours.
Elle: I’m so grateful you joined us for today’s episode. I bet you’re here because, you know, there’s something more for your life, whether you’re moving into something creative or letting go in order to take that next creative step. I have something for you. My free guide to graceful transitions.
Elle: You can find it at ellezimmerman.com/transitions. And remember, if she made it, you can, too.