I started my photo “business” in 2010 as a volunteer shooting events and headshots for my writers group–think parties and readings. One of those headshots turned into an engagement session, which turned into a wedding booking. At the wedding, the bride asked me to do some sexy photos of her before she put on her dress. When I saw her reaction to those photos–she told me she never had felt more than one of the guys before–I was hooked. I’d already done a boudoir session myself, so I knew it was a “thing” … but I didn’t know how big of a thing it was until I started looking.
I officially registered my business in January 2011. I focused on boudoir, maternity, newborn and headshots, plus nonprofit events. I ran it part-time around my upper-management public relations job until April 2012. I’d been bored / dissatisfied with my career for about the previous decade, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’d always defined myself as a writer, and had been working professionally as a reporter or in non-profit communications since I was 17 (1986). My last job was my “goal” position–communications director for a large cancer research organization. I found that I was doing more meetings than I was creating things, interviewing people to get to know them, and learning. I hate politics and red tape, and that’s pretty much what that job is, especially in higher education and medical research.
In 2012 I went to WPPI. The last platform talk was Sue Bryce, and I felt so inspired and “I can do this” that I came back with a goal of leaving my communications career in June 2013. That would give me enough time to really establish myself and save money to live on while I built my business to full time. Then, I opened my work email to find 500+ messages and a huge issue that was the same-shit-different-day. I told my husband that I didn’t think I could go back, and he said we’d figure it out. I talked to a good friend about it, and she pretty much pushed me out of the nest. I gave notice on Feb. 29, 2012, (Leap Day!) and worked my last day on March 31, 2012.
I left behind a 6-figure job, 10% 401(k) match, rich health care benefits and 2 months of paid vacation a year. I took on more stress about money than I’ve ever felt in my life. I gained more happiness and freedom than I’ve every felt in my life, too.
I took photography classes as part of my journalism degree, but for the most part–especially where this level of photography is concerned–I’m self taught or I learned from mentors/workshop, and YouTube.
It never crossed my mind to be a photographer until I was 41.
I shoot boudoir for a few reasons. First, I’m much better one-on-one with people. Second, boudoir helps me heal my own issues with expressing sexuality and loving my physical self. Third, one of my values is healing others through holding up a mirror, and this genre definitely can fulfill that. I’m not exclusively boudoir, because about 20% of my business is headshots. I love them because they’re fast, easy and the total opposite of boudoir. No relationship building is necessary. I also still shoot 3 nonprofit events a year.
If you knew someone who wanted to be a photographer, and could give them one piece of important advice, what would that be?
Learn how to run a business first, and quickly accept that fact that if you want to have a small business, you are a business owner who offers photography services, not a photographer who happens to make money. Without looking at this in the business-first order, you will fail as a business.
Have you ever done a boudoir session yourself, if you are a female (sorry guys 🙂 ? Do you think it’s something that is important for female boudoir photographers to do?
I’ve done 6 boudoir sessions: 2 before I fully jumped in and 5 since then. I’ve had the pleasure of being photographed by Craig LaMere, Petra Herrmann (at least 3 times, I’ve lost count) and Critsey Rowe. When I go to the AIBP retreat in November, I want to be photographed by Miranda Parker because her style is so much different than the others’. I have a bucket list of boudoir photographers I want to be shot by, including Jennifer Williams, Stacie Frazier, Elizabeth Zimmerman, Cate Scaglione and Kara Trombetta. I’d also like Nino Batista to make me into a supermodel, but I don’t have that body type of his usual glam models. Maybe I should challenge him.
And yes, my belief is that if you’re a boudoir photographer and you’ve never done a session, you’re fooling yourself that you can connect with your clients on a vulnerable level. This goes for guys too. (See Shawn Black’s post on The Business of Boudoir http://thebusinessofboudoir.com) If you’re thinking that you can’t afford it, trade. Stop getting in your own way.
How do you feel about the male / female debate regarding boudoir photographers?
It was valid about 5 years ago, but now it’s as invalid as any sexist argument in our culture.
