From Passion to Profession: An Interview with Acclaimed Photographer Federica Nardese

Success story summary Italian photographer Federica Nardese transformed her childhood passion into a professional career. After studying and traveling, she embraced digital photography in 2009 and opened her business in Milan in 2016. Federica’s acclaimed work is exhibited internationally, and she also offers workshops for aspiring artists, using effective marketing strategies to promote her events.

Can you please share a brief history about your photography business? What motivated you to start this venture?

I’ve been an “intuitive photographer” for all my life. I loved having a camera in my hands to stroll around and capturing moments, at school, on a train trip, with friends.

My love for photography originated very early in my childhood when I found my parent’s old film camera. I remember I was fascinated by the object itself.

It was this first impression that lead me to buy a Minolta “Memory Maker” camera with my pocket money in early 1990s. It was a little black plastic box but it worked like magic.
This quickly ignited a passion and became a creative outlet for an introverted young lady.

Many years passed by. During my 20s and 30s I travelled the world, studied for a Masters Degree in Adult Education, & Counselling, and set up a successful corporate career

But a deeper calling caused a yearning inside for more. It turns out, photography was the answer.

It was in 2009 that I got back into photography, embracing digital photography with a Nikon while self-studying all that I could to get as close to my art as I could.

Then, in 2016 I realised that being an “hobbyist” was too demanding for me, a lot of unpaid work, for what? Posting on social media?
I felt I was ready to chase that dream of becoming a professional photographer.
I studied photography  as a business and in 2017 I was ready to open my photography business in Milan, Italy.

During these years I managed to also create a fine art portfolio, my work has won numerous awards, been shown in Italy and abroad since 2013 in both solo and group exhibitions and it has been published in photographic journals internationally. I’m an Art Counsellor and Educator, providing workshops and courses to photographers and artists online and in person.

What kind of challenges did you face when building up your portfolio or setting up your studio? How did you overcome these challenges?

Building up my portfolio in 2016/2017 was easy since I specialise in portraits with a “pictorial” touch, so the target was pretty clear.

Yet, I did have to face the challenge of “segmenting” my audience when I realised that what appeals to a 30-something woman is not the same for a lady in her 50s or 60s.

I often did “portfolio building” sessions in my early days to differentiate my offering and creating related products for my target.

As for the studio, I always shared spaces with other professionals since I worked on custom projects  for the first years. Now I’m using shared spaces that I book in advance to hold photographing events where I can photograph more people on the same day. Optimizing my time while offering extreme quality in my service is essential to me these days.

It also comes with a lot of effort in market research to getting to know my prospects’ needs.

Could you describe the early days of your business? What were the initial reactions and feedback you received?

I must have been extremely lucky because I’ve always got impressive feedbacks from the very beginning.
My very first paying client, in May 2017, is now an award-winning actress that had a part in The White Lotus 2 (the HBO series).

The same day of the shooting she wrote me an email before going to bed telling me she couldn’t let the day go without saying thank-you again. “I felt like we where creating together as we go with the shooting, and that was beautiful”, she wrote (something like that in Italian).

How did you manage to grow and expand your business? What strategies did you use to attract more clients?

Since my photography studio is a local physical business, I find that sometimes in person events are the best to invest in.
For instance, I’ve been organising events around a specific project that I called “Flow State Portraits” and those are a big hit for me right now.

In the beginning I used strategies like:

  • Portfolio building days or events organised in my studio
  • Social media organic reach (Insta mainly)
  • Female business groups in my area
  • In person networking
  • LinkedIn
  • FB ads.

I also used vouchers to gift the session fee but I found out that there must be something in Italy that doesn’t make vouchers work properly. We have an habit of knowing precisely from the beginning what we are gonna spend on something. So using session fee + later buying your products after the reveal never really worked for me and I quit those.

And of course word of mouth is still a big one even if it’s “a slow pace” strategy to be integrated with a marketing mix like the one I mentioned above.
Surely it’s different for everyone depending on annual revenue goals and business structure, so “do your math” and stay focused!

