Portrait Photographer Audrey Woulard on Longevity and Creative Growth

December 16, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

Chicago-based portrait photographer Audrey Woulard is known for focusing her lens on kids, teens and families and giving them a refined, tack-sharp and fashion-forward look. Her edgy, unfussy style has put her on the map for young clients, including seniors, who seek a billboard-quality photo shoot, and it has earned her a place in the judge’s seat at WPPI’s prestigious 16 x 20 annual print competition.

[Read: How 3 Judges Approach WPPI’s Print Comp Submissions]

Woulard, who offers her own tutorials, workshops and preset packs, returned to speak at WPPI 2020 earlier in the year (her class was “A Simplistic Approach to Impactful Imagery”), and in July, Nikon added her to its coveted lineup of ambassadors. Woulard sat down with us to reflect on her growth as a portrait photographer, as well as the creative and business-related decisions she has made to achieve longevity in the industry.

Audrey Woulard at work.

1. What’s your favorite technique as you’re photographing portraits of children, teens and families?

When I think about a “favorite technique,” I don’t think I have one! I find that I just do what I do, and for some reason it works! [laughs] But if using wide apertures is considered to be a technique, then I would say that.

I photograph with wide apertures, mostly out of superstition. When I began my career 17 years ago, I purchased a brand new camera. I dropped it three days after I purchased it and broke the aperture ring. It was stuck on f/1.6! Instead of renting a camera or purchasing a new one for my scheduled photo sessions the next day, I used my brand new broken camera. My pictures came out tack sharp. Since that day, I’ve never dialed my aperture past f/1.6.

2. What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a photographer so far?

My biggest challenge was maintaining focus and who I know I want to be as a photographer. There are so many “great-looking shiny things” happening in our industry. I had to really teach myself that I can enjoy those things immensely. I can also know that those things won’t work well for the trajectory I am on within my business as a professional photographer.

[Read: The Potential Traps of Following Wedding and Portrait Photography Trends]

I told myself early on to enjoy all of the trends, but know that I also contribute something to the industry, and it is important to stay in my lane and grow it. Don’t venture off course and change.

3. I read a blog post of yours last year where you mentioned not including your headshot on your website because there weren’t a lot of Black female photographers in your field. How relevant is that precaution in your business today?

When I felt that way, it was when I began my career 17 years ago. I wanted to be known for my work and less about what I look like. I wanted clients to fall in love with my work and not have any preconceived ideas about what I can produce. I didn’t have any photographers who looked like me that could give me any advice, so I just followed my gut.

My clientele is very high end, and I wanted my work to be perceived in a way that others look at artists’ and painters’ work. People will go into an art gallery and spend thousands of dollars to purchase a piece of art. They don’t care what the artist looks like. So that is how I viewed having my headshot on my website.

Today, it isn’t a factor any longer. Speaking for myself, I am well-known in my area, so it really doesn’t matter. Currently, my headshot and a video of myself are both on my website.

4. What is the most helpful piece of advice you’ve heard and followed?

I feel I have professionally been in business full-time during so many different changes! I started when there was no social media. There was no Lightroom, which means Adobe presets weren’t around. Social media started and I still had to try to find out how to be relevant.

[Read: Marketing for Authenticity in Wedding and Portrait Photography]

The most helpful piece of advice was that I was encouraged to be myself. Some will love it, some will hate it, but overall it will be authentic. This simple piece of advice was paramount. It allowed me to naturally stand out by just being myself.

5. What’s the most effective way you’ve promoted your work so far?

Word of mouth! Utilizing relationship marketing has been the best thing I have ever done professionally. Believe it or not, 2020 has been one of my best years professionally.

[Read: How to Feed Word-of-Mouth for Your Business]

To expound a bit, business-to-business marketing was the single best form of relationship marketing that I did. I formed long-standing relationships with the businesses within my marketing area, and they help promote me and my work from a grassroots level. Doing it that way laid solid groundwork that allowed me to sustain real longevity.

6. How has your work evolved since you started?

I think my work has definitely evolved yet stayed the same. I am always doing self-assessments of my work. It is something I do on a regularly basis. My interaction with my clients has remained the same.

I do utilize light a lot differently now. As a result, it definitely shows in my work.

[Read: Perfect Your Lighting Skills with These Portrait Basics]

7. What’s something that few people know about you?

I appear very extroverted and confident to those that don’t know me, but I can definitely be shy and introverted.

[Read: 3 Tips for Introverts on Building a Photography Brand]

8. For those introverts out there, what have you found has been a key in advocating for yourself in the industry?

The introverts can still figure out what they are really good at and do some self-reflection to figure out who they are.

The only way to advocate for yourself is to speak out. You can speak out verbally, or you can speak out within your work. It’s your choice. There are no wrong answers! If you’re someone who doesn’t want to speak out, tell a lot of stories with the images you create and share them with everyone.

9. If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

You’re on the right path. It is ok if everyone doesn’t agree with you. It’s okay to stand out.

[Read: A Simple Guide to Steering Your Creative Business in the Right Direction]

10. Are you adjusting anything in your business for 2021?

I honestly have no idea what 2021 will bring. Photography is my full-time job. I also sell products to photographers. What’s funny is that I didn’t offer one thing for sale to photographers in 2020 because I was very consumed with making sure my portrait business was sustained!

My phone has been ringing a lot and I decided to photograph as much as I could without completely burning out. I am doing that so that we have a nice cushion going into 2021. I am also refining the way that I connect to my clients virtually. I’ve come up with a plan to consistently stay on their minds if we have another mandatory shut down.

Audrey Woulard is a portrait photographer based in Chicago. She is a WPPI speaker, Nikon Ambassador and Profoto Legend of Light. In addition to her Kids and the City clients, she has photographed commercial shoots for the likes of Pottery Barn and IAM’s as well as for magazines such as PEOPLE, InStyle and Better Homes and Gardens.