Interview: Photographer Mary Gardella on Finding Her Niche, Learning to Say No, and Drowning Out Her Naysayers

Mary is so easy to connect with. She is curious and genuinely wants others to succeed as much as herself. 

One of the many traits I admire of Mary’s is her passion for women. She wants to help them feel powerful.

How does she accomplish this? By allowing her clients and friends to simply be themselves. 

To be photographed by her is almost as delightful as time over a meal. 

Simply put: meet Mary.

Anne Hilb (AH): Mary, tell us about you, your business and your work.

Mary Gardella (MG): I can happily say that I have made a career in photography for over 30 years, starting as a photojournalist for daily papers, then reinventing my skills into a photography studio owner for close to 15 years.

I dabbled in the wedding and portrait world for several years until 2015 when I found my purpose within my purpose:

In the photography world, like any saturated market, it’s imperative to find your niche.  With the help of a branding coach, we saw a necessity in the market that was untapped: women leaders and entrepreneurs.

Finding the niche within my market has opened up so many possibilities. My mind has expanded. I haven’t looked back since.

I create transformational branding imagery for unstoppable women leaders. I work both in-studio and on location.  

My camera is my tool, but it’s the experience that matters the most. My goal is to provide a safe and comfortable experience for each client that enters my “space.” You get pampered with make-up, styled, sometimes a little champagne is in order. You leave the crap at the door and focus on you, your purpose and your authenticity.

Most women are nervous and don’t like to be photographed. It’s my job and role to change their perspective and help them see their power. We work hard to create this imagery. Branding is a feeling you create. And it’s a connection your audience expects.

We are visual voyeurs. I combine my skills as a photojournalist and portraiture to create compelling imagery that reveals the essence of my client and their brand. Authenticity is key. Truth is key. Real is key.

Women also crave a support system that they can feel connected to. We know we can’t do it alone. (And shouldn’t.) I’ve opened up my studio to host women-centric events. For example, the Women’s Unity Events highlight the creatives & artisans among us.  The ELLE’vate Events focus on both personal & business growth. I’m excited about what’s to come.

Check out these stats:

  • As of 2018, there are 12.3 million women-owned businesses.
  • Women own 4 out of every 10 businesses in the US. This number has increased by 58% since 2007.
  • In 2017 over 1800 new women-owned businesses were launched everyday.
  • And Women of Color founded 64% of those businesses.
More than 11.6 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 9 million people, and generating $1.7 trillion in sales as of 2017. / NAWBO

This is why I do what I do:

I love supporting women, revealing their power and creating connections.

An expert in visual branding for the workshop, Mary is no stranger to public speaking. Here she is @ Speak with Confidence, a four-day workshop held in Denver on stage presence, story-telling and building your brand.

AH: How do you define simplicity in business, and why is it important?


Simplicity in business is creating a niche and focusing my efforts on that niche. I say NO to opportunities that don’t align with my niche. By doing so, a world of possibilities and ideas have emerged by simply staying focused on my target audience. Less is more.

AH: Can you speak to some of the trends you are seeing in your industry in particular?

MG: We live in a world of mega consumption of data. You have less than eight seconds to make visual impact on your audience and keep their attention. The audience is both hungry and easily distracted.

It’s not only about what you do and the services you offer: It’s how you make your audience feel through imagery.

They want to relate to you before they even decide to meet you. They want to feel what it’s like to work with you. Building trust by sharing all about you though imagery is a key element to connection with your audience.

What’s the one thing that stays absolutely unique? YOU! There’s only one you. Capitalize on that. It’s priceless. It’s the ultimate connection.


  • 300 million photos get uploaded on Facebook
  • 1.5 billion active on Facebook
  • 600 million active Instagram users
  • 95 million photos and videos shared on Instagram
  • 100 million use Instagram stories

You cannot escape visual marketing if you want to stay relevant. Old profiles images, stale imagery with no feeling, and out-of-date marketing tactics will drown you out.

AH: How do you keep simplicity top of mind or return to simplicity when you stray from/step away from it?


As a Solopreneur, it’s pretty easy to get sidetracked with the never-ending list of things to do, the ideas to implement, the personal stuff that’s waiting in the aisles after your workday, and tackling all the other hats we seem to wear in a 24-hour period. That can cause instant overwhelm and cloud progress.

When this starts to happen, I go back to reset. I look at my core values posted on my computer, I think about the clients I am serving and the importance of staying present with them. And I simply ask myself, “Why am I here and what am I doing?”  

What I do in the here and now has direct impact on the future I want to create in my purpose-driven life.

And if I can’t do it on my own, I ask for help in the areas of my business or personal life that I am uncertain about. No need to reinvent the wheel if you have a tribe to help guide you when and where you may need it.

I also keep the experience for my clients uncomplicated and cystal clear. We are here for YOU, to create authentic and powerful imagery of YOU and your business. Your job is to be YOU. Leave all the other mental crap at the door.

I also love to work out, hike and get out of my head.

AH: Can you share an example of a time where operating with simplicity served you or a client well?

MG: This happens every time I have a client in front of my camera.

Most are nervous, don’t necessarily like to be photographed, or may not feel too great about themselves at that moment. But, they’ve taken the leap and here they are in front of me. The best way I can describe it is I create an imaginary bubble around myself and my client so that there is a real connection happening. Everything else happening in the world becomes obsolete.

Staying present and in the moment is key. And what happens before my eyes every single time is a transformation.

Picture this: The client walks in nervous, uncertain. Yet, by the end, she is releasing her inner power, revealing her essence and owning it.  She’s feeling really good about the experience and herself by simply being … herself.

AH: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you, and did you follow it?

MG: The best advice I ever received was during an interview for a job at a daily paper here in Baltimore. I had been freelancing for this paper for over a year. I was young, hungry and wanted this job.

I was a few minutes into the interview when the Director of Photography stopped, looked at me, and said bluntly, “Mary I don’t think you have what it takes. What do you have to say about that?”

I could have reacted in so many ways: There could have been tears, there could have been anger, I could have considered leaving photography all together. But, my response was simple; without even thinking I said, “I’ll prove you wrong.“ Interview over.

Within the month, I was one of six photojournalists hired for a newly created photo team at a daily paper in Pennsylvania.

It’s the advice I chose not to take that helped to create a mindset that I CAN do anything I set my mind to and I refuse to listen to the naysayers. That’s white noise and a distraction.

AH: What is one thing that often surprises people about you?

MG: That this extreme extrovert (who can be in any situation and strike up a conversation with a complete stranger or group of people) has extreme stage fright and does not like to be in front of the camera! Imagine that. However,  I know I have to get over it.

And, like many things, I am working on it.

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