I have a studio.
A real live space that has keys and six windows and a big closet and a cute entryway and its own mailbox. It’s not in my dining room and it’s not at my in-laws house. It’s in a beautiful old building in Webster Groves. Just a few blocks from my house, our church, C’s school and the girl’s school. And since I like to stay within a one mile radius apparently, it’s perfect! HA!
If you don’t want to hear my photography testimony just skip this post. But because I am sentimental, I have to record this milestone in my life.
When Bailey was one, Parker was a baby and I was unknowingly pregnant with Grayson I started my first photography business, Jodified. We were young (27) and BROKE. We needed extra money and I needed an outlet away from my kids. I had a crappy digital camera, not a ton of technical skill but a creative eye and a deep desire to do well. I was a MOMTOG to the max. I was barely taking money and really, looking back, shouldn’t have taken a dime. I was that bad. Selective color and over editing and some technical issues. I cringe when I look back on those days.
I was CHEAP so I got busy fast. It was spring 2007. I had Gray in the summer of 2008 and we had three kids under three at home. Chris coached three sports that year and Jodified continued to take off. I was still cheap and SO busy. The extra income was helping our family and at that point in our financial life I couldn’t see past the fact that while we needed every dime, an extra $100 wasn’t enough for the time (I wasn’t really $100 but I was CHEAP) I was putting in. I was working for NOTHING, not sleeping and looking back I have absolutely no idea how I made it through that year.
I met Kim in the fall of 2008 when Gray was just an infant. For the life of me I have NO idea how we started talking about joining forces but I do know that I had SO many discussions with family and friends that thought I was crazy to merge businesses. Jodified was growing fast (I’d been published in the spring of 2008 in the PPA Magazine which was a huge honor for me) and they thought it would be a step back to merge. So even though I had many people warning me about the decision, I moved forward with Kim and Fresh Art was born in the summer of 2009. We came together to be one of the first set of partners specializing in high-end newborn photography in our area. We spent WEEKS discussing how we would organize the business, who would do what, what our name would be, building a website, and pricing. OH PRICING. Kim insisted we more than double what my current prices were and it TERRIFIED me. Like I said, we just needed money so badly I didn’t care how much it was just that it WAS, you know? But I trusted her and well, four years later it was the best decision of my life.
Merging with Kim to form Fresh Art was a major turning point in my life. I started to really understand what running a business meant. I got more organized because it wasn’t just me anymore that would suffer if I dropped the ball. And I got better. Kim is one of the best photographers I have ever met. She just GETS it. She taught me so so much. From 2009-2011 Kim and I worked like mad. We continued to be busy even with the economy crashing and us definitely not the cheapest photographer in town anymore. It was magical! The success of Fresh Art helped Chris and I buy our first house in the summer of 2011 and do things I never thought we could do. I owe so much to Kim.
I honestly thought I would work with Kim forever so when she told me in the fall of 2011 that she needed to quit I was devastated. And heart broken. She wasn’t just quitting Fresh Art but was moving an hour away (and I thought she lived far away before when she was just 15 minutes away!). That winter was really hard for me. I felt like i was losing not only my business partner, but a friend. One of my best friends.
But in true Kim fashion, she encouraged me to keep going, she helped me restructure Fresh Art so it would work for just me to run, she helped me rearrange pricing/sessions/organization and she stood by me. And of course she remained my friend.
To this day I would trade everything to have Kim back, but, having her leave might have been the biggest push my career ever had. Because we had just bought our first house in the summer of 2011 I was terrified Fresh Art would fall apart and we’d lose everything when Kim decided to step back. I spent the end of the fall in 2011 and the winter of 2012 reeling from Kim leaving but by late winter of 2012 I was starting to get my feet back. I brought on an assistant to help me get more organized, I continued to work on my new workflow and finalize what I wanted for Fresh Art in the coming months and years. In April of 2012 I left my part-time job at Kuhn Construction (my parent’s business) to pursue Fresh Art full time (I had worked for them the entire time I ran my photography businesses). It was another BIG SCARY move for me because we had to take a massive pay cut from C’s checks to cover me and the kids on his health insurance since I lost mine when I quit KCCI. So not only was I losing a paycheck but Chris was losing almost $1000/month. It put a LOT of financial pressure on me to make Fresh Art succeed!
That same spring in 2012 I brought on my friend Tricia to do my finances. She became a business consultant, bookkeeper, accountant and most importantly, a better friend. We met for HOURS as she navigated the extremely unorganized finances of Fresh Art. It was brutal but so so important. That summer I got a new assistant and got busy. Then fall hit and WHAM I was crazy. That assistant had to move on and after the insane fall season Amy Beachy joined the crew and truly rounded out my team. In early 2013 Tricia and I met again to go over the past years financials so we could, for the first time, make a balanced budget for the business and us personally (since they are so intertwined). We set financial goals and even bigger spending limitations so I could see those goals realized. Amy worked endlessly organizing some of the behind-the-scenes systems that were desperate for an overhaul. She started keeping track of our numbers… not in a financial way but in a statistics way (like how many inquiries do we get vs. how many book). Honestly, after this year I feel like i can never live without either Tricia or Amy!
