Karen Hoglund: “You don’t need another camera”

You don’t need another camera. There’s always going to be people with fancier gear because there’s always a new camera being released. Learn your current camera inside and out. Don’t forget to work on other important skills like posing and post-production. Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos […]

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You don’t need another camera. There’s always going to be people with fancier gear because there’s always a new camera being released. Learn your current camera inside and out. Don’t forget to work on other important skills like posing and post-production.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Hoglund.

Karen was an art director for 20+ years at companies ranging from advertising agencies to a children’s book publisher and a non-profit. In 2009, she took a leap and pivoted from a stable yet stressful job and started walking dogs. Ironically, this led to a successful and satisfying second career photographing pets!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My first word was “dog,” and once I learned to talk, I didn’t stop. My parents soon realized that I was quiet when they gave me crayons. I can’t blame them for wanting a moment’s silence. It was basically the same as today’s parents handing a toddler an iPad. It’s funny, back then the motivation wasn’t art appreciation. Coloring was just a way to keep me quiet during church!

Rule-following and high academic achievement were rewarded in the Chicago suburb I grew up in. I developed a Midwest work ethic of sticking with something until you finish it. My grades were excellent, and I was even on Math Team in high school. I always managed to find time to paint, but it was clearly communicated that art should be just a hobby. My high school had an art program, but it lacked photography classes.

My family had 3 beagles throughout my childhood, and my parents named them all Snoopy. That should tell you something about the level of originality at our house! I loved them, but I also desperately wanted a cat. One birthday, I was given a plush toy cat instead, and needless to say I was disappointed. Eventually, we got a black cat, Licorice. I also had gerbils, which I named Chip and Dale. Our whole family is hopeless at naming animals!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote that really speaks to me is, “Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity.”

I’m a recovering perfectionist and rule-follower. Unfortunately, the same qualities that develop a Midwest work ethic are not ideal for nurturing creativity. Instead, it prevented me from taking risks and made it harder for me to adapt to new ideas. I majored in Art at college. My professors tried to challenge me, but it would be years before I relaxed enough to be creative.

How would your best friend describe you?

My best friend has known me since we were 14, and she said, “Talkative, detail-oriented, creative and generous.”

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?

Thank you! The top three qualities that have helped me get where I am today are creativity, observation and having a strong work ethic.

1. Creativity — I’ve always seen things through an artist’s eye. A photo that is technically perfect but lacks creativity can be boring. It’s helpful that I look at things a little differently.

2. Observation — Animals speak with their body language, and you need to watch carefully to read what they’re saying. Also, knowing how to see light is an essential skill in photography.

3. Strong Work Ethic — My Midwest work ethic was appreciated in the corporate environment. I showed up on time, met deadlines, and always had a polished and professional image. I once had a boss who said, “You are so normal for an artist.” Thanks, I think…

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

The first decade of my career was spent as an Art Director at ad agencies in Chicago. I worked on large corporate accounts and was proud that I was actually making a living with my Fine Art degree. A few years after college, I worked in the iconic Wrigley building. My youngest brother was only 12 years old at the time, and it was fun to have him visit and take him up the fancy elevator to see the view of the Chicago River. Part of my job during that time was hiring photographers, buying props and hiring models. It was exciting and educational to be part of a creative team, but the hours were grueling.

When I moved to Denver, the plan was for a better work-life balance. I worked as a Designer at an international children’s book publisher, which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, the publishing industry was struggling in the early 2000s, and our office closed. After that, I took an Art Director position at a non-profit. Photography was part of that job, so I quickly logged the proverbial 10,000 hours of practice there!

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

I don’t talk about this much, but there was a time when I felt creatively burnt out. When you earn your living as an artist, that’s a scary feeling! I quit a stable yet stressful Art Director job during that time and started walking dogs. It sounds crazy, but that turned out to be vital in getting my creativity back and choosing to specialize in dog photography. It was my version of “running away to the circus.” Spending more time with dogs was an idea packed with promise and freedom. It was an adventure and a rejection of daily routine. I was literally free from the cubicle, and my creativity blossomed again.

I had a beloved yellow lab, Sammy, during my transition from the cubicle to working from home. I found myself taking photos of him that transcended ordinary snapshots because I wanted to capture how I felt about him. I was also practicing my photography on the dogs I walked. I learned a lot about different breeds and dog behavior during that time.

Before long, I won a photography contest with one of my dog photos. The prize was a trip to a photography convention, where I took a Business Basics class. That’s when I realized that my photography was definitely more than a hobby.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

The catalyst for change was when my husband, Dan, lost his film editing job and went back to college to get a degree in Water Quality Management. My desire to re-invent myself — plus the kick in the pants of reduced household income — gave me the incentive to take on new risks.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

It took me a long time to find which art medium I excelled in the most. I had tried drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, and, of course, graphic design. Even though I took photography in college, it was years before I realized that photography was clearly my strength. Most people think professional photography is only for wedding photos. It was hard for me to ignore those voices and realize photographing dogs could be a career.

