This Professional Photographer Started Her Own Business — and She’s Only 9

August 15, 2016
by Carson Kohler
Contributor

It’s the summer before Madison Harrison starts fourth grade.

Although she fills her days with summer camps and time at the pool, she isn’t your average 9-year-old. This girl also has a business to run.

I recently met Madison and her mom, Andrea, at a Tampa country club after an etiquette class where she learned how to set the table.

Madison greeted me, then eagerly grabbed her Nikon D5300 from her mom and slipped the strap around her neck. The camera looked enormous against her small frame.

We headed outside for an informal interview. As Madison skipped along, the hem of her bright sundress flowed behind her, as did her thick, dark curls.

She told me her favorite subject is science, and she enjoys playing tennis. She also likes making art and writing stories.

Before I could ask about her photography business, she started snapping pictures. She knelt down, leaned against trees and lay across the sidewalk — all to capture the perfect shot.

She walked over to show me a few of her photos. In one, the foreground — the bark of a tree — was out of focus. In focus were heavy layers of Spanish moss caught in the hot breeze.

Wow. It was really good.

How Madison Became a Photographer

Professional photographer

Madison picked up her mom’s old Kodak on her third birthday — a princess tea party.

“I wanted to capture that memory,” she said. “I like capturing memories, and I also like capturing the beauty in everything.”

She paused to look at an iron staircase she’d rested on between photos. “Like this staircase!” she said, getting excited. “It’s old but beautiful, and I love it. Hey, that gives me an idea! I wish I’d brought my dolls.”

Those dolls — Addy, Isabelle, Rebecca and a stable of American Girl Dolls and Barbies — were her first subjects, and she still uses them to practice portraits before heading out to shoots.

Madison had a few lessons with local photographers but is mostly self-taught.

“I play with all the buttons and switches and things, and I experiment,” she said. “I try out each one and see what it does. I keep practicing and practicing and, you know, I just get it!”

She really does get it — so much so that she started her own photography business more than two years ago. Yes, that means she was 7 years old.

This 9-Year-Old Is a Photographer and an Entrepreneur

Professional photographer

Photos with Madison marks its three-year anniversary in September.

This isn’t Madison’s first business, though. When she was 6, she started Ornaments in Action, selling ornaments she made out of arts and crafts supplies. But soon she realized she wouldn’t make a steady income with such a seasonal gig.

Around that time, Andrea took Madison on a tour of a family friend’s photography studio while Madison’s grandma had her portrait done.

“I was inspired there because I was like, ‘Look how she’s taking the pictures of my grandma and capturing that memory!’” Madison said. “And it’s really nice because now I have a picture of her.”

However, Madison wasn’t sure people would pay a kid to take pictures. After talking with her mom and dad, she decided it was a viable venture and that people would actually pay for her work.

“I like making money,” she said with a grin.

So far, Madison has shot three weddings. She charges $50-$100 an hour, but these, she said, are the hardest jobs because not many people realize she’s the photographer.

“Once I was at this wedding, and someone said, ‘Hey, you’re cute. Where’s the real photographer? I need a photo.’ I was like, ‘I’m the real photographer,’” she told me with a laugh. She uses a stool when necessary.

She also holds photo shoots, like the back-to-school one she hosted last year.

Madison’s mom estimates her daughter makes an average of $800 a year — closer to $1,000 if it’s a busy one. She would make more, but she has to go to school.

Unlike many 9-year-olds, Madison is smart with her money. She saves most of it — with encouragement from her family.

“I also have saved it for school and stuff,” she explained. “I want to go to Harvard and become a scientist and find a cure for cancer.”

She’ll still take pictures on the side of those activities, but photography won’t be her first priority.

Madison makes about $800 a year. She would make more, but she has to go to school.

Madison’s Most Famous Subject: President Obama

Professional photographer
Image from Madison Harrison

Although Madison enjoys the income, she’s more than willing to photograph some events for free — like the United State of Women Summit in D.C.

“It was June 14, 2016,” Madison explained. She’ll always remember that date; it’s when she photographed President Barack Obama, a longtime dream of hers.

Earlier in the year, Andrea had come across an opportunity to apply for press passes to the event. She tweeted:

That one tweet and the ensuing hashtag campaign (#HelpMadisonMeetPOTUS) landed Madison a spot a few feet away from the event’s stage, along with 200 other photographers and journalists. She now has photos of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey in her portfolio.

“It made me feel confident because I did something really huge that I thought I wouldn’t be able to do before, because I don’t know of any child that’s photographed the president,” she explained.

“I was very proud. My dream came true.”

A Young Photographer’s Advice to Entrepreneurs

Professional photographer
Image from Madison Harrison

We went back inside to escape the heat, and sat down at a white-clothed table. Madison swung her legs back and forth as she spilled advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Don’t try to do it all in one day because I did that with Ornaments in Action, and it wasn’t really perfect,” she said.

She also encouraged people to stay focused. “Don’t switch it up,” she explained, rearranging the two spoons in her place setting to demonstrate.

“Also (…) if you’re going into an interview with someone to start your business, make sure you’re clear and smile and, like my mom says, you’re bubbly!”

Being bubbly isn’t hard for Madison. Armed with photography skills, ambition, dreams and a huge personality, this little girl’s going to do big things.

Your Turn: How did you make money when you were a kid?

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. After recently completing grad school, she focuses her time and energy on saving money — and surviving the move back in with her parents.

by Carson Kohler
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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