You started your Colorado studio from a single room of your home. You now have an incredibly successful, 10,000+ square foot, facility. What do you attribute your studio’s spectacular growth to?
I think there are two parts to our success.
The first rests with our commitment to delivering stellar customer service and building tight relationships with our clients. Everyone we work with is treated with the same respect and attention so that all of our clients are made to feel important and special.
The second part is rooted in the fact that I have been fortunate to have surrounded myself with incredibly talented and passionate people. I get a lot of credit for the great work of my employees. Our success is truly a team effort and we wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are today if it weren’t for the dedicated talent of the people I get to work with every day.
Since starting in ’89, what major changes have you seen in the industry?
I’ve been doing this since I was 17. It’s all I know. And certainly over those 20+ years I’ve been witness to a huge amount of change. For starters, when I first launched into this profession it was a predominantly male field. Today, it’s exactly the opposite. The children’s industry was virtually non-existent in the late 80s and early 90s. Today, newborn and babies is one of the most successful arenas. Style has changed a great deal as well. Formality used to be the norm. Now it’s much more of a carefree, journalistic, fun approach. Certainly the digital revolution has been huge. We were early adopters of going digital and experienced all the pains and joys of exploring uncharted territory.
Sadly, I’ve also seen an overall loss in quality. As the industry has grown and entry into the business of professional photography has eased there has been a certain lowering of standards. There was a time when everyone in the field was formally trained in all aspects of photography. Now it’s too often “shoot and hope you get to fix it in Photoshop.” It’s become difficult for the customer to know how to identify truly talented photographers which can make it harder to build new clients for all of us.
You shoot with the Canon 5D Mark II. Do you see video being a game changer for photographers in the future?
Absolutely. I see the industry continuing to change and evolve. I believe paper portraits will become the dinosaur of our industry. People won’t want it for either economic or environmental reasons. As we move as a society toward a world of e-Everything, photography is no different and video can become a powerful component of our future with the opportunity to deliver more fresh, unique, creative products for our clients.
Through Sam’s World University and your upcoming 2010 Family Tour, you teach thousands of photographers how to market themselves. How important is leveraging online marketing for a photographer?
Online marketing is critical. According to socialnomics.net, social media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web. Seventy-eight percent of consumers trust peer recommendations while only fourteen percent trust advertisements. But we can’t rely solely on digital communications. Ironically, as this space has grown, people have become more receptive to powerful, captivating, paper marketing such as postcards. Quality is key no matter what form of marketing is being used. It must capture the imagination of your audience and deliver interesting, entertaining content. Not an easy feat. But, if done right, it can also be a lot of fun.
You are very charitable with your time, experience, and know-how – having co-founded “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.” How can philanthropy help a studio reach new clients?
First, I have to make it clear that I’ve never entered into a relationship with a charity or started a non-profit endeavor with the assumption that it would benefit me. All the charities I work with are in direct response to experiences I have with clients, friends or family. One small thing often leads to bigger things and I’ve been fortunate to be involved with a host of amazing non-profits. Sometimes I almost feel guilty because what starts as an effort to simply try and make a difference always comes back to me ten-fold. It can feel at times as though I get far more than I give.
You are arguably most famous for your baby portraits, but you attribute much of your success to establishing relationships with the families who go to your studio. What are some relationship-building tips you can give to fellow photographers?
The most important piece of advice I think I can give is to never discredit a client. They may be young and have young children and not be established yet to be what one would maybe consider “an ideal client. ” But most of my clients who are truly loyal started with young children and babies and were nowhere near the biggest spenders. But over the years working with them, I know they would never go anywhere else for photography because of our relationship.
If I were to sum it up, I suppose I would say to always work from the heart and never judge the people who walk through your door. You never know who your next best client is going to be.
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