Kailee Mandel is a freelance commercial photographer whose clients include Henry’s, McDonalds Canada, and Nestlé. She specializes in editorial, food, and product photography, demonstrating creativity along with the ability to elevate a brand and its products through her visual imagery. As a commercial photographer, Mandel is responsible for capturing a product as it exists in the eyes of her clients as well as using her own critical skills to create a unique and marketable image.

A graduate of Ryerson University’s Image Arts: Photography program only four short years ago, Mandel has quickly made a name for herself in the commercial world while working out of her Toronto-based studio. Mandel began with an interest in wildlife photography before entering postsecondary education, but she quickly realized her talent and ability in commercial photography and took advantage of her university courses to create a wide portfolio of work for future clients. After she graduated, she worked as a social media content creator, as well as at an ad agency, before eventually opening her own freelance studio.

By pursuing a career in commercial photography, Mandel has become incredibly fluent in the technical elements of photography, as well as in the creativity and quick thinking she needs to assess her shooting scenarios. In order to work in such a competitive field, Mandel also needs deep resources of drive and perseverance, as criticism and rejection are a regular part of her job.

Mandel’s work exemplifies two important qualities for current students to develop: the capacity to keep making work consistently, and the ability to learn about the business side of the photography industry. When students are out of school, it is tempting for them to put down the camera and take a break, their minds full of assignments and past critiques. Nevertheless, as Mandel says, it is critical to continue to shoot and build a portfolio outside of school projects. Learning about the business of freelancing is just as important. Whether a student is planning to work freelance or not, taking business classes in school or online will be very beneficial in the long run, as the knowledge it brings expands their skill set and extends their practice. Mandel not only exemplifies what it means to succeed in her career post-graduation by making work that supports her financially, but she is also succeeding creatively by growing and thriving as an established artist.

Q&A

Q. You shared how you “looked at school assignments as briefs, and professors as clients.” How did this help you make the transition from graduating from Ryerson to starting a successful freelancing career?

A. Looking at school assignments as briefs and professors as clients challenged me to put my ego aside and consider the opinions of others, sometimes as more important than my own. I learned very fast, while working as a photographer, that the client’s opinion can’t be challenged like your classmate’s or professor’s, and more times than not you have to bite your tongue and make work that better suits the client and their needs, and not your own. So when I was in school and was handed a brief I respected the brief and the ask, and I really heard what my professors had to say, and at the least I would try and implement their suggestions before discounting them completely—and more times than not, that paid off.

Q. What was the biggest learning curve you’ve encountered after graduating university, and what was something you learned in the field that you did not encounter in school?

A. The biggest learning curve 100 percent would have to be quoting clients. It is near impossible to know the perfect number when a client asks what something costs. If you quote too low you can be seen as low quality, if you quote too high you can be out of budget and immediately taken off the radar. It is certainly something I am still learning after three years in business. Every year there is a new money challenge, as quotes become more complex and new things are brought to the table that I have to consider. Everyday I am coming across new lessons, so it is super hard to pick one. But I certainly did not learn much about how to run a business, and that’s a major lesson I learned and am still learning!