Featured Photographer: Karen Obrist

Hello Karen. Tell us a little about yourself!
Hi friends! I am a wedding/portrait photographer based out of Seattle, but I was born and raised in good old Nebraska. I have the classic story of falling in love with photography in my high school darkroom, but never actually thought I could make a career out of it. After starting college at UNL, I found it creeping back into my work in art classes and then after seeing this incredible exhibit called The Architect’s Brother at the Sheldon Art Gallery in Lincoln, I was hooked again! I then spent 3 years studying photography at Brooks Institute, and found portraits to be the most compelling, challenging, and incredible way to start my career. Making people laugh is my favorite thing to do and then giving people tangible items from their family, engagement session or wedding, brings it all full circle for me. ProDPI has been my lab of choice since I started school 6 years ago, and I am always so impressed and happy with their customer service and beautiful quality of prints.

Travel is so important to me; whether it’s taking an adventure for an engagement session with my clients, or for personal projects; I can’t get enough of the beauty of the world and never want to be stuck in one spot! Last year I took a 5 week trip to South America that you can see my favorite highlights from here. Wine, good friends and lots of food pretty much sum up my favorite things in life; oh and instagram. It’s my personal diary of my day to day’s since I’m not much of a journal keeper, but as a photographer feel like it’s important to have visual representations of the little things in life to look back on.

What got you into wedding/portrait photography? 
I would say that I found myself fall into it pretty quickly at Brooks, especially because we had one of the greatest portrait photographer teachers around, Tim Meyer. He really molded me into the photographer I am; teaching me how to find the light and that there’s so much more beauty in the world than in a field at sunset, which I found myself shooting in the same spot a lot. I like the challenge of making great portraits at any time of day. With wedding photography in particular, you’re forced to work within time constraints and make the day look consistently beautiful no matter what obstacles are thrown your way lighting and location wise. I love the unknown of the moments you’ll encounter and see on a big day like someone’s wedding.

If and when you have spare time, where do you spend it?
Traveling somewhere new or just something simple like making dinner with friends. I have a weekly tradition with one of my best friends, Stephanie and her husband, Tim, where we eat good food, drink awesome wine and laugh a lot. It definitely is something I look forward to each week and it’s made me a better cook! Anyone that knows me will tell you I’m always going somewhere. This year I have a trip to The Virgin Islands planned and I’m also heading to Spain! Work hard and never let an opportunity to explore ever get in your way because life is too short!

Your most memorable wedding shoot was… 
Oh man, this is a tough one! I think that Megan and Jonni’s wedding in 2012 is still one of my favorites. It was my first backyard wedding in Seattle and I loved everything about it, especially their handmade details and personal touches like the beeswax candles for take-away’s and their high school love notes. I also got to photograph their traditional Chinese celebration the night before the wedding, which was a real treat. What’s even cooler is now they have a little baby and I got to photograph her newborn session! It’s fun that I’ve been able to be a part of their engagement, wedding, and now family photos! They are also two of the kindest and sweetest couples around and trusted me 100% when I didn’t have that many weddings of my own under my belt.


When was the last time you took your camera on a date – just the two of you?
I need to do this more often! I’m actually planning on getting a film camera this year to get back to creating more personal work; most likely a Hasselblad. For me, my iPhone is my day to day camera of choice for my life. Check out my Instagram feed where you can see what I’m up to!

When meeting potential clients for the first time, do you have a ‘meet & greet’ process that you follow to keep things comfortable? 
I definitely have a process, and it starts with email. I have everyone fill out a questionnaire so I can get to know them a little better before we even meet, and from that alone I can usually tell if we would be a good fit or not. I’ll be the first to say that I’m selective about who I take on, because it’s such a personal relationship photographing their wedding, and I want to make sure that we work well together. Then at our meeting, I bring a bunch of prints (from ProDPI of course) and albums so that they can see the tangible element to my photography. It’s so important to see things in print and I love giving clients keepsakes from their engagement session and wedding! I recently saw a quote “Never touch anything with half of your heart” and thought it really summed up my approach to weddings. I go above and beyond for my clients with engagement sessions, helping them put together their wedding timeline, and of course giving them my best on their wedding day. I would say that my clients have a love for travel and adventure like I do, laugh a lot (mostly at me), and usually end up close friends of mine after the day.

What’s the farthest you’ve traveled to shoot a wedding?
Nebraska. Not the most glamorous place, but it’s my home and I love it there. I’ve only been shooting in Seattle for 3 years, and most of my weddings are local, but I definitely WANT to shoot weddings all over. In the US I would love to shoot in San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York… Internationally France and Italy are on the top of my list, but I’m sure Spain will follow as I’m traveling there this winter and will no doubt fall in love. But you name the place, and I’d love to be there to document your love.

How do you approach clients that are on a particular budget?
Everyone has a budget, and it’s important to have one. I always do the best I can to work within people’s constraints, but always am upfront with people on what I would charge for their wedding so there’s no gray area. Like I mentioned before, I’m not the photographer for everyone, but I definitely will always make it a priority in my career to accommodate, within reason, for people who are the perfect fit for me. I believe photography is the most important thing to invest on your wedding day, because after it, all you’ll have left are your memories and your photos, so you want to make sure they are good.

What do you feel is the most important product to include in a wedding package? 
Prints + an engagement session. I know that’s two, BUT I think for me, they are of equal importance. That way we are able to work with each other before the wedding and you can see the art I create for you, and then you get to hold those images in your hands.

Are you a breakfast person? What’s on your favorite breakfast plate?
Are you kidding? I eat breakfast for dinner ALL THE TIME! I am a pretty simple breakfast person, so usually over easy eggs and bacon end up on my plate. I am a sucker for a good biscuit also. What’s the best combination of all those things? Breakfast sandwich obviously!

Where would you go (right now) if you could teleport anywhere in the world?
Paris. It’s by far the greatest city I’ve ever been to, and this time I would take way better photos than I did at 19 when I had no idea what I was doing. A picnic on the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower, with a croissant in hand, would be where I would go first.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for the emerging photographer? 
I have endless amounts of words I could share! Keep shooting and know how to work your camera are definitely the top 2. I 100% believe that education is the most important thing you can do with your career. For me, I was fortunate to go to Brooks, but even since then I’ve surrounded myself with photography. I’ve been lucky enough to learn from Sean Flanigan and Jenny Jimenez from their joint workshop 2 years ago, and have been constantly learning from Heather and Jon from One Love Photo, who I’ve taken a one on one workshop with. They are the most inspiring artists and photographers I know; Jon does pottery for Almeda Pottery and restores, guts and makes old radios new with Mod Radio. Heather has been painting, recently every day, and they are amazing. That alone just shows how important it is to keep feeding your artistic soul. There are endless things to learn and you can do nothing but be open to absorbing and learning from your mistakes and others to help you be better. Growing up in Nebraska, I was taught to be humble, and I hope to always carry that trait with me. Even the greats of the art world had room for growth. Something Tim Meyer taught me when shooting was, “if you think it’s good, turn around.” This helps me always remember to keep moving and playing with light to make unique images. Another huge piece of advice I have for you is to get an accountant and learn as much business stuff as you can. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other photographers in your community and ask questions! The Seattle photographer community has been so good to me and I owe my success to them. Be true to yourself and come up with a style that matches your personality instead of dwelling on making your work just like someone else’s. Someone recently told me that they heard “Don’t compare your year 3 to someone else’s year 10.” This reminds me that building your business takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight, so you have to be patient. Don’t give up if it’s something you love to do! Now go shoot something fun!

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