Nadine Brandt, mother of two, left her corporate career of 15 years in Asset Management, to follow her passion for photography. Talented and driven, within a year, she has established a thriving and successful photography business, Nadine Brandt Photography, where she can control her working hours to better suit the needs of her young family. She took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about the transition, and to let us in on her version of the work-life-family juggling act…
Photography by the phenomenally talented Demelza Lightfoot Photography
Thank you so much for talking with us Nadine! Let’s start with, who lives in your house?
Lots of girls and my husband. My daughters are two and four years old, and new house guests come in on a regular basis. Currently we have lots of new guests from Playmobil county – mostly princesses, dragons and knights.
Tell us about your childhood.
I grew up in the former East of Berlin, Germany, with my parents, as an only child. I had a wonderful childhood and my parents gave me lots of freedom to explore. Back then we had no telephone, no car and I was wearing mainly handmade clothes tailored by my father – often overnight – as one of his beloved hobbies. When arriving in West Berlin in 1987, my main concern as a child was about the difference in tastes such as sweets. I loved school and sports.
“Beauty and love, exhaustion and chaos, come hand in hand.”
Describe your home.
We are actually currently on the move. This time, into our own family home in Richmond, London. We are an open house, we love to have guests. The girls share a bedroom and have done so since the little one was five months old. They love it.
What are your mornings like?
Mornings differ quite a bit depending on weekdays or weekends. During the week, I get up around 6.30am, a bit ahead of the girls to get myself ready, start breakfast and grab a cup of tea. By 7am, “Mama cuckoo” echoes through the house and I had better have the bottle of milk ready for the little one when I walk into her shared bedroom or else! By 8am, my patience levels bottom out as we need to leave the house, which is often a squash and a squeeze with a two year old. I’m grateful to have these mornings with them.
What has motherhood taught you?
How crazy life can be! Beauty and love, exhaustion and chaos, come hand in hand. One moment is full of laughter, the next full of tears. And you are in charge of everything!
Motherhood is powerful and complex. It shows me my limits, as my strengths and weaknesses are truly tested every day.
It also gave me a better understanding of what I personally value most. Setting priorities got easier, professionally and privately.
“Prior contributions seemed to have been forgotten.”
Did you take time off work when you had your family?
Prior to starting my photography business, I worked for 15 years in asset management, both in product development and as a product specialist. I was lucky to be able to take 12 months of maternity leave with both of my girls. It was an amazing and exhausting time, during which we formed the most wonderful friendships and really grew as a family.
Returning to work the first time around was emotional for me, but went very smoothly overall, even though it meant hitting the ground running. After just a couple of days back from maternity leave, I flew to Europe to present at a client meeting. While my manager was very supportive overall, I just made it work. I was used to pushing things through and made myself do what needed to be done.
“It filled me with sadness to experience how inflexible the corporate world can be.”
Re-entering the second time around was different. It mainly created a feeling of being less valued. Prior contributions seemed to have been forgotten. No flexibility was offered initially, and this had an impact, as I started questioning what value I was getting in return for how I was spending my time.
I remember that it filled me with sadness to experience how inflexible the corporate world can be for families and professional women who are strongly committed to work. Often, just a little bit of flexibility is required to retain someone previously highly regarded, and to increase someone’s motivation and commitment even further.
From today’s point of view, I feel liberated. It set thought processes in motion which would not have occurred otherwise. I returned into my previous role for three months, after which I resigned and started my own business the very next day.
How do you manage your work around the children?
When it was time to return to work after my first daughter was born, we chose to send her to a full-day nursery, one to two days per week, and employed a nanny to cover the remaining days. My husband and I both had to leave the house very early for a long work day, so we needed the full time coverage.
Three years later, we are still lucky enough to be able to employ a mixture of nursery care and a nanny. Luckily, in a less pressured and time consumed way than before, given that I have more flexibility now that I’m running my own business. While my work ethic hasn’t changed – I do love working – I can do it all at my own pace and my job is very rewarding.
“Use your newly gained strengths to your advantage. Don’t be shy to ask and push!”
What are your best tips for other working mums about to re-enter the work force?
If returning from maternity leave, use maternity coaching options to learn about what your company can offer you. And look for a mentor!
