Monday, January 20, 2014

Directions of My Photography Business

When I had to quit my job with Mom365 (a company that provides newborn hospital portraits) to stay at home with my son who has a variety of special needs and was expelled from summer school, I decided to focus more on my photography business.  It had been my dream job and I hoped that I would be able to go back to it, but I wasn't holding my breath.
 It was an amazing opportunity and it gave me lots of experience with newborns.  I had done some newborn photography prior and my portfolio was a big factor in my hire with the company (my boss said he hadn't seen work that good from even his veteran photographers).  However, photographing babies all day, four days a week gave me more confidence in my abilities.  I was often called the baby whisperer because I spoke in a soothing voice and knew all the tricks to calm down even the fussiest babies.  I learned what worked and what didn't.  I learned all the tricks to managing babies.  I learned posing quickly and easily.  I learned what pictures evoked emotion and how to capture that.  I learned about backgrounds.  I learned how to overcome my reluctance to speak to and sell to people I didn't know and to gain the trust of virtual strangers so that they invited me in to this most precious and personal time in their lives.  Though it was not an experience I relished, I had the opportunity to bless a family by taking pictures of their stillborn baby and learned empathy for those with the bereaved sign on their door amidst all the happy families that welcomed healthy babies into their lives.  I even learned the technicalities of using certain equipment--the camera we used was identical to mine and I ended up getting the same flash that we used at the hospital.

So, I decided to throw what I learned behind my business and grow it so that I could afford to stay at home with my son.  But, while I have had customers here and there, it hasn't grown into the full-blown full-time business I had hoped.  Part of that lies with me and partly, I wonder if this is not what God intended for me.  Since quitting at the end of May, I have only had four paying sessions, despite handing out lots of postcards and business cards.  And since my philosophy is to have affordable photography, that doesn't translate into a reliable second income.

Along the line, I have had to examine myself and decide what kind of photographer I am.  My husband says I shouldn't read these kinds of things, but I read an article written by a pro photographer where he implored new photographers to decide if they were to be professional photographers or hobbyists.  He defined them basically by saying that a pro photographer does what the customer wants and a hobbyist is more true to their art.  He went on to say that if you are going to be a pro, you need to charge a fortune because you undercut the market for other photographers.  I totally get that photography takes a lot of time and work.  Between the cost of equipment and the time you spend on taking pictures and editing and your experience and training, higher costs are understandable and worth it.  Considering I spend anywhere from one to four hours TAKING the pictures and in the neighborhood of 10+ hours EDITING, charging a lower rate means I make less than minimum wage.  And as sore as I am after crawling around on my knees to get the perfect shot, I SO deserve making the big bucks!  However, I am not trying to undercut any other photographers and even if I think my photography is WORTH more, my philosophy is partly a mission.  I know what it's like to be a single mom and not have money for extras.  I know what it's like to have a single income family and no money for extras.  Wealthy people should not be the only ones who are able to afford great photography to record their precious memories.

I had originally thought I would create a studio in my home.  My husband and I discussed setting up backdrops and debated whether the garage or the basement would be the best place.  I had somewhere in the neighborhood of two dozen backdrops picked out.  However in the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to dabble in studio photography and have decided I do not enjoy it.  Friends from church allowed me to borrow backdrops and strobe flashes.  At first, it was interesting to be able to take photos in my home with these flashes.  But, then the problems presented themselves.  Carting all that equipment around (altogether, it encompasses five bags, two of which are extremely heavy, and doesn't include the backdrops which are large and cumbersome) was difficult, to say the least.  They are large and awkward and heavy.  If I were to do studio photography, it would have to be a permanent studio.  Setting up and taking down is time-consuming and back-breaking.  I looked into the cost of this equipment I was borrowing and found that it was beyond my budget.  I'd have to charge those big bucks and cater to the rich clientele to be able to afford it.  Then, I had to consider my philosophy as a photographer, beyond just my philosophy on my fees.  I don't want to be like Sears or WalMart or a school photographer.  I don't want canned poses and smiles.  My husband thinks if I give it a chance, I could be creative enough to figure out how to do my style of photography in front of a backdrop indoors.  But, my style is to capture moments and connections between family members.  That's hard to do in a basement in front of a bedsheet.  The other bit of info I gleaned was from the family I borrowed the flash and backdrop equipment from.  The dad had thought he would create a studio in his basement, but figured out that it hadn't worked as well as he had hoped with the low ceilings in the basement, which I also have.  So, at every turn, I am thinking that studio photography isn't for me.

The other thing I began to consider was that even though I enjoy taking pictures of seniors and families and children and events, if I were to specialize, the three areas I would focus on would be babies (where most of my experience lies), nature photography, and theme photography.  I enjoy going to the park or the zoo and taking pictures of trees, flowers, animals, anything!  It's relaxing!  My husband often sends me out to do this type of photography when I am stressed out.  And the great thing about nature photography is that it's all about you as a photographer.  You don't have to worry about getting children to look at you or making anyone smile or pose.  And when I say "theme photography", I mean not the ordinary posed photography.  Some ideas I have had are to do a teddy bear picnic with a little girl, a biker shoot with a little boy, cowboys and cowgirls, little red riding hood, and balloons tied to a little red wagon that a little one is sitting in.  Not everybody wants to participate in a themed photo shoot, though.

A friend recently told me about a few services where you can offer your photos for sale or offer your photography services for hire, such as for stock photography.  This is something I am going to look into because I could do nature photography, which I love, and make money with it.

I am no longer pushing my photography business to grow.  I'll take what comes along and enjoy my hobby instead of stressing about making money with this business.  Whatever happens happens and life is less stressful and I begin to enjoy my hobby again.

My most recent photography session was for a precious newborn girl and her family.  Here are a couple of pictures from that session...

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