I have been in business for almost six years and it wasn’t until Kim stepped back, Tricia came on and then Amy that I really felt like a business owner. For so long I just felt like a mom with a camera posing as a business owner. I still struggle with that feeling. Because I can do so much of my work with no bra on watching a favorite show at my desk in my home-office. Because interacting and photographing my clients is fun so it doesn’t even feel like work most days. Because I have the most flexible schedule ever. Because I don’t even shoot with a full frame camera yet. Because I don’t have all the best lenses or equipment or props. Because I AM a mom with a camera.
The end-all-be-all for me, for as long as I can remember, was the studio. I thought that if I had a studio it would mean that I had finally MADE it. Like there is some kind of list of qualifications a successful photographer has to have before they are legit. And man, for me, a studio was top of the list. Kim and I dreamed about our future studio endlessly and when Kim left I continued to dream about it.
But I couldn’t even afford a full-frame camera so how in the world could I afford a studio? A few months ago I actually called about a space for rent that looked appealing and when the woman on the phone said it was $2400/month my jaw dropped. That’s double our mortgage and so incredibly far out of reach I felt my dream slip further and further away. A far-fetched dream was what it had become.
Then, one day, my friend Laurie Nowling texted me a link to Katy Corea’s Facebook page and said I should check out her studio… Laurie said she thought it was pretty close to me. I took one look at the space and emailed Katy begging her to let me come see it. It was perfect, the rent seemed do-able and after lots of prayer/discussions/number crunching I went for it. It’s about a month later and I have the keys in my possession!
I wanted to write all of this out NOT to tell you that “WOOHOO I FINALLY MADE IT” but instead to tell all of the struggling photographers or newer photographers out there that I feel no different. Having this studio dream come true hasn’t changed how many sessions I am booking or how organized I am or how late I stay up working or anything. It’s changed my budget in a BIG way (so scary) and I hope that it’s going to add to my bookings but it hit me today that, for me at least, there is never going to be a “WOW YOU MADE IT” moment. There is always going to be another dream down the road I’m running towards. Which is how it should be I think. I’m a dreamer. And I want a lot for myself and my small business. I have huge financial goals. I have crazy post-it TO DO lists that are never ending. I have ideas pop into my head way faster than I can act on them. I want a LOT. A lot. Big dreams. And that’s good. But it means that this small little Webster Groves studio isn’t the end-all-be-all I once thought it was. It means it’s just another stepping stone on my photography journey. No different than the first time I used studio lighting or realized I needed to STOP using selective color! HA! Ok, maybe it’s a bigger step than not using selective color anymore, but it’s still just a step. I think that if I ever have a “WOW I MADE IT” moment I’m going to kick myself in the butt to keep moving forward or quit. I want to always have the desire to grow and change and adapt and learn.
What I’m trying to say to other photographers out there that might be in a different stage of their business is to just keep taking those small steps. Small steps add up quickly!
For the last six years I have worked incredibly hard. I’ve worked an insane amount of hours. I’ve made a TON of mistakes. I’ve made some good choices too. I’ve grown. And Fresh Art has grown.
SO I have keys to a studio I saw once and fell in love with. It’s small and perfect. I have ideas for new sessions to bring extra business in to hopefully pay for it all too! But at the end of the day I am still a mom with a camera. Who is crazy excited to take her kids and husband out for ice cream tonight to see her new studio!
Newborn photographers kill for smiles like this! And there’s nothing you can really do! Babies either smile in their sleep or they don’t but MAN are we stoked when we get those big grins!
Look at that crinkled nose! SO cute!
There are a ton of different ways I could approach this blog post but instead of trying to act cool (which is how all the other ways I can think of would have me trying to sound – and I’m just NOT cool) I’m going to tell you the God’s honest truth.
I really want to grow my high school senior business this year. I only book a handful of seniors each year even though my prices are on par with other local photographers and I love shooting them. I struggle to market the right way, so I freeze and don’t market at all. Which means I don’t book. And then that makes me doubt my senior work and well, it’s a vicious cycle that I’m sure all artists go through at some point!
So a few months back I asked my friend, Laurie Nowling of Bliss Eleven Studios out in St. Charles, who is AMAZING at seniors (and books OODLES of them) if she would want to work on a project with me. She immediately said yes which was such good news for me!
My idea was to approach a local boutique, see if we could borrow some clothes, do a small model search for local seniors and then shoot them for free. When you are in a rut, or excuse me, when I am in a rut, the best thing I can do is just to shoot something for ME. I might make it my mission to shoot something just for myself once a month (even in October!) as I think it would really do something spectacular for my creative energy! SO when I said I could write this blog a million ways I could have easily acted like Blush had hired us by just not really talking about the details… and honestly, I think a lot of photographers do stretch the truth a bit about some of their commercial work, but I don’t ever want people to think I’m not telling the truth! The truth is, I spent a lot of time, energy and money to shoot this all for free!
SO long story short, Blush Boutique in Kirkwood provided some of their favorite spring looks, Betsey Clark (who used to work for Blush and is basically my sister-in-law) came to do the styling (the owner of Blush was going to do it until she realized she had to be in the store that day so Bets bailed us out as a big favor!), Jennifer Estes of Manestream – a J. Estes Studio did all the hair, Esperanza Solis did the amazing make-up, Mary Price from Finch Vintage Rentals provided the vintage gear (most of which we ended up not using unfortunately… it was just too busy and the vision I had originally sort of flopped) and we rented space out at The Milton School House in Alton, IL. Did Laurie and I spend some money to do something that makes us nothing? Totally. And it was worth every penny!
