Next up in the lineup of pros we’re tapping to chat with is Amanda Reed, a fun and fearless high school senior portrait photographer. We love her attitude (in addition to her gorgeous images), so we had to ask her how she built her business from the ground up, how she keeps it alive in her tiny West Virginia town and what inspires her to keep capturing those teens at such an important time of their lives. Amanda’s got some amazingly fun ideas for promotion and marketing, too, so read on to see what she says!
Photos by AR Photography
What is your niche, and how did you find it? How would you describe your specific style of photography?
My photography journey starts with a personal tragedy that took place when I was 10. When you are 10 you are mostly concerned with Scooby Doo episodes and your bike. Not me. When I was 10 and my youngest brother was 4 he suffered a brain aneurysm. To make a long story short, his life is a miracle. Doctors told us he would not have anything to offer the world, that his life expectancy would be a maximum of 18 years. Damage from the aneurysm was indeed severe. He requires 24-hour care. Epilepsy now wreaks havoc on his body and my now 27-year-old brother will always mentally be my 4-year-old brother in an adult body. So, the doctors were wrong.
When he was 21 and about to graduate high school, he needed senior portraits. Watching my brother be ridiculed, watching him tire after a seizure, I knew this would be a daunting and stressful situation. I told our mother I would handle his portraits. I was always documenting everything with my camera for as long as I could remember. So, I took my brother’s senior portraits. In that moment I realized I captured a moment doctors had told me would never happen and that these images may be all I have to hold on to one day.
That moment changed my life. People recognized my work. My love for photography became more than documenting moments – it became an outward expression of what moves my soul and a journey to perfect this profession.
In 2008, Amanda Reed Photography had legs and of course high school seniors are my niche. It is where I got started, where I feel most creative and where I feel I can have the most impact on a young adult’s life. Growing up in West Virginia it is very easy to be sheltered by our beautiful mountains and heritage. It is easy to be convinced that you will never have more than what your family has. The fact that I still live in the small town of 1500 people I grew up in and have a successful career, that I can travel and experience new places and situations inspires the clients I come into contact with. I want them to know that with hard work and faith your dreams can fly you to places you only dreamed about.
How did you find your “happy place” in your profession? Did you know how you were going to make AR succeed from the start?
That is a hard question to answer. I shoot from my heart. A few years ago I got caught up trying to emulate what other successful photographers were doing. I spent a lot of time reading blogs, trying to figure out their style and yet I was very unhappy. I began examining my life, my choices. I was working way too much for way too little. I spent half of the night on the computer. I was spending more time with other families than I was my own. My business was running me and I was not happy.
In 2010 I attended my first WPPI convention and learned the importance of a business plan. I came home and went to work on finding me. I stopped reading blogs. I hid every photographer and photography page from my Facebook wall. I developed a business plan. I stopped working weekends. I scheduled work hours from 9 to 5, Monday through Thursdays. I quit relying on sweet light and relied on skill to manipulate and create light. I honed my craft and I found me.
If you want to find your style, turn off the noise, tune out what everyone else is doing and look for you in what you create.
In 2010, the market was saturated with photographers and the economy was in a down turn. Our business was thriving. Every six months it seemed liked I reached a point where I said “go big or go home.” We went big and broke ground on my studio in 2011, by the winter of 2012 we were moved in. Was it scary taking on the debt of a studio when the economy was crashing? Yes, but I knew when the market recovered I would be way ahead of photographers who were relying on nice weather to run a business. While they were praying for warm weather I could master in-studio lighting. Operate on a 12 month calendar of income instead of the 6 month on-location photography calendar. Right now, we are sitting pretty and I could not be happier with our success.
Apart from technical skill and perseverance, what do you think is the secret to your success?
