Lisa Haukom entered a new stage of her life when she moved from Los Angeles to Oregon at age 47 with no plan – except to start fresh. What started as an exploratory creative project eventually grew into The Goldenbrand, a photography studio that specializes in portrait, lifestyle and editorial photography – all captured with her iPhone camera. Haukom also offers virtual photography classes and courses such as Self-Portrait Studio, which is designed to help women gain confidence through the art of self-portrait photography.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
Tell us more about why you started your business.
I want to make professional photography more accessible and help women see their inherent worth and creative voice through the art of self-portrait photography. In 2020, I opened The Goldenbrand Photography Studio, where I conducted intimate virtual photoshoots for those looking to feel seen, valued and treated to a unique photography experience, either in the comfort of their own home or dream photography location.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
I shoot images exclusively on my iPhone and work with clients virtually to capture digital imagery for their personal brands. In my membership program, where I teach women to love, heal, and trust themselves through the art of self-portrait photography, I have a strict “no selfies allowed” policy. Instead we see ourselves as we truly are, through the back camera lens.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
We just celebrated the first-year anniversary of the Self Portrait Studio. What started as a small, self-paced course called “Confidence on Camera” has grown into a movement and membership called the “Self-Portrait Studio.” When I sat alone in my bedroom taking those initial self portraits years ago, I had no idea my personal experience would develop into something worth sharing with others. I could not have predicted how it would transform the self perception and self love of so many women. I have found so much joy in watching the studio find its groove over the past 12 months, made stronger and more abundant by each of the 100 women who have passed through its (virtual) doors.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
I have worked with a freelance marketing and PR agency to help craft The Goldenbrand and my personal brand, Lisa Haukom. Scaling a business is tricky for a photographer as there are only so many shoots we can schedule in a week. I am able to help more women with their digital image needs through the “Self Portrait Studio” and by offering consulting to those that don’t need photos, but rather, creative direction and strategy. Building awareness of the studio has also been a challenge since everything I do is virtual, from the photo shoots to the “Self-Portrait” membership.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
I had just closed down my clothing line and moved from Los Angeles – where I lived for over 20 years – to a very rural, remote property in coastal Oregon. No friends, no family, no roots, no plan. I had also just turned 47 and the question of “What’s next?” was keeping me up at night. Do I do what the women in my family have always done at this age: shop, lunch and bump cocktail hour up earlier and earlier? Do I accept the narrative that I am past the point of making significant contributions in the world – that my midlife voice is not worth listening to?
I didn’t know it at the time but “what’s next” turned out to be the discovery of my life. Literally my life, myself — my purpose. I was just playing, following my curiosity, finally getting to know the woman I see ever-evolving and changing in the mirror, faster than I can possibly keep up. I always assumed there would be plenty of time to get to know her, or that one day I would wake up a self-actualized, strong woman who knows who she is and what she wants from life. That was the moment I realized it wasn’t going to happen on its own, and it was time to start really seeing myself.
It started out a little lonely – just me, in my bedroom, with a tripod and a camera. At first I didn’t tell my family what I was doing. I felt so ashamed and fearful of being judged by them, by you, but mostly by myself. Sitting with myself in this way, I felt so exposed and vulnerable. I wasn’t taking these pictures for anyone else – they were for myself. As I continued though, I felt less lonely, and I was getting used to seeing myself through the lens. I also liked what I saw. I saw me. Not the version for everyone else – daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend – just me. Just Lisa.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
My best advice would be to ask for what you want, not just what you think is possible. I wasted so much time being quiet in the beginning. Many of the disappointments I’ve experienced in the past happened because I was too nervous, too shy and too insecure to ask for what I really needed. Back then, I took fewer risks because I trusted myself less.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
Staying inspired has never really been an issue for me. My problem is having too many ideas and a desire to experience them all at once. It also helps that I’m finally, after many careers, doing what I love. Often working weekends and late into the night to feed all of my passions: writing, photography, food, and interior design. It feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to experience everything.
I cannot underestimate the importance of finding novel stimuli and experiencing new environments, ideas and people. Especially people, who are one of my favorite sources of inspiration. I’ll often dive into a biography or road trip to a nearby town, taking in a pretty walk around the city. I love great design, and if you look around, it’s everywhere. From a funky old sign to flea markets —beauty can be found in the most obscure objects. When I feel burnout on the way, I know it’s time to expand my immediate world and get inspired elsewhere. It works every time.
What is your go to song to get motivated on tough days?
Anything on my Spotify Studio Playlists. I’m really into these tunes right now.
Who is your most important role model?
I have so many! Women who are 30-to-50 years old and in their second-life are inspiring to me. I adore listening to the podcast Second Life by Hillary Kerr. All of her guests fit this profile, and hearing their stories is always so expansive – it shows me what is possible for my business and brand. ◼