What I learned is that I really love shooting seniors! It’s just a total change of pace from shooting newborns, families or kiddos. I learned a TON about posing from Laurie and was reminded how much I love shooting with someone else (I was really missing Kim!). When you shoot with someone that has equal skill level as you, you can really bounce ideas around and get another artist’s perspective which I just love. That part was so so great for me! I was loving the fact that Laurie and I are technically competitors but there is absolutely NO competition between us and I wish all photographers could be like that! She has become a great friend. I learned just how critical having stylists there can be to the success of a shoot and forever I will be encouraging my clients to book Katie Mohr (and I’m begging Betsey to come on board too b/c she did such an awesome job!) to help them really take their clothes to the next level. Amazing styling takes good images and just makes them so much better! And lastly, I was reminded how much I love finding the light! Shooting in a crazy new location forces you to find the light, especially on a dark overcast day like yesterday. I need to push myself to find new locations for my sessions because I just think that when I’m shooting somewhere I’ve never been before the images are just better. I’m more creative and ultimately have more fun.
I get emails a lot from newer photographers asking me all sorts of questions and I always answer them, whatever they ask. But more importantly than how to price or what kind of lights we use or how I edit, I think, is how I stay excited about my job. Because sitting at the computer for HOURS each day answering emails, editing, and doing all the other incredible amounts of boring work that comes with running your own business can just drain the life out of me. So the most important thing I think I can share with a new photographer is to shoot for yourself. Shoot for free sometimes. Shoot what doesn’t make sense. Push yourself, reach out to people like I did if you want to, just DO something that gets you out of your comfort zone for a little while and you will see the benefits ten-fold!
I am exhausted today. Two weeks ago I had a commercial shoot and a Fresh 48 session at the hospital, then I shot 18 mini sessions for a charity last Saturday, then I had two family sessions this week and a studio newborn followed by the seniors yesterday. The last two weeks have kicked my ass. And today I am paying for it because after total chaos and being so busy I’m now off for spring break so I think I just took a deep breath which let the exhaustion in. But even in the midst of being super tired I am on this amazing creative high! Getting to shoot along side the best senior photographer in our city! Meeting tons of new people! Becoming obsessed with that location! Falling in love with light again! It was all completely and totally worth the time, money and effort that went in to pulling yesterday off!
A HUGE thanks to Laurie. She is such an inspiration to me and someone I look up to a lot here. We have a small group of local photographers we hang out with and they all have just meant the world to me this year! Kristie, Yvonne and Michelle… get ready because you guys are next on my list to shoot with! HA! Anyway, Laurie was just amazing to work with and she took the reins on some of the planning when I had family stuff that took over (I missed the test shoot when we chose the models b/c of Bailey’s 2nd grade musical and Laurie did all the work for me!) even thought this whole beast was my idea. I can’t say enough about her!
And while I HATE to give away this amazing location, The Milton School House was just awesome! If any of my clients ever want an adventure I’d love to go back! Meredith, the owner, is awesome and was so fun to meet yesterday!
Anyway, I could go on and on but instead enjoy some of the images!
And obviously I couldn’t say anything about this day without telling you how SWEET (and obviously GORGEOUS) these four girls are! They were a true joy to work with!
THANKS to everyone that worked SO hard to pull all of this off! It’s a lot of work just to get some creativity back but SO so worth it!
I get asked all the time if I offer Baby Plans. I don’t. We’ve seen too many family’s financial situation change drastically in a year from the loss of a job or they move, etc. which makes dealing with the final sessions too hard. So usually I encourage parents to book a newborn session, maybe a mini for the “sitting up” stage and then either another mini or a full family session for the one year. It works that way and if something changes it doesn’t effect anyone too much! Much simpler!
So usually when someone contacts me about a session during those in-between times I encourage them to wait a bit for the next stage… if they call at 3 months I suggest waiting for the baby to sit up closer to 6 months as an example. Only because when they are so little you can only get so many positions because they’re too big to pose as a newborn but too little to sit/crawl/stand/walk you know?
And while I’m still not going to offer any sort of official Baby Plan I think I have changed my mind about that sweet little in-between age because Chase was a dream to photograph! SO cute and charming and it was the best way to spend a morning!
He had so much fun he got all tuckered out and fell asleep! This is the best cuddle age and OH MAN how I got my baby fix with him!
A baby girl! We’ve had so many little boys lately it was so much fun to play with headbands again! HA! Darby was SO sweet and once she was full we just flew through the session! We love babies that make our job so easy!
I mean… does a baby get any cuter than that? Not all babies will smile like that at a session and Kim and I are always thrilled when it happens! Headband from our friend Greta at Gremadcha on ETSY!
Headband from Nina Bina on ETSY.
Headband from Jameson Monroe on ETSY.
Hat from Angelina Accoutrements.
Mom and Dad love elephants so they brought this little swaddle blanket… we encourage families to bring pieces that are meaningful to them!
Headband by Little Love’s Designs… mom brought lots of things for us to use which is great because it means the images will be a bit more personal!
I love this sweet baby yawn!
It was a snowy day but wonderfully warm+cozy in the studio that day! A perfect day to be a newborn photographer!
