JB & DeEtte Sallee own the most award-winning wedding studio in Texas. They’re also June’s Animoto featured photographers.
Here, we talk about how Sallee Photography got started, tips for other emerging pro-shooters, along with getting the 411 on the “Turn the Key Tour” they’re putting on with Lori Nordstrom this summer. If you use code “Animoto,” you get $70 off your ticket. Attend the tour for $59.
Your “Turn the Key” Tour this summer with Lori Nordstrom has a guest speaker at each city who gives the audience their 5 “Keys” to success. What are some of the keys to success you have developed into your business?
1. Have a strong work ethic because this industry is demanding! If you can’t do it all find someone that can help and just do the parts you like! I have personally gone from doing EVERYTHING in our business to now just three things that I love most: Creating a masterpiece from start to finish with my camera and Photoshop 2, painting with light, and selling my art in person!
2. Don’t look at other’s blogs; it will only make you feel crappy!
3. Don’t give it all away in the first package! Guide your clients with products they must have to the package you need to live a comfortable life!
4. If you are not good at something in your business, hire someone to do it for you! We are not good at taking the time to make kick ass slideshows, so we let Animoto do all of the work for us! (Shameless plug I know but it is the truth!!!) !
5. Wear sunscreen! Nobody likes a wrinkly photographer!
6. Fail more than you succeed and never make that same mistake again! This is the one thing you must do yourself so that you will never forget!
7. This ties in with 6. Look at EVERY image you shoot and learn from your shooting mistakes! When we train assistants, we make them look at their files so they can grow as photographers!
8. Be aggressive in business, but polite in person!
9. Have a professional meeting space to add value to your service!
10. Show what you want to sell! Show small, go broke! Show big, drive a fast car!
11. Buy don’t rent! Think about your retirement!
12. Showcase yourself! People will hire you because they like you! NOT because they think you are the best photographer of all time! Remember there are a million other photographers just as good as you if not better but you are the only one in possession of your personality so let it shine! Add a video to your website showing off your killer personality! !
13. Stay humble! Nobody likes an arrogant photographer! !
14. Stay confident! Nobody respects a hesitant photographer! !
15. Don’t be scared! More than half of the photographers we meet out on our tours are stuck in the mud because they are too scared to take a chance on something! Sometimes you need to take that leap of faith! I know that when we take chances in our business, we always make sure that we are 100% committed to not failing and if you are that confident, you are bound to succeed!
Do you have any reflections on how you had to evolve as an artist/business owner in the early days of owning your studio?
Looking back 8 years when we first opened up Sallee Photography, I remember thinking that we would just do it for a year or so until we figured out what to do for a living! I worked 3 jobs and DeEtte was working 2 jobs and sending her resume in to find a professional employment! We invested $8.19 for some business cards and within 6 months we had grown so busy with shoots and consultations that we had to quit all 5 of our jobs just to keep up with the workflow! At first, we did it all and thought we could keep up that pace forever. After 5 years of doing everything we decided that we did not want to necessarily slow down but we did want to start our family so we found ways to outsource the things that others could do just as well, if not better than us, and only take on the things that we enjoyed most about our business like the shooting and the Photoshop finishing of our images!
One big advantage that we did have over most of the competition in Dallas early on was that we did study photography and learned how to get a perfect exposure by shooting film in college but we had no clue where to start with digital or how to shoot a wedding! We worked hard trying to teach ourselves how to digitally photograph weddings and run a business and just learned by trial and error! We worked out of our home for the first two years and quickly established ourselves as a legit wedding studio that produced something “different” for our clients!
Two years into our business we realized that if we really wanted to make a mark in Dallas as a high end wedding studio, we needed to work out of a storefront studio and not our home! We found the PERFECT place on the canals in Las Colinas (6 miles north of Dallas, TX.) We contacted the owner and begged him to sell us his small 856 square foot building but the owner was not willing to sell because of “sentimental” reasons! A month passed and DeEtte and I were so heartbroken that we could not buy the space. We were both so sure that a storefront was what we needed that we never considered it a gamble and if we somehow did get the building we knew we would put every ounce of ourselves in it to make it work!
So a little time passed and we weighed out all of our options and we both agreed to be aggressive and push harder for what we needed to grow! I called the owner and offered him an extra $44,500 on top of what he thought it was worth if he would move out in 14 days! I guess the building was not as sentimental as we had thought, he was out in 5! We took out a small business loan, a family loan and emptied all of our bank accounts to buy the building and in 9 months we paid it all back by finally having a larger space to show big and sell bigger wall portraits. Our portrait sales went up 1500% and we instantly started booking our highest wedding packages because of our new professional meeting space. Since then we have been working on growing our brand and continuing to push ourselves at every portrait session and every wedding!
Your studio has been acclaimed as one of the best in the country, with a very distinct style. How did you cultivate that style and what advice to you have to photographers looking to find their own unique aesthetic?
I would never say we are one of the best; we just work hard to make sure people see our work out there and try to be original for ourselves and our clients. I was an Art Major in college and I think that I have inadvertently tried to style my own photography to the masters before me and looked to the history of art for inspiration in my own work! I have never relied on copying other photographers in our industry to further my career, it is unfulfilling! Not that there is anything wrong with mimicking others until you find you own style, just don’t get stuck copying because eventually it will not satisfy you anymore and then you are stuck looking for the next fix, kind of like a crack head! Find your own style quick so you can keep pushing yourself to evolve and grow as a photographer! If you need inspiration, look outside your industry! Inspiration is everywhere and always accessible most times for free!
Your studio shoots portraits and weddings. How do you market differently to each group and do you find it a challenge to brand those two divisions of Sallee Photography differently?
We are so busy shooting the Bridal, Engagement and Boudoir sessions for our wedding clients each year that we really don’t promote the portrait side of Sallee Photography.
JB, this year you visited Ecuador on a charitable photography expedition. What prompted that trip and how has that shifted your overall view as a photographer?
It is always nice to give back when you can, I don’t think it shifted my view as a photographer but as a father and husband I know it has! I love being a photographer and making art out of other people’s memories but more than anything I love making memories with my own family and at the end of the day, family is all that matters!