Bokeh Podcast Episode #31: Creating a Clear Brand Position – Petronella Lugemwa

Brand Position - Petronella

Knowing who your clients are is half the job of marketing, and part of attracting that client is establishing a clear brand position. In today’s Bokeh podcast episode, Petronella Lugemwa recounts her fascinating journey from Uganda, to getting an MBA, to becoming a wedding photographer, and shares how her unique story enabled her to clearly establish her brand position as a photographer.

You can also subscribe to the Bokeh podcast on the Apple podcast app or add to your playlist on Stitcher.

Read the transcript and show notes

Show Notes:

A Childhood That Spanned the Globe [01:18]
From Chemical Engineering to Photography [04:58]
Keeping a Clear and Specific Brand Position [08:36]
Focusing on Multicultural Weddings [10:18]
Going with the Flow [12:20]


Podcast Transcript:

Nathan – I’m here with my friend, and I’m excited to call you friend. We haven’t actually, I don’t think, met in person before today–

Petronella – No, we haven’t.

Nathan – But with my friend, Petronella, and tell us how to pronounce your last name. I was in your workshop yesterday, and you walked everybody through how to pronounce your last name.

Petronella – Great question. It’s pretty phonetic. It’s Lu-gem-wa, Lugemwa.

Nathan – Perfect. I normally talk about this in the very end, but how can we find your Instagram account online, because I know our listeners are gonna wanna see your work? We’re gonna dive into what you do here in just a little bit, but what is your Instagram account?

Petronella – Instagram, really simple, @bypetronella, B-Y P-E-T-R-O-N-E-L-L-A.

Nathan – Perfect, so, as they’re listening along to our conversation they’re gonna be able to scroll through and look at some of this work, this beautiful work, by the way–

Petronella – Thank you.

Nathan – That you’ve created, but you had a really interesting childhood, fascinating. When I was looking through and reading your story, I was really fascinated about it. I actually grew up overseas, myself. I know what it’s like to move around a good bit, but tell us a little bit about your childhood. What did that look like?

Petronella – That is great question. I was born in Uganda, which is a small country in East Africa, and there was an evil dictator, lots of turmoil going on. My family moved to Zimbabwe–

Nathan – It almost sounds like a movie storyline, an evil dictator, but this was real life for you.

Petronella – Exactly, yeah totally. There’s even a movie about it, The Last King of Scotland, but my family moved over to Zimbabwe where I spent a lot of my childhood, and my dad wanted better opportunity, so he went to Maine, got his PhD, and then my sister and I arrived in Birmingham, Alabama to join him on his new job.

Nathan – Wow, he spent time in Maine before you all moved, the rest of the family, moved to the states?

Petronella – Exactly, exactly, yeah.

Nathan – You were born in Uganda, you lived in Zimbabwe, and then you moved to all the places, Alabama. How did you end up in Alabama?

Petronella – I know, right? My dad got a job there. You go where the opportunities are.

Nathan – Right.

Petronella – We were immigrants, landed with two suitcases, and I was 10 years old at that time. That’s a really challenging time, I’m becoming a teenager, I’m trying to figure out my voice. I’m in Alabama, which wasn’t very diverse at the time–

Nathan – Certainly.

Petronella – Very black and white, and a lot of people were like, “Who is this person? What is going on”.

Nathan – Right.

Petronella – I’m trying to figure out who I am. My parents are very Ugandan. They wanted me to hold on to my heritage, and then I’m at school and all the kids are doing fun things. My parents were like, “No dating, no drugs, no this. “No, no, no. Get an engineering degree, a doctor, “become a lawyer, and work hard,” but that wasn’t what I saw at school, and I really wanted to assimilate and feel closer to my classmates, so very challenging.

Nathan – And especially as a kid. You said 10 years old when you moved to Alabama, correct?

Petronella – Yeah, yeah.

Nathan – And you’re beginning to hit that phase in life where you’re trying to figure yourself out a little bit, and there’s that tug from home to be Ugandan, essentially, and then you’re going to school and you’re trying to be like your friends, and what ended up winning out? Did you become more like your friends, or did you lean more towards your original culture?

Petronella – That’s a great question. Ah, who got it? I abandoned who I was. I didn’t really tell anyone my last name. I changed the way I looked. As you can hear, my voice sounds not very Ugandan. It sounds, you know, it is what it is, but I assimilated. I became very Americanized. I didn’t really tell people who I am. My goal was to make people feel comfortable and not feel afraid of my heritage.

Nathan – Interesting.

Petronella – So, I abandoned it, yeah.

Nathan – And, when you talk about people being afraid of your heritage, I mean, your heritage sounds like a fascinating one, but, in that particular culture, it was actually intimidating to people?

Petronella – It was. It was a time when a lot of people were losing their jobs, and they felt that they were going towards foreigners, and anything foreign was kind of scary–

Nathan – A challenge, yeah, yeah, or a threat.

Petronella – Yeah, exactly.