I attribute 75% of that to my personality. I am a people person. I love honestly and openly. I know that when you walk into my studio that smile on your face may be hiding hurt and insecurities. High school is a tough time. My high school years were some of my hardest, personally. I want my clients to feel comfortable. We talk personally and comfortably. They are making an investment in my work and I am making an investment in them. I come from a genuine place in befriending my clients. I want every young adult who walks in that door to walk out feeling better than when they arrived. Not only do I invest in my client but I invest in what is important to them. We often joke that I give away more money than I make but I have no problem with that. I give back to our high schools, I rally around them. I want Amanda Reed Photography to be integrated in the happenings of not just my town but my state. If it is a charity event, a sporting event or a simple prayer that I can offer my heart to then you better believe I am going to make every effort to be there.
My essential gear:
- Canon 5D Mark II
- Canon 70-200 IS L series lens
- Adobe Bridge/Photoshop
- PhotoVision Reflector goes everywhere I go.
We hear you’ve done some pretty fun events to market your brand. What are they?
One year we decided to see how far our fans would go to show their love for AR. The craziest idea would win them $1500 worth of products. My brother kicked things off by shaving my logo into his hairy chest. Yep! Things only got crazier from there. A few examples of entries were: my logo burned into a field, a sleeping baby lying beside milk spilled into my logo, people with backstage passes to concerts having music artists sign autographs to “AR.” All of these were fabulous ideas but the winner tattooed AR on her leg. Those were not her initials, not by any means! We had over 200 entries. Lots of them amazing so it was going to take something big to seal the deal and this did it. I posted every entry to my Facebook account and tagged the entry. When you tag 200 entries and multiply that by their number of friends we were getting maximum exposure. People were waking up to see our page and the craziness going on around it.
This year we are going to prom. Yes, prom. I offered a free session and an iPad mini to the first person to take me to prom. I have no plans of crashing the prom. Only to create buzz, arrive in the limo with clients, pose for prom portrait and be on my way. If you missed out on taking me to prom then you can take Flat AR. It is a twist on the Flat Stanley character. Snap some images with my flat AR persona with you getting ready for prom, family portraits, at dinner, on the dance floor, etc. Whoever shows Flat AR the best time at prom and documents it through images wins $1500 worth of products.
All of these fun ideas create a ton of buzz for our business and our clients realize that we are about having fun.
The promotion I am most proud of is our Annual Toy Drive event. During two weekends in November I will photograph 34 sessions. The cost of these sessions is a new toy valued at $35. Each session lasts 20 minutes with option of purchasing another 20 minutes for another toy donation. Our print pricing is deeply discounted for this event but that still doesn’t stop some clients from ordering over $1800 in products from a 20-minute session. Each year we donate toys to a different charity so that I can spread our love back to different communities who support us. Some of our clients really outdo themselves by donating bikes and electronics to make a child’s Christmas a little brighter.
We have to ask: What are your favorite SmugMug features?
High school seniors live in the moment. I believe the faster we can put products in their hands, the happier the client experience will be. That’s where SmugMug comes into play. The ability to link clients to their galleries and the sharing options they have right from their computer or mobile device leads potential clients directly back to me. If I am photographing a charity event or a high school basketball game, the option my clients have for to downloading and sharing the display copies directly from my galleries creates amazing word-of-mouth advertising for our business.
So, what would you say is the #1 secret to success?
How you define success is very important and my definition should be different than yours. I define my success by the quality of my life and the time spent with the ones I love. It is not about the money, the exposure, magazine covers or speaking engagements. When photography affords me the opportunity to make a difference in an individual’s life, that is when I am most successful. Please do not get caught up in the “do it all” mentality. You do not have to be on the cover of a magazine, have a million dollars in the bank, be on speaking circuit, and have products to sell to the photography industry to be a great example of success.
I believe you have to carry a smile in your heart. When you find you, you find success.
As a final note, I know you are going to visit my blog and website but please do not spend much time there reading about my life and my work. That is how you waste time worrying about the competition. Instead, grab your camera, go find you and find success!
