One year gone...a look back
Spring has arrived, at least from a meteorological point of view. From outside my window it still looks like winter! Spring is where everyone's head is at right now. Winter, while not particularly brutal this year, has been tedious and has worn out its welcome. Spring means getting outdoors, grilling, flowers, trees budding, and in general watching nature come alive. Springtime is when I opened the doors to my studio, last spring in fact on March 1st. I have my One Year Anniversary being officially celebrated on March 14th with a four hour open house for friends and customers. Hopefully a few potential customers too. All are invited.
Like many new businesses, starting out is rough. I didn't pick the fastest growing industry to transition too either which didn't help. But I've made it work for a year and no matter what the future brings, I will always have that. I've been a photographer all my life but its not how I made my living. Early on, fresh out of the Marine Corps I did sort of make a living working in the field but it really didn't take. I worked as an assistant downtown, worked in a darkroom part time and I took my college courses, took pictures, processed film in my own darkroom and had some fun with it. I always had fun. Until I went to work shooting weddings for a "house" where you were given so many rolls of film, a few cameras, flash guns and told to come back with plenty of keepers. That was rough, shooting 2-3 weddings a weekend. I burnt out and gave up cameras for a while. I mean I still shot but not with the gusto I once had.
Recent years (circa. 2006 to 2008) brought about a photographic rebirth and while I toiled away at a decent job in a decent industry and made some money, I started getting serious about cameras again. Serious like a volcano erupting. I read so much, and practiced and shot so often even my pets ran when they saw my camera. When I decided to leave the software industry after some 30+ years the only thing I could think of doing that made me feel like tackling every morning with hope was taking pictures. So I opened a studio. Every photographer on Earth wants their own studio. I don't care what they say, if they had a shot at doing it, they would. It really is not necessary I suppose and it is an expense, Lord do I know that, but its helped add credibility and it does give you a place to work from. It helps to keep it real.
I started with some pretty good ideas, a ton of equipment gathered over the years and stored in my garages but it was also used in other studio co-op ventures. I figured I was set. I just needed a place to hang my shingle, open the doors and wait to ring up some sales. I found the place and with it a great friend and landlord. I got fresh paint on the walls and started moving in. I found I needed a few "grip" items. Grip is photospeak for lightstands, clamps, poles, things that hold other things and stuff like that. I got that. I found that the shingle cost far more than I expected, like 20x more so I settled for a few large 24x36 signs in the front windows. This is not a walk in type of business, its more of an appointment or I know you are stopping by business. So as it turns out the shingle would be nice as a place holder for people finding the location but given the cost, I'm okay with just giving directions. Google maps helps too. Well people did not wear out the door coming in. It got damn hard finding customers, something thats still true today. I found out that web search engine optimization is a job of itself. It took me six months to get ANY results and while my numbers show better now, they can always be higher. My biggest struggle has and continues to be finding customers. Go figure. I also found that surprisingly, my equipment needed to be more focused on what I was doing. I had a few minor equipment hiccups which almost put me out of commission for a few weeks. I found you need more than one of many things. I now have 7 camera bodies spread across two systems and some 15 lenses (edit: actually, its 23 lenses - silly me) across both. I needed lighting that was dependable and affordable. I mean affordable and not cheap. Big difference. I swapped out my older camera bodies for upgraded pro equipment. I had to rethink part of my game.
But I did get a few people in. I even shot a wedding - and enjoyed it. A very good and dear friend, and a top musician had let me shoot some photos of him over the years which I shared with him. He loved the shots and continues to tell me I shoot things differently. I think we just see similarly but, hey thats cool. He and his fiancée asked me to take their engagement photos. Then he asked me about doing some behind the scenes and promo work for him in Nashville, which eventually lead to some guitar pictures, behind the scenes video documentation, exposure to some other musicians and an EP cover. During all this I also covered an epic bicycle race in Iowa that has gathered domestic and international attention over the years. I had been covering this race for years but last year, the promoter and honcho of the event put me in touch with a few magazines that had interest in photos. So I sold a few prints to two magazines, one local, one out of London. Another good friend invited me along to help cover a boxing event. Another engagement opportunity. And so it went. I discovered that pretty much every photographer on the planet started out doing their own projects for self promotion. So I put a few of those together and continue to do that because its a great way to stay creative, learn and promote your craft. It also keeps you busy when "real" work is slow - we won't go there. I shot a few portraits here and there, and assisted a few other photographers that rented my studio. I have recently started teaching lighting workshops and plan to evolve to workshops for basic and advanced camera topics, photo walks and other related events. This activity lead to establishing the 46 West Photo Club, which is a camera club that meets once a month in my studio, I lend the space but its not my club. I do support it, believe in it and do what I can to help grow it. Its the first and only local club like it anywhere close. I always felt it would be so beneficial to establish a photo community open to everyone interested, where a wide variety of topics and projects could be discussed and hatched. Its happening now and that makes me feel good.
So I count my year as a success. Slow but still expanding. I have a few things lined up for spring. I have the bicycle race in Iowa looming once more. I have shot a self promotional lifestyle portrait series involving bicycles and their riders, I've started discussion with others on expanding that to a series with motorcycles, and believe it or not guns. I'd like to do a series on musicians and their instruments, and horse and other pet owners. I have a lot of ideas. I'm always asking for help, looking for talent to be in front of my cameras. I hope to expand on offering workshops. I want to conduct a few photo walks and I ever hope to find those one or two clients that can offer steady work, even on a part time basis. I plan to work on and put some attention to my "art" site which covers my landscape, architecture, travel and nature photos. All if I can stay in business, find the work and continue to push for a photo community here locally. I do have a lot of plans. I hope many of you are in them as clients or parts of my projects. I appreciate everything so many have done to help me this past year. My thanks go out to my wife, Irene, who has backed me 100% in an unwavering manner. There are so many friends that have helped me stock the studio, moved equipment around, and most importantly offered emotional and creative support and encouragement. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by many great, great people. Thanks to you all, you know who you are, and I hope to see many of you at the Open House on the 14th! Lets go take some pictures!