I always have a planning session with my seniors. It’s kind of a must for me. I just like to get to know them a little and make a connection with them before I stick a camera in their face. Their senior pictures are a big deal, sometimes even the highlight of their senior year, so I like to do some planning with them and get them ready and excited about their big day. It’s just how it works for me…that first connection is always an important beginning. It helps set the tone. They show up a little more at ease.
So as I thought about my topic for this week’s blog post of Specializing in Seniors, I decided to follow suit a bit with how I actually run my own business. I’d like to make a connection with you and share my story with those of you taking the time to read this post. Every business and certainly every photographer has one, and as we move forward throughout the year, in an effort to specialize in the genre that we love, I’d like you to get to know me a little first. I hope you don’t mind.
Like many of you out there, I had always been that “mom with a camera.” From the moment they were born, I became obsessed with photographing my children. That was where my love of photography began. I never really made a decision like, “hmmm… someday I’d like to become a professional photographer,” it just found me. My first real photo shoot was with a high school senior. She walked up to me one day after church and asked if I’d take her senior pictures. It threw me off actually. I remember saying to her, “well, um, ok. But let’s do it like tomorrow, that way if I screw up, you can still have time go to someone who knows what they are doing.” After her shoot, I’ll never forget, I looked at the images on my computer screen and “the light went on” in my head. I had this moment of realization that wow… I think I can do this!
In reality, the timing of all of this was actually a little crazy. My husband Peter had just gone through a year of battling cancer. The best news however, was that things looked really good for him, “clean margins,” we were told…thank God! So I started my little photography business with great joy and much excitement.
I began by photographing EVERYTHING, weddings, engagements, babies, newborns, maternity, children family and seniors. As I shared in my first post, I did notice one thing however. After my senior shoots, I would race home to load my images to see what I got. I almost always started editing immediately. There was such a level of excitement and joy for me with this genre. I didn’t experience that with my other types of shoots.
In 2009, my life journey took a very dramatic sudden turn. My husband was diagnosed with a completely different type of cancer. So we had to go through more surgieries, radiation, and chemo. With the encouragement of my husband, who had become quite proud of my little business, I did continue to shoot. I had begun to bring in some extra income, which was so helpful. Cancer is horribly expensive, so it was great to feel like I was at least contributing a little on that front. Again, great joy came when we were told that Peter was ok, that he had “clean margins” – my favorite words at the time. Our future looked bright again, but just a few short months after this, Peter’s had his first routine PET scan. We found out that the cancer had actually metastasized to his liver. Only 2 months later, in August of 2009, I became a widow with 3 children to raise.
Life was overwhelming. I had no idea that the business I had started when “the light went on,” would actually have to become the primary source of providing for my family. Fortunately, my business turned out to be one of the biggest blessings in my life at that time. Aside from trying to be the best mom I could be for my children during such a difficult time, my business gave me a focus and a purpose. It was helpful to have something to focus on other than the grief I was walking through. I blogged a ton, sharing my photography and my journey with others.
At that point, I was still photographing pretty much everything, but the biggest desire I had for my business was to try to establish some “name recognition” at the local high school that my son attended. I really wanted to grow my senior business because I enjoyed photographing seniors so much. I had read about other photographer’s Spokesmodel Programs, but I had no idea where to start.
I am a person of very strong faith, and I believe what happened next was just a pure gift from Heaven. I connected with an old friend, who had also recently become a widow. We were on such a similar path. She was one of those amazing people that happened to knows EVERYONE. With such a kind heart, she took an interest in my business and introduced me to several high school seniors that were willing to become spokesmodels for me to help promote my business. As a result, my business began to grow. In fact, my senior business actually tripled that year. I went from doing 12 senior shoots for the class of 2011, to doing over 42 for the class of 2012. Charlotte and I put together another Spokesmodel team for the following year, and my senior business almost doubled. It jumped from photographing 42 seniors to 78.
It has been the craziest, most exciting and completely exhausting 3 years. The “name recognition” I had so wished to establish had begun to really happened for me. At that High School, seniors knew my name…
As I thought about this coming year, 2014, and the amazing growth that I have experienced, I realized that I could have enough business to sustain me if I specialized in JUST Senior Portrait Photography. So I made the decision to specialize in the one genre that motivates me so deeply. It is my heart and passion in photography. It is my way to “celebrate” these young lives during one of their biggest milestones, the completion of high school. It’s an honor to be a part of that.
As my business has taken shape, there are many decisions that I have had to make that have had a direct impact on its growth and future. These are the topics I will be sharing with you throughout the coming year. Things like:
The Heart of Your Senior Business
Defining Your Business Model?
Name Recognition… how do you get there?
Spokesmodel Programs – Do they work?
Choosing the RIGHT spokesmodels.
Referring Clients to other photographers – seriously?
I have been a widow now for over 4 years, and it is certainly a journey I would not wish for anyone. I do believe that photography has been a gift in the midst. It is an opportunity to look through a lens to find and create beauty. That’s what we photographers are good at, seeing and creating beauty in the environment we are in. Photography has enabled me to do this with my own life circumstances.
Photographing and specializing in Seniors has been, and continues to be an adventure. I am doing what I LOVE and I am so deeply grateful for it.
I am especially honored to get to share some of this journey with you. Please join me again in 2 weeks for my next blog post –
“The Heart of Your Senior Business.”
Until then, happy shooting!