What do you do to avoid burn-out? Is there ever a time when you just want to throw your camera out the window?
Well, yes, of course. I get burned out when I shoot more than 8 sessions a month. I avoid it more by valuing my time and outsourcing my editing and bookkeeping. I spent 15 years working 50+ hours a week, and I have no desire to work that much. So I try to keep my time limited to about 35 hours a week, sometimes less (July) sometimes more (October/November). Part of my burnout comes from being an extrovert in an introverted business. When I spend too much time by myself I get depressed and want to just do something else. So, I try to have coffee or lunch with people several times a month, and I have a rich Facebook life. Don’t knock it :).
What do you love about the business?
I love that what I create can flip the switch in a woman’s mind to put her on a path of self-love about her body and her sexuality. I love that I control my time (and my income). I love that I’m still telling stories, just in a different medium. I love creating art. I love helping women (and myself) push boundaries.
What do you hate about the business?
I hate the rollercoaster of income and the uncertainty in what works to market. I hate the snarky nature of so many other photographers in Denver, many of whom I’ve blocked for being assholes or stealing my stuff, such as language off of my website. I hate how expensive my business is to run, even with a residential studio.
Are you a member of any professional photo organizations like PPA, WPPI? What benefit do you feel you get by being a member?
PPA for the insurance and legal help. That’s it.
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?
Part of my work on fear of being seen is entering work in the AIBP contests. They’re low-risk. I continue to enter Daily Choice, and I will enter at least 2 images for the Philosophie cover contest each time. I was a finalist for the spring 2016 cover contest, and that was pretty awesome.
SOME FUN MORE PERSONAL STUFF:
One guilty pleasure in life?
Foot massages at this quirky Chinese massage parlor near my house.
What is your favorite piece of clothing?
What’s one song on your playlist?
Big Girls Don’t Cry by Sia
What’s your favorite movie genre? Example?
Favorite shoes to wear?
I generally only wear Sam Edelman ballerina flats and Tom’s, unless it’s snowing and then I wear my snow boots. I don’t wear shoes while shooting.
What are you currently reading?
A book on bipolar disorder to understand more about my illness, and the last book in Justin Cronin’s trilogy about a vampire apocalypse.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would that be?
If you could go back and do over anything in your life, what would that be?
My first response would be nothing, because I think I would have had similar experiences in different form regardless. I decided to be on this planet at this time to work through stuff, and whatever lesson I chose will show up. But, if I had to pick one, I would have taken the full ride to Middlebury College instead of following a boy to Colorado State to find out he was cheating on me after the first week of school.
If you could meet and photograph someone famous, who would that be and why?
Meh. I’d rather photograph a regular person.
What do you struggle with the most in life? (not photo related)
I have bipolar II disorder. That means I have lots of mood ups and downs, but I never reach the level of psychosis. I’ve struggled with it since I was a teenager, but was not formally diagnosed until I was 41. Because of the medication I’m on, and because I also have a seizure disorder that affects the executive functions of my brain, deciding on things and trusting that my judgments are sound are both tricky. I have a hard time staying on task unless I can hyperfocus, and this causes the business side of my business to suffer. Sometimes I suffer deeply and experience panic attacks, especially when I perceive I’m being abandoned or am actually being abandoned. I can experience deep anger and resentment, and I definitely find it hard to forgive and forget. I tend to be more depressed than elated, so sometimes I have a really hard time getting out of bed, and a harder time connecting with my clients and creating at my highest level.
Are you married, single, have kids, husband? Is life a juggling act for you?
I’m married since 2009, and I have a stepson who is in college and a daughter who is a high school sophomore. Life was a juggling act when I was working full time. Life is much more fluid because I have complete control over my time.
Who inspires you the most in life? Work?
I don’t find inspiration outside of myself in general. That may sound weird, but when I spend time looking at others, I tend to feel jealous and dissatisfied.
If you could provide one single piece of advice to influence a young person’s direction in life, what would that be?
Leave room to change your mind.