Success Stories

From filing to photography: Why passion can lead to success

Jessica Rowe
Culture Journalist

Jessica Rowe is a Melbourne-based writer with a passion for not-for-profits, the digital world and making a difference

Jessica Rowe
Culture Journalist

Jessica Rowe is a Melbourne-based writer with a passion for not-for-profits, the digital world and making a difference

For many people, making a leap to running a small business is one of the biggest decisions they’ll make. For Kate Ballis, courage paid off. She’s now one of Australia’s highly sought after photographers

woman taking photograph on camera

It’s a common scenario. Top marks at school equate to a career in law or medicine. That was exactly the path Kate took, accepting one of the few positions to study Media and Law at the University of Melbourne upon graduating in 2003. 

Degrees lead to careers

Although a lover of the academic world and with a hunger to learn, it didn’t occur to Kate that she was actually on her way to becoming a full-time qualified lawyer.

“I was always conscientious at studying, I loved being at uni. [But] I don’t think I really put my mind to the fact that I was studying to become a lawyer, working a full time job, locked up in an office. I was just having fun, and then suddenly, I got to the end of it and I’m doing [law] internships.”

“I didn’t have any lawyers in the family. I didn’t know any young lawyers. I wanted to do media and study arts, and law was a nice add-on.”

Creativity shines through

Kate was always a natural creative. Her love for aesthetics, light and detail is something she would happily talk about for hours. And like a true artist, she practiced whenever she could; weekends, after work, whenever there was a free moment Kate was behind the lens.

Her partner is also a photographer, which fuelled her desire to tell stories even more.

“He started teaching me photography and we would travel together and people started noticing my photos. Some even got published in a Swedish biannual magazine called ‘A Perfect Guide’…this really inspired me to pursue photography as an art form.”

Hard work and perseverance

It wasn’t long before Kate was working two full time jobs. Monday to Friday was spent writing, filing and problem solving at the law firm, Saturday shooting a wedding, Sunday editing, and when she came home from her law job at night, more photography and wedding edits.

“Whenever I was in the common areas [of Rialto Tower], I was just watching the light and thinking ‘This is the most magical light, I wish I was out there taking photos’.”

But after nearly three years of 14 hour days, office life became torture and Kate could no longer ignore her yearning to capture the world around her.  

Passion meets practicality

But Kate was also savvy with business smarts. She continued to practice law whilst establishing her photography business to ensure she could sustain it as a career. It wasn’t until she had 30 weddings booked in, that she finally did it.

What followed was as close to fate as happens in small business. In 2013, a chance meeting with world-renowned photographer, Miles Aldridge gave her the opportunity to intern in London under his tutelage. The experience was invaluable: Aldridge has shot for some of the globe’s most famous fashion designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Paul Smith.

A positive response

Kate was fortunate enough to have the support of her friends and family. Understanding her desire and drive to pursue photography not only as a full time hobby, but as a business, made the transition easier.  The only concerns from those close to Kate, was ensuring she was able to sustain her lifestyle and live comfortably. She also admits it was harder getting a home loan approved without the financial security of full time employment – but after a couple of years of hard work she got it.

“I knew I should have really applied for a home loan whilst I was still at the law firm, but I couldn’t wait a moment longer. I had to get out there and become a photographer.”

By not taking any shortcuts, working two jobs and saving when she could, Kate proved that passion and perseverance pays off.  

The pursuit of happiness

Saying a lot has changed for Kate in the last few years is an understatement. She’s now a fulltime photographer, has shot for cultural colossi such as the National Gallery of Victoria, the Arts Centre Melbourne, The Design Files and Broadsheet. She also runs two businesses: one with her partner, Raspberry Robot wedding photography, and her commercial and editorial company, Kate Ballis.

Change may not be everyone. But for those who persistently dream of something else, or are too scared to take the plunge into the unknown, Kate has some advice, “Absolutely do it! You will not regret it for a moment.”

And Kate’s definition of success has changed too:

“Happiness” she replies with confidence. “Being able to be outside and have a flexible working week. And be able to go travelling at the drop of a hat.”

Kate’s tips for making the switch

  1. Make time. Even if it’s only a few hours on the weekend, practice your craft to ensure it’s what you really want to pursue.
  2. Don’t quit. Keep working at your current job while you build up a client base to help fund your new business.
  3. Intern. Don’t be scared to intern, even at an older age. Internships are great for hands-on training and experiencing your new industry. 

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