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Refocus: The Inspiring story of a Dutch Photographer’s move to Denmark

Welcome to the story of Melissa Hoogendoorn

Moving to a new country is a daunting yet exhilarating experience. For Melissa, a talented photographer from the Netherlands, relocating to Denmark marked the beginning of a new chapter in both her personal and professional life. In this blog post, Melissa shares her inspiring journey of rebuilding her photography career in Denmark, the challenges she faced, and the lessons she learned along the way.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, who you are, what do you photograph, and for how long have you been doing this?

Certainly! I’m Melissa, 27, almost 28 years old, and I moved to beautiful Denmark in the summer of 2022. After graduating, I worked as a primary school teacher for several years, but photography quickly became a hobby alongside it, specifically dog photography. When I find something I really enjoy, I dive into it wholeheartedly, and that’s how I rapidly developed my skills as a dog photographer. In the Netherlands, my clients mainly knew me for my work as a dog photographer. However, once I moved to Denmark, my focus shifted entirely to horse photography, particularly with a focus on commercial clients at the moment.

What attracts you to photography and videography, and how do you translate your passion into your work?

The creative freedom, crafting photos/videos that leap off the screen, and of course, working with these magnificent animals. Additionally, I’ve been increasingly exploring videography, which I find incredibly exciting. Telling a story through visuals and moving images evokes such a wonderful feeling, especially when everything comes together in the final product!

You’ve emigrated to Denmark, exciting! What inspired you to move from the Netherlands to Denmark and how has this transition influenced your photography? Did you have any concerns beforehand?

Yes, I’m still incredibly happy every day that I took this step! Indeed, it was very exciting, but sometimes you just have to seize the opportunities that come your way and fully commit to them. Friends had bought a house here in Denmark and asked if I might be interested in joining them. I had been feeling unhappy with my job as a primary school teacher for quite some time, and besides, I already had my photography business in the Netherlands. My thought at that moment was: why not? I didn’t really have anything holding me back in the Netherlands, apart from family, and there were relatively few risks for me. It was an opportunity for me to fully focus on photography. And of course, I found it incredibly exciting, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I felt that I had to do it.”

I knew from the outset that I shouldn’t expect clients to immediately flock to me. Moving to a new country where nobody knew me was the most daunting aspect. While I had some savings, I had no steady income after the move. What I remain convinced of to this day is that mindset is incredibly important in entrepreneurship, and I’ve learned this firsthand over the past two years. Keeping focused on where I want to go, rather than dwelling on what I don’t want or what isn’t working.

Additionally, it’s only been in recent months that I’ve truly discovered who my ideal client is and what truly brings me joy: commercial clients within equestrian photography. These mainly include sales/presentation shoots and shoots for equine businesses.

Can you share your experience in building a new client base in Denmark and how it differs from your work in the Netherlands?

The biggest difference from the Netherlands is that it happened quite gradually there, transitioning from a hobby to a business felt very natural; I received more and more inquiries from my portfolio shoots. Here in Denmark, that dynamic was less applicable, given that I already had the skills and portfolio, and I had a very clear goal: to build my business here.

Even though I had the portfolio and skills (though, in my opinion, one is never done learning), I still did portfolio shoots in the beginning. Initially, a few with dogs, but I soon found equestrian photography, especially dressage, very intriguing. So, I did several portfolio shoots in that realm as well. To achieve this, I reached out to individuals with a larger following on Instagram, expecting that it would increase my visibility. Eventually, towards the end of 2022, I approached an Olympic rider for collaboration, which felt very promising from the start, and I still enjoy working with them to this day. This has significantly boosted my reach and visibility.

Is it easy to start anew in another country? Definitely not; you really have to dare to take action, seize opportunities, and fully commit! Do I regret it? Absolutely not. I am grateful every day for what I have been able to build through hard work over the past 1.5 years and for all the wonderful people I have had the pleasure to meet.

In early March, I reached a significant milestone when I saw my work displayed prominently at the biggest equestrian event of the year here in Denmark. That truly felt like the crowning achievement of my efforts.”

How was the process of obtaining the necessary permits and paperwork for your business in Denmark? Were there any specific obstacles??

I didn’t encounter any obstacles in this regard. Similar to the process in the Netherlands, here you register with a kind of Chamber of Commerce (KVK) and it’s important to maintain good accounting practices.

Currently, there is a lot of uncertainty in the photography industry in the Netherlands due to new regulations regarding photography in nature reserves. What are your thoughts on this, and how is it regulated in Denmark?

In Denmark, things are a bit different overall, given the much lower population density. When I go to the forest here on a beautiful Sunday, I often see nobody else. Additionally, Danes generally treat nature and belongings with more respect. For example, in the middle of the forest here, you’ll find huts for sleeping, spots for making campfires, and I even saw a saw hanging for cutting wood for the campfire. Just to illustrate that these kinds of things are inherently different here; you wouldn’t find this in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the type of shoots I do typically don’t involve going to natural reserves; I usually work at the client’s stable. So, I don’t really deal with this aspect in my work here.