Have a great start to your week everyone!
Kim and I got to meet up in the studio last week on a super cold day with the sweetest and squishiest new baby boy! Thomas was almost 10lbs and so so cute! All of Kim’s kiddos were over 8lbs so she was especially in heaven with all of that chubby baby goodness!
Such a sweet family! And we get to be in studio this week too! Loving all the babies lately!
It’s never too early to book your newborn session… I love having your due date on my calendar so book anytime!
SNOW DAY TODAY! I am working feverishly while my family naps (OH how I wish I was cuddled up napping with them!) to get a little caught up now that I have a loaner computer from Apple. Last week I spent a whole ton of time on my new website so going into the weekend I was already a little behind in edits, blogs, galleries and design work. Now I’m insanely behind and of course we have a busy weekend. Oh and soccer starts Monday for Chris which just means my stress level goes up a few notches with him gone all the time. And in case you’re wondering… YES this is the third time my computer has had issues since buying it in August SO as soon as we figure it out we’re moving forward towards a NEW computer because that thing is not coming back in this house! I am SO done with that lemon!
Blogging this sweet family loving their new baby on a snow day seems fitting! If I had a new baby right now I wouldn’t get off the couch for anything! Baby snuggles, warm blankets and lots of movies sounds amazing today!
Enjoy this sneak peek!
I hope everyone has a good day at home with your kiddos!
If you read my blog you know that we had a flood in our house right before Christmas. It destroyed our basement that was our kid’s playroom, my laundry room, all of our storage and where I did all of my wrapping for Fresh Art. We live in a 972sq ft house so we literally use every inch and losing such a big chunk of our house has been really hard. Of course, once all the construction is done it’s going to be WAY more amazing than it was, but in the meantime we are really missing that space! AND as all home renovations go in 60+ year old homes, it seems the more we get into the project the bigger the price tag. Which means that we’re going over the cap that our insurance company set and we’re going to need to pay the rest out of pocket. And what THAT means is that I need to bring in a little extra income during my slow season which is NOT easy!
So Kim (my brilliant go-to for all things business) helped me come up with a booking incentive I was going to announce this week. Just to help bring in that bit of extra income we need to finish our basement. I was going to offer anyone that booked a session for the rest of February or March and paid for that session fee or deposit before February 23rd would be entered to win a 16×24 canvas from their Feb/Mar session! That’s a GREAT deal considering the normal cost of such a large canvas is $400! And I AM going to announce that special (I guess I just did) but today I have something else to announce also, and for a few days I felt like I had a business dilemma.
Does anyone remember back, almost two years ago, to when we did mini sessions to help the Mohr’s adopt a baby? HERE is a post about it but there are about a bajillion other posts if you just scroll around the blog from March/April 2011. Well, we’re doing it again! An entire day of mini sessions to help someone else and it’s going to be AMAZING. Epic even. Just like the Mohr sessions were!
And of course those sessions are in March. So for two days I didn’t announce anything. Not the charity sessions OR the booking deal because how in the world can I try to bring in extra income in the same month I’m trying to raise money for someone else?
This morning I woke up and felt like I had my answer.
Cathy comes first.
My basement can wait.
If you are pregnant and wanting a newborn session or are a senior needing to get last minute shots before graduation or anyone wanting one of my full or larger mini sessions then you WILL be automatically entered to win the free 16×24 canvas if you pay your session fee before Feb 23rd. But everyone else that was considering photos this year? Book one of these……
Three friends banned together to help their friend Cathy, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. I happen to be friends with two of her friends, Julie and Allison.
One Wednesday night at church, Allison was telling some of us about Cathy. About how devastated she is for her. For her small son and family. Luckily, the cancer she has has a good survival rate! That is GREAT news! But fighting to keep her on the positive side of that rating costs a lot of money, and I would bet that the normal family, when faced with such unexpected costs, would struggle a little bit too. So Allison was talking about how her friends were trying to reach out to their individual groups of friends, colleagues, family, etc. to see what could happen. How much could three women do to help their friend?
I asked Allison how much they needed to raise and she said they would love to raise $5000.
In one day, two years ago, we raised exactly $5000 for the Mohr family.
It seemed too simple.
So on March 9th from 7am to 5pm (with a short lunch break in the middle) I will be photographing YOU to help support Cathy. A woman I’ve never met but one that deserves my help, and yours, as much as any of us do.
This morning I was laying in bed thinking about how God is just so obvious sometimes. How we will probably need about $5000 extra to finish our basement. How Cathy needs that same amount to help pay for treatment to battle cancer. God is so awesome. Cathy comes first.
I’m not sure this blog post could get any longer and I’m sorry that I had to explain so many things in such a round about way, but I just felt like you needed to hear my heart in all of this. So many times when I get stressed out and frantic about our finances something comes along that helps make it all work. We’ve never been homeless or hungry, God has always provided. And in unexpected ways. Like gift cards from our friends at church to a gift card for new Toms from someone I don’t know to offers for babysitting and painting from friends and family… this and SO much more came flooding in to us after our, well, flood! I know our basement will get finished and I know we’ll come up with the money to get it all done and when we’re hanging out down there with the kids in their new playroom the frantic worrying about money will feel like ages ago. This too shall pass.
It’s just a basement for pete’s sake! A BASEMENT! Not our health.
