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Featuring Graciela Valdes

Featuring Graciela Valdes

Hello AIBP readers! This week’s featured photographer is Graciela Valdes from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Graciela has chosen to take a unique approach to her article this week from what our readers are used to seeing. So, sit back, grab a cup of coffee (or hot cocoa) and enjoy the read!

 

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My Photography & How I Got Here

I’ve always loved photography. My childhood dream was to be a Time-Life photographer. In high school, that dream morphed into a Rolling Stone or National Geographic photographer. I always wanted to be a fusion of Annie Leibovitz, Jane Goodall, Grace Kelly and Slash.  I just love people of all walks of life and photography to me was (and is) a way to peek into their lives and share that with the world.  However, worried that I might end up as a starving artist if I pursued a career in the arts, I obtained my Bachelor of Science Degree in English Education and taught high school English for a short time.  Somehow, the last 20 years have zoomed by with me working as a Paralegal in a law firm representing people who were catastrophically injured or who had suffered a wrongful death as a result of a tragic accident or faulty product.  Each of my careers has kept me connected to people. Photography is just the natural evolution of my passions – people and art.

Three years ago I set up shop, and I have been making progress towards retiring from my paralegal career since. The millennium has shown me that I don’t have to starve to live as an artist and I am looking forward to fulfilling a lifelong dream. I’ve drawn a line in the sand and expect to make the leap to full-time photographer in May 2016.  I’ve been laying the foundation for quite some time and I anticipate nothing but success.  The biggest challenge is leaving the security of the steady paycheck I have enjoyed since I started working at 14. The good news is that the resulting success will be that much sweeter.

I started out shooting families, newborn, maternity, engagements and weddings.  Then, one day, I was at Barnes and Nobles and laid hands and eyes upon the sweetest book I’d ever seen. From the moment I felt the luscious cover of that book and thumbed through the images, I was hooked.  It was Christa Meola’s The Art of Boudoir Photography.  I then discovered that the genre of Boudoir is an amazing opportunity to change someone’s life while practicing my art at the same time.

I’ve taken countless online workshops, watched videos, read books and sought after every bit of advice I could possibly find related to the art and business of photography. I’m an education addict, so I actually have to put a moratorium on new books, courses and conventions one of these days…but not quite yet…maybe just one more…

My biggest struggle right now is being patient enough to allow my business to grow. However, I have faith that the groundwork I have laid over the past three years will pay off soon enough.

I love everything about the business of photography – even the challenging  moments are just the ying/yang flip side to some magical, happy moment.  The hardest part for me right now is trying to figure out how to combine my boudoir brand and my family brand into one big umbrella – and even as I write this, I’m not quite sure I even really want to do that.

I am a member of PPA, and joined particularly to become a Certified Professional Photographer (Remember my addiction to education?). I do enjoy having the insurance coverage that PPA provides, although I hope never to need it. I also enjoyed attending Imaging USA and meeting all the vendors and fellow photographers. There is no substitute for laying eyes and hands on all the products available out there. This year I am looking forward to taking some pre-convention classes and other workshops. I do find their website to have good educational and marketing materials as well. It is likely I will join WPPI in the future, but I’m pacing myself.

Of course, I get the BEST bang for my buck here at AIBP! There is no other organization out there that gives me as much as AIBP does: not only am I learning something new every single day from this community of top notch boudoir photographers, but I am 100% convinced that my membership has elevated my work and my worth in my clients’ eyes. I participate in AIBP’s contests and am looking forward to competing elsewhere as well. I think it’s a great learning opportunity and the wins definitely boost your worth in your clients’ eyes.

Most recently, I attended the AIBP Retreat in Ojai, California and bathed  in the genius of our instructors: Cate Scaglione, Jennifer Tallerico, Stacy Frazier, Michael Sasser, Craig LaMere and Nino Battista. Branding, posing, video, lighting, retouching and even underwater photography were covered – my future just got a whole lot more inspired. The cherry on top was getting to know my fellow retreat attendees (too many to name!) and the newly-forged friendships that will carry me along my path.  I am grateful for every single person with whom I came into contact with – you have impacted my life, whether you realize it or not.

 

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My Workspace & Hours of Operation

I have a home office which I use exclusively for the administrative side of the business. I meet clients in their homes or at an alternative location and shoot in hotels, homes, or will rent a studio space if absolutely necessary. My home office is a converted spare bedroom where I can shut the door, turn up my music, and get my work done. It’s a dream.

Shooting on location is just my style – I feel it challenges me to be a better photographer and artist because I am constantly having to exercise my resourcefulness and creativity.  No two shoots are ever the same, and I make that a selling point to my clients.

I wouldn’t mind having a mini-studio in the future where I could have folks pop in for simple headshots, and perhaps to free up some equipment storage space in my home, but I’m in no rush to have the overhead that comes with that.

