When Florence Catania was given a camera by her husband, she immediately fell in love with the art of photography. Though she had a successful career working in Silicon Valley, she began entertaining the idea of starting her own business, having a more flexible schedule to spend time with her family and pursuing her passion full time. After studying portraiture and the industry she decided to take the plunge and Florence Catania Photography was born. Today Catania is supporting her family full time working as a professional portrait photographer, capturing headshots for professionals, entrepreneurs, actors, children and families. Today the Pebble Beach, California-based entrepreneur is continuing to hone her craft while also working to expand her portfolio of clients, creating timeless and elegant portraits for them.
Catania’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
I spent years working for a large Silicon Valley company. I did enjoy my job but something was missing. When my first daughter was born in 2003, she was very inspiring to me and made me fall in love with portrait photography. My husband gifted me a beautiful camera when my second daughter was born in 2005, and my passion grew considerably stronger. I was working long hours, commuting to work on a motorcycle, and often missed bedtime. I was dreaming of starting my own business because it would enable me to have a flexible schedule and be independent. I was constantly thinking about what I could do to get to this point.
One evening, I was at work, working late in my cubical. A friend of mine sent me a link to a gallery of photos. She told me that a photographer came to her house to take portraits of her son. It was that exact evening that I decided that portrait photography was what I was going to do.
It was very liberating. I spent countless nights after work researching the industry, evaluating my technical skills, studying photographers’ websites, looking for mentors, practicing with friends etc. Having a supportive husband was priceless.
When I quit my job about 8 months later (I needed an exit plan, we also had to make sure that we could do it financially) I was able to stay home, worked all day. I could pick up the girls, have family dinners everyday. When my children were sick it was not a big deal to stay home. My husband didn’t have to run anymore to pick up the girls, and could focus on his career. It was a win-win. Despite the hard work, I never looked back.
How do you define success?
The definition of success is a very personal thing. To me, being successful is to be able to find your “life’s task”, something that gets you excited when you wake up in the morning. Something that challenges you and enables you to perfect your craftsmanship, day after day. Success is to be able to reach a point where you are confident in your expertise without ever getting bored. This is why continuing to learn is a must, and a rewarding investment. Success is also about feeling good so we can actually put energy in our work, and use that energy to enjoy activities outside of work. Success is accepting the fact that we can’t succeed all the time, and being able to bounce back. It is also getting the satisfaction of seeing happy clients, giving them something they could not have had unless they came to visit you.
Tell us about your biggest success to date.
My biggest photography success is that after ten years of experience, I can call myself a professional photographer. Although I am constantly learning, I have confidence in my skills, my creativity, and in the way I connect with my subjects.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
My biggest challenge was to be able to think technically and artistically during a photo session. You have to constantly juggle with both sides of the brain (analytical vs. artistic). I have to say that in general, I do enjoy the complexity of the process. To address it, I had to identify my strengths and weaknesses: I knew I had an eye, and I knew that I could meaningfully connect with my subjects. The technicalities needed to be flawless too: the lighting, the exposure, the post-processing. I needed everything to work in order to make my vision a reality. I took many classes and attended workshops, and still do to this day. If you have challenges to address, you have to do it step by step, be willing to put in the work, or delegate if at all possible.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
I suddenly lost my husband in 2015. I was left with my then 9-year-old and 12-year-old daughters. I thought that I would never be able to take another photograph again. I ended up moving to another region in 2019. This life-shattering event led me to a new perspective that it was more than a passion, but a real purpose to continue to create emotional, impactful portraits.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Don’t lose sight of yourself when you start, it’s easy to do when you have millions of things to do. Remember to eat well, set up a fitness routine and then focus on your work. If you feel good, the rest will follow.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
In books and movies, or by simply going for a walk.
Who is your most important role model?
I aspire to have the same drive and tenacity as my mom. From a young age she showed me that hard work paid off, and that being independent was important.