Women We Love: Karen Woo

It’s difficult to know for sure if what you do is your calling in life. I think we should work, serve, and be productive – that’s our calling, but to be productive in what, that’s the fun part that we get to figure out. Photography gives me fulfillment because I love building relationships with people: I got to shoot a lady who was born without an ovary and growing up, she always felt ugly. She came to me to take a glamour portrait, so we styled her, shot her, and throughout that process, she just felt loved and beautiful. After she saw the photos, she was so emotional she wrote to me saying, “Even paying for a psychology session would not amount to what you just did for me in those two hours. I felt like a woman, and you made me feel so special”. Those are the moments I know I am living out my calling.

I moved to Melbourne right after I got married. We were both incredibly inspired by our wedding photographer and that sparked my interest to pursue photography. I thought of attending a course, but I thought, you know what, I’m going to try this on my own, let me play around and practise because I already had the interest – that’s crucial. 

When we were doing this part-time, my hubby and I were also seeing a life coach and he said “Are you ready to take a leap of faith? If this is what you want, why not consider the option of committing full-time? It’s a risk, but there’s always going to be risks involved.” 

So we made up our mind that we can do this, by faith, I quit my job at 31 years old. Before that I had been in IT for 8 years. IT seemed like a more promising and sustainable path and I did love it, it taught me to think with a corporate and business mindset, balanced with my creativity which photography was an outlet for. But I enjoyed
photography so much I couldn’t help asking myself, why am I not committing to this full time and letting my creative mind flourish? I think you can’t have one foot in each boat, whatever you choose to do, be 100% committed to that. My advice? Believe in yourself

your service or product, and the value you can bring – hold true to that and you can succeed in whatever you do. You’ll never move forward when you’re doubting yourself. Talking to someone can help, surround yourself with supportive people -my husband and family, they’re always telling me to go for it; they’ve seen my hard work and the fruit I’ve cultivated.

Fill your life with the right people, positive friends – don’t get stuck comparing yourself to someone else and feeling negative.

Don’t take Instagram at face value – it wasn’t easy getting to where I am today.

If you want to be taken seriously, be yourself.

When I started being myself out in the field, I was able to be authentic to cultivate genuine rapport and relationships with the people I met and worked with. Be business-minded, but not in a sly way; do things with purpose. You can build networks by building relationships, then people want to share your contact and portfolio with others, and it starts from there.

That’s when brands started reaching out saying they liked my work and inviting me to events. But I choose my partnerships carefully and stay loyal – I’m not about dipping my foot in and saying “See you later”, I believe in building beautiful friendships even in partnerships.

Social media played a massive part, especially Instagram. But focus on developing your own skills, no one will bother if you’re self-taught as long as they like your work. Be choosy about what to work on, make sure those projects help you grow and expand your skill-set; you won’t learn by doing the same things.

If you’re trying to teach yourself photography, the first step is to actually pick up a camera – it doesn’t have to be the most advanced (I started with a film compact); but keep practising with that, test it under different light, on different subjects until you can say “I’ve mastered this”, then move on. Wedding photography can be a great place to start because it really challenges you. It taught me so much about lighting, dealing with clients, posing people, working under
stressful situations, lighting and off-camera flashes, all of which built the foundation that helped me grow into fashion photography. If you’re in a creative block, take a break and walk away. You can’t sit there trying to force it. Talk to someone you trust, who won’t put you down – it’s always useful to have a sounding board to bounce ideas. I also love Youtube and Pinterest for inspiration: I’ll see something and try it out, being self-taught really just means being willing to try things and give it a go. Also, try to work with different people who are able to give you feedback that build you up and help you improve.
On Juggling Career & Family
A big part of why I switched to fashion photography was to protect time with my son. Weekends are for family, I want to be able to bring him to ride his scooter or go rollerblading. On weekdays I try to pick him by 330pm instead of leaving him in after-school care. Sometimes work will get in the way, but as long as he knows I want to make sure he is okay.

Having a good relationship with my husband is vital. We respect each other’s space to pursue our own passions. It’s like a trade, he looks after our son when I’m gone for shoots, and I step in when he’s away. We have a good routine as a team – which is why I choose to work on what we have rather than expand our family. I choose not to delve into something new if I know that it might take away from something I’m currently invested in. At the end of the day, I think that’s what being 100% committed really means.


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