At SmugMug, we’re all about supporting your business and we love to help you succeed. Today’s guest post is by our longtime SmugMug customer and successful full-time professional photographer, Kathy Rappaport. She is CEO (Chief Everything Officer) at Flash Frozen Photography Inc. in Woodland Hills, California. For many years she kept her pencil sharp as an Accountant and honed her Marketing and Operational skills as a VP in Bank Management. She’s a QuickBooks Certified Advisor and consults with photographers on best business practices when she isn’t photographing families, children, dogs and women in lingerie (though usually not all at the same time). So, we were thrilled when she shared her tips with us, and we wanted to share them with you.
The US Small Business Administration says that 80% of small businesses fail in the first five years. So what are some good business practices for photographers so they don’t fail? Or better yet, so they succeed? Here are a few of mine!
1) Good Accounting!
If the reason you work is to make money, then you’d better track how much you make, how much things cost, who owes you money and how much you owe the government. My favorite solution is QuickBooks. It comes in Mac and PC Flavors and even Online and mobile editions now. My personal favorite is the Premier Edition (which is for PC) because you can track your costs and customers in detail. There are many good features to the program like customized invoices, sales tax tracking, customer tracking, inventory and product sales. It’s pretty easy to learn and maintain. Take care of your money and it will take care of you! There are other solutions, but, this is reasonable and comprehensive. And way better than a shoebox.
2) Good Pricing!
“My camera is paid for and I love to shoot so anyone who pays me something is my client.” Well, just because people pay you doesn’t make you a professional. A Professional has a business license, insurance and charges money for their products and services. You have to have good accounting to figure out good pricing. A good place to start is to figure out how much a fair hourly wage is for your skill level. Then multiply that times three or four. Why? Your camera will need replacement, your lenses will surely need service, your cost of business (like insurance, props, gas, supplies, your phone, printer , software, internet) are a part of price you charge. Don’t forget some of your time is spent on editing and finishing your work. You need to include saving for your future. Your retirement, taxes, and replacing your equipment. You can add up your costs and figure out a daily/weekly/hourly rate plus time to arrive at a price that will keep you in business.
3) Good Customer Service!
I hear over and over from some so-called professional photographers that it’s not necessary to call customers back or that they wait weeks to deliver work. If they have some miscommunication they send an email. The best thing you can do is be omnipresent to your clients. Respond NOW. Call if there is a problem. Knock their socks off and they’ll tell their friends. Disappoint them and they’ll tell the world. Underpromise and overdeliver. Find something special to say thank you. Maybe an extra print from the merchandise selection of your SmugMug catalog. Even a handwritten greeting card says you care.
4) Have a Good Plan!
Don’t just have an idea and implement it right away. Think about it. Plan it out in the form of a business plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Plan your marketing efforts, your customer service initiative, and your business goals. Make a calendar and a task list. Plan out the amount of money you want to make, how to get there and budget it out. It’s like taking a cross country trip without having a road map if you do things by the seat of your pants.
As a solopreneur, you shouldn’t do it all. You do need to get legal advice and accounting advice. You can get contracts online, but, they might not be right for your situation. Same with accounting. You should never take everyone’s advice when it comes to accounting and taxes. They are really personalized. Find out what kind of entity you should be. I hear S Corp and LLC all the time as advice but they really might be wrong for you and cost you big time in the tax department. You might have some graphics skills, but, a good printer and graphic designer will present your work to make you stand out. Maybe you even need to hire someone to train you in how to do something so you can do it properly instead of guessing. I don’t know the first thing about HTML and having an expert handy makes me sleep better at night knowing that everything is right.
6) Do Things the Official Way!
Don’t be a scofflaw. Get your location permits, business license; your DBA, carry liability Insurance, your Sales Tax License, your tax Identification number. Go to your local chamber of commerce or accountant and see what you need to do to be a real business. Not having those things can cause you to have penalties, interest, fines, or expensive legal and accounting fees. If people pay you to photograph, then the end result is you have a business. The IRS says you have to file a tax return if someone pays you as little as $400.00.