I strongly believe that returning mums gain more decision making power and efficiency in whatever they do. Don’t feel misplaced when you return, as the organisation and colleagues around you may seem to have lived in a time capsule, while you had a major life changing experience. Use your newly gained strengths and consciousness of the value of your time, to your advantage. Don’t be shy to ask and push!
Also, if you are yet to start maternity leave, write down a few thoughts about your current role. What do you enjoy about it, what are your strengths and hopes for your job? When it’s time to return to work, reading those thoughts may remind you about how good you were at what you did, how professional and strong. It may help you in your conversations with your management team.
You now run your own photography business which is a far cry from Asset Management! Tell us about that journey.
I love photography and started to really teach myself after my first daughter was born. Every minute of my free time was spent with photography in mind, learning the camera, editing, studying light, being creative with different genres and course work. I brought my camera everywhere and still do.
Friends with growing families asked me to take pictures of their children, families, birthdays, pregnancies etc. Then, friends of friends knocked on the door, and so on. The circle got wider and wider and I enjoyed the new challenges and interaction with people so much. Now I can look back to 50 families which I’ve had the pleasure of photographing in 2017 and many great commercial photography opportunities too. I’m extremely thankful for all the support and acceptance received.
How did you make the jump?
I looked for help in getting my conflicting thoughts about work and organisation of family life in order. Kath became a personal mentor during this time and allowed me to break through this vicious circle myself, by simply asking great questions and providing examples of how you can organise your life and priorities.
In addition, I started to listen to my intuition, and the inner urge to make a big shift in my life and to not let others dictate my schedule and daily routine anymore. As a mother, being in charge of the complexity of a family, different schedules, your children’s lives – I felt that going back into a rigid work structure for myself seemed like a setback.
“It was an “aha” moment for me.”
When did you first become interested in photography?
During my childhood, cameras and video cameras always played a role in our house. I loved to go on bicycle rides through the city of Berlin with my father’s SLR camera. My hobby became more serious during my first pregnancy and more so, when my first daughter was born. I did online photography courses, studied manual exposure and light, took pictures and edited in Photoshop and Lightroom every single day – purposefully and in a documentary style.
I remember my husband pointing out one evening that I spent every second of my free time on photography. It was an “aha” moment for me.
What do you love about what you do?
I love the fact that I can create something every day. But more than that, being a family photographer, there is something very fulfilling about it. The meaningful connections, emotions, and the very personal product that I’m able to create for a client. It makes my heart sing.
What has been your best career moment to date?
Oh, I can think of several. But the best moments are when clients send you their feedback (or flowers!) telling you that they absolutely love the images! That the pictures and videos brought tears to their eyes and that these will be special memories for them to treasure.
What is your ‘at work’ drink?
Nothing too fancy I’m afraid – I love having a coffee – almost more for the fact that there is one sitting in front of me, rather than drinking it. Maybe I should put a photo of one on my desk?
“I love Monday mornings again!”
Do you have a funny ‘parenting fail’ moment you’d like to share?
They are so funny, that I’m afraid, I can’t share them here. Ask me at the next photo session in private!
Describe your version of work-life balance?
I think work-life balance comes in those little moments and little pockets of time that give you the feeling of achievement, fulfilment and happiness. As long as these moments are coming, you can call it balance. As I am in my first year of business and I love to work, I definitely prioritise work at the moment. But then, I love my job, and I love Monday mornings again!
Describe three things you can’t live without in the day.
My family, my camera, my laptop…
Do you have a recent discovery that you love?
I finished a film workshop in January 2018, and fell in love with this medium. I have now created a few family films and one for a big school event. To have a short film capturing your family connection and interaction, your children’s voices (which change so quickly) and the emotions is magical. I’m excited to roll this out as a new product offering this year.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
I’m always drawn back to Portugal’s coasts and simple sea food cuisine. The first time I went was with my father for two weeks just before I started 7th grade in school. We explored the coast by car and it was fascinating. Years later, I took my husband back to the same places and since then we must have covered the whole coastline at least.
My ideal weekend involves…
Having all the family around, sunshine and as many outdoor activities as possible! I enjoy the simple things in life.
Nadine is thrilled to offer a £50 discount for Family and Bump to Baby Sessions to Runneth readers for any bookings finalised by 30 June 2018. Simply quote RUNNETH2018 when booking.