A Piece of Hannah's Story
Meet Hannah Ziegler; a photographer and creative director who is ambitious in every way! Her love for photography and outgoing personality has led her to become a successful business owner. Read more about what it's like to run a business, the crazy journey that has gotten her there, and her celebrity role model! And don't miss the advice she has to give, Hannah is truly an inspiration!
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO RIGHT NOW? ARE YOU IN SCHOOL, WORK?
I am a photographer and creative director. I have my own photography business, HZ Photography, where I work with all kinds of amazing people, shooting anything from weddings to social media imagery for small businesses. It is very drastic going from capturing a brand’s product line to a family session with little ones but I enjoy the challenge of capturing the essence of someone or something’s spirit, regardless of what that may be.
WHAT'S YOUR DAILY ROUTINE LIKE? ANY MORNING RITUALS?
I love starting my day with a Pure Barre class. It can fuel my energy for the entire day. Then I come home and start my regular workday–editing photos, answering emails, prepping for an upcoming shoot, things like that.
As a creative, I am not a very routine-oriented person, but I think that serves me well during shoots. For example, when you photograph the same family year after year, it would be easy to fall into a photographing routine the same way one could fall into a workday routine. The creative side of me doesn’t mesh well with either. For families, every year they are older, the setting can be different, their story has a new chapter, and I’ve grown as a photographer, so I try to always bring a new set of skills with me. I try to look at my work day the same way. Every day I’m growing into a more seasoned photographer and entrepreneur, so I never want to get stuck in a routine that inhibits that evolution.
YOU HAVE YOUR OWN PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS, HOW DID THAT START?
I started my photography business as soon as I could drive. Prior to that, I was practicing my photography skills but there was no way I was going to have my mom drop me off at a shoot!
It really all started in Photoshop. I loved the editing process and then realized it would be a lot more rewarding to use my own photos. My parents had a DSLR camera that they used to take pictures of my brother and I for sports but I quickly saw it had more potential in my hands than theirs. ;) I used that camera for a good two years before I got my first Canon DSLR.
At that point, I used my friends as models and worked to strengthen my craft. Before long, people started asking me to do shoots for their families, their graduations, you name it. I struggled to put a price tag on doing it for a long time but now as a business owner, I am learning that even if you adore what you do, you have to recognize your worth and charge accordingly.
WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
The organizational skills it requires can be the bane of my existence even on a good day. From bookkeeping to scheduling to simply keeping track of papers, it can be a lot, especially for a creative. I was a business major in college and even that does not prepare you to actually run your own business.
The other big challenge is coping with insecurities. I want all my clients to feel confident and beautiful in the moments I photograph, but if someone has an underlying insecurity, it can be difficult to determine just what will make them happy, especially if I can’t identify exactly what is their internal struggle. It’s taught me to focus on going beyond the lens and whatever is on the surface, and focus on who the person or product is at their core and capture that raw, unique energy. Since I’ve taken that approach and that intention, the photos have never looked better and my clients have never been more fulfilled with the final product. That’s the best part about challenges. They push you towards growth.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER PATH AND YOUR JOURNEY ABOUT HOW YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY
I am so grateful for my journey so far. I worked hard in high school and I went to a wonderful college. My junior year of college was a major turning point for me. I met Emily Raleigh, Founder of Spire & Co. I had been applying to internships but felt like I couldn’t find the right fit. I didn’t want to be stuck stapling papers and typing into spreadsheets when I knew all I wanted to do was photograph and design. Emily lived in New York City and was in Indiana visiting her boyfriend. A mutual friend connected us and we met at a Starbucks in South Bend. That's when I learned about Spire & Co, an editorial platform seeking to empower young women through inspiring content. I loved the mission, and I loved her energy. Fortunately, she loved my portfolio.
That summer, I flew out to attend and photograph Spire’s conference in New York. It changed my life and I was so motivated I could feel my body ache for challenge and change. I went back to my senior year in Indiana and that spring, Emily offered me the first full-time position at her company while she was then a senior in college.
I moved to New York that June just after I graduated, and my life was never the same. More than my life, it was my attitude that saw the greatest changes. New York is not for everyone and while I now live back in the Midwest that was an experience that made both my business and I better. It was a true turning point in my entire life. I met incredible people; I saw incredible things and most importantly, felt the magic of walking in the city going to a job that I loved. I then took all this back to the Midwest a year later to pursue my own photography business. Emily is now one of my closest friends in every aspect of my life, both business and personal. We still love helping each other out, as we have very differing skill sets.
Now, I am ready to make the move to Grand Rapids. It’s not far from my hometown, but I want to experience a different setting and get out of my comfort zone to meet new people and seek new opportunities in the field. I am moving into a house with two girls I don’t know and both of them have fine art photography backgrounds whereas I am self taught so I am hoping that this is another learning experience just like New York.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY?