So instead, I want to focus my attention on raising money for Cathy. And her family. I am offering THIRTY TWO mini sessions on March 9th which could bring in $6400 for her (if I’m doing my math right!). That’s amazing to me! These sessions are going to be simple. One backdrop, studio lighting (so weather isn’t an issue), just a few shots of your kiddos, etc. But really, it’s not even about the photos is it? It’s about helping another woman. It’s her turn. And one day it might be my turn, or your turn, and we’re going to need one of our friends and maybe even their friends (and their friends and their friends…) to come together to help us. And I guess I just feel like if we do this together for Cathy it means someone else might do it for us.
Please consider booking one of these sessions. Tell your friends, your family, your neighbors and anyone else you know with kids! Or even a professional that needs a quick head shot! $200 is NOT a lot of money and it’s going straight to a great cause! 100% of the proceeds go to Cathy, I’m not keeping a dime and neither is anyone else who is helping with these. If you can’t come to the session but want to DONATE the $200 please let us know… then, like we did with the Mohr sessions, we will find another family in need to gift your session to! The giving can be endless people! Last time we also had donations of food for all the workers, beautiful hair pieces for the little girls, etc so if something else comes to mind that you want to donate, please let me know!
Now, because my novel isn’t quite long enough I want to share with you some words about Cathy from her friends…
Meet Cathy. For many years, Cathy has walked journeys with families and children at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. As a social worker, Cathy has helped children who have been abused and neglected find a sense of safety…she has helped children heal and find strength…she has helped families grieve and heal after losing a child. Simply stated, Cathy has been a force for good in the lives of so many.
Cathy recently began her own journey when she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. She is standing bravely in the face of the many challenges that come with such life changing news – meeting the demands of working full time to make ends meet and maintain insurance coverage, yet needing time for healing and recovery; maintaining a sense of normalcy for her family (including an amazing seven year old son) while managing the unknown and so many questions; finding a sense of peace while her body struggles with the many treatments designed to heal, yet bringing so many side effects in the process.
Cathy is a mom…a wife…a sister…a daughter…an aunt…a friend…a co-worker…Today is our opportunity to be a force for good for this amazing woman who has done so much for so many.
Thank you for taking time to learn about Cathy. Thank you for taking a moment to walk this journey with her. Thank you for caring and providing a sense of hope and relief.
From her dear friends and cheerleaders –
Julie Cleveland, Susan Tebb, and Allison Williams
(Cathy is in the middle)
Oh how I wish I had taken actual behind the scenes photos! But I didn’t. Sorry. I wasn’t planning on writing anything about the planning side of things so I didn’t plan ahead for photos.
Even so, I thought I would talk through how I handle and plan my mini sessions days just in case this helps someone else! I always feel like the only people who read my blog are 1. my mom 2. my clients when they’re waiting for a sneak peek and 3. some random blogger friends and I always forget that there might be photographers reading this who are new to their journey. I’m going to try to be better about talking more about the back side of this business because my gift is not teaching so I doubt I will ever hold a workshop or create a guide or any kind, but if there is anyone I can help along the way I’d love to!
SO here we go! MINI SESSIONS!
I start with the calendar. I’m sure this is obvious but I’m going to be as detailed as possible! I look ahead and figure out when Valentine’s Day is, how long I will need to get editing done, if there are products to get ordered how long that will take, add in packaging, etc… I work backwards from the holiday to figure out when I need to have them. My normal timeline is that galleries go up on the Thursday three weeks after your session and come down the following Monday. If I waited that long for these though it would be cutting it too close so this is the one exception to my rule and I try to knock them out super fast.
What SUCKS about Valentine’s Day is that it’s such a fun holiday to photograph kids but it comes SO close to Christmas that everyone is recovering from the holidays so they’re not looking to spend hundreds of dollars on fun (and in my opinion, not necessary) photos and it’s cold so no one has photos on their mind. It just kind of hits at the wrong time of year. And yet, I do them every year because I love them. And let’s be honest. If other people are a little cash poor after Christmas, we are too, and a little boost in January is good for the business and my bank account. When you live in a place that gets cold in winter I’m guessing January is a pretty slow time of year for you too. All that to say, these can be kind of hard for me to book solid. This year I wanted to book at least 5 but I had the entire day set aside so I decided to give back a bit and let everyone bring a friend. It was a great way for me to do something nice for my clients, I had the set-up already, I had the day open and shooting a few extra kids isn’t hard. I ended up having 14 sessions but two canceled last minute do to illness and family issues so I shot 12 families. It would have been AWESOME if all 12 were paid clients but I was happy with the bookings for these.
After I chose the date or dates, I need to double check that I have someone there to help me. It is impossible, I think, to do mini sessions alone. Kim and I used to do them together but now I have my assistant help. I book my sessions back to back in 20 minute intervals knowing that I probably only need 10-15 minutes but sometimes might need more like 25-30 minutes. I ask that my clients come about 15 minutes early so while I’m shooting and working with one client, Amy can welcome and get the next client ready. It’s also great because when I do get done faster than expected I get going on the next session early which ends up making the ones that take longer ok… I rarely get behind.