Nathan – Interesting. You talked about the face that your family, maybe your dad in particular, wanted you in the corporate, the professional world, going after a particular type of degree or degrees, and you actually ended up going that direction initially, right?

Petronella – Yeah, yeah.

Nathan – You’ve got a couple of degrees. What are those?

Petronella – Yes, I have a chemical engineering degree. My dad has a chemistry background, always talks chemistry, so it’s very natural to do that for me, and then–

Nathan – Sure, do you still find that interesting?

Petronella – I do. I’m a geek at heart.

Nathan – That’s awesome. You’re diverse. What fascinates me about people, one of the things that fascinates me about people the most, is contrast. It’s very easy to be single-focused, right? Only focused on one thing, or only good at one thing, but people bring multiple talents or tendencies to the table. They may like to go out and experience a really exciting adventure, high octane adventure, and then, at the same time, they might also wanna curl up with a book at the end of the day. Those types of contrast. In your case, you’re an artist, but you also have a chemical engineering degree, and then an MBA as well, correct?

Petronella – Yeah, I do, yep.

Nathan – You’re quite diverse in that sense, and I think that’s really truly fascinating. How then did you end up with these degrees and then somehow transition to–

Petronella – I know, right?|

Nathan – Photography? How did that happen?

Petronella – Yeah, that was big, big, big. Honestly, only recently did my parents finally acknowledge. They’ve always been like, “How’s that hobby of yours coming? “When are you gonna get a real job”.

Nathan – I totally know what you mean, yes.

Petronella – I was working corporate America, in marketing, and one of my coworkers saw my work. I’m a really quiet person, and photography’s a way to communicate my thoughts, and she saw it–

Nathan – Love it, yes.

Petronella – And loved it, and was like, “Come to Mexico “and shoot our wedding”–

Nathan – Oh, wow.

Petronella – I know, right?

Nathan – That was your first wedding?

Petronella – Right?

Nathan – Oh my word, that’s awesome.

Petronella – Yeah, and I loved it. I loved it, loved it, loved it, and was like, “I need to figure out how to make this part of who I am”. I got lucky. I think it’s lucky I got laid off and made a decision that no one would ever have that kind of control over how I, like I gave my heart and soul to a company, and it didn’t really–

Nathan – Yes.

Petronella – I decided to make the transition into full time wedding photography.

Nathan – How did that first wedding go, by the way? I mean, you get to go shoot your–

Petronella – It was fabulous!

Nathan – Really, okay.

Petronella – Yes, I’m so quiet in person, but, on the wedding day, something lights up and I’m just different. It just–

Nathan – You go into a mode?

Petronella – Yeah, yeah.

Nathan – And what does that look like? You’re just a lot more outgoing?

Petronella – Borderline bossy. Keeping it real.

Nathan – Yeah, absolutely, but one of the things that I’ve found, as a wedding photographer, is that you’re playing in it, playing multiple roles, right?

Petronella – Yeah, you’re a counselor, you’re, yeah.

Nathan – Exactly. Go ahead, yeah. Counselor.

Petronella – Counselor, planner, you’re managing time, you’re managing people’s emotions, you’re trying to get the shot, there’s, you know–

Nathan – And then, as a photographer too, the other thing that’s interesting to me is that you end up playing multiple photographers almost, right? You’re an architectural photographer, you’re a portrait photographer, you’re an event photographer.

Petronella – Yep.

Nathan – I think a really good wedding photographer is probably one of the most talented photographers around, because you’re responsible for capturing all these different facets of a particular day that include these different elements: architecture and relationships, and portraits, and so forth. There’s a lot there to capture.

Petronella – Yeah, there’s a lot. Yeah, exactly.

Nathan – That’s really interesting. Did it go really smoothly, that first wedding? ‘Cause I think back to my first wedding, and I actually missed capturing the kiss. Of all things to miss.

Petronella – Totally been there.

Nathan – I missed it, but how did that first wedding go for you?

Petronella – It was–

Nathan – Smooth as can be.

Petronella – Honestly, it was chaotic. There was a lot of things which didn’t go, but I loved it. I was like, “I love this chaos”. I thrive. I loved it.

Nathan – It was your game.

Petronella – Yeah, it was my jam, whatever, game, yeah.

Nathan – That’s really cool. That’s really cool. Side note, for everybody listening, I missed the first kiss on that first wedding that I photographed, but the couple was gracious enough. I went to them and I said, “I missed the kiss. “Do you care if we set that up, like stage it again,” and they were really, really kind, so we set it up, we got the shot, and going through the album, the proof album later, you’d never know that we had to set up the kiss shot, but to start a wedding in Mexico, and for it to go so smoothly, that had to have been really encouraging and a boost to the beginning of this new career that you were delving into. That’s pretty fascinating. Now, one of the things that I love about, I love contrast. We talked about the idea of contrast a second ago, but for someone, as an individual and then as a business owner, to have a really clear position, or a really clear vision about who they want to be in the world, and then, as a business owner, what their business is about, what their brand position, what it stands for in the industry: I have a lot of respect for that. I also understand, from personal experience as well as seeing other photographers in our industry and how they’re running their businesses, I understand the significance of having a very clear position. It makes it a lot easier. If nothing else, it makes it a lot easier to market, and it certainly makes it a lot easier on a day to day basis ’cause I teach workflow a lot, to have a much cleaner, simpler workflow, because you have a goal in mind, right? This is what my brand is about.

