Where do you operate your business? Boston, MA I have an office that I use for consults and image reveals but I shoot on location in luxury hotel suites.
Your website www.coutureblack.com
Your Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/coutureblackphoto
Your Pinterest account https://www.pinterest.com/sbcoutureblack/
Your Instagram account https://instagram.com/coutureblackboudoir/
Your Twitter account @shawnblackphoto
Camera used Canon 5d Mark iii
Lens choices Canon 24-70mm 2.8L & Canon 70-200mm 2.8L
Processing Software Lightroom & Photoshop
Do you use any actions? Only ones I’ve created for my specific look
Do you retouch and if so can you give me a quick rundown on if you use any plugins, etc.? I outsource my retouching as it is not my expertise and I’d rather have someone amazing do it to create the best results.
What most people want to know is how you market to your clients. Have you qualified who your is your ideal client?
Where I already have an established wedding photography brand I have a built in pipeline of brides who want to book sessions for their wedding day gifts. I’d say about 75% of my brides end up booking sessions. I also use social media to create brand awareness, specifically Facebook and Instagram. I have had great success with upscale ladies night out events where I’m able to talk face to face with women and answer questions right on the spot. Another great source of clients has been through networking with make up artists, salons, and lingerie shops where I become a trusted referral.
My ideal client is a woman who values the investment of professional photography and understands that the session is a collaborative process to create amazing images.
I'd love to add into the article any inspiring client stories you might have. Also 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.
One of my favorite clients to date was a former bride who’s wedding I had shot 2 years earlier. Since birth she had an problem with her jaw which caused asymmetry with her face. This was an issue that caused her anxiety and dread when it came to pictures. She had been wearing braces for a year in preparation for her upcoming corrective jaw surgery when she contacted me. She said she wanted to do something for a confidence booster and to show her husband she still felt sexy.
When she arrived for her session she was practically shaking she was so nervous, but by the time she saw herself after hair and make up she began to relax as this was already a huge transformation in her eyes. Once I showed her a few images on the back of camera she totally forgot about nerves and rocked the rest of her session.
At her image reveal you could see how she now looked at herself in a completely different light. This was a woman who started the whole process shaking and finished strutting!
Do you have a "welcome" product you give the clients and can you share that if you do. Thanks.
When my clients first arrive they are welcomed and presented with a black knee length spa robe monogramed with my logo. It is a nice little take away item from their session as well as it gives them something to wear during hair and make up. I’m also working own collaborating with some other vendors to put together a goodie bag for them to take away as well.
This is probably one of the most important things that the readers want to know. How do you sell to your clients? Can you provide info on your sales process and your pricing. I'd like to be able to provide numbers on what you charge for a session and what your range is for your products, like albums for instance, but if you don't feel comfortable sharing to much, just give me what fits your comfort level.
I strictly do in person sales unless the client was only in town for their session then I work it with Skype. Within 2 weeks after their session they come to the office where we have their image reveal. We pop bubbly or have a glass of wine generally and they first get to see their images on a 42” monitor as an Animoto slide show which most end up wanting and purchasing after watching it. I then let them go through the images individually and I just listen to what they have to say. Afterwards we discuss how they’d like to display the images and figure out which products work best. Right now my session fee is $500. The black books range from $600-2000 and other products range from $300-$3500.
What products perform best in your studio?
The “Little Black Books” and the digital StickyAbums are what most of my clients are purchasing currently. Although a new popular item is the custom Viewmaster.
Best describe your workspace. Do you have a studio or work from home? How large is your space? What are the challenges with it? What works really well for you? Can you please include a photo or two of it, if possible.
I don’t hold a studio I strictly shoot in hotels. They are great because they give a great variety to the shoots and I can match the hotel with the theme of the shoot. They also add to the experience for some women as I am generally shooting in the penthouse or presidential suite. The downside is scheduling can become tricky sometimes as well as tight spaces hindering certain lighting set ups.
Do you have any plans to change and/or grow from your space in the near future.
I do have a long term master plan that includes adding a studio space as well as some other features that are being discussed now, but won’t be happening this year.
Do you keep strict hours of operation with your clients?
As I am growing the boudoir side of my business I do and I don’t keep strict hours. Most of my friends and clients wonder if I ever stop moving based on what they see on Facebook. I try to be husband and Dad during the hours that I’m supposed to be, but generally I am back down in my home office once my wife and daughter have gone to bed making up for the lost hours. It doesn’t hurt that I am a night owl. I love the freedom of being the boss and having flexibility.
Natural Light, Studio Light, combination of styles? What's your preference? What are your strengths and weaknesses with lighting, if any?
For the most part I am a strobe shooter and mix in natural light occasionally. I love the control I have with strobes, not to mention where I shoot on location it is a must.
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 a handful of trusted make up artists I work with, they are the best in Boston and are always striving to do the best possible work so that it makes my job that easier.
BUSINESS IN GENERAL:
How long have you been in business? What were you doing before you started your photo business?
