Secrets to Success in Photography with Katie Levine

By Kyle Wilson

Katie Levine photographed the fashion and celebrity scene in NYC and LA, interned for Annie Liebovitz and Vogue, and made a name for herself through her remarkable talent. Now residing in Phoenix, she’s helping individuals and businesses shine with the same star power that once lit up her celebrity shoots. Whether you’re looking for a new headshot, desire editorial-style personal or family photos, or are a designer looking to showcase your latest collection, Katie’s the one to bring your vision to life. She spared time out of her busy schedule to talk about pioneering FaceTime shoots, what she’s learned working with celebs, how going with her gut has helped her realize her dreams, and how she’ll never stop hustling. 

KW: I haven’t seen you since your wedding. I see that you’re doing a magazine cover for Playgirl and going to DP [Director of Photography] a movie. What else are you doing these days?

KL: A lot changed once I moved to Arizona. I was mostly doing editorial or lifestyle brands or portraitures; it was heavily celebrity-based. As you know - you were my wedding photographer - I got married. During the pandemic, I created FaceTime shoots where I discovered that I could take over someone's phone camera remotely. I do them for companies and for an app with some of the biggest plastic surgeons in the country. The FaceTime shoots kept me afloat until word got out about me here. 

KW: Who's hiring you for a FaceTime shoot? Is that the model, an agency, or a standalone person?

KL: Companies that have gone remote. Also I've done a campaign for Sephora where they wanted before and afters with people who used their products. I did a whole campaign with I Am A Voter. Make-A-Wish Foundation, a lot of the kids are sick and can't get to a photo studio, so it's easy for them to be done in their house. I've worked for a company called Merkle; I did 550 employees for them. Now I'm doing a whole app where I'm doing virtual interviews and virtual photos. It's for anybody who needs a headshot, especially with people who have gone remote. It takes 10 minutes, you can do it with an iPhone, set up a little ring light in your house and then, bam, you've got a new headshot.  

KW: Have you felt any decline in it as COVID has lifted and people are back in the office?

KL: It stays steady. I'm so booked with them that I just have to keep pricing them up, so it's not slowing down. It's taken on a whole world of its own.

To be a photographer, you have to be a hustler

KW: What are your real-life shoots? What do you have going on with that? 

KL: I did that celebrity world for so long. Now, instead of photographing celebrities, how can I bring that star power to everybody else? I've created this thing called Elevate Your Brand with Katie Levine. It's branding shoots that give people content for months. Because social media is the biggest thing with photographers, you have to stay current with the times and now everybody's a celebrity, right? Since everybody is now their personal brand, branding shoots are also my bread and butter. When I started, I was having two grand months here and there, and maybe one month, I'd make $500. But now I'm having consistent $8-$10,000 months. You just make it work. To be a photographer, you have to be a hustler.

KW: It's hustling and a bit of winging it. Do you have an idea in mind for a shoot, and then you get there and abandon that whole concept and move to the next thing, or do you keep a steady flow?

KL: I could go into something completely blind and feel confident I could achieve anything in that room based on experience, not preparation. That just comes with the more you shoot, the better you get.

KW: My confidence and ability to execute within three seconds of seeing it are way more than if I start looking around and coming up with ideas in advance, because the client and I are not organically falling in that direction. I'm better at winging it, which might be my built-in laziness. I've become way better at just being prepared in the moment than I am leading up to it.

KL: It's how you handle those moments and the trust in the relationship that you create with your clients. Knowing when to be decisive enough to move on is key for any photographer. 

Proud moments and learning experiences

KW: What do you think in your current business or creativity is elevating your baseline of good? 

KL: What makes me different as a photographer is my understanding, patience, kindness, and ability. I'm really good at telling if somebody feels self-conscious or uncomfortable. I've flipped that into getting one of their favorite photos of themselves. The ability to relate to people is key. Half of what you're paying me is for my gear, and half of what you're paying for is my personality.

KW: What's been the proudest moment of your career?

KL: I interned for Annie Leibovitz, and as a 22-year-old, that was a dream come true. I started as a production intern, and I volunteered to drive on set and basically do anything to be on set. I was one of the first girls on our photo team in a decade. Every other week, we're doing a Louis Vuitton and then a Vogue cover shoot, and it was so intense.

KW: How big is her team? What's the size of her production team from in-house to photo?

KL: The first shoot, there were 40 to 60 people. That's when I realized it takes an army to create something that beautiful. It was definitely one of the highlights because it pushed me so far. I interned at Vogue and Annie's, and both pushed me further than I ever thought possible, which is also very humbling. I did some of the craziest things in my life, like we did a shoot on a construction site on the 77th floor in New York, which had no windows.

KW: At 22, what a crazy experience to dive into. What's been your worst business decision? 

KL: I've got a whole slew of them. Honestly, I've paid people I shouldn't have paid for things. I hired a girl that used to be my bestie. I had a PR agency, and they charged me two grand for me to basically take pictures of their clients for free. I trusted the wrong people. I gave too much sometimes. I overburdened myself by not scheduling myself properly. And I'm not always the best with contracts. I won't say that every client gets a contract because it's not true. I will say what has bitten me in the ass is not having clear contracts. For VH1, one time, they said we need these 25 images retouched by six in the morning, and we're finishing the shoot at 11 p.m. I should have gotten overtime. 

KW: Contracts are safety, both for you and the other person. Learning experiences come up all the time. One time, I showed up to an engagement session without a memory card, which is so funny now. But at that moment, I was so embarrassed. But you know what? I never forget to have a card now.

KL: It's really nice to hear that both of us have done the same things because it's just human error. I just had a meeting about the movie I'm going to be a director of photography for. It's a feature film. It's probably the biggest thing that's ever happened in my career. Everything has to be so organized on a hyper level.  