Petronella – Exactly.

Nathan – It makes running a business, I think, a lot easier overall but you have a really distinct and very clear position as a wedding photography brand. Tell us what that is.

Petronella – Yeah, I help multicultural couples celebrate their love in a modern way.

Nathan – What does that mean?

Petronella – I know, right?

Nathan – Break it down for us.

Petronella – Multicultural: what does that mean? It means anyone who is constantly navigating two different cultural heritages. Does that, yeah?

Nathan – Absolutely, yeah, and talk about what that looks like, because I know during your workshop yesterday, you pulled up a picture at one point that you had, I think, a Muslim groom and a Jewish bride–

Petronella – Yeah, Jewish, yeah. Nigerian–

Nathan – Or vice versa?

Petronella – Muslim, Jewish, so it’s all kinds of thing. It’s not like exactly what you said. It’s interfaith, it’s interracial, it’s multiracial: anyone who’s inherently has different cultures, anyone who might live somewhere else for a long time, grew up there, and then comes back, but identifies themselves as the other country. You can be American, but you lived somewhere else and you identify yourself as that other, the culture of the other country that you lived in.

Nathan – Sure, sure, and what initially drew you to this focus? Because it’s very easy, especially when you’re getting into starting a photography business. You’re just happy to have any kind of business, right? Was that how it worked for you initially, or did you–

Petronella – Yeah, yeah, of course. In the beginning you’re just like–

Nathan – Just give me a job.

Petronella – Oh my gosh!

Nathan – Yeah, absolutely.

Petronella – Whatever, I will do it.

Nathan – Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what lead you to this place where you wanted to focus on this particular genre of weddings?

Petronella – Yeah, it’s very, very personal because I am an immigrant, and for a long time I hid who I was and didn’t really celebrate that until I met the Reichman’s in Atlanta. They did a sexy business workshop, and they did not know I was Ugandan. I came in there and was very, I’ll keep it real, very Caucasian looking, feeling, talking–

Nathan – Sure.

Petronella – And they were like, “What is this, Petronella? “We had no idea you had this part of yourself,” and they believe that you’re paralyzed in your secret, and my secret was I was hiding the multicultural part of myself, so–

Nathan – Wow, and this is just stemmed from your experience as a child, at school trying to fit in.

Petronella – Exactly.

Nathan – And you just maintained that?

Petronella – And now I see a lot of people struggle with that, and I just wanna help them celebrate who they are.

Nathan – That’s really beautiful. What is a day, when you’re talking about photographing a multicultural wedding, you’re having to keep up with a lot of different traditions coming from all different directions. What does that look like? Is that pretty difficult to do?

Petronella – I love it.

Nathan – Do you?

Petronella – I love challenges. I love new things, adventures, seeing new things, doing new things.

Nathan – Do you have to do research going into a particular style of wedding that you’ve never photographed before?

Petronella – Absolutely, absolutely.

Nathan – How do you go about that?

Petronella – I talk to the couple. I ask them, “Tell me a little bit about your heritage. “What are you incorporating,” and then I do some research. I Google, I talk to friends of similar heritages or backgrounds, and, yeah.

Nathan – Would you say the biggest challenge, then, of photographing a multicultural wedding would be understanding the culture that drives that particular day?

Petronella – Absolutely, yeah, absolutely.

Nathan – Are there any other particular challenges that come along with that?

Petronella – Family is big.

Nathan – Really?

Petronella – A lot of multicultural couples, family is like this underlying current which can affect the whole day, can literally change the whole day, the flow, the what happens. I don’t even know, yeah, how to explain it. It’s like timing, workflow, the mom can come in and be like, “This is what we’re doing,” and everything can change–

Nathan – Shift at the last minute, yeah.

Petronella – And it’s acceptable.

Nathan – And you mentioned this yesterday, I think. We’re used to your kinda typical Caucasian wedding and Western culture, where everything is extremely structured, and it goes a particular way at every wedding, right? I mean, there may be a little bit of delays here and there, but in a multicultural wedding, you were talking about in your workshop yesterday, that, as you were just discussing as well, it can change at the last minute, and that’s acceptable.

Petronella – Exactly.

Nathan – You just have to be ready to go with the flow and not really–

Petronella – And manage the relationships or understand, hey, one of my last weddings… Wow. I don’t wanna call out the couple, but it was just two different cultures, and one culture didn’t understand that the parents in the family have a very strong input into how things go.

Nathan – Sure, yeah.

Petronella – I had to provide that perspective and, “Hey, we have to get ready like five hours in advance “versus, if it was a different kind of wedding, “three hours in advