Featuring Manda Koolis
Featuring Manda Koolis
This week’s featured photographer is Manda Koolis of The Exquisite Sessions in Fort Walton Beach, FL.
Fort Walton Beach, FL and serving all of the Emerald Coast/Panhandle Area
What most people want to know is how you market to your clients. Have you qualified who is your ideal client?
My ideal client is anyone that has been told (whether by others or by themselves) that they don’t measure up to the ridiculous standards society has set in place. My clients are typically military affiliated and don’t have an opportunity to get super dolled up, so this experience is a big deal for them. I occasionally get visitors that come through the Destin and Pensacola areas, but I have had the most success and the most powerful responses from the girls that aren’t the standard “girly girl.”
Do you have any inspiring client stories? Have you had any issues with clients that you would like to share how you resolved them. That is always something that can hugely benefit the readers.
I have one client that stands out so well in my mind. She did the session for herself, but she was so nervous for her session that she started having a panic attack. She was able to calm down and do the session, but she was pretty shaken up. The crazy part is that she was a total natural and her photos turned out incredible. She gushed and gushed about how I was changing lives when she came to pick up her order. She felt like a brand new woman and was glad she did the session for herself!
Do you have a physical or digital “welcome” product you give the clients and can you share that if you do.
I have a blended welcome guide via Spark (thanks to the suggestions from the AIBP FB group!). It combines my original guide and part of Jennifer Rozenbaum’s lingerie guide. https://bit.ly/ExquisiteSessionsPrep
This is probably one of the most important things that the readers want to know. How do you sell to your clients?
This will sound super weird to a lot of people, but I’m a great saleperson because I don’t SELL to my clients. I show and I leave it in their hands. I work really hard to make sure clients feel they have 100% control over their overall experience and because they feel safe, oftentimes, those sales are higher.
I charge $350 for the initial experience (session + hair & makeup) and no product is included. During their reveal, clients have access to touch and feel all their options and most clients opt for an album (most popular is my 12×8 for $995). Average sales for 2017 is about $1200.
What products perform best in your studio?
Absolutely my albums or digital collections.
RE: Your Studio:
Best describe your workspace. Pros / Cons… challenges? Wins?
My studio is none other than my master bedroom and en suite. I adore it and everyone loves it (so far!) so it’s worked well for me. The challenges for me, personally, can be that sometimes I can get in a routine and not push myself. However, I try to remember that ultimately if I make my clients look and feel good, that is the point. Occasionally, I get to go outside and I have the most gorgeous spot that’s tucked away that gives me both forestry and ocean views!
Part of the challenge of being a military spouse is that I don’t have the luxury of a built up clientele. I have to start over every 2-3 years and it takes at least 6 months to even get word of mouth rolling. By the time that I feel confident in my cash flow and feel like a studio is a legitimate option, it’s time to start over.
Until my husband retires, probably not. The day we know we will be somewhere for an extended amount of time and I don’t have to start from scratch within 3 years, it’s on. Ha!
Do you keep strict hours of operation with your clients?
I won’t answer the phone before 10am. I’m a night owl by habit, so you can text me until 10 PM and it doesn’t bother me, but text me before 10 AM and you will get crickets.
Natural Light, Studio Light, combination of styles? What’s your preference? What are your strengths and weaknesses with lighting, if any?
I use fluorescent constants 98% of the time I’m shooting. If I get to use natural light, I’m giddy, but my current space doesn’t allow for that. I’m very comfortable with manipulating my light to work how I want it to.
Do you have makeup artists you work with in your studio? If so, can you give me a run down of what the rate is you pay them and how you feel about the importance of that relationship. If you don’t use them, is there a reason?
I have an amazing HMUA and she makes my life so, so, SO easy. Her blending skills are incredible and I never have to fix makeup in post. I have been working with her for just over two years and use her exclusively. She costs a pretty penny at $175 per client, but she is so good that it is worth it.
BUSINESS IN GENERAL:
How long have you been in business? What were you doing before you started your photo business?
I have been on the full time train for eight years, but I think it’s important to note that I’m full time in the sense that this is my main source of income and the career I pour my focus into. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago and with that comes a special set of parameters for success. Before I started my photography business, I was a secretary and before that, I was an assistant director for a sports broadcast show with plans to become a film director.
Formally Trained? Self-Taught?
I would say I’m 98% self-taught and 2% workshop taught. I have zero formal education in the way of photography, but my humble beginnings were in video communications and that gave me a good understanding of light and composition.
Did you always want to be a photographer or was it something that came later in life?
I wasn’t even interested in photography until my sophomore year of college. I was on track to become a film director when a visual essay threw a wrench in that plan. We were required to direct a twenty person crew for a mid-term project and in an effort to challenge myself, I chose to borrow a school camera and treated the project like a full on story piece. I chose a song by Michelle Branch, story-boarded the piece, grabbed a friend to model and shot it. It was during that experience that I fell in love with the beauty of stillness.
What is your biggest struggle in this business?
Where do I start?! Honestly, business has been a struggle for me since day one. We moved six times in the span of only four years, so starting over so often has been a hard road. My health is the other big struggle. I can be feeling great one day and the next be unable to use my left arm, so it’s always a gamble on whether I will be able to do a session or how long it may take me to edit and reveal the photos from said session. One session takes me two to three days to recover from. I’m so exhausted afterwards that I’m hard pressed to do anything productive for a while.
Is there a reason you shoot boudoir and do you shoot any other genre? If you’re excusive, and/or recently went exclusive can you give the readers some insight into why you did. If you’ve only ever done boudoir, again we’d love to hear why.
