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Rising Stars: Meet Danielle Pipitone of Arnold

Today we’d like to introduce you to Danielle Pipitone.

Hi Danielle, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
When I was very young, I remember looking through an old cigar box of my grandpa’s and finding a collection of incredible black-and-white photos he took during World War II. I remember thinking how incredible it was to be looking at moments in time that happened decades before I was even born. I think we take cameras and photography for granted, because technology has made things really easy for us, and now everyone has a camera on their phone. But I think people fail to realize just how amazing that is. Cameras are like little time-machines, and they allow us to keep memories and revisit parts of our lives and our history that have long since passed. I just think that’s so beautiful and mind-blowing. I encourage anyone reading this to stop and think about just how amazing that actually is.

Dating back to high school, I was always one of those people who carried a camera around (before cell phones had cameras). I’ve always found a lot of value in documenting my life. As I got older, that little thing I did for myself developed into a real hobby. I was gifted my first DSLR camera after high school, and I just dove in from there. I took a couple photography classes in college, but the heavy lifting of my training and experience happened on my own. Over the years, I’ve invested a lot of time and money teaching myself photography. I love learning about cameras and technique – it has never felt like a chore to take a photography class or read a camera manual, it’s always made me want to know more – that’s how I knew it was a passion.

Turning my hobby into a business didn’t really occur to me at first – it wasn’t until a few years after I received that first camera that some coworkers who saw a few of my photos asked if I offered family sessions. I was so excited that anyone wanted me to take their photos that I accepted without having any kind of plan in place. I admit that I was still very much a beginner, and I have grown so much since then, but to me, that was the beginning of my “business.” I started taking on paying clients in 2014 – building my base on family and high school senior portraits – and I’ve consistently grown since then.

My photography business has always been on the side of everything else. It’s not my full-time job, and I also have a young family to care for, so truthfully it’s been a secondary priority to other things in my life. Relying mostly on word-of-mouth and a more passive online presence, I would just take clients on as they came to me during the first handful of years. But that fire to be a photographer – and a good one that people wanted to work with – has never died down. So in recent years, I’ve put a lot more time, money, and energy in growing my business and take my photography to the next level.

While I’ve mostly focused on family photography, the more I’ve grown and improved as a photographer, the more clients have been inquiring about wedding photography. In a way, it almost makes me feel like I’ve somehow “made it.” It’s extremely humbling and gratifying that people would want me to capture such a special time in their lives, but it’s also very scary! I know I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I’m diving in headfirst to that opportunity and now offering wedding photography in my services.

In the last few years, I’ve taken several big steps in moving my business forward. I invested in two master-taught, industry-leading courses – one on wedding-specific technique and one on the business side of photography; I’ve elevated my client experience; I’ve made my social media and online presence a higher priority; I’ve invested in higher quality equipment; I’ve joined networks of both local and worldwide photographers and joined education groups; and I’ve given myself permission to give my passion more of my time.

I’m really excited about the direction my business is taking, and I’m more energized than ever to keep going and growing!

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Like any small business, there are plenty of ups-and-downs to keep you busy. As I mentioned, I took more of a passive approach to my business early on, but soon realized just how much work really goes into not only running a business (by yourself), but also promoting it. The more I’ve been proactively managing my business, and the more I’ve learned from the classes I’ve been taking, is just how much maintenance goes into securing leads and getting paid your worth. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just be a good photographer. Many times, you can find photographers you might subjectively feel are less talented, experienced, or dedicated, but if they have a solid marketing strategy that works and a client experience that is valued, you’d be hard-pressed to ever be more successful than them.

Some of the challenges I’ve faced include all the things that come from being a one-woman-show. Not only is this my second job – so my time to dedicate to the business side of things is already limited – but I have to do everything myself. I’m the only one responding to client inquiries, updating my website, posting on social media, editing all my own photos, delivering to clients, staying in constant communication with my clients so they know how much I care about them (because I do!) and want to answer any question they have along the way; maintaining all my equipment; making sure I keep up on all the legal/tax requirements of owning a business. All this to say it’s a lot! And while I’m grateful for all of it, it is still a huge amount of work (especially for one person).

The flipside of that though, is that because I’m an independent business owner – I get to make all the decisions. I get to decide how much work I take on, how I want to work with my clients, what services I want to offer, and so forth. There is a lot to be said about working for yourself that cannot be discounted.