My hours of operation are all over the place!  I always joke that I am open from 9pm – 1am.  That is truly the time when I get the most work done.  I have no problem speaking with clients at any time, day or night. I myself have a hard time doing what I need to get done during “regular business hours”, so I try to be as flexible as I can for my clients.  I give everyone my cell number and allow everyone to text me. If I can get to them right then, I will. This might change in the future, but for now, it works for me.
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My Ideal Client

My ideal client is a woman 30+ who knows how to invest money (spend it, not waste it).  She is likely a professional who takes care of herself but needs that time away from the hectic days of life (A lot like me, actually).  My goal is to serve women (or men, or couples) that have “paid their dues” in life, so to speak, and are looking to celebrate themselves and perhaps surprise themselves with what they are capable of.

To market to these clients, I go where they go:  the spa, the gym, schools, and professional associations. I am involved in my local Chamber of Commerce and I support local businesses as much as possible. I find that being a part of my community, giving to and supporting others, is the best way to find my own clients.  I’m huge on supporting charities because I love them so much and sometimes those connections happily create client opportunities for me, for which I am eternally grateful.

I think everyone has that one inspiring client story.  My client stories are no different than anyone else’s – clients surprise themselves with each session and they generally walk away happier and more confident for having done it.  The easiest story to share is in my promotional video – its short and sweet and what I hope each client experiences with me.  See my home page at www.gracielavaldes.com.

I’ve been very fortunate with my clients thus far and have no horror stories to share; yes, I am rubbing a lucky rabbit’s foot as I say that!

 

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My Sessions & Sales Experience

Because of my ever-changing shooting locations, I have to be proficient in both natural light and studio light, and I enjoy both. I suppose my weakness in lighting would be balancing color temperatures when in less-than-ideal locations. My strength, I think, is in my ability to be comfortable with both natural and studio lighting, including speedlites, strobes, and a ring light, not to mention various modifiers. I think I’m still trying to figure out which one I like best, which probably over-complicates things for me.

Each session includes a hair and make-up artist. I try and book make-up artists that do hair so that I only have to depend on one person – these are pretty easy to find these days. General speaking, the going rate is about $150 for one look (hair and make-up) and $300 for multiple looks throughout the session. I keep an arsenal of HMUAs that I love, and I reach out to them when I book a shoot to see who is available.  I always include my make-up artist in the styling of the session. This gives my clients an “expert opinion” in addition to my own, when it comes to styling.

I also have a Chloe & Isabel jewelry stylist attend my sessions and style the clients. This gives my clients a huge bonus – not only does she get to borrow amazing jewelry for her shoot, but she gets yet another “expert opinion”.  With three expert opinions from people in this industry, my client’s confidence goes through the roof and it shows in her session. (Props to Jennifer Tallerico for giving me the on-set jewelry styling idea. She did it for my boudoir shoot with her and it added so much to the experience.)

When a potential client approaches me with questions about a boudoir session, the first thing I talk about is how much fun it is.  I immediately give potential clients my 6×6 promo card with pictures that entice them to visit my website where they can find out tons about me. My website allows you to not only see my work, but also has a section called “Musings” where you really get to know me as a person, as well as general descriptions of what a session is like, and styling advice like Polyvore Boards.  What I’m really trying to do is become girlfriends with like-minded women; I feel like the more I tell them about who I am, the more my ideal client will see herself in me and a bond will be created. When they see me as a real person who authentically cares for them, “selling” becomes more like giving advice to a friend.

Once they’ve expressed an interest, I send them my Investment Menu for review and, again, point them to the galleries on my website.  Once they’ve committed to a session, they get a contract to execute and an invoice for the session fee – my receipt of these two items formally locks in their session date. Then they get a goody bag with the Session Prep Guide.

My welcome package is a black linen-textured gift bag containing a locally handmade sugar scrub and a custom-made embroidered sleep mask bearing my logo (both of these items are made specifically for my clients – they are one of a kind – and I tell this to the client). I also have a travel tumbler for water with my logo in the works. I include a note about getting rest, drinking plenty of water, and using the scrub for soft skin as you prepare for the session. They also get a Session Prep Guide that gives them general guidelines and gets them planning their session. It encourages them to do some “homework” via a Pinterest Board which we then use for reference during the styling consult and session.  All of these keep the excitement going while we wait for the session date to arrive and builds a psychological commitment for the client.

Once the session is complete, we meet for the Image Reveal and Ordering Session where they see their best portraits through an Animoto slide show with music – we usually watch this 2-3 times. Then I pull up the images and go through them one by one with the specific intention of selecting which ones we will use in an album and which ones will be wall art or simple prints. I always have a suggestion on which medium would suit each portrait. They look to me to be the expert and I’m a lot more effective when I say, “these would look best in a fine art paper album” or “this one begs to be on a metallic canvas” rather than just leaving everything up to them. It’s overwhelming and the more choices I can assist with, the more pleasant the Reveal and Ordering Session is for them.