Reaping rewards

KW: As things have been going so well, what's been your best business decision? What has rocketed you into the next area?

KL: Moving to Arizona. I stuck with my gut. I love celebrity stuff and am so grateful I did it, but it stopped aligning with my morals. I've got really big faith in God. I've got really big faith in myself. And I really believe in treating people properly. I just want to make sure people are treated with respect. I photographed the Kardashians. Yeah, it's cool, but it ultimately left me feeling lonely. I saw a path of me photographing Yves Saint Laurent ads and whatever, but it was probably going to be with me not being married and not having kids and not having a dog or a stable life. So, moving to Arizona was more of a moral decision. Because I went with my gut, I'm really being rewarded.

KW: Are you doing a lot of personal work? Do you have anything that involves a camera that's personal work? 

KL: The celebrity stuff is still where I get my real tickles, but I'm very particular about who I do it with. It still flutters me in the same way. Then, the movie was like a dream come true for me. So that's more personal work, but I'm definitely in the phase of killing myself for my job now. It's not healthy.

KW: That being said, do you carry a camera with you like on the reg? 

KL: I definitely don't do it just for fun. In Vietnam, I just did my 50-millimeter on a Sony mirrorless. It was cathartic for me. But my actual cameras are a Canon 1DX and two Sony Alpha mirrorless. My job is photography. It's not my hobby. That's what it is.

What is a DP?

KW: What's your problem? What are you working on right now? What's your issue?

KL: Figuring out how to be a director of photography. That's my current issue.

KW: So, walk me through that. I'm a layman, just like the audience here. I don't really know what a director of photography looks like from a creative and tangible logistics standpoint.

KL: I really didn't even know either. Someone just picked me because they were like, I love your vision. You're the director. The director itself actually mostly works with the actors, but the DP is everything that you see in frame, how it's actually shot and how the composition is. Because if you think about it, a movie is just a bunch of photos. I'm trying to learn everything I can about it, but remember to approach it like I want this to be a movie of my photography. I don't know about you, but a lot of my inspiration comes from music videos and films. 

KW: Any movie that I can pause and it looks like a painting or a beautiful image, like the second Suicide Squad movie. Every frame in it is so stunning. So on a day like that where you're saying, okay, we walked into a room, we're setting ambient lights and naturals or whatever it may be, are you the person that's grabbing lights and setting things up, or are you just saying, hey, Bob, that's what I want, make it happen?

KL: They're hiring a cameraman for me. They told me they're getting me a rig so that if I just want to take it, I can go ahead and handhold it at some point. They're hiring a gaffer, somebody who does lighting. Ideally, I would love someone to dump the cards that's not me, but I might end up doing that. 

Back yourself and be adaptable

KW: You've changed and relocated and pivoted your business so many times. It's hard to enter new areas in a creative field when you're already pretty established in one.

KL: I don't know a single thing about film, I don't know about video cameras, but God took me in this direction, right? So if you have faith in yourself and the universe or whatever, just know that something's always got your back. You can do anything in this world. You just have to believe in yourself, and you really have to not give a shit what people think of you. 

KW: I completely agree.

KL: If you're not adaptable and you don't believe in modernity, like for me, I would never be making FaceTime shoots. I've made thousands upon thousands of dollars on FaceTime shoots, which maybe is not my favorite thing to do every day, but I'm doing it for my family. I'm doing it so I can do other passion projects. 

KW: Have you found times in your business where you have to conscientiously seek out learning a new thing because you can be complacent, or are you always trying to eat up new stuff?

KL: Always trying to eat up new stuff, for sure. You never know where something could lead. I always think it's good to be flexible, too. I'm not saying you should lower your standards or anything like that, but sometimes, to do this full time, it takes a little swindling.

KW: The camera opens doorways. 

KL: Exchanges are key. I haven't paid for Botox in four years. I don't pay for stupid stuff anymore.

KW: What's the silliest exchange thing you've done?

KL: I'm just about to take some photos for some matcha protein powder. It's pretty silly, but I like matchas, I'm a vegetarian, and I want it, and I don't want to pay $60 a bag for it. 

KW: That's a pretty good deal.

KL: I'm very determined when it comes to who I want to work with, too. Do you know Joey Valence and Brae? They're basically like the new Beastie Boys. They are going to be popping, and I'm obsessed with them. I straight-up harassed them on Instagram. I was like, let me photograph you. Their team ended up emailing me back. It's not going to work out because of their schedule when they're in town, but I got them to email me back, and maybe it'll work out in the future. If there's anything you want to do, don't expect it to fall on your lap. I'm a very established photographer, and I still am blowing up these guys on YouTube who are fabulous and super talented because I want to work with them. I'll get them to work with me.

KW: I was fortunate enough to write an article for Rangefinder and have the cover a couple of years ago. And it's something I really wanted specifically. I had to email that editor, find them on LinkedIn, find their personal email, and stalk editors of various wedding blogs. A lot of people assume that they just opened an email one day, and they're like, you got a wedding feature. Sometimes, the email does come in, but one out of every 10. For the other nine, you've got to just call, email, and message.

KL: And just be determined. 

KW: Well thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It's so good to finally catch up. I haven't chatted with you since your wedding.

KL: Thank you for the incredible job you did for me and my husband, and thank you for having me here. 

Have you been inspired? Connect with Katie Levine on Instagram (@katielevinephoto) to see her latest work, tips, and stories from her journey. View her stunning portfolio and range of services at

This interview has been edited and condensed. Check out “The Photographer’s Problem: A Narrative Podcast” streaming now on YouTube or Spotify for the full, unedited interview and more inspiring stories with an immersive look into the intricate world of photography.