Madi Atkins is a COM alum who has combined her background in advertising with her passion for photography, to become a successful entrepreneur based in NYC. She provides professional photos, videos, and content creation packages for editorial and lifestyle fashion brands that are regularly displayed in high-visibility media placements. In our conversation, we discussed important moments for her at BU, what it was like to become her own boss, and how she’s found success with her business at such a young age.
Jessica Zagorski: Were there any courses or professors from your time at BU that helped you get to where you are now?
Madi Atkins: The most useful knowledge I gained from BU definitely came from Professor Boches’ classes and the advertising program in general. In his creative development and portfolio classes, I learned a lot of the skills that I use for the business and creative marketing aspect of my job—whether it’s creating a proposal to attract new business or developing a concept for a video campaign. Not many photographers come from a marketing/advertising background, and understanding the backbone of creative advertising has allowed me to refine my skills as a photographer and integrate those tactics into my shoots and campaigns.
JZ: I read that you currently run your own photography business in New York City. Can you tell me a little bit about it and how you came to start it?
MA: I do! I’ve been running my own business for about two and a half years. I worked on a more freelance style basis for Brandy Melville when I was in college and I liked the flexibility that I had to manage my own schedule and pursue other projects on the side.
When I graduated from college, however, I wanted to get a full time job, so I worked in-house for a fashion house as a head content creator for about 7 months and created pretty much all of the photo, video, and social content for the brand. I loved the experience working there and I learned a lot, but like most jobs in fashion, I was working long hours and doing many different tasks. I wanted to grow my skills and name as a photographer rather than working under another person’s brand, and I wanted more variety in my clients and projects as well as flexibility in my schedule to travel and work.
JZ: What does a typical day look like for you? Do you have a certain routine or is there always something new popping up?
MA: I have somewhat of a routine, but there’s definitely always something new going on. I usually work from home in the mornings and catch up on emails, organize files, scheduling—all the day to day business stuff. Then depending on the day, I usually head to the office to edit, to a client meeting, or to shoot if I’m doing a small shoot. If I’m shooting a full day shoot like a campaign or lookbook, I’m on set sometimes as early as 6:30 and I’m there all day until we wrap around 6:00 p.m. However, these shoots usually only occur once or twice a month.
After a full work day I usually take some personal time and then I spend at least an hour every night to mood board, find inspiration, and keep myself creatively refreshed. Often times I also work late into the night as it’s good time to get solid editing done without the interruption of emails or texts.
JZ: What has been the most difficult part of the process for you within your career?
MA: The most difficult part of the process for me with my career is finding balance in the business side and creative side. The creative side is obviously what drives me and where my passion comes from. There’s no better feeling than holding a lookbook that you conceptualized, directed, shot, and edited and seeing your ideas literally come to life. However, while being a visionary is amazing, I also have to be a business-minded leader and put almost equal time into the business and operations side of my company if I want to be my own boss. This also means being practical with my creative visions and adjusting them to meet my client’s audience and needs. It’s just about finding a balance between creativity and commerce.
JZ: Your website shows an impressive client list with brands like Bebe, Topshop, and Stila. How did you acquire so many important players in the industry?
MA: Thank you! Honestly, it’s all about networking and putting yourself out there. New York is amazing for that because it’s such a small city, but also highly concentrated with so many amazing industry players and contacts, especially in fashion. Almost all of my clients at this point are through word of mouth referrals. When you create good work and are easy to work with, people remember.
I also think social media and staying on top of innovation in your industry is super important. I think it just shows that if you pay attention to your industry and adapt with new technology—rather than trying to resist change (as many photographers do)—it’s much more likely you will work with bigger accounts because they’re interested in advancing with new developments as well.
JZ: Do you have a favorite project that stood out to you?
MA: My favorite project to date was probably my first lookbook shoot with my client, Show Me Your Mumu, a popular lifestyle women’s brand based in LA. I got hired to shoot their lookbook in Tulum, Mexico just a few months after I quit my full-time job and the whole thing was a dream. Between the wardrobe, the models, the styling, the location, the way I was shooting— I can’t describe it, but there was an incredible synergy that everyone on set felt. That shoot was so beautiful and powerful. It really made me love shooting fashion because I just watched the garments come to life and how they gave the models this sharp confidence that provided an incredible energy.
I’m extremely proud of those photos and the lookbook that came out of it. I never felt for a second during that shoot that I was sacrificing my creative ideas to fit a commercial mold. It felt like a test shoot, not a client shoot. That was an amazing project.
JZ: Looking back, is there anything that you wish you knew then that you know now?
MA: I just wish I spent more time working on the proper structure and organization for my business before I started it. I got booked on a few big campaigns right when I went freelance and I didn’t put as much time as I should have setting up all the logistics and organization for my new company. As a result, I had to spend a lot of time and work later to re-organize and get more structure in place. I was super eager to begin working, but it’s important to go slow and take your time with everything you do. It’s exciting to be able to do what you love, but you always need to be checking yourself!
JZ: What do you see for the future of your business? Do you have any specific goals or milestones that you’d like to accomplish?
MA: Since the industry is always changing, it’s hard for me to define the exact future or milestones for my business. I could say I want to shoot the cover of Vogue, but that would probably take me at least 5 more years of hard work and for all we know, Vogue might be a coverless magazine in 5 years. I want to expand my reach – get some work in Europe and maybe come back and work more in Australia (I’m here now shooting a lookbook). I’d also like to break into more of the high fashion market and eventually maybe get my own photo studio in NYC.
JZ: Is there any other advice you’d like to share that you’ve found from your experiences?
MA: I always knew I wanted to be a photographer, but I remember when I was in college I had tried a bunch of other things because I didn’t think it was realistic to make a living as a photographer, let alone in the fashion industry. After I took a semester off and backpacked, (I overloaded on classes beforehand so I could still graduate on time) I realized that anything was possible and there was no point in not trying to achieve my dreams. I think it’s important to trust yourself and always give your dreams a shot, even if they seem super out of reach.
To view more of Madi’s work, you can check out her website at: https://www.madiatkins.com/
Jessica Zagorski, Staff Writer
Jessica Zagorski is a senior at Boston University majoring in public relations. As an avid city lover, Jessica hopes to move to NYC or London to pursue her dream of working at a fashion publication. You can typically find her exploring style blogs, smiling at dogs, or behind the lens of her camera.