Practice your craft. Up your game. Take care of yourself. In your marketing plan you should be out there meeting people both inside and outside the industry. Learn about business just as much as you spend time learning about the latest lighting techniques. Up your game and keep improving and learning. Read good business books. You will never know everything, but don’t stop adding to your bag of tricks. Challenge yourself to reach for the stars. I know you can do it.
In the eight weeks leading up to the biggest Wedding Photography tradeshow of the year (WPPI!) we’ve been posting up a storm of great posts featuring sage advice, photo tips, and SmugMug tricks all aimed at helping you become a better photographer in the business of love.
We truly hope these articles have been inspiring and educational, whether you’re a seasoned pro ready for the best wedding season of your career, or a beginner looking for ways to meld your love of photography into everyday life.
Here’s the recap, just in case you missed one of these great articles along the way.
Photo by Lee Morris
The Business of Love
- Intimate Portraiture: A behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to make your boudoir studio truly successful. Guest post by Je Revele Fine Art Photography.
- The Changing Business of Wedding Photography: Film to digital and beyond. Are you keeping up? Guest post by our friend, Lee Morris.
- Are All Weddings Created Equal? How and why traditional engagement photography techniques won’t work for same-sex couples. Podcast with Kathryn Hamm and Thea Dodd.
- Quadruple Your Wedding Reach in Half the Time: Just like it says. Learn about SmugMug, SnapKnot, and the best workflow for same-day edits with Vanessa Joy.
The Love of Photography
- Photowalks with Scott Jarvie: Circle the cameras, round up your friends! How to plan and pull off the photo event of the year.
Your SmugMug Toolkit
- Privacy Cheat Sheet: We’ve got a number of safeguards that can be mixed and matched to create the perfect bouquet of privacy for you, no matter what you shoot.
- Print lab Love: You’ve probably noticed that SmugMug offers not one, not two, but FOUR fabulous print lab options, each offering a full array of great print products. Here they are.
- Events, Favorites and Sharegroups: Save your friends a few brain cells. How to help them easily find the photos they want.
- How to Maximize Your Wedding Workflow, using SmugMug.
Pssst, wedding pros! Whether you’re a veteran Smugger or you’re just trying us out, we thought we’d share a few tips today on how to use the powerful features you already have to make your business an astounding success.
You’ll find these tools (and more) baked right in to every SmugMug Pro account, so let’s get started.
Tip 1: Don’t Make Them Think. Or Hunt. Or Search.
It’s important that you do as much as you can from ONE place (your gallery!) so your clients don’t get distracted or lost. Here’s how:
Use a Custom Website URL. You can already pick pretty much any SmugMug nickname that you want, but take it a step further and grab a custom domain to match your brand. SmugMugDomains.com gets you one in just a few steps.
Funnel, Funnel, Funnel. Our Events feature corrals errant wedding galleries into one link that you can share with the bride. This way she doesn’t have to hunt and peck around your vacation pics from 2005. Best of all, she can pick her Favorite photos, put them into a separate gallery and buy prints.
Shorter is Easier. Don’t scare fans away with long links. You can drop any size gallery or photo URL into our Smu.gs link shortener to get a bite-sized link… which is mentally easier to share, too.
Show Them Samples. To tempt their palates, order a few of your best photos in a few of your favorite formats. Showing your clients finished examples of your work and letting them touch, feel and see the quality for themselves makes a world of difference. Don’t forget SmugMug’s 100% guarantee.
Tell Them What to Do. The gallery description is an untapped resource. You can enter info about the photos in that space, but save your visitors a few brain cells by giving them step by step instructions on how to place an order, any limited-time coupons you’re offering, and which sizes and products you like best.
Tip 2: Create Urgency.
