Kaytlin Dargen has been creating jaw-dropping photos for everyone to see and enjoy for years. This Fargo, North Dakota photographer not only inspires me and my personal photography journey, but creators worldwide.Not only is does she work with musicians (Hot Mulligan, Mom Jeans, Free Throw, Silent Planet) we know and love, she works with couples, seniors, and the world around her.
Dargen is adding a bit of “cotton candy photo” magic to each photo she takes.Kaytlin took the time to speak with me about her photography journey up to this date along with inspiration and tips for other creators in the industry! Read along to learn more about For The Punks’ October Creator of the Month!
Introduce yourself! Tell us about you and your photography journey up to this date.
I’m Kaytlin Dargen, or if you know me from the internet, @kaydargs! I’m a professional photographer from Fargo, North Dakota. I’ve had a camera on me since I was about 12 years old, and I got my formal ‘start’ shooting basement shows and portraits of my friends. My first paid gig was shooting a teacher’s wedding for $250 when I was a sophomore in high school and I went on my first little weekender tour doing photo shortly after. I have made my living my whole adult life running my own portrait and event photography business, and over the last year have started turning a profit from touring/music photography as well. Since I can’t limit myself to one style of photography, I also do fine art and landscape work.
What kind of tips would you give about always staying creative and engaged in photography?
I would say to try and stay away from emulating your idols. Trying to copy those you fawn over just puts you in a tiny box that gets very uncomfortable very quickly, and any success that comes from it won’t feel *right.* Whenever I need out of a rut or have some time between professional work to do some personal work but am stuck in Fargo, I head to the thrift store or the antique store and find objects and clothes that inspire me and create an enticing color palette and concept in my head.
Along with this idea, who and what inspires you to keep going in the photography business?
Coming from a low-income, single-mom childhood, the idea of my mom not having to worry about me is my main driving force behind my work ethic. Talking about photography as a thing I need to ‘keep going’ in is always kind of trip because it’s been the fulcrum of my existence for as long as I can remember, it’s pretty much just an involuntary action like breathing and blinking at this point hahah. But I know I get to say that because I have grown up in such a supportive environment, and for that I am so grateful. Proving those who have been cheering me on for so long right is my biggest inspiration.
What do you think and/or ask yourself before you press the button to take a picture?
Probably ‘oh sh*t I forgot to take my lens cap off I hope no one saw that.’ Or ya know, if it’s for a client I’m silently scanning them and making sure there aren’t any distractions present that we could fix, such as a hair tie on their wrist or a collar laying wonkily. When I’m taking photos for myself or of a band, I’m thinking of what the most enticing image from this scene would look like. I kinda feel like a sniper, first framing the image then patiently waiting for the elements to fall into place.
How has being a photographer changed how you view the world and people around you?
I have always and will always struggle with feeling in the way. When I have my camera on me though, I feel comfortable, like I’m contributing. It has also made me probably weirdly observant. My eyes have turned into heat-seeking missiles for the interesting and overlooked elements of my environment and the people around me.
Out of all of your work in 2019, what has been your favorite picture of all? Can you tell us the story behind the picture?Oh man. So here’s another thing about me as a photographer, I do not particularly care about my singular photos. I take them, and get excited by them, but I never fixate on them like I used to. I’ve realized that what makes me feel like a ‘good’ photographer isn’t a handful of favorite photos, but that I know I can walk into just about any environment and leave with usable, interesting material.
However upon reading this question, the first image to pop into my head was one of the first photos I took of my now-boyfriend. It was just hours after we met for the first time at the Fargo airport in the dead of winter. I brought him to my favorite coffee shop where I spend most of my days editing, and snapped this photo of someone so new and exciting in a familiar environment and it just locked in the butterflies. It’s a special one to revisit, even now when I have literally thousands of photos of him. A lot of them are in exotic and environments more aesthetically pleasing than North Dakota, but the expression on his face that I later learned was that of falling in love, and the feelings I had when pressing the shutter makes that one stand out in a sea of photos from the last year. Those are the types of photos that are accompanied by a feeling that people outside the tiny bubble of that frame don’t need to/really can’t understand or take away from you, and I cherish those.
What’s the most important thing you have learned in 2019?
I’ve been doing the professional photo thing full time for 5 years now, and I think this is the first year where I have given myself the time and space to keep on top of my obligations in a way that doesn’t drain me. The last few years around this time of year, I would be absolutely drowning in work and my hair would be literally falling out and I’d have clients waiting a little longer than ideal to get their photos back, because I was so eager to absolutely pack my schedule and make as much money as possible. Coming from a low-income childhood, the feeling of wanting to maximize and hold onto whatever stability you’re finding for yourself can be overpowering. I’m grateful I grinded in those ways because I’m now able to price higher and take on less and still feel stable, but that really was a stressful stage to navigate. This year I’ve been able to make time to travel and be with loved ones and go on longer tours, and I feel so lucky to be at this point. So, grind hard, but more importantly, grind smart.
If you had to set a goal for 2020 right now, what would it be?Would love to shoot an international destination wedding/elopement or two! Also if I can’t fit it into 2019, make a book.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I guess I just wanna say that no matter how much social media makes it look a certain way, the climb to being a successful photographer is a gruelingly slow and challenging one. My existence as a photographer has been 99% practicing, editing for 10 hours a day, and just trying to be a decent human being and professional that people want to trust their weddings or their portraits or their tour photos with. It is 1% a ~cool~ post on Instagram or Twitter. You gotta truly appreciate that 99% if you’re going to make it.