One of the hardest parts of all day mini sessions for me is the constant flow of people. I am outgoing and a people person, I genuinely love people, but I’m also an introvert. Being an introvert means that an entire day of constantly being “on” is hard and I always come away exhausted. Getting toddlers to stay put in a small area AND smile in my general direction takes a LOT of energy and when I get home I’m usually pretty spent. I was in bed asleep by 9am last Saturday which is unheard of for me! I only say this because if you are at all shy or struggle with the chaos of tons of people around this might not be the best thing for you to do… maybe you need to book less or spread them out a bit more so you have tiny breaks. Knowing yourself, how you work best and what will allow you to do your best job is important. For me, I know I can suck it up and get through the day when they’re back to back. Too many breaks and it makes me want to quit. I need that constant flow so my adrenaline never slows down until I collapse at the end!
Obviously the next big piece is the planning. I usually make a little ad and post it to FB, the blog and do an email blast. I use Mad Mimi for my emails and am loving it. I just added this this year and am kicking myself for putting it off for so long! Asking friends/family/clients to share the ad on their own FB page or asking them to forward the email to their friends is a great way to get the word out. I will admit that marketing myself is one of my biggest downfalls and something I’m hoping to work on this year. Getting the word out can be really hard sometimes! If you have any ideas to share I’d love to hear them!
Before emails start rolling in I try to have a response ready to go so I’m not typing the same thing over and over. I have initial responses ready for all inquiries that come in and all I do is type them out in an email, title the subject line of the email by what kind of email it is like, “newborn inquiry” or “vday mini session inquiry” and save it to my email drafts folder. Someone else might have a much better system for this but that’s working for me. When I get an inquiry then I take that already written response, personalize it to the family and send it out with the ad attached. Attaching the jpg just saves me having to explain cost and everything again since it’s usually in the ad.
Emails, right now, are my downfall. Sometimes I spend 3+ hours a day just answering emails. I’m slowly passing more and more of that kind of stuff off to Amy so I can have more time for other things. I’m guessing everyone has a constantly full in-box too!
Anyway, sometimes I go back and forth with a client lots and lots of times but I want them to know that I really care about them, their kids and that they’re willing to spend their hard earned money with me. The back and forth usually is about choosing a time slot, what to wear, etc. I never want someone to feel rushed or pressured by me so I don’t mind all the emails! Once they pick their time I enter it into Google Calendar. I use Google Calendar to run my business and would die without it! I won’t go into it all here but if you’re interested I can write another post all about how I use the calendar… just let me know in the comments or something!
I keep the list of time slots on the calendar like this:
9:40-10am: Jodie Allen (three kids ages 4.5, 6 and 7)
It lets me and Amy both know how many slots are filled and gives us an idea of what to expect with each session. If I’m paying attention, I try NOT to schedule babies right next to each other to give us a little break!
During this time I’ve also started planning the backdrop. I have a few issues with backdrops! HA! I really do though! I’m not a big fan of paper so I try my best to stay away from it. I also really truly hate the photographer backdrops they sell that so many people use. They just aren’t for me. It feels fake, which is stupid b/c it’s a BACKDROP, but it just feels faker then making something I guess. My requirements for a backdrop (usually) are that it’s as unique as possible. If I’ve seen it I won’t shoot it. Period. I am not going to straight out copy someone’s idea. I might take their idea and use it for inspiration though and make it my own. I usually like lots of layers. I like softness. I like vintage (if you’ve been to my home you know this is true, Chris jokes that you need a tetanus shot to come here!). I usually like a fairly neutral backdrop so the kids standout too.
This year I had a few ideas but decided to barter with an amazing artist, Janel, and trade her a session for a backdrop. And she did an awesome job! She took her collection of antique postcards and put them on a board for me to use. There were two big issues with it though that were totally my fault. First, it was way too small. I told her that 4′x4′ would be ok and it’s totally NOT ok. Then, I have an issue with a solid backdrop because there is a crack where it meets the floor and I am not a fan of using baseboard to make it look like a fake wall. I don’t want to look like I’m faking a wall, I want it to look like a studio backdrop I guess. I’m not even sure what that means but “fake” drives me crazy. SO the night before the sessions, at 8pm, I hauled my kids to Hobby Lobby for plan B! I knew we had some torn white/cream fabric already on the backdrop stand from the Christmas Mini sessions so I bought a bunch of lace, ribbon, some cream burlap and some linen which we just tied on to the backdrop for more layers on top of what we already had. I really think it turned out beautiful! Oh and I’ve already been able to use Janel’s smaller backdrop for something else which I’ll share soon! So it’s certainly NOT going to waste!
This year I am also working with Mary from Finch Vintage Rentals who brought over some props for me to use in exchange for the images! LOVE HER! And her stash of stuff! I think bartering and trading is so great for our industry and the cross-promotion is great too. Like when I tell you to go check out Mary’s site HERE! HA! I like to have a small pile of props that I know I can pull from just to make each session a tiny bit different. This time I had two chairs and a little stool, a suitcase, two bird cages, a little tray, some jars of candy, etc. They were literally in a pile next to me and when I saw the ages of the kids or what they were wearing I would toss in what I thought would work best. They are all VERY similar in look but at least it’s not all exactly the same.