Everybody loves a deal, and limited time promotions are the sweetest to cash in.
Limited-time Coupons. Look in your Account Settings to create five different kinds of promotional coupons that get clients buying now. You can create one for each client, or one for your event. Don’t forget to set an expiration date so they can’t procrastinate forever.
Close the Loop: Order Branding. It’s not over even after they buy. You can upload any design or message to be included in the delivery box as a 5×7 Thank You Print. More ideas? Incorporate your contact info, heartfelt thanks, referral details for an upcoming event or even a discount code for their next order. The sky’s the limit!
Tip 3: Be Serious.
Charge a Fair Price. We’ve covered this before but it’s always worth reminding you Pros to be sure you’re charging enough. The more you value yourself, the better your business will be.
Prove Your Work is Mag-worthy. Who wouldn’t hire a published photographer? Our friendship with Two Bright Lights can make all the difference. Sign up for an account, upload some portfolio photos and let them do the heavy lifting.
Marketing: Never Settle. Leverage the power of Facebook and Twitter every time you get published, have a great photo shoot or just want to share a few pics. Carry business cards wherever you go so you’ll never be unprepared.
Tip 4: Resources. We Have Them.
Blurb Books. These make perfect guest books, and let you put your photos into their hands in a way they won’t forget. Blurb’s easy-to-use book building software lets you drag and drop your images into templates, and you get your choice of stunning covers and papers. There’s something for every budget. And every bride.
MOO business cards. Don’t get caught without your contact info in-hand. MOO cards are affordable, portable portfolios you can keep in your pocket, so you’re always ready to show off and share your details. Talk about multitasking!
Photo Albums. Busy? We understand. Our friends at zookie pro and KISS are ready and waiting to slurp your photos and design and turn them into beautiful, perfect albums your clients will cherish forever. All while you sleep, shoot, and get on with your life.
We hope this info inspires you photographers to get out there and be the best wedding pro you can possibly be. And as always, stay tuned for more tips coming your way.
- How to set up a custom domain on SmugMug
- Events and Favorites
- Smug.gs link shortener
- Our enormous catalog of prints and gifts
- SmugMug’s 100% print guarantee
- Edit your gallery description in your Gallery Settings, under “Extras”
- Account Settings: Your key to everything
- Create 5 favors of Coupons
- All about Order Branding
- The Great Pricing Hoax
- How to market yourself on SmugMug
- Portfolio in your pocket: MOO cards
- Beautiful KISS albums for every busy Pro
- zookie pro designs your albums while you sleep
Today’s terrifically informative guest blog post is written by pro photographer and SmugMugger Tony Corbell. If you’re a part of the PPA or the wedding industry you’ve probably heard of him. But even if you haven’t, a guy who’s had the grace and honor to immortalize three US presidents, 185 world leaders and tons of international bigwigs with his camera is definitely not small potatoes. This guy knows – and loves – what he’s doing and we’re thrilled to have him share his know-how with you. Best of all, since he’s VP of Nik Software, you’ll find a SmugMug-exclusive deal on Color Efex filters at the end of this post. Keep reading!
Do’s and Don’ts for Portrait Photography
by Tony Corbell
For more than thirty years I have photographed people of all types in all kinds of situation. There have been brides and grooms, fashion models, commercial products for a catalog, and political figures. In addition to my clients, I have taught workshops and spoken at seminars literally all over the world. And often I have photographed people in these situations as well as the average people on the street.
One thing is certain: you cannot spend that much time with people and not learn a few things. So I thought it might be helpful to put together a Top Ten list of things to know in order to succeed and thrive in professional photography. If nothing else, these things will at least get you on the right track and hopefully will prove to be helpful.
1. In the studio, NEVER leave your lights set-up overnight. The problem is that if you do, the last session of the day will look a lot like the first session tomorrow. Is that what you want? If so, fine. But if you advertise creativity, don’t give everyone the same session. Having learned the foundation of your craft moving your lights and setting them up differently the next day will soon be second nature. You’ll be amazed at how much more creative you can be.
