Catonsville photographer shoots to meet needs of variety of customers

Kathleen Hertel never imagined owning her own photography studio.

But now that she does, she's grateful she no longer needs to travel to "every Panera Bread in the Maryland area" to meet customers.

Attracted to Catonsville's community feel, the native of West Point, N.Y., opened her studio on Bloomsbury Avenue in early March for part-time hours.

Inside the studio, which opens full-time in May, Hertel offers family and student, pet and boudoir photography, which features the subject in sensual poses.

The studio gives Hertel flexibility to meet the wide range of requests her clients throw at her.

It also reduces the chance she will need to improvise, like the time she had to go into her basement and inflated an air mattress in order to photograph a client for a boudoir portrait.

Despite the unromantic props and setting, Hertel called some of the photos from the session among her favorites.

Hertel took up photography as a hobby as a freshman in high school but intended to major in zoology, she said.

"(Photography) kind of ended up being my back-up plan. I tried zoology and failed miserably," she said with a laugh. "I kind of decided that I could get a degree in photography and do other things with my life."

After graduating from Towson University with a photography degree in 2004, Hertel began her post-college life working at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. in event management.

While there, Hertel continued to do some photography. She had started shooting weddings professionally in 2004.

"I can't draw. I can't paint. I can't do anything artistic in that sense. But I can develop a photo into how I want it to look," Hertel said. "I like to think outside the box and see what else we can do."

An open mind led Hertel to accept the challenge of creating a portrait of a rat. A photo from that session is among those featured in her new studio, between those of a dog and a cat, which are the most popular animals clients want photographed.

Hertel drew the line when a client asked her to photograph a snake, but said she would consider it if given the opportunity again.

Even with her new base of operations, Hertel, who lived in Catonsville for two years before moving to Linthicum in 2009, doesn't expect that to make up a majority of her business.

That should come from weddings, which she has been shooting solo until 2006.

Hertel moved back to Baltimore County and did event management at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Shortly thereafter, she took the leap and became a full-time wedding photographer.

At the 30 weddings she has averaged a year for the past three years, Hertel averages 5,000 photos per wedding. She has worked as far away as Jamaica, she said.

The wedding referrals have multiplied her business, she said.

"My brides started having kids, and that got added on. And people were like 'Hey can you photograph my pets?' and that got added on," Hertel said.

More business could be in the future as this wedding season may be her first photographing a same-sex couple, said Hertel, who married her husband, Jason Ricker, in November.

Hertel said she has waited for this opportunity since 2010 when talk about same-sex marriage in Maryland picked up.

Sensing that the state would pass a law permitting same-sex marriage, Hertel submitted her website for review by "So You're Engayged," a website that offers same-sex couples the opportunity to find LGBT-friendly wedding-event oriented companies.

According to the website, a photography company is certified only if it meets certain standards.

Those standards include a four-star rating on a third-party review site, support for gay marriage and the lack of non-gender neutral language, such as bride and groom, on the company's website.

"When I found (So You're Engayged), I wanted to make sure people knew I was gay-friendly and more than happy to shoot anyone in love," Hertel said, who displays the certification she received on her web page.

According to the website, only about a dozen photographers based in Maryland have that designation, with several of those in the Baltimore area.

On March 1, Gov.Martin O'Malleysigned into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland.

Hertel is currently talking with a same-sex couple about their wedding and said she does not expect photographing her first same-sex marriage to differ from any of the other weddings she has recorded.

"It's two people in love. It doesn't matter who they are," Hertel said. "Same exact mushy photos. Same exact cool photos. Everything would be the exact same."

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