Today we’d like to introduce you to Safeena Padder.
Safeena, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My confession is that I’m naturally a math geek. But I dedicated myself to working really hard at expanding my creative skill set, I bought my first DSLR at 16 (honestly, probably to impress a boy) and haven’t put it down since. Although there was a time after graduating high school that I had to sell my lenses to afford a 1-way plane ticket to California; a new college friend gave me his old lenses my first week of school until I could afford my own! I’m 23 now. What started out as a hobby of snapping photos of my friends getting in trouble on the weekends has since become my profession and ambition. The transition happened probably as a sophomore at Pepperdine University when I was studying abroad in Germany for the year. Traveling most weekends in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa provided a huge opportunity to learn and push myself as an amateur photographer.
I started freelancing the following year, largely second shooting for local artists. After graduating college a year ago (degree in Advertising and Non-Profit Management, photography has been self-taught) I lived in Kenya working as an in-house photojournalist for a non-profit serving street children called Made in the Streets. My good friend David Hutchinson and I also co-produced a film about the students I worked with in Kenya called “How Far I Want to Go” which won the Reelstories Film Festival and will be playing at the upcoming Marina Del Rey Film Festival. While doing that, I was getting a head-start on my wedding photography business (Little Boat Photography) so I could hit the ground running upon my return to the States. I try to balance my work between pretty and gritty–– the Instagram-y wedding and editorial pretties, and the photojournalistic real-life gritties. I recently was in Australia to shoot a gorgeous Pinterest-y beach wedding and 3 months later am currently in France volunteering as a non-profit photojournalist for refugees. It’s a weird dichotomy that I love and hope to keep up. Either way, adventure and a love for the outdoors is always part of the formula.
Has it been a smooth road?
I’m a big believer in failure. I’m not sure exactly where it comes from, but I have it so deeply engrained in me not to lead an ordinary life with ordinary achievements. My standard of contentment is too high for that. Which means I only really go after things that I think (realistically) are just beyond my ability/skill-set/circumstances determined to rise to the occasion. That’s not to say it always works–– actually the opposite. I’ve gotten rejected–– from schools, jobs, potential clients–– more times than I know. That attitude has left me homeless at 18, stranded on (and rescued from) Table Mountain, and- once or twice- dirt broke. Choosing to put myself through school and battling chronic depression was painful, but those obstacles did motivate me to get where I was going with fuller, joy-filled strides.
Being told I’m too young to run a business or travel the world, or not having my job taken seriously by people who are important to me (the Padders are a long line of doctors and my grandma still calls to ask when I’m going to medical school) isn’t fun either, but it’s fuel. All of those bumps along the way have been teachable moments that I wouldn’t take back if I could. The things I’m proudest of about who I am and what I can do wouldn’t exist without those foundational experiences.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Mental balance. When you’re entrepreneurial, work remotely, and love what you do, not thinking about work all the time is crazy difficult. Teaching yourself to have limits or let your business brain take a break is a discipline that I’m still learning. It’s completely necessary, because burnout and anxiety/depression are very real issues for small business owners. I’ve found myself seeking out the 1 spot with cell service while camping out in the most remote area of the Lower 48 because the idea of not responding to inquiries or being there for my clients for 4 days straight just didn’t feel right. Or I’ll be in child’s pose at yoga (which I started so I could work on that mental balance thing!) mentally writing contracts. Remembering that it’s okay, and actually long-term beneficial for your health and business, to step away once in a while has been a huge area of growth for me.
What are you striving for, what criteria or markers have you set as indicators of success?
What I’ve figured out so far is that making a living doing what I love while living in the presence of people I love in a place that I love is the essence of success. Someone asked me if I had work on Saturday and I responded, “No, just a shoot,” honestly without realizing that for all intents and purposes, that is “work” for me. As the saying goes, if you choose a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s all about identifying the lifestyle you want and reverse engineering it. I don’t make the most money, but I definitely have most of the freedoms I’d try to buy back if I did!
Another marker of success that I’m constantly striving for is building a platform of positive influence. I don’t want any success I have to stay in a bubble of my own life; I want it to ripple and become a sphere of influence that impacts both the creative world and social justice needs. For me, it’s not so much about fame as it is about being a thought leader.
What are your plans for the future?
This past year has been all about hitting the ground running as a business. Looking forward, I want my next season to be about instilling a strong element of impact into the work I do in a couple different ways. As a business, I want to partner with an organization that supports a cause I’m passionate about–– child marriage. As an artist and photographer, I want to grow my voice as an advocate for justice issues close to my heart, specifically with a project to empower survivors of sexual assault through photography and also by humanizing the global refugee crisis through photography. I’ve been able to get a head start on the later. I had the opportunity of seeing the Refugee exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography a few weeks ago that set my soul on fire. Partly because of that, I just returned from volunteering as a photojournalist for the little-publicized refugee crisis in Paris. So no big changes per se–– just constant steady growth beyond being another pretty-picture wedding photographer!
- My weddings packages are $2000-$3800
- Website: www.littleboatphotography.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @littleboatphotography.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/littleboatphotography/
- Other: www.safeenapadder.com (blog and full media portfolio)