One tangible example of a struggle I’ve endured recently was the unfortunate setback of a failed hard-drive that cost me an ungodly amount of money to recover. The good news is that is was successfully recovered and I got all my photos back, but I definitely paid for that lesson learned.

At this stage of my business, I feel really lucky. It’s not always smooth, but I have enjoyed the journey. Each year my business is more successful than the last – not just in terms of revenue or new clients, but in growth and experience too. To me, that is invaluable. I’m optimistic about what’s ahead and looking forward to learning from all the new challenges I’ll face along the way.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am a St. Louis-based family and wedding photographer specializing in classic, timeless, and warm photography for families and couples who value authentic moments.

I am most proud of my dedication to growth. Fueled by my passion for photography, I invest a significant amount of time and energy teaching myself. Continuing education is incredibly important to me. I have also been paying special attention to my client experience. I want to make sure that my clients feel cared for and comfortable when they work with me. I want them to think back on their photography experience fondly and feel confident in recommending me to their friends and family. I strive to build lifelong relationships with them so they continue coming back to me for all their photography needs.

To me, one of my greatest strengths as a photographer is my laid-back, easy-going personality. I consider myself extremely easy to work with, and I think most of my clients would agree. I’m very patient, compassionate, go-with-the-flow, and drama-free. I truly love taking photos, so each time I’m hired to do so, I’m excited to be there and want to give my clients the best experience and the best images.

I think other value I offer is my responsiveness and timeliness. I do my best to get back to my clients immediately when they have questions or when they reach out to schedule. I work very hard to turn their photos around quickly, delivering their images in less time than promised as often as I possibly can. I try to always share sneak peeks within a few days because I know how much my clients appreciate that.

Something else that sets me apart is my comfort-level and patience with children. When working with small children, we have to understand that they’re in charge. They dictate pretty much everything in a photo session. I always have parents apologizing when kids misbehave or they’re having a tough time or they’re tired, or whatever the case may be. These things do not bother me! I have kids of my own and I’ve worked with kids of all ages for over a decade. I work really hard to make kids comfortable around me, and try to reassure parents that we will still get great images of their family even if they feel like their session didn’t go according to plan. The reality is that they more often don’t – and that’s okay! Sometimes it’s more fun that way anyway.

The last differentiator is my documentary-style approach. More prominent in my engagement and wedding photography, I capture the day just as it happens, so that my clients get to see all the raw and authentic moments that happen throughout the day. This doesn’t mean that I don’t take posed photos when appropriate or necessary, it just means that I try to photograph everything naturally. I find, and my clients agree, those authentic, genuine moments almost always mean more to them than the stiff, posed ones. Those still have their place, but just know when you work with me, you will get a beautiful collection of candid moments too – and you’ll be so glad.

And on top of all of that, I do believe I have an eye for photography! After doing this for almost a decade, I think I can finally admit to myself that I am good at this – and I intend on only getting better.

Can you tell us more about what you were like growing up?
I have always been a very quiet, introverted person who has never liked being the center of attention – I strongly prefer to be behind the camera than in front of it. (Doing an online questionnaire interview like this is right up my alley!) I’m more of an intuitive observer than a talker, and I’m definitely a homebody! I can flip on the outgoing/bubbly switch when it’s time to work with my clients, but then I enjoy being home to recharge.

I have always been a very creative person. Even as a child, I gravitated toward artistic expression. I have always loved to draw, write, and create. A lot of that creativity guided me to my photography business, as well as my professional career as a marketer and graphic designer. I’ve also always been strongly interested in residential architecture and interior design. When I was a kid, my dream job was to be an architect. I still hold on to parts of that dream and hope to design my own home one day.

Outside of creative hobbies, I’ve always had a range of other varied interests. I’m a huge sports fan and a lifelong athlete – I played volleyball and soccer my whole life, and even played soccer collegiately. I’m naturally athletic and love competition. I’m also a huge alternative rock music fan, and enjoy going to live concerts.

I’m the third of six kids in my family, and love to spend time with them. Growing up in a big family had its challenges, but it had more blessings and benefits than anything. My parents and have always been very supportive. I am grateful for my brothers and sisters and don’t know what I would do without them in my life.

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