I shot a little bit of everything until four years ago. At that point, I began to recognize and admit what my health will allow me. I’m a big believer in not letting this disease rule my life, but I also had to come to terms with my new limitations. Not only is boudoir something that makes my heart sing, but it’s also a practical and smart move for me in regards to taking care of myself. Eliminating 12 hour days with weddings and getting rid of chasing toddlers through the sand during family sessions was a welcome reprieve for this body that now tires so easily.
If you knew someone who wanted to be a photographer, and could give them one piece of important advice, what would that be?
Recognize that your best form of education is other artists that have been at it for a long time or have a vision that inspires you. Study business practices and love your community. The single best thing that I have seen from moving a ridiculous number of times is that by loving your community, your community will in turn love you.
Have you ever done a boudoir session yourself?
I have and I believe that it is absolutely integral to doing what we do. I look at every aspect of the experience, but I also do my best to try my best to sit back and just be a client. I have learned things I will never, ever do and I have learned things I will always do from those sessions. My first session was done by Britt McV of Falling Star Photography in Albuquerque, NM and she changed my life. She made me see myself. That changed everything for me and showed me the true power behind boudoir. I loved it before my session, but after that session, I saw everything through different eyes. I’ve also been photographed by Jennifer of Jt Noir and DJ of Prince Photography and both made me cry ugly, happy tears. It’s addicting! I think that men AND women should both get in front of the camera. Men have the same insecurities about their bodies that women do, it’s just not publicized to the same extent.
How do you feel about the male / female debate regarding boudoir photographers?
I think every artist has a vision that deserves recognition. I have been shot by both male and female artists and can say that both have showed me myself in different and beautiful ways.
What do you do to avoid burn-out? Is there ever a time when you just want to throw your camera out the window?
I’m incredibly grateful for my camera and my art. It’s the only thing saving me some days. I will say that when I was in the throes of my first exacerbation with my multiple sclerosis, I wanted to sell everything and give up. But my amazing husband wouldn’t let that happen. He told me that I would regret it and he was absolutely right. The first thing I did when I was strong enough to walk again was a photo session.
What do you love about the business?
I love the light that fills the client’s face when she sees herself as the incredible being she is.
What do you hate about the business?
I get immensely irritated by “snob” ‘togs – the ones who hate everyone and think that they’re the only ones deserving of the business. Don’t be a dick. End of story. There’s so many people on this earth that ONE photographer can’t possibly service every single one.
If we’re talking business as a whole, I would say I hate the “red-tape” in every state. There are some states that are absolute nightmares to get set up in. It makes it so hard for small businesses.
Are you a member of any professional photo organizations like PPA, WPPI? What benefit do you feel you get by being a member?
The only one I’m a part of now if AIBP. AIBP’s community is amazing, they offer fantastic yearly retreats, seek out businesses to partner with us, just overall looking out for the photographers in the group. I used to be a part of WPPI and PPA, but didn’t feel that I was utilizing them to the capacity that it was worthwhile to be paying for them.
Do you compete and do you have any opinions on it? AIBP runs contests regularly. Do you participate? If not, is there a reason you don’t?
I don’t compete very often for my own sanity. I submitted my first image for Daily Choice recently and won, so I was pretty excited about that.
FUN – PERSONAL STUFF!:
I will NEVER EVER in a million years refuse a Tunnock Chocolate Tea Cake. That’s junk food, though. Real food? Gimme a steak from McGuire’s here in the Panhandle. *drool*
One guilty pleasure in life?
Guilty pleasure? Time traveling via video games. I can jump forward 6 hours playing Minecraft or Factorio.
What is your favorite piece of clothing?
Don’t judge me….leggings.
What’s one song on your playlist?
“Remember The Name” – Fort Minor
What’s your favorite movie genre? Example?
Stuff like How To Train Your Dragon. I’m basically a little kid in an adult body.
Favorite shoes to wear?
Crocs. I see that side-eye you’re giving me. Keep moving. My feet NEVER hurt.
What are you currently reading?
The Gender Game Series by Bella Forest for fun, You’re A Badass by Jen Sincero for business. 🙂
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Grenada (private plunge pool, anyone?) or Greece or Italy
If you could go back and do over anything in your life, what would that be?
I know that most people roll their eyes when someone says “everything happens for a reason”, but truly every break, every bruise has created who I am. My only regret is that I didn’t start being “myself” sooner. Impossible standards and restrictions put such a damper on my life until I was about 28 and I wish that I could have enjoyed life more before I got sick.
If you could meet and photograph someone famous, who would that be and why?
Cynical Manda says, “I hate celebrities and they have plenty of photographs of themselves.” Logical Manda says, “Anna Kendrick or Jennifer Lawrence, because we’d be instant friends and I could die happy.”
What do you struggle with the most in life? (not photo related)
My health. It’s so often that I feel like a burden or that I don’t have enough to offer this world because of my limitations.
Are you married, single, have kids, husband? Is life a juggling act for you?
Married with two amazing puppies. I feel like life is a juggling act for everyone. I’m a dreamer, so I’m constantly trying new things and overwhelming my schedule with other adventures.
Who inspires you the most in life? Work?
Life? Ellen Degeneres. She is fiercely brave and loves on everyone around her. I feel that she lives on purpose and fights to impact anyone she meets in a positive way. Kindness is a powerful thing and it can build bridges across the rockiest valleys and provide havens in the ugliest of storms.
Work…I don’t have any one person I look to for inspiration, but I watch the artists around me and constantly get fueled by them. I will say that I’m obsessed with Teri Hofford’s work and want to be her when I grow up.
If you could provide one single piece of advice to influence a young person’s direction in life, what would that be?
Break the rules. Not laws, but the rules that keep you in a box. Dance. Go to concerts. Travel. Get the tattoo. Get the piercings. Dye your hair. Be the person you want to be and love without regard for the potential pain that could come of it. LIVE. Use that body of yours as much as you can while you can.