Once I figure out the set-up (usually there isn’t a last minute craft store trip!) I pull some clothing ideas. This year I thought the kids would look best if they were all in neutral/soft colors to play on the vintage love letter theme we originally had planned. About a week or so from the session I send one last email to everyone that has signed up. The email includes the address to the studio, details of how we run the day (asking them to come early, etc.), we encourage them to have a bribe with them if they think they’ll need it (bribing a kid with something NOT physically there NEVER works… like… “if you sit still and smile we will go get a toy after this!” isn’t as good as, “LOOK! Here is your new toy if you can just sit for one minute!”), I mention that I do have candy there that day as little treats for the kids, I list out the times everyone booked so I’m sure I have it right and then I link to the clothing ideas I’ve pulled. I don’t expect everyone to go buy new clothes but seeing what I mean by “soft vintage colors” can help them figure out what to pull from a closet too.
As for me, I try to go to bed early the night before because it’s always a long day, I bring a big cup of iced tea to drink and I take an Excedrin in the morning with an extra one in my pocket to keep a headache at bay! A few years ago we did a day of minis for a family and shot 25+ families in one day… the headache I had that day was so intense I’ve never forgotten it so now I go prepared! HA! We also always leave ourselves a good 2 hour break for lunch so we can go sit somewhere and relax. That time frame also allows us enough time even if we’re running late. And we almost always eat at Chipotle because it’s semi-healthy but super filling because I’m always starving by then!
I guess the only thing I didn’t mention is what I do post-session. Most of this is probably so simple everyone has skimmed and stopped reading by now but just in case this is helping at all I’ll finish!
After the session I try to upload the images to LR right away. I get shots off my cards as soon as possible because I just don’t trust those little suckers! LR automatically backs up to my Dropbox (my entire business is backed up with Dropbox Teams and I love it) so my RAW files I know are safe in case of a crash. I use Lightroom (LR) to do my culling and that’s the other thing I try to do right away. I zip through each family pretty quick flagging the ones I like and not paying attention to how many I’ve grabbed. With mini sessions I promise 5 images but I usually give 6-10. I try to run my business by under promising and over delivering whenever I can. Anyway, so I flag all the ones I like which might be more like 15 per family then I delete all the rest. I don’t save RAW files I know I’m not going to use.
By that point I usually need a bit of a break so I probably step away or in this case I went to bed early. But as soon as I can, I get back and do my editing in LR. I do basic edits in LR, export them as JPGs to a folder in Dropbox and then I’m ready for the final edits in PS (Photoshop).
Again, no one probably cares about this but I will share this part anyway…. when I export into DB (dropbox) I keep my files in one of four folders.
1. Edit for blog
2. Finish Gallery
3. Ready for ordering
4. Ready to Burn Disc (really I use flash drives but I still call them discs)
Those four folders are in a main folder called “Editing”.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I knew how to do a screen shot? HA! Now you know why I don’t teach anything!
ANYWAY (is this the world’s longest explanation about a freaking 15 minute session ever?)… that is my work flow and it keeps me sane. I title my client folders by date so it would look like this, “1.23.13 Allen Family 25″. The date goes first, then the client name and then the number of images I need to edit. A mini session would look like, “1.23.13 Allen Vday Mini 5″ or a newborn would be, “1.23.13 Allen newborn 25″. Not sure if that makes sense or not but it just reminds me how many shots I HAVE to have (again, I aim to have a few more than promised). Once the session is finished and is out of those four folders it goes into my archives which I organize by session type (newborns, family, kids, etc.) but I leave their folder titled like it was at first, by date.
That is hard to explain but it’s really working for me (along with my calendar and my tasks calendar!).
I do my mini sessions so they come with the disc included. That saves me the time of resizing the images and uploading galleries. HOWEVER, this time I am doing galleries because I have some fun V-day products to offer! This will be my first time so wish me luck getting them all up in time! My deadline I gave myself is to have them all uploaded by tomorrow! I’m close to being done though so that’s good! Amy comes every Tuesday to package/deliver/ship so whether there are orders or not (no order is required for these sessions so I MIGHT be wasting my time but that’s ok!), all flash drives will be packaged and ready to go next week!
I like a fast turn around time if possible for mini sessions! Especially when the holiday they are designed for is coming up quick!
MAN, my fingers hurt from typing! I hope this helps anyone considering a mini day that hasn’t held one before! Please let me know if you have any questions and I will either email you right back or answer them in the comment section! I am an open book as much as I can be so ask away!
A BIG thanks, again, to Amy, Janel and Mary for helping me pull these off! AND we got to see KIM for a minute when she joined us for lunch! SO fun to have her there for a little bit!
I’ve been thinking about this post all week and I still don’t have a good handle on what I’m going to write so bear with me as I think/process as I type.
If someone were to ask me what I do for a living I would say, “I’m a photographer.”
If they asked what type of photography I do I would probably pause for a second and say something like, “Newborns. Oh and families. But we do lots of newborns. Well, really I might do more families…” before I just stopped talking because I sound like an idiot.
I am a family photographer at my heart because newborns, maternity, kids and family all fall under that category in my opinion. Now, I understand you can specialize even more than that and ONLY shoot newborns but what I’ve never understood is where you send your client when the baby turns one, or two or ten? Do you lose that client and that income? Or if you only shoot children do you say no when mom wants a shot of everyone together? When people say they “specialize” I always wonder how many times they break their own rules to keep a client happy you know?
And then what about when your business needs to bring in a bulk of your income but it’s winter, after Christmas and everyone’s paychecks are going to be lower so bookings are scarce? Do you take the head shot job you would say no to in October? If you’re me you do! And you do it SO happily! HA!
