Focus on Photographers: Cathrine Westergaard

Cathrine Westergaard is an American director and photographer based out of New York, NY. Her client list is impressive, including Vogue Italia, PBS, MTV, Dove Self-Esteem Fund, and more. We're honored to have her on the blog today, offering you lucky readers some tips and insight on the fashion/lifestyle photography world.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started with photography.

I was fortunate to attend some of the best art schools in the U.S. during my college years and was formally trained as a painter and a sculptor. I learned classic skills and so much of that was focused on lighting and composition. I took these fine art skills and explored many mediums after school to find what I loved. During my Williamsburg Brooklyn years (1997- 2005) I became close friends with photographer Natacha Merritt. We spent most of our friendship exploring our crazy, wild scene together through photography. During that time I also discovered great photographers that opened up my creative perspective and helped me understand why photography is so powerful. Then after 9/11 I felt compelled to begin documenting anything and everything I could. I became so focused on not taking anything for granted, and photography provided me a sense of solace and connection to life. Photography also connected me to a community of creatives and Ii found working with teams of dedicated artists to be exciting and rewarding

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What draws you to fashion/lifestyle photography the most?

I love fashion/lifestyle photography because it provides me with a platform to tell stories and share my vision. I love being excited by an idea or design, and then having the freedom to translate those inspirations to communicate a vibe and attitude that is unique to my perspective. I have found that shooting editorial fashion provides me an outlet that is all about being innovative, inventive and lends itself to non-linear expression. This invites an artist to think outside the box and welcomes imagination and exploration, which is what drew me to the arts in the first place.

What challenges do you face in your industry?

Every artist faces challenges and hurdles, and if one is not prepared to recognize this, it can certainly be a daunting life choice. I have found that facing them head on is rewarding and provides me with a sense of strength and vitality that is exciting. I had numerous people tell me when I launched into a career in photography that I was just short of crazy. It is a competitive business, and it takes time to create the relationships needed to advance and be successful.

I remember when the recession hit, I had the great fortune of being taken out for drinks with a VP of a great ad agency. I had gone to the agency for a portfolio review and met with their art buyers and producers. The VP was so kind to take his time to advise me. He began by telling me that due to the economy the industry was getting really tight and budgets were being compromised. He said "Cathrine, our buyers loved you and your work. As an emerging talent my best advice is to keep creating work. Keep putting it out there and in front of people. When the budgets come back, you will be on people’s mind and when the right project presents itself they will come to you." I am sharing this because it was great advice and applies really to any artist out there.

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What are your preferred tools of the trade? And what should anyone looking to get into this realm make sure to have in their arsenal?

I love trying new equipment, and since the industry is so digitally oriented, companies come out with new innovative releases seasonally. I always recommend trying out different camera formats and lighting because it is a really personal decision. I personally love to shoot with Hasselblad cameras, and my ultra favorite lighting are kino flos, but I have had great creative moments with other professional tools as well.

Any advice you would offer for aspiring fashion photographers?

I think your career longevity comes from the ability and willingness to have a strong point of view and then the courage to stick by it. It is super important to have passion and love for your work, but equally as important to be professional and treat your creative community with respect. I always approach my team with an understanding that I chose to work with them for their vision and talent, so I see the process as a true collaboration. Let the experts do what they do best, and then everyone will see the work as a platform for expression, and this brings the best out of the whole team.

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