However, I do encounter this in the Netherlands because I still occasionally visit and conduct dog photography workshops there. However, I’ve decided to stop doing this, partly because it’s too challenging to plan these workshops around the weather, as I’ve noticed over the past 1.5 years. If the weather is bad and I have to reschedule a workshop, it’s practically impossible.

Regarding the new regulations themselves, I feel they miss the mark a bit in this manner. It now feels more like a way for various nature conservation organizations to make money rather than genuinely focusing on nature, especially considering the fees per shoot and the fact that it simply doesn’t work this way for photographers at its core; having to fix the date six weeks prior to the shoot without knowing what the weather will be like obviously doesn’t work. Personally, I would prefer to see something like getting a permit for a certain fee per year. When I read about these things, I secretly feel relieved to be living in Denmark now.

How do you currently divide your time between your work in Denmark and your work in the Netherlands? Are there any specific challenges you face in balancing these two aspects of your career?

I decided at the end of last year to fully focus on Denmark now. I firmly believe that what you focus on, grows; naturally, I want to continue growing here in Denmark. And after being in the Netherlands every two months for almost 1.5 years, I find that I don’t want to go back and forth as much anymore. It takes a tremendous amount of time, and the time I spend in the Netherlands, I prefer to spend with family and doing fun things together rather than working. That’s why I decided to stop workshops in the Netherlands, although soon it will be possible for people to come to Denmark for workshops!

What are the key lessons you’ve learned while rebuilding your business in a new country? Would you have done anything differently in hindsight?

Mindset is key, have a plan and focus on it, and know that it takes time; give yourself that time! People don’t suddenly line up for you; you have to make sure you’re seen and visible. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out immediately; this is really a process of falling, getting back up, and persevering. I don’t think I would necessarily do things differently now that I look back on how everything unfolded. Maybe things could have been different, better, or faster, but I’ve learned a lot and am especially proud of where I stand now and the journey I’ve taken.

How has living in Denmark changed your perspective as a photographer? Are there new subjects or niches you’ve explored as a result of your emigration, and why?

The most significant change is that I’ve completely shifted my focus from dog to horse photography. Since I started photographing, equestrian sports photography has interested me, but I never really pursued it back then because I also enjoyed dog photography so much. Somehow, that shift occurred when moving to Denmark, and I’m still very happy about that. In the beginning, I still focused on dog photography in the Netherlands, but I now notice more and more that I want my full focus on Denmark and my clients here to continue growing here.

What projects have given you the most satisfaction in your career so far, and why?

Several! I’m now in my new office since I just moved (to a different place in the same region), surrounded by large prints of my own animals. That’s truly the most amazing thing! Another specific thing is the online group program for dog photographers that I still do and derive immense satisfaction from. Having an online meeting every month and seeing the growth the participating photographers have made is fantastic and makes me so happy! And finally, the Dansk Varmblod Stallion Licensing event I attended last month, where I saw multiple photos and a video displayed meters wide, was truly a special moment. My goal for next year is to see even more photos and videos there!

What are your future plans and goals in the field of photography and videography? Are there specific projects or collaborations you’re looking forward to?

For now, I’m mainly focused on further growing my business, building more brand awareness, and my goal is to shoot for even larger dressage stables and equestrian brands. That’s what I enjoy the most and what I want to do even more of. Additionally, I really want to further develop my skills in videography and differentiate myself more in that area. Last month, for example, I invested in a gimbal and microphones so that I can offer even cooler videos to my clients in that way.

How do you use your Hantler product(s) in your daily work? What makes this product indispensable for you and why did you specifically choose this product?

From The Hantler, I have the neck strap and the storage case for SD cards, among other things. Both are of superb quality and I use them very happily. With the storage case, I always have my SD cards in one place, which is very convenient. I’m also very happy with the neck strap; it feels very sturdy, and the nameplate completes it. In the future, I’ll also get a shoulder strap, which is still on my list!

Do you have any advice for other photographers considering a similar step and wanting to build a career in a new environment?

Above all, go for it! Don’t let yourself be held back by your surroundings or the things that might happen because then you’ll never go, and you never know what the future holds; not even in your current place. It takes courage and perseverance, but it’s definitely worth it if you’ve been considering moving abroad for a while.

Of course, make sure to thoroughly research what is needed to start a business in the country where you might want to move and look for experiences from other people who already live there. In Denmark, for example, there’s a Facebook group for Dutch people in Denmark, and there will certainly be similar groups for other countries too. And of course, make sure you have enough savings because especially in the beginning, it takes a lot of time to build something up, and you won’t have a thriving business within a month. It’s nice to be able to rely on your savings without worries.

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