But would I call myself a head shot photographer? Nope. If someone called for commercial work would I turn them down because I’m a family photographer? Not on your life. What about boudoir or engagement or extended families? Bring it on.
I think it’s hard in this small photography world of blogs where you’re only seeing half-truths to know if what you’re seeing is real or not. Because a lot of people preach the SPECIALIZE way of life but I’d love to know how much income they’re making. Are they hitting $100,000 a year only shooting kids? What is their average sale? Even if they look busy are they shooting their friend’s kids for free just to fill their blog? Are they doing head shots behind the scenes and just not talking about it?
I would love to have 5-10 newborns a month and fill in with kids/families and call it done. But that’s not my reality. I have slow seasons and hard months. SO I take on random jobs that help pay the bills and keep the kids fed. Right now I’m even doing some freelance design work to help fill in the gaps and I couldn’t be more thankful that job came up when I needed it!
I guess I’m writing all of this because there are so many HUGE names out there that teach you can’t shoot everything or you’ll never really be good at anything and I think that’s crap. Kind of. I think that if you are running your business for profit, if your income is essential to your family you might do something that doesn’t exactly feed your soul if it means it’s helping to feed your kids. You might not blog about it, and that’s ok, because I do think the whole idea of “showing what you want to sell” is a good way to run your blog, but I think it’s ok to take the job.
At the same time, however, I think there HAS to be some kind of limit for you. You have to know what you just aren’t good enough at to sell to someone. Or be honest with yourself and don’t do the work you just hate because it will show in the final product. For me, I have to draw the line at weddings. Mostly. I’m actually shooting a quick ceremony for a friend in February and for a deserving teacher in the spring. But I’m doing both for FREE because I wanted to give back. I’ve been tossing around the idea of bringing on an associate photographer that would shoot weddings for Fresh Art because I think if a business is going to grow it needs to see where it can fill in the gaps. For me, the BIG gap is weddings.
AND, I think, even if you take on almost any job that comes your way (mostly in the slow season when the things you’re passionate about aren’t knocking down your door) it doesn’t mean you have to advertise it or put effort into booking it. I made a pretty huge mistake this year in regards to this. I am NOT a boudoir photographer but I love shooting boudoir. I love interacting with the women, I love working with Katie Mohr, I love stepping outside my comfort zone and I love watching a woman open up and go from feeling shy/embarrassed to beautiful. BUT I am not looking to book them all the time. I’m not ever going to have a boudoir gallery online or showcase my images.
So what does that mean? It means that if a past client or even a new client contacted me randomly about shooting a boudoir session for them I would absolutely take it. Because if they sought me out it’s because they love my work and feel they can trust me. What it also means is that if I don’t want to be shooting it all the time or specializing in it I shouldn’t run specials for it or advertise it. Wedding photographers make more natural boudoir photographers because a new bride loves to gift that to their husband. A newborn/family photographer doesn’t have the right clientele to push for a day of mini sessions like that. Which I found out when not one single person booked. If I had put the same effort into something that makes more SENSE for my business as I did when creating the session and the marketing piece for those boudoir sessions I bet I would have been WAY happier than I am now as I take the boudoir minis off my calendar, unbooked.
But January rolls around, I ALWAYS freak out and I search for anything that could bring money in. So I announce winter specials and Valentine’s Day mini sessions and boudoir mini sessions! Because I think that’s going to get my bank account growing again. But then V-day mini’s book a decent amount and not one person books boudoir. And I wonder why. MAYBE it’s because ALL YEAR I’ve shown photos of families and kids on my blog and not a single naked lady! Maybe the whole “you book what you show” actually works!
I’ve been thinking A LOT this week about where I want Fresh Art to go this year, why I don’t trust that God will provide in January/February, what I’d love to be shooting on a weekly basis and more. My brain has been on overdrive I think.
What it comes down to for me is that I’m ok not specializing. I will admit to being giddy with excitement over head shots this week! I am big enough to admit that I get scared every single winter and panic. But moving forward I want to change a few things. I want to slow down and stop the panic. I want to trust that Fresh Art is strong enough to hold its own in a bad economy, in the winter and with a crazy boss-lady (ME!) at its helm. I want to trust Him that my family will survive my slow season. I want to be more diligent with my savings so that my slow season feels like a blip and not a speed bump. I want to put my marketing efforts towards things I want to shoot and that fit in with my vision for Fresh Art. I want to hone my skills in the areas I’m most passionate about. I want to work on getting better systems in place so when I move from slow winter season to my busier seasons things run smoothly.
I want to find my truth.
I want to be secure in what Fresh Art is all about. If that means launching a new senior website (which I’m doing soon!) and bringing on an associate photographer for weddings so that Fresh Art is NOT specialized but instead your lifetime photographer, then so be it. OR if I want to turn down every single job except happy families then ok! Whatever I do I want to own it and rock it out! And what I think that means most for me is just to stop wasting my time worrying about what might be coming down the pipe and instead focus on making Fresh Art into what I dream it can be.
Whether you specialize or not I just hope you can find what’s true for you. Where do YOU want to be in five years? Shooting only newborns? Then figure out all the tiny steps you can do between now and then and start walking! And I’m going to take my own advice too!