How has your business performed financially over the years? Can you share some milestones or achievements in terms of revenue?

Since 2017 I progressively increased my revenue and a significant milestone to me was in 2020 when we were in lockdown from Marc 5th to May 18th and people was so scared about in person meetings after all.

Yet, I managed to create a special offer from June to late autumn, that allowed me to finish the year better than the previous one, something that I’d never thought possible when everything closed up for months!

What are some key lessons you've learned along your entrepreneurial journey? Is there anything you would do differently if given a chance?

Starting a creative business from scratch, only with an idea and enthusiasm and not so much money to invest on it is not something for the faint of heart. Actually, I often joke with my friends and students (I teach photography and art counselling as well) saying that starting such a business is better than going to psychotherapy for years!
You don’t need that anymore then… XD

Key lessons:

  • Work on value and desire, always
  • Marketing is senior to sales
  • Speed is senior to quality
  • Frequency builds trust
  • Money follow attention
It’s a matter of perceived quality

I would invest more money on digital marketing mentoring and ads a lot earlier than I did.

Are there any tools or software that have been particularly useful in managing and growing your business? Give us a list of what you use in your kit.

I’m pretty basic with these kinds of tools:

  • I use a tool to stay on track with my financial statement and creating invoices.
  • I use canva.com to create my graphics
  • I use Instagram  to create content
  • CapCut and/or Inshot + veed captions to caption my videos for stories, reels and such.
  • YouTube  to create shorts and iMovie to edit my long for videos for my YouTube channel when I do it myself
  • Of course, I use Photoshop and Lightroom for my post processing.
  • And all the Google Drive Suite to help organize and move my files.

Everything is deisgned to make my life easier while allowing me to focus on my passion.

Could you recommend any books, resources, or mentors that have significantly influenced your business journey?

As I also said in our PhotoKarma report for 2024 (hey, go and get your free copy here if you didn’t already!) a theoretical reference to me is “Camera Lucida” by Roland Barthes.
This book explores the significance of photographs, exploring their evocative power, the relationship between photography and death, and the emotional connection forged through the “punctum” effect, shaping critical/philosophical discourse on the subject.

My business mentor is Sue Bryce, #1 for sure.
But I love to study anything regading mindset, digital strategy, SEO, Growth Hacking, and money on YouTube. There’s everything you need if you know how to search for it.

Other great books are: “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries and Jack Trout and “The Science of Getting Rich” by Wallace D. Wattles.

I also appreciate a good autobiography from successful people, like “Open” by André Agassi for instance.

Having a business is not only selling products. To me is growing as a person, so I love to give myself an “holistic” perspective on it.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start their own photography business?

Be smart, be fast, accept a “trial and error” approach. You cannot control everything.

  • Listen: to yourself, to your prospects, to your actual clients. Ask questions, provide experiences, not solutions.
  • Create: projects are the key.
  • Follow what your soul desires.
  • Money is the ultimate outlet of living your creative business wholeheartedly.
Trust your gut, accept fear, choose not to believe in your inner critic.
  • Choose to believe in what moves you out of your comfort zone.
Invest in yourself growth, mindset is gold, money follows attention.

I read a quote some days ago on Instagram: “I had to make you uncomfortable, otherwise you never would have moved. – The Universe”. Choose to believe the Universe but make sure to ask “her” the right questions.

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Federica Nardese is an award-winning Italian photographer recognized for her evocative portraiture. She has amassed international acclaim, including a Special Mention at France’s Biennale L’été des Portraits and an associate position with The Portrait Masters International. Federica crafts soulful portraits from her Milan studio, offering transformative experiences to her clients.

She also applies her expertise as a Digital Branding consultant and contributes to outlets like Great Big Photography World. Her work reflects a continuous evolution in artistry and digital communication.

About Federica

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It’s never too late to start something you truly desire.

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