I absolutely love watching people interact with each other. The intimate shoots are definitely my favorite. I love positioning people in a way that really captures how they feel about each other, their family, their dog, whatever, in a setting that is beautiful and worthy to put up on your wall. I love that what people see with their eyes I can see something totally different through my lenses. I love being able to document grandparents, and have those images capture their legacy. Being a photographer means illustrating some of life’s greatest stories. I have clients that I have shot their engagement, wedding, maternity, first baby, second baby, and so on. Having them trust me with this is an irreplaceable kind of joy. The same goes for businesses. You are capturing the effect of their hard work and their offering to the world. That is a big responsibility and that trust is invaluable.
HOW DO YOU REPRESENT THE TRAIT AMBITIOUS? ARE THERE CERTAIN THINGS YOU SAY OR DO THAT MAKE YOU SEEM MORE AMBITIOUS?
I am ambitious in the way I live my life because I am never finished. I focus on continuous evolution and strive for it in every corner of my life. Of course, you need to learn to appreciate what you have and live in the moment which is very natural to who I am. But I’m very forward thinking as well. Imogen Cunningham said it best, “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” Now, I’m working on creating other aspects to my business, specifically in the product space. I like thinking about what is next. At the end of the day, ambition is about being motivated to chase your dreams and never settling for anything less than what you want.
ASIDE FROM BEING AMBITIOUS, WHAT ARE THREE OTHER PERSONALITY TRAITS THAT DESCRIBE YOURSELF AND HOW SO?
Creative, Outgoing, Passionate
Creative: It’s very much a part of who I am. It is in the essence of what I do and how I see the world. In my eyes, nothing is black and white, and everything has room for some creative magic.
Outgoing/Funny: Part of why I love capturing people and products is that I’m genuinely curious about their story and I am not afraid to ask. I’m one of those people who knows your grandmother’s middle name or how your childhood impacted your startup ambitions within the first ten minutes we are chatting. I love channeling that curiosity into what I photograph and how I tell that story in imagery.
Honest: Being in the service business, I feel very connected to what I do and the people and brands I serve but I feel that the only way to truly connect is being honest. If I’m putting my energy into something, you can guarantee that I’m insanely open and honest about the purpose and intention behind it. I also feel that it makes my clients significantly more comfortable.
IS WHAT YOU’RE DOING LONG TERM OR DO YOU HAVE BIGGER GOALS?
What I’m doing right now with HZ Photography is definitely long-term. I adore what I’m doing and it is an ever changing space, which makes it all the more enjoyable. That being said, I always have bigger goals and greater ambitions. For example, as I said I’m working on developing products and things of that nature. But I see my work as capturing stories, so anything I do will always be along those lines. I really hope to expand to working with more businesses and bloggers. As well as highlighting people and places in the midwest!
WHEN DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR BEST? IS THERE AN OUTFIT? A PLACE? A PERSON? TV SHOW?
I feel like my best when someone tells me they love their pictures; Make it their profile pic, I receive their Christmas card and it is a picture I captured. There is no greater feeling than when I know I have successfully captured true emotion, one of my favorite moments is during the first slow dances at a wedding, or when a groom sees his bride for the first time. But on a lighter note, I wore a pair of mermaid tale leggings on my birthday last year, with some red lips, and a hat and I felt like I could take on the world it was a very “me” outfit.
WHO’S YOUR BIGGEST INSPIRATION AND WHY?
If I am being totally honest one of my biggest inspirations is Jessie James Decker. She was initially a singer, while working on her career she married Eric Decker. Her accomplishments now include 2 babies, a non profit serving dogs and veterans, Kittenish- a clothing line, a hair perfume line sold exclusively at target, collaborations with Amore and Sorvette- bathing suit company, a tv show, and more. She has seen exponential growth in her influence over young women, and really become a big role model to me for her entrepreneurial spirit and fun loving personality. Jessie talks a lot about true love and never settling, the realities of being a working mother, all while seeming really down to earth. I have seen her in concert twice now and am consistently amazed by her personality and how genuine she is. I think If I had one eighth the empire she has in 10 years I would be ecstatic.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ANY ADVICE TO A YOUNG WOMAN LOOKING TO START HER OWN BUSINESS WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Find the space where what you love and what you are best at meet. I wish I could tell you it's all about passion but it isn’t. You have to be good at what you do in order to make a business out of it or it may just be a hobby and that is okay. However, It is scary and often I question my own skillset but I pick up my camera every day to practice the craft and that is what makes me sure I can do it as a business.
Remember to be very clear on your intention and build your business around your passions and your strengths.
Check out more from Hannah below!