I’ve been a full time professional photographer focusing on weddings for 4.5 years and in January of 2014 I launched the boudoir brand Couture Black. Prior to that I had been in the marketing and advertising world.
Did you go to school for photography or are you self taught?
I know it sounds cliched, but I’ve always had a love of capturing images whether they be moving or still. So I was self taught until college where I majored in TV/Film production with a minor in still photography. It was there I gain true technical skills, but after school as the photography world evolved from film to digital I continued just learning on my own any way I could from reading, the internet, and ultimately just trial & failure.
Did you always want to be a photographer or was it something that came later in life?
I have always been creative since I was young and honestly my original passion was in films. It wasn’t until later in life my love of still photography over took my desire to pursue video/film.
What is your biggest struggle in this business?
Not enough hours in the day and not wanting to let go of control of all aspects of the business. My brand is me and it is tough to trust it to anyone else.
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 shoot 3 different genre’s weddings, events, and boudoir. I feel they all keep me from burning out in the other and push me creatively in different ways, but I shoot each for a specific reason. Weddings I love being able to capture moments that my couples may not have even known happened during their day and they will treasure those memories for years to come and be brought right back to that instant when viewing them. I shoot events because you get to go places and meet people the average person doesn’t get to do, you can pretty much walk past most velvet ropes if you are toting a camera with a big white lens. And finally boudoir I love shooting because I call it chicken soup for my soul. The changes I see brought about in women from an image I’ve created recharges me as a human being. I consider myself extremely luck to do what I do for a living, to create such emotion and move people with my art is something I feel truly blessed by.
If you knew someone who wanted to be a photographer, and could give them one piece of important advice, what would that be?
Don’t ever stop learning and pushing yourself creatively. And if you want to do this professionally don’t ever stop hustling. Yeah it’s great to win awards and gain recognition, but the moment you start to believe the hype is when your work and business will begin to slide. It was a lesson my father has preached to me from a very young age. Never be afraid to go after what you want, but realize it is not going to be handed to you and once you have it you have to fight to keep it.
How do you feel about the male / female debate regarding boudoir photographers?
There is no debate each client needs to find a photographer they are comfortable with and that their style speaks to them.
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 think the fact that I shoot 3 different things helps keep me from burning out because they all present different challenges and rewards.
What do you love about the business?
I love seeing how different people are moved by my art.
What do you hate about the business?
I hate that some people don’t see the difference between price and value.
Are you a member of any professional photo organizations like PPA, WPPI? What benefit do you feel you get by being a member?
I am a member of AIBP, PPA, and NACE. I think the best benefit of any of these groups is being surround by like minded peers. A lot of photographers look at each other as competition, but not when it comes to AIBP. They are one of the most supportive groups I have ever been a part of and look to help all it’s members grow and better the boudoir industry as a whole.
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 regularly compete in the AIBP contests as well as other competitions. I think they are great as they allow you to gain recognition and cause you to push yourself creatively. Seeing others work and being critiqued in competitions can spark inspiration in your own, keeping your work from becoming stale.
SOME FUN MORE PERSONAL STUFF:
A tie between a Kobe beed filet and Tuna sashimi.
One guilty pleasure in life?
Ice cold Grey Goose martini, no vermouth, very dirty!
What is your favourite piece of clothing?
Red Sox jersey.
What's one song on your playlist?
Aerosmith Train Kept a Rollin’.
What's your favourite movie genre? Example?
No specific genre, but three movies I have to watch any time they are on The Empire Strikes Back, Godfather, and Rocky IV.
Favourite shoes to wear?
My Asics running shoes.
What are you currently reading?
Nothing, but I want to start reading Steve Jobs.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Back to Cabo where I honeymooned. It is absolutely beautiful there and just so relaxing!
If you could go back and do over anything in your life, what would that be?
I don’t think I’d change anything because I definitely believe the road you travel makes you who you are, but I wish I could have started my business years ago.
If you could meet and photograph someone famous, who would that be and why?
Marilyn Monroe because she was a woman who was born to be photographed!
What do you struggle with the most in life? (not photo related)
Running myself to ragged sometimes trying to be all and do all till my body finally tells me no usually in the form of a crippling migraine that puts me out of commission for a day or two.
Are you married, single, have kids, husband? Is life a juggling act for you?
I’ve been married for a little over three years and have a 2.5 year old daughter who is the real boss. It is definitely a juggling act, but i wouldn’t change it because I had the flexibility to make all the appointments when my wife was pregnant and now my daughter plays in my office when i am editing and I don’t have to miss out. Not to mention if I truly just want to go play with her or take a day with my wife I can, it’s good to be the boss.
Who inspires you the most in life? Work?
In life my parents have always been my inspiration, to be able to provide like they did and create a lasting legacy of family has left it’s mark. In work there are too many influences to list, but my daughter inspires and pushes me because whenever I have to leave and go shoot I just tell her Daddy has to go make money to buy toys.
If you could provide one single piece of advice to influence a young person's direction in life, what would that be?
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” - Ferris Bueller
It’s a profound statement from a great movie!