Mom With a Camera to Pro — PART TWO

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On Wednesday we had the opportunity to learn a little more about Kellie Penn and her journey from MWAC to professional photographer. We learned about how she got started, what she has learned, and we were able to see some of her amazing images. Today we are going to take a look at her journey from enthusiast to opening her business, ACROSS THE MILES PHOTOGRAPHY. Before we do, though, I want to share with you something really special about the name of her business.

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Her business was named for her son Miles, who at the age of just three months passed away, leaving his twin brother Mason behind. Click on the picture above to go to her site and then click on OUR STORY to read more. Kellie’s strength in this tragedy and her dedication to keep his memory alive are inspiring.

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WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO GO PRO?

Last winter, my husband and I were traveling home from a trip and just talking about my photos. I told him how I’d really like to try to make a bit of money at it to get some extra income and money for new equipment. I wanted to see if he thought I was crazy or not! He said “Go for it!” I started researching it a bit, I bought my domain name, a website and just jumped in headfirst!

DID YOU ACT ON IT RIGHT AWAY?

It was a few months from that conversation until I launched my business.

WHAT DID YOU DO TO PREPARE YOURSELF FOR GOING INTO BUSINESS?

I did some portfolio building (and it helped that I had some cute kids that didn’t mind me taking pictures of them left and right) and I consulted with one of my best friends who had been in the photography business for about a year and a half at that time. She was a great resource for me and really helped get me going! I checked some books out at the library and I just scoured the internet for how to get started in a photography business. I had to learn how to get a business ID and how to start collecting sales tax, etc. It was way more involved than I first thought!

WHO WAS YOUR FIRST “FOR PAY” CLIENT AND HOW DID YOU FEEL BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER THE SHOOT?

A family from my church had followed my blog & had seen some of my work on my scrapbook pages. I had mentioned on my blog a couple of times about how I would love to take pictures for people. They asked me if I would take their family photos & I said yes…and was scared to death! I knew that there would be about 10 people in the group, so I started looking all over the internet for posing ideas so I would at least have a few ideas to use that evening! I was definitely nervous pulling into the driveway, but once we got started it went smoothly! I was relieved when it was over, and felt even better when I pulled the pictures up on the screen & liked what I saw!


WHAT DID YOU LEARN IN THOSE FIRST FEW SHOOTS THAT YOU WISHED YOU HAD KNOWN BEFORE YOU STARTED?

I think I learned that the whole process just takes so much longer than I thought! Shooting the photos is one thing, but trying to narrow down the photos, edit them, upload them to a gallery and wait for payment can take quite awhile!

HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT FINDING MORE CLIENTS?

I talked about my new business on my blog and then I really started working on my “Google Ranking.” Before long, I started getting e-mails from potential clients & it just started taking off after that! I also took an advertisement out in the phone book to help get my name out in the community. But, word of mouth has by far been the most effective for me! I love it when people enjoyed their photos that they tell their friends!

HOW LONG DOES A TYPICAL SHOOT TAKE?

It definitely depends on the type of shoot & how cooperative the subjects are acting! Location shoots take longer than studio sessions. I’d say the average shoot lasts between 1 to 2 hours.

WHAT KINDS OF SHOOTS ARE YOUR FAVORITE?

I love photographing seniors! They are so fun & full of energy, and willing to try just about anything! Plus, they sit still and you don’t have to chase them all around like you do when photographing children!

WHAT KINDS OF SHOOTS DO YOU DISLIKE?

The big group/family shots at weddings. I don’t “dislike” them, but they just take up so much time at weddings! Plus, it seems like a lot of people can get grumpy during the wedding group shots! If everyone would relax and smile, it would be so much easier!

HOW MUCH TIME DOES A TYPICAL CLIENT SESSION TAKE YOU? BREAK IT DOWN (communication with client, actual shoot, editing, choosing images, print orders, presentation, etc)

The whole process really takes quite a bit of time! There’s the initial phone calls/e-mails to set up the session. Then, there’s time involved in gathering up props, getting camera/equipment ready, and the drive to the location. There’s the actual shooting of the session, and then the time involved in editing around 5 photos for the blog sneak peek! I allow myself up to two weeks to get a session edited, but there are several hours involved in working with photos to make them look their best! I choose my favorite 20-25 photos to edit. After editing, it takes a little time to get them uploaded online and then to call the client with the password to their gallery so they can view their photos. Then, I wait 1-3 weeks for the client to place the order, and then I have to make any final adjustments to their order (ie, creating storyboards, resizing photos, etc). I then upload the photos to my online lab and wait a couple of days for the photos to arrive. I then have to spend a bit of time making sure everything looks correct and then package the photos for the client. Then, I call the client and wait for them to come and pick them up!

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE WHO WAS INTERESTING IN GOING PROFESSIONAL?

Research, research, research! There is so much more involved in just taking photos! You have to be able to run the business side as well! Seek out advice from other professionals and ask lots of questions! Joining some online forums where you can get critique on your photos really help as well!


Also, I would tell someone to plan to not really make any money for quite awhile! There’s a lot of cost in equipment (cameras, lenses, studio equipment, accessories, advertising, website costs, props, software, actions, etc). It can get quite expensive! I would also recommend to not buy everything at once! I’ve really tried hard to stay within my means and when I’ve saved up a bit, I’ll order some new stuff!

WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT YOUR OWN JOURNEY?

I would have been better planned for the business side of it before starting! I would have consulted with an accountant and got all of my ducks in a row before I actually began. I never expected my business to take off so quickly! It took me a bit to get everything all figured out, and I’m so grateful for my online friends who helped me get everything in order!


WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

To keep plugging away and growing my business! I’d love to get to the point where I own my own studio location. It’s really tough running this out of my home! But, I am grateful it allows me to continue to be a stay at home mom! We will either look at renting a studio location in the future, or possibly moving to a new home that would allow me to have a better studio space! I’d also love to get to the point where I can hire someone to help edit my photos & upload orders to the lab!

DO YOU STILL TAKE PICTURES OF YOUR OWN KIDS?

I do, but not as much as I’d like! Sometimes I just want to go to an event and not drag around my “work” with me! I have to remember to make sure I am documenting my kids lives and not look at it as work! I have not been able to scrap near as much as I’d like since my business took off, though! I really need to be better at fitting that into my day! (Can someone please find a way to add more hours to a day?)

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Isn’t it so cool to hear about the journey. In the times I have thought about wanting to be a professional some day I certainly don’t think about all the business stuff. Taking pictures is fun but oh, the work involved! I hope that this interview was good for you — to hear that it can be done and what it involves. I hope it encourages someone to take the plunge they have been wanting to take and to encourage others that maybe this is not the road for them.

And no matter whether you want to be a professional or not, you can ALWAYS learn more about your camera, taking images, editing, and enjoying the process. Kellie mentioned that one of the places she has learned the most is an online photography forum called CLICKINMOMS. It has been a source of encouragement, critique, and inspiration for her as she continues on her journey.

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Well CLICKINMOMS has two great things just for THE DAILY DIGI readers! First, use the coupon code FRIEND and you will get 10% off your membership! Hurry, though, the code expires March 7. Secondly, they are giving away TWO FREE MEMBERSHIPS! Here’s how you can win: Just leave a comment here naming one thing/place/person that inspires you to grow in your photography skills. We want to hear what gets you excited to learn more. Leave a comment before Monday and we will randomly pick two people for a full year membership to CLICKINMOMS.