My session fee is $550 and includes a hair/make up artist, jewelry stylist, unlimited wardrobe changes, champagne and snacks, the goody bag, a session-day goody bag and a post-session gift as well.  (The goody bags are all surprises.) Products range from a single print which I price at $1.25/sq. in. and up to an all inclusive package with a leather-bound album, digital files, etc. for $1950. I re-evaluate my pricing once a year.

I find albums are my top seller, but I recently realized that I’ve been remiss in shooting for wall art. 2016 is bringing various changes to my product offerings and price list. I intend on creating an Ultimate & Exclusive package that I will only sell a limited number of in a year and I am definitely going to add some of Jonathan Penny’s products to my product line up. I’m ridiculously excited about this!

 

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My Gear & Post Processing

I currently shoot with the Nikon D810 and have the Nikon D7100 as my back up.  My favorite lenses for boudoir are the Nikon 85 mm f/1.4 and the 50mm f/1.4. I also have the 105mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8,  and 70-200mm f/2.8 which I use mostly for weddings, family, newborn, maternity and engagement sessions.

My processing software of choice is Lightroom. I use Photoshop for removal of distracting elements like electrical outlets and to even out skin tones; I run some portraits through Portrait Professional with a very light touch when I want to brighten the eyes or fill in some shadows.  Rad Lab actions help me add a bit of artistic touches like special black/white processing and heavy grain and film-emulating processing – they have a plug-in for both Lightroom and Photoshop.

 

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My Own Boudoir Session

Yes, I have had my own boudoir session done.  I didn’t think I needed to do that, but now that I’m on the other side of that experience, I see how invaluable it was for me as a photographer. I got everything out of it just like a normal client would, but more importantly, it was a learning experience for me as a photographer as well. I highly recommend it. You can see my blog post about it in the Galleries section of my website.

 

Advice

If someone I knew wanted to be a photographer, I would have one piece of advice:  Just keep swimming (like Dory from Finding Nemo).  Just keep going.  Keep reading, watching, listening, talking, etc.  Don’t stop till you get what you want.

 
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Cocktail Party Chatter*

*I want you all to know that I did my very best to pick the “one” thing for each category, but had to give up. I love too many things to exclude stuff. It’s just who I am.

I do very much love complicated and nuanced fine dining, but pizza is the standby favorite.

My guilty pleasure would be spending the day in my pajamas.  I’m so much more productive when I’m cozy.

I don’t think about clothes much and could seriously wear the same thing every day, but I suppose jeans make me feel most empowered and dresses are the most comfortable.  I love looking at high fashion items, but it is highly unlikely I’d actually buy any of it.

Favorite songs:  Just Breathe by Pearl Jam or One by U2, and about 25 other anthems!

I’m a sucker for dramatic films – love stories, survival stories – the more crying, the better. The English Patient is way up there on my list of favorites. I quote comedies all the time. On this recent trip through LA and Hollywood, I spent way too much time quoting Pretty Woman. LOL

Boots are probably my favorite shoes- they are very tough and empowering – I feel strong when I wear boots. Being in South Florida, however, I mostly wear sandals.

Books – oh, gosh, what am I not currently reading?! I’m a book addict and am always in the middle of 5 different books at a time. I can be caught opening old books and sniffing them quite often.   Currently: Becoming, by Cindy Crawford; The 100 Best Photographs of Jean-François Jonvelle; The Creative Habit, Learn It and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp; Envisioning Ecstasy by Cira Crowell and Christopher Michel (it’s not what you think) and a book on Klimt by Gilles Néret.

It is impossible to pick one place in the entire world I’d like to go.  So, in no particular order:  France, Greece, Bali, Thailand, Scotland, Tibet, Norway, Italy, England… I could go on and on…

If I could do anything over again – I would have followed my gut instinct in my youth way more often than I ever did.

Famous person I’d love to meet and photograph:  Eddie Vedder doing totally mundane things – he’s one of my favorite humans.

In life, I suppose I struggle the most with whether I am being a good parent, partner and daughter; whether I’m doing enough or giving my family enough of what they need.

My paramour, Tim, and I are parents to 6-year old twins (boy/girl) and two adult children from his first marriage (boy/girl). Plus, I’m about to be a grandmother! (Before you ask, I’m 41.) To say that my life is a juggling act is an understatement.

I realize it sounds a bit cliché, but my mother inspires me the most – she truly is the one person that has taught me who I want to be and who I don’t want to be all at the same time.  In work, hands down, my friends and mentors, Christa Meola and Jennifer Tallerico.  They are proof that you can truly do what you love without compromise, and make a living at it in a way that is satisfying, exciting and always fresh.

My one piece of advice to anyone, young or old, would be to follow your gut.  Literally, listen to your body – your insides will tell you when something is right or wrong. We all have instinct, we just talk ourselves in or out of something. Less talking and thinking – more doing.

 

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Graciela Valdes Fine Art Photography

 

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Summer Crook

Photographer and owner of GAIA LIOS - Art in Imagery

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