2. Don’t look through your camera too long. Here is the situation: You are looking at your subject, maybe focusing, maybe looking at your digital LCD, numbers for aperture, shutter speed or the settings in the viewfinder, etc. Any time you are operating mechanically, you are not operating creatively. Remember that once you connect with your client, do not disconnect until the end of the shoot. This includes talking to them, interacting and generally enjoying the session. You’ll find your average sale will be considerably higher.
3. Don’t be distracted by other family members or a studio assistant. Again, the client is number one and more important than anything, so it is important to stay connected with them at all times. Make them feel like they are the most important thing going on, not you. By focusing on them you are telegraphing that you are worth every cent they are paying you and will have no problem in recommending you and your services to others in the community.
4. Don’t be unsure of your exposures or color balance. Complete all of your testing before your client is on the set and project professionalism and a sense that you are very clearly in control of the shoot. Remember, “if you project a sense of confidence, they will project a sense of trust.” This is a terrific saying to try remember and as you gain more and more skills at our technique, you’ll naturally move throughout the shoot with more fluidity and ease.
Visit my SmugMug site to read the other tips on my list, and browse around to see my other photography articles. To say I am a SmugMug fan would truly be an understatement! Come back soon and often to see the things I’ll be adding, including a fine art print store.
Save Time With the Right Post-Processing Tools
Enhancing your images is another area of expertise that you can master quickly and easily if you simply make it a priority. In the example before/after images you can see the result of my using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4 professional plug-in filters for Photoshop, Lightroom & Aperture.
For the portrait example, I used the Darken/Lighten Center filter in Color Efex Pro 4. The building was enhanced with the Brilliance and Warmth filter, also found in Color Efex Pro 4. Both are part of the special software edition that Nik Software has assembled for SmugMug. You can log in and download them from ClubSmug right here. (Good through June 17, 2012)
The free sample filters are all very important in my workflow and learning to use them is ultra-easy. If you’re just getting started, visit our learning page to watch videos, attend live training webinars and read Nik’s blog for workflow tips.
It’s time to step it up, wedding pros, and this is your chance! Photographer-gone-mentor Sandy Puc‘ and international Top 5 Wedding Photographer Jerry Ghionis are kicking off a 33-city tour to teach you how to make brides (and you) swoon with delight.
With Sandy’s inspiring, energetic approach to business combined with Jerry’s master marketing skills, you’ve got an unbeatable combination that no Pro should miss.
The Power of Passion Tour is a perfect crash course for both beginner and advanced photographers. Their intense, 5-hour seminars will give your business an edge, regardless of your experience in the industry. Get coached on direct and indirect marketing for your business as well as technical essentials like posing and light.
Here’s four reasons why you should go:
- You learn directly from the best in the wedding world.
- It’s only $99, PLUS Smuggers get an additional 20% off. (Code: SMPP11)
- Five hours of action- and info-packed fun.
- Because you love what you do and want to get ahead.
As a bonus, you may see a familiar face from Smuggy Central jumping in to share the fun. (Hey, we’re pros, too!)
Check out their list of cities to find one near you:
- Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, FL
- Orlando, FL
- Tampa, FL
- Atlanta, GA
- Raleigh, NC
- Nashville, TN
- Phoenix, AZ
- San Diego, CA
- Los Angeles, CA
- San Francisco, CA
- Sacramento, CA
- Portland, OR
- Seattle, WA
- Salt Lake City, UT
- Kansas City, MO
- Omaha, NE
- St. Louis, MO
- Louisville, KY
- Indianapolis, IN
- Columbus, OH
- Boston, MA
- Newark, NJ
- Philadelphia, PA
- Baltimore, MD
- Detroit, MI
- Chicago, IL
- Minneapolis, MN
Invest in yourself and register now. See you there!