How are things going with this new initiative?

My business is doing well, despite Covid. There were a few pandemic puppies, so that was fun! I work primarily outdoors, so that made it easier from a safety perspective. However, lots of my clients are waiting to schedule until they’ve had the vaccine. I imagine this summer will be jam-packed.

My husband’s career change is also complete and we’re very thankful that he’s considered an essential employee. As a result of our career changes, our work-life balance is better. We have more time for gardening, beekeeping, DIY house projects, and long hikes with our golden retriever, Murphy.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I was a senior in college, I interviewed for an internship at Foote, Cone & Belding. Being a nerd, I showed up in an outfit that would have been more appropriate for IBM than the creative department at a large ad agency. Even worse, my portfolio only contained fine art drawings and no graphic design. The interviewer saw potential in me but knew that I needed some serious coaching. I agreed to re-do my entire portfolio under his direction. Thanks to being challenged, I landed a job right out of college!

Of course, the person I am MOST grateful for is my husband, Dan. He has been 100% behind my career change. Warren Buffett, Sheryl Sandberg, and probably Ruth Bader Ginsberg have said that the most important decision you’ll make is who you marry. Twenty-eight years ago, I didn’t know how lucky I was.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

One of my favorite photoshoots was an Aussie at a working cattle ranch near Red Rocks Amphitheater. The evening started with a ride in a ’52 Chevy pickup and a warning to watch out for rattlesnakes and not to go near the grazing cows and their calves. The cattle ranch has been in the same family since the late 1800s. Talk about Colorado history! This family was one of the most welcoming and enjoyable! Since starting pet photography, I’ve crossed paths with some fascinating people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Have you heard the saying, “Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel?” Well, I’ve learned that looking at other photographer’s social media highlight reels is not good for my mental health. Several years ago, I deleted my Instagram and Twitter accounts because it felt impossible to keep up. That was short-sighted because I know I need to embrace new technologies and use them to my advantage as a small business owner. Now I’m building my followers up from scratch again.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

Honestly, I could have done better with this. My husband was extraordinarily supportive, so I depended almost entirely on him. I was a little gun-shy about sharing my crazy photography ideas with friends. Of course, if I knew it would turn out a success, I would have been more confident about seeking help.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

A big challenge to my comfort level was quitting my day job in 2009. I didn’t have a new job lined up, but I desperately needed a change. I like routines, and my office job provided stability. Unfortunately, I was bringing home the stress and driving my ever-patient husband nuts. That year I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, and he said, “I wish you would quit your job.” He was half-joking, but it started the conversation. Next thing you know, I was leaving my job of 8 years. I had never in my life done something like that. Little did we know that Dan would soon lose his job, too! That’s when the real journey away from our comfort zone started!

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Link to 5 things video:

1. You don’t need another camera.

There’s always going to be people with fancier gear because there’s always a new camera being released. Learn your current camera inside and out. Don’t forget to work on other important skills like posing and post-production.

2. You don’t need more camera accessories.

Most photographers have GAS, also known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome. There’s always a new light or tripod being marketed to photographers. Ironically, some of my most creative work happened when I had to make do with what I had.

3. Be a lifelong learner.

I’ve had to learn business basics like accounting, web design, video production and marketing. If you run a small business, you’re going to be a lifelong learner, whether you like it or not.

4. You need a new headshot.

Get used to having your photo taken. When I needed my first headshot for my business, I had a million excuses. I’m more comfortable behind the camera in front of it. But people just want to put a face to my name.

5. Stop trying to be perfect.

Perfection is impossible anyway. When I first heard the expression “Done is better than perfect,” I thought it was blasphemy, but now I realize it has merit. My website would have never gone live if I waited for it to be perfect.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Pets are fantastic for your mental health. I’d love to see more therapy dogs at nursing homes, schools, and available for people with disabilities, etc. Cats and horses can be therapeutic too.

A few years ago, my in-laws lived in an assisted living facility. There was a Maremmano Sheepdog, a huge white fluffy breed, who lived in the memory unit. She had endless patience for being petted by the residents. At the very end of my mother-in-law’s life, my husband got a phone call — at 2am on Christmas Eve — that his mother would probably not make it through the night. We raced over there and spent the night at her side. The next day was Christmas and I noticed that no one was walking the Sheepdog. The nurse who usually walked her was off for Christmas. I asked if I could walk the dog for them. That walk cleared my head and I realized the true value of therapy dogs. It wasn’t just beneficial for the patients in the memory unit, but for me too!

Later I tried to take my golden retriever, Murphy, to the same skilled nursing facility, but he was a bit of an embarrassment. He discovered there were crumbs on the wheelchair footrests and started licking everyone’s feet! I guess he doesn’t have a career as a therapy dog.

What do you want to be remembered for the most?

Creating art that makes people smile. We all need more joy these days!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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