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Meet Nina Ottolino of Ottolino Studio in West Town

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nina Ottolino.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I originally attended Columbia College Chicago for a degree in graphic design. During my sophomore year, I took my pre-requisite class darkroom photography 101 with no prior experience in photography. When we were allowed more freedom in regards to what content we could shoot for class, I started shooting fashion style portraits of my little sisters and family. I loved it so much that I convinced my parents to let me change my major to photography.

When my father was a teenager, he came to Chicago from Italy to find work and live the American Dream. Learning the value of hard work and dedication from my parents led me to start my own photography business while I was still in my first photography class. At the age of 20, I created a separate Facebook page for my new business before the Facebook Business Page was invented. I initially began shooting my little sister as a fashion model, and as a result, I built a small following on social media. Word of mouth spread and my photography career was born!

After graduating with a degree in photography, two years of my photo business under my belt, and newly developed make-up skills, the entrepreneur in me wanted to take it to the next level. One year after graduation, I opened Shear Conviction Salon & Photo, a beauty salon and photo studio all-in-one, where I was further able to build up my clientele in both photography and make-up. I had four amazing years at Shear Conviction before I decided to close that chapter and pursue photography full time. Today I shoot for modeling agencies from all over the U.S. as well as for designers and brands in need of fashion or commercial images for advertising.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There has definitely been a lot of challenges along the way but you have to keep yourself motivated to push through them. You can’t let people get to you. I’ve dealt with a lot of people telling me what I am and am not capable of, that I wouldn’t succeed in my goals, as well as other attacks that I had to protect myself from. I learned how to turn negative comments and people into fuel to keep me going and that’s the only reason I’m still doing what I love today. Criticism from others is one of the biggest reasons most entrepreneurs don’t take a leap of faith and do what they love.

Please tell us about Nina Ottolino.
Most of my time is spent shooting and retouching portfolio images for agency signed models. When a company is looking for a model to book for promotional purposes, a majority of the time they will contact agencies and ask to see a range of model portfolios that fit the look they’re going for. I photograph images that those companies will see so my job is to make sure the shots I produce will grab their attention as well as cover the look they might be searching for to increase the model’s chance of securing gigs he/she has the right look for. Aside from shooting for agencies, I also create images for the companies themselves. In this case, I may be asked to choose the right model myself — everything comes around full circle. My experience working with both new and seasoned models helps me tremendously when I’m working with a designer or brand. I can immediately tell how well a model will pose and emote through her portfolio even if the images themselves aren’t strong. Because I’ve worked with numerous new faces in the past 9 years, I know how to direct a newer model to get the outcome the client is looking to achieve. I am most proud when I see my images make a difference in someone’s life. Whether it’s getting an aspiring model signed with an agency, helping a model book a gig with a large corporation, or watching a small business gain traction because of their new brand identity and images, aiding others with their dreams is something I feel very strongly about.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I wouldn’t change a thing. While my journey has been extremely challenging, I’ve learned so much along the way. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the lessons I received from my failures and struggles. For me personally, it’s easier to stay motivated when I have something to fuel me. I love a good challenge.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Models: Spencer Lloyd of Wilhelmina, Will Severino, Bella of Ford, Kiana Garrison of Ford/Wilhelmina, Christina of Ford, Jaslene Gonzales, Diego Villarreal of Ford, Erica of Ford, Gwen of Factor Chosen/Next Models, Liliane of Factor Chosen/LModelz, Brianna, Dan Collado of Factor Chosen. Hair & Make-up: Kerre Berry of Factor Chosen, Kristen Pulice, Andrea Samuels of Factor Chosen, Kat DeJesus of Factor Chosen, Stephanie Sznicer. Wardrobe Styling: Dina Alic of Factor Chosen, Keith Lewis, Claire Ann of Wilhelmina Artists, Abigail Lipp.

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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