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‘I just made it happen’: Schenectady photographer to move into new studio space
By Chad Arnold | December 26, 2021
SCHENECTADY — Kristen Bordonaro had a modest goal when she opened a small photo studio out of her living room 11 years ago: make enough money to cover the monthly car payment.
Today, Bordonaro’s studio, Sophia Sabella Photography, is the only source of income for the single mother of three, who is relocating to a 1,200-square-foot studio space at 1740 Union St. on Dec. 29. The move will mark the third time Bordonaro has relocated the business since opening, with each space growing in size.
“I kind of picked it up on the side and it just kind of blew up,” she said.
A California native, Bordonaro relocated to the Schenectady area with her then-husband 14 years ago. She left behind a career teaching kindergarten and first grade and focused on raising her children for a few years after the move.
She began taking portraits of her friends for free on the weekends, but as word got around, Bordonaro, who had no prior business experience, saw an opportunity to make a little extra cash and acquired a business license.
She’s managed to pick up the rest along the way, often utilizing Google and YouTube to grow her business knowledge, while completing several mentorship programs that allowed her to shadow portrait photographers to advance her photography skills.
Outside of that, Bordonaro has had no formal photography training, instead relying on what she described as her natural ability to spot a good photo and a deep passion for the art. Her images include everything from family portraits to “cake smashes,” which capture smiling toddlers making a mess while diving into their first birthday cake.
In recent years, Bordonaro has started taking real estate photos on the side, but she said her specialty is babies and children, which she attributes to her time in the classroom.
“I love children and I really feel that my time in education with kindergarteners has really translated for me,” she said.
What started as a side hustle quickly became a full-time business for Bordonaro following her divorce six years ago when she needed a way to provide income for her family that included flexibility to attend to her three children now ages 12, 14 and 15.
So, she ramped up the business, moving from the living room space to a 250-square-foot studio near Patrick’s Union Street Barber Shop in Schenectady. A few years later, she relocated again, this time to her current 750-square-foot location on Baker Avenue.
Bordonaro’s new space — which she described as “coming full circle” — is just feet away from her first storefront on Union Street and is nearly double the size of her current studio. The new space will include a retail aspect, where Bordonaro plans to sell canvas prints and multiple setups that will give her over 300 clients a year greater options during photo shoots.
“I kind of had to figure it out,” she said. “My passion for photography and needing to be home with my kids — I just made it happen.”
Prices at Sophia Sabella Photography — named in honor of Bordonaro’s two daughters — vary depending on services, but a 30-minute session, which includes five digital images, costs $275. A 60-minute session runs $325 and includes eight images.
The end result is well worth it, according to Emily AuClaire, who has been a client of Bordonaro for the past eight years.
AuClaire described Bordonaro’s work as “amazing,” adding she has a way of connecting with here two children, Keegan and Kennedy.
“She somehow relates to the kids and gets them to smile and listen,” she said. “Going in now, my kids will just sit down and smile for her.”
AuClaire said she has referred many to the Bordonaro’s studio, adding just about every time she enters the studio, she runs into someone she knows.
“She goes out of her way to work with customers,” AuClaire said. “I recommend her to anyone and everyone.”
Bordonaro, meanwhile, has here eyes focused on growth.
The business has grown each year, which she attributes to a growing network of support from clients, but Bordonaro said she would like to eventually hire an additional photographer.
“It’s just me, but hopefully they’ll be more,” she said. “That’s my goal in the next five [years] is to get so big that I’ll need some help.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.
“I always stress over planning family pictures- I worry about outfits, hair, moods, weather and a million other things. But the instant we see Kristen, all that stress melts away! She takes such good care of her clients and I appreciate her and her work so much!”