interview by annette furio
photography by Steph Kadlicko
What is your name, your business name, and where are you based?
I’m Steph Kadlicko, owner of Steph Kadlicko, formerly 5th Photography. We recently rebranded to more accurately reflect a wider breadth of services and products. We serve the Milwaukee and Chicago areas, along with destination wedding clients in the US, Toronto, Italy, France, Croatia, and all of Europe.
When and how did you start your business?
I started in 2011, all because I met a group of people by chance at a restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa. They invited me to sit with them and we ended up having the best time. Among the group was a wedding planner and wedding photographer, and the photographer invited me to shoot two weddings with her. I spent that entire summer going to Barnes & Noble reading photography books, discovering blogs, and consuming everything I could about photography. After that, I started my business.
I really enjoyed photography as a hobby, but I didn't have a professional background in it. I had earned three degrees in other fields and had attended medical school for two years. I loved medical school but realized I wanted to pursue something around the happier moments in life. That’s when I decided to become an artist.
Do you have a mission, philosophy, or something you stand for in your business?
My tagline is “Artful photography for couples living beautifully.” This is very meaningful to me because I strive to meld my personal life with my business life. My love for people, travel, hospitality, photography, and living in a space that is aesthetically inspiring — the phrase “artful living” kept coming to the surface, so “artful photography” was a perfect extension of that.
Do you feel like you have a balance between your personal and business life?
I feel like I have melded them together so perfectly that it’s not about balance anymore — it’s the same thing. A lot of my travel companions are wedding vendors, my outings are related to industry events, and we are in each others’ lives. Life for me doesn't feel exclusively like work versus personal life. It really coexists. I never really feel like I’m working. I created this life very intentionally and I intend to keep it going as long as I can!
What do you hope to accomplish each wedding season with your business and working with couples?
Every year, I have a few long-standing goals. The first is always to improve, and with that comes education. I'm always looking to learn from mentors. Second, I like to give back, so I'm looking for ways I can mentor others. Third, with our clients, I'm always looking to elevate our offering and experiential delivery of our services. This allows our level of luxury service to grow as our client’s level of investment grows.
How do you create luxury experiences for your couples?
First, I always partner with clients to ensure that they are creating an experience for themselves and for their guests. If they can execute an amazing guest experience, it’s easy to ensure high-end photos as a result. Guests thrive when weddings have experiential elements. Couples thrive when an amazing energy fills the room with happy guests.
Second, we always offer our clients a high-touch, personalized service. We have a “yes” attitude and always find a way to achieve what they are looking for. I insist on having an incredible relationship with my clients. We all need to be excited — this chemistry allows us to do incredible things on camera and allows me to uphold my artful living philosophy. All the pieces are intentional and refined, bring joy, and are experiential for everyone involved.
As of 2023, I only accept weddings with wedding planners of a particular caliber. At my initial consultation with clients, we go through their goals and vision for their wedding and the wedding vendors they intend to hire to make sure it’s a good fit. If a client is looking for beautiful aesthetics that align with ours and they intend to deliver an exceptional experience for their guests, then I want to know that couple.
What do you see your couples doing to create a wedding that is a true reflection of them? Do you guide them in any way?
The clients that really pique my interest are those who are trying to tell a story from the moment their guest hears about the wedding to the day it is complete. They’re looking to weave their story into one monumental day where each guest feels like the most important person in the room.
Many couples are looking for guidance from us. They select me and my team because they see that we provide this type of guidance, based on our acquired experience. We share this guidance in our calls, in-person meetings, our blog, social media, and website. We quickly set ourselves up as their professional guides, with the couple as the hero of the story. We approach it with humility and confidence. We always overdeliver to our clients so that they can overdeliver to their guests.
How does collaboration help your work and business?
We have a team at Steph Kadlicko made up of individuals that have strengths in particular areas. They can really be subject matter experts, allowing us to deliver a very high-level quality of service. We’re growing every year, both vertically and laterally.
What is a piece of guidance you would share with wedding photographers, wedding professionals, or other small business owners?
Systems! Systematize anything you can. Do something once and let it serve multiple uses. Know your brand, then weave it into your photos, lifestyle, and social media. If you know your key talking points, brand elements, goals, and strategies, everything else will come easier and make more sense. Systematize it and streamline it.
When and where do you feel most creative?
I really intentionally choose to create spaces around myself that are inspirational — spaces that transport me to Europe when I’m sitting in my Wisconsin home. I've been fortunate to find a couple of local restaurants that focus on French cuisine or Italian coffee that give me inspiration outside of my home. The rest of the time I fill my life with travel, events, and hospitality, all of which serve as constant inspiration. The winters here can still be long, though!
What is the inspiration behind your service offering, Weddings in Croatia? How did you create this opportunity for your couples?
My family is Croatian, I went to school in Croatia, and my parents immigrated from there. Croatia has an untapped wedding industry opportunity that I’m in love with. For our service, Weddings in Croatia, I offer planning and design services for intimate weddings and elopements in Croatia. This allows me to weave my roots into all elements of their wedding.
Croatia is not yet consistently hosting weddings of the same caliber that you see in France and Italy, but I’m hoping I can be at the forefront and lead this movement for weddings in Croatia. There’s so much beauty in Croatia. The Croatian culture is filled with so much love, hospitality, and the enjoyment of good conversations and good food. The economy is heavily reliant on tourism, and Croatia wants to serve and be seen as a powerhouse in the destination wedding industry. We are very proud of our country!
I hope to help my couples experience something they couldn’t have imagined was available to them.
What is a piece of wisdom you would share with couples going through their engagement right now?
Ultimately, pick parts of your life that are beautiful and meaningful to you and weave them into your wedding day in their most refined form. If you’re into music, weave incredible music and entertainment into your day. If you’re into food, splurge on an incredible culinary experience. Set the mood with whatever it is you choose — make it beautiful, make it personal, and make it experiential.
Forever guided by old-world Europe, Steph is a destination wedding photographer and brand strategist inspired by artful living. Hospitality, deep connection, and creating spaces of beauty make up who she is and how she serves. Her work has been featured in international publications and is distinguished by its composition and color. A traveler, lover of neutrals (and Negronis), Steph captures delightful moments to satisfy the present while documenting the timeless moments longed for in the decades ahead. In her coaching, Steph works with creatives on building their brand strategy for a converting client experience.