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Meet Sadie Keeton of Sadie Brabander Photography in Arlington

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sadie Keeton.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I snapped this photo on a Sunday morning, already post-photoshoot, which is rare these days; a completely unedited, slightly out-of-focus tripod shot, I’m sitting in my unmade bed, gratefully clutching a cup of coffee to stave off the inevitable headache that an unfortunate level of caffeine dependency produces. (I’ve worked at two separate coffee shops, it’s hard not to get hooked). It’s T-minus three hours until a weekend work event, and my son and the dog are both volubly complaining at me from the living room. I’m texting my husband to figure out the logistics of bringing him his laptop at work in between somehow producing a dessert I signed up to provide for the event and maybe squeezing in half an episode of The Crown or a few games of Magic the Gathering (almost certainly a pipe dream, leisure time is more of a wistful goal than a reality, even on the weekends). There’s an Everest of laundry just outside the frame of the photo. I chug the rest of my coffee and tackle the day.

I’m a photographer on off days, with weeks and months frequently passing in between sessions. I have a full and hectic life outside of my creative pursuits, and at the moment, that’s how I like it. I have explored photography much closer to full time in the past; in between sporadic college semesters, part-time jobs, getting married, a little community theater here and there, and producing a kid. I got my first little Canon somewhere around ten years ago and progressed through amateurish sessions with friends and family, extensive event candids purely for fun, and finally, after a long stint as an assistant manager at a now-defunct mall studio, finally settled on portraiture. I’m selective about who I collaborate with now, I have very little spare time or energy to dedicate to creating, and I prefer to shoot sessions as a favor for the few people I’m inspired to shoot with, but I am always enthusiastically open to creative exploration and working with new people when we connect on a vision.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The biggest mentality I’ve had to embrace is learning not to be scared of a desk job. Our whole generation has been socialized into this idea, which I firmly believe isn’t achievable or realistic even very advisable for many of us, that we will only be truly satisfied and fulfilled if we somehow pay the bills with our passion. That if don’t achieve our dream career by a certain age, if our day job doesn’t consist of making money off of a primary hobby or our special interest, then we’re not spending our time on anything worth doing. (“You’ll never work a day in your life,” right?) In my case, I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. Absolutely nothing fundamentally stifles creativity like being forced into creativity on a deadline. My passion and spark for photography spent years completely dormant after I worked at a chain studio churning out a session an hour, and I’ve never struggled as hard for inspiration as I did when I was freelancing and forcing myself to produce consistently high-quality content for money. Yes, some people are absolutely lucky enough to find a job in a field that creatively fulfills them, but I find myself least motivated to create when I’m on a time crunch and being paid, and I also find I don’t like my own work when I force myself to produce it without inspiration. So if there’s one piece of advice I’d like to give or one thing I’d like people to take away from my experience, it’s this: spend your nights and weekends and holidays (or mornings or afternoons or whenever your time is free) doing what you love, and your days on a job that just pays the bills, and you might find that you’re more than capable of producing work that you love at your own pace, and ultimately being happy and fulfilled without feeling the need to chase a possibly ephemeral dream career.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Sadie Brabander Photography story. Tell us more about the business.
I specialize in what I like to think of as magical realism; whimsical, fantastical portraits, primarily of women, focusing on the play of light and color over my subject. I’ve successfully explored both cosplay and character photography, but the thing that really inspires me is framing women as regal, magical creatures, profoundly at peace and in control of their own environments, and fundamentally grounded in the real world. I use practical effects, specialized lighting, and vivid colors to elevate the tone of my work, and only very rarely digitally incorporate any elements that weren’t physically present during the session.

Challenging as my time has been working in professional photography, I really can’t overstate the value of studio experience, I’m grateful for that opportunity and I ultimately credit my talent and consistency to the training I received there. With the advent of the internet and especially of social media, more people than ever before have a platform to share their work with a wide-ranging audience at instant speed. While I would never devalue anyone’s personal creative expression, it’s very apparent to a trained eye when an artist has a firm foundation in basic conventional rules of composition and framing, and I pride myself on maintaining industry studio standards and quality in posing, resolution, and editing even in my personal work.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck is a strange concept. My husband told me recently that I’ve led a charmed life, and I think he has a point, but that ultimately brings up the question of whether we’re born lucky or privileged. Certainly, I’ve very aware of my advantages in having had supportive parents, financial stability, and ample help and free time to pursue my passions and interests. I’m simultaneously grateful for my advantages, respectful of my own skill and hard work, and aware that someone else in my situation might absolutely have been more motivated and successful than myself. All I can do is apply my talent or luck to the best of my own abilities, and be proud of what I’ve achieved.

I touched earlier on the role of social media on the current creative landscape, photography in particular, and I do believe that one very positive result of that has been in leveling the playing field both socially and financially. Art is far easier and cheaper to produce and to share than it’s ever been before; I personally still only work with one trusty DSLR and occasionally some cheap portable lighting equipment. There’s a lot of financial elitism and gatekeeping in this community, and I know for a fact from my personal history that a talented and knowledgeable photographer with an iPhone and some effective editing can produce an image of far higher quality than someone with thousands of dollars to drop on tech and no skill or expertise. Art is inherently subjective, inherently personal, a reflection of culture and values and ideals. We should embrace and respect changing mediums and standards, and the more people who don’t need luck to have a voice, a platform, and an impact, the better.


  • Headshots: $100
  • Full Portrait Session: $300
  • Family or Group Portrait Session: $500

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Sadie Keeton

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