Interview With a Photographer

I was emailed this week from a junior high school student who I photographed years ago with her mother. Brianna shared with me her love for photography and her desire to explore this art as a career. In a paper she has to write for class, she asked me a list of questions that I thought would make an excellent blog post.
The answers on some level reveal why I have been so negligent over here on the blog…
1. Is Apex Images your personal business, did you found it?
Yes, it is listed as a sole proprietorship.
2. How long has it been in business?
I registered the trade name with the state of Colorado back in 1997

3. How many people work there altogether?
Myself and two contract assistants when I need them. My second shooter Scott has been with Apex Images since he was a senior in high school, so the process you are you are doing right now is a good start!

4. What did you do after high school? What did you major in?
After high school I went to a trade school for Fashion Design and became a certified pattern maker. I loved everything fashion and tried really hard to make it in that industry. Unfortunately, Colorado did not and still struggles to keep up with the fashion industry and at the time it was very difficult forDenverites to understand couture. The internet was not really an everyday experience yet. I do think having the internet available today brings the rest of the world to us and now there is a better understanding of the industry. It was photographing my clothing designs that led me to really uncover that I loved photography. And now I am currently in school finishing up a degree in Graphic Design and will be graduating in December.

5. How has your past influenced your present? (Professional photography, business, experience)
Wow, good question. Your past always influences your present, especially when it comes to learning. I have always loved art, as an expression, as a vocabulary, as a voice; however, my view of art when I was younger was uneducated and unrefined and I do think that limited knowledge gives you a limited pallet to choose from. On the same hand it also gives you the freedom to explore and learn from trial and error, which is exactly how I started off in photography…trial and error and a whole lot of film.
I have been photographing people and weddings for over 20 years. I can look at images I took 20 years ago and see how certain aspects of my craft are dated…this influences how I shoot now. I use very little ‘actions’ and very little Photoshop, I want a classic, never-go-out-of-style, thought provoking composition, correctly exposed image. And I want that image to stand the test of time. If you study the early masters of photography, their images are timeless; just as beautiful today as when they were taken.
Business is a whole other animal. Looking back I see so many mistakes I have made as a business owner. Photography, the actual time spent behind the lens of the camera, is about 10% of the job. I went into business thinking I was going to be taking pictures all the time and it was a huge wake up call when that did not happen. When I left Macy’s 6 years ago to pursue photography as a business full-time, I was not prepared. That is always my advice for those pursuing any career in the arts…understand the business side of your chosen medium, and if you don’t, hire someone who does and listen to them. The art is such a small part of the business.

6. Do you have an additional occupation?
I have been starting work in the Graphic Design Field and I am shifting my photography into a more commercial direction. As I mentioned I am almost finished with my degree and want to be able to use my photography experience and mix it with graphic design.

7. How would an average day at work look for you?
I don’t know that I have an average day and maybe this lack of structure is what led to me rethink my business…who knows, but I would describe them as hectic. People have a misunderstanding of self-employment if they have not experienced it for themselves, there is an assumption that you ‘have the day off’ or that ‘you are not really working and have time to take care of ________”(fill in the blank). It is really quite the contrary, yes, I can take a day off in the middle of the week if I plan ahead…that is nice, but what is really there is, books need balancing, marketing plans need developing, customers need communication, website/blogs need maintaining, looking for new customers….and the list goes on. Most companies have separate departments for all of those tasks, but when you are a very small business owner, you do not have the funding for such overhead…you have to fill all of those shoes. During wedding season, I had days where I would work 15 hour days…till 2 or 3 in the morning.
8. How does the process work (booking a shoot, choosing location, charging it, etc)?
Most of the clients who call me for the first time are referrals from other clients so they have some kind of understanding of the process. I first have a phone interview with them and find out what kind of photography they are needing ie. wedding, maternity, senior pictures, corporate headshots, etc.. Once that is determined, we determine if the session is outdoors or indoors. I try to have them as involved in this process as possible, it allows them to design their session and ‘buy’ into the process. The more questions I ask the better the session goes, you have to know your clients in order to get the best image with the most personality.
I have many places that I like to photograph at in the Denver metro area and I am always on the lookout for new ones as well. As a photographer, I am always looking at everything through the lens of a camera and will ‘see’ locations. I always carry a sketch pad with me to write down locations that I see and have a file of places that I want to shoot. If I see a place that might be a bit too avant-guarde for a new client, I will have a ‘model play session day’ and test it out the location.
9. What are your prices?
This can be a touchy subject for photographers, I think I am in the lower middle range of pricing. If you price your self too low, you look inexperienced and it is impossible to make a living. Price yourself too high with out proper market research and you could price yourself right out of work. It is a balancing act. This is where some business acumen really helps. You have to determine who your target market is, what your level of experience is and price accordingly.
I had a business coach who broke everything down for me and gave me a wake up call to pricing. It is also one of the most misunderstood values, as you will start to see.
$3000 for a wedding to some people is expensive but after pricing out all of my expenses related to a typical wedding I would make $4.30 an hour! That is below minimum wage and way below poverty level. You have to start at $5000 for a wedding in order to start making a living as a wedding photographer. Mid-level consumers in general, are very much in-the-dark about photography prices. From JC Penny’s to Craigslist, there are so many options for cheap photography now that there can be a misunderstanding of what a professional charges. We have to pay for insurance, marketing, web, equipment and computers, and don’t forget self employment taxes and a plethora of other expenses. Most nonprofessional/hobbyists do not have those expenses and it becomes a problem when something goes wrong for the client who hired the nonprofessional, they have no recourse. These are just some of issues that have to be considered when establishing prices.

10. What is the most rewarding aspect of this job?
Being creative, having a client trust that you are the artist and allow you to work magic. I have had so many moments when a new mom sees the pictures from their newborn session and begins to cry, you cannot help being overjoyed with what you have created for them…a lifelong memory that will continue to have value for generations.
A while back I had a client contact me that her father had died and that her favorite picture of her and her father was an image I took at her wedding. I sent her the digital file so they could enlarge that image for the funeral. There are many moments like these that I am reminded of how powerful the medium of photography is and there is comfort in knowing that this art/medium will never go away.

11. What would you recommend to aspiring photographers?
1. Learn film first. All the young, sorry 🙂 creatives who are entering into photography do not understand the value of learning film first before moving onto digital. Learning to properly expose an image is the most valuable tool in photography. I see far too many aspiring photographers who use photoshop as their ‘coverup‘ for not understanding exposure or using ‘actions’ because they do not have a deeper understanding of photography and how much of that post-production work could be accomplished in the camera.
2. Work with a professional, assist, carry gear, whatever it takes. I especially recommend doing this before spending a lot of money on gear or choosing this as your major. I have had many aspiring photographers tag along on sessions or weddings to get a feel for the profession. Most do not choose weddings, they have a hard time making it through the reception. Many do not realize how physical the job is. My average wedding client pays me for 8 hours of coverage…some weddings last 10+ hours. Standing on your feet, running from here to there always with gear in your hands, strapped around your waist, around your neck, etc. In addition you have to be ready at all times for THE shot and if you are good, there are many more than just that one, so you are always on your toes having to pay attention. On the portrait side of the business, many do not realize how difficult it is to get a two year old to ‘sit still and smile for the camera.’
3. Be yourself and be confident. Find your own creative voice and take pictures that no one else is taking. Do not be afraid to take risks when creating an image. Know that when you have something great, someone will copy you; do not get angry, be flattered and raise your bar.

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