An Interview with Commercial Fashion & Advertising Photographer Megan Dendinger
NAPCP: We absolutely love your work! Tell us how you got started in photography.
Megan Dendinger (MD): Thank you so much! My journey started when I decided to stay home, instead of working as a hairstylist (a skill that still comes in handy!) in a salon, after having my first child. At the time, I had Etsy store after Etsy store, where I photographed all of my products. Although staying home with my kids was fulfilling, I am an artistic person and really need to always have some creative venture to participate in. I always enjoyed taking photos but never had thought about becoming a photographer, until one day, a light bulb went on and I decided I was going to be a photographer.
Though I didn’t know much about photography, I was determined. So I worked really hard to learn manual model, read every free thing I could on the internet, practiced and practiced some more and just kept on. Like many of the other photographers you have talked to, my first subjects were my kids; they are still some of my favorite subjects to photograph, of course. I truly love photography so much that I have managed to continue doing it for the last 4 years as a business. I like to think I learn something new every time I pick up my camera, whether that is a new pose, a new way to interact with kids, or something technical.
NAPCP: Your focus is on commercial and editorial work. What is your dream shoot?
MD: I have quite a few, to be honest. One of them is actually coming to fruition soon and I am so excited about it. I am shooting Tutu Du Monde’s first USA campaign for their winter 2016 line. I think I literally squealed … Well, truthfully I do every time I think about it. That was one of my dreams and I am beyond humbled to actually be doing it! Other brands I dream of shooting for are Raspberry Plum, Ralph Lauren, Dior Kids, Mini Boden, so, so many, really! These are just some brands that come to mind right now. I always feel blessed and happy to shoot for any brand!
NAPCP: You do a beautiful job putting together styled sessions that don’t come across as overly stylized. Will you give us a few tips for achieving this look?
MD: I think it takes a little while to find your style with photography, whether that is commercial photography or family photography, etc. I say that for both your actual style and how you style things. I think when it comes to styling, going with your intuition about things is always a good place to start. Studying other photographers or style magazines that you are drawn to, is another good place to start to see what it is you like or dislike.
NAPCP: What is the most difficult challenge you have faced in your photography career? How did you work through it?
MD: I have sat here and thought about this for a while, to be able to give the most honest answer that I can. I think that for me, the most difficult challenge is to push on when I am turned down for something. Whether that is an editorial that I really wanted in xyz magazine or a look book shoot that I would really like to do. I think rejection can be hard for anyone and to be able to move on from that with your head held high can be challenging but also very important. This business can be ruthless, disappointing, but also amazing. It brings me joy to do what I do — to work with the adorable, happy kids that bring great energy to my life — to create something from deep within myself, and to connect with other amazing creatives in my field. Every day is a new day, a new adventure to learn something new and with every “failure” is an important lesson that I try to take wisdom away from.
NAPCP: What is your biggest source of inspiration, currently?
MD: I look for inspiration everywhere, because sometimes, it doesn’t totally ooze out of my brain like I would like it to. I look at vintage magazines, books I am reading to my kids, great kids fashion magazines like Babiekins, Milk, Vogue Bambini, big fluffy clouds, gazing out the window of my car…literally everywhere you can think of. You never know what will pop into your head when you least expect it. I bounce ideas off of creative friends sometimes and sometimes it takes that to really build a solid idea, and sometimes not.
What is your ideal location for a shoot?
MD: I would love to travel to different areas of Europe and across the States to find new places I have not shot. Castles come to mind. Rolling hills, fields, beautiful sunsets, urban streets with tall buildings…as long as I have my camera and have some light, I can find a place to shoot. I guess I should say my ideal location is anywhere with a cute kid with cute clothes and a fun location. I love colorful places, beautiful places, weird places … lots of places. Ha!
NAPCP: It goes without saying that you’ve photographed many, many children! We all know children are hilarious; can you tell us about any particularly funny moments or shoots?
MD: Hmmmm, there is almost always something worth laughing about at every shoot. Whether that is because I am laughing at the hilarity of what is happening with the kids or because I am laughing because I am having such a hard time with a particular kid. I laugh at both, because life is funny that way. At a recent commercial shoot for a look book, we were having a particularly difficult time with the size 2t boys … because well 2 year olds’ temperament changes every few minutes, haha. We had this adorable easy going little girl there as well. We still had two boy outfits to shoot but decided to put them on her. One was a very gender neutral outfit and the other was swim trunks. For the swim trunks, we covered her face with a prop and put her hair under a hat, and voila — instant boy for the shots we still needed to get done, while our cute boy models were laying on the floor crying or running circles around us. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of my models, even on their harder days, but sometimes you just need to do what you need to do to get the job done and it ends up working out beautifully.
NAPCP: Other than your camera and lenses, what is your favorite photography-related tool?
MD: That would be a reflector, Photoshop, and Lightroom. Sometimes you just really need a reflector! I couldn’t do without Photoshop or Lightroom, as I don’t shoot film, so those are musts for me.
NAPCP: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
MD: My dad used to tell me “anything that is worth working for, is worth working hard for”. I truly think that if you want to be great at something, you have to put your all into it. It has to come from a place of passion and love, and you have to want to work for it and be okay with failing, because those closed doors help to guide you on the right path.
MD: Tell us about your break into commercial and editorial photography.
Did I break into that? I guess I did! I knew that is what I wanted to do, so I worked toward that goal. I was first a family and child creative portrait photographer, with an emphasis on fine art … which I still love, by the way. It was probably when a company I shoot for a lot asked me to be their main photographer and shoot for all of their printed catalogues and in store signage, that I felt like a real commercial photographer. Then again, I believe in “fake it before you make it” because it makes your mind set there already and it makes it easier for you to do what is necessary to get where you want to go.
NAPCP: What advice do you have for child and family photographers who want to tap the commercial and editorial market?
MD: My advice is if that is something you really want to do, go for it!
I always think it is a good idea to follow your soul goals. There is a long stretch of doing photos for trade, and not making any money when you first start though, so you need to be prepared for that. There are always companies that don’t have a budget for a photographer that are more than happy to trade their samples for your work. Start reaching out and making connections with companies and other creatives that are also breaking into the field.
Megan Dendinger is based in Southern California, but also travels for her work worldwide. She is a nationally published, award winning creative kids commercial, advertising, fashion and editorial photographer.
Megan’s head shots: Savan Photography / Edited by Megan Dendinger
napcp contributor meet Katie Mitchell
About the Contributor: Katie, our Editorial Manager, is our wordsmith and communications extraordinaire! After college and graduate school, she worked in the nonprofit world, and briefly in politics. She realized she'd be quickly burned out, and started writing for various lifestyle websites. Before landing at NAPCP, Katie shot product photography for Etsy shops and other small business owners. Katie also works with Pinterest, as a member of their Pinfluencer team. She is passionate about making the world a happier, more beautiful place! Katie lives for her husband and two children, updating their totally 90's home, and finding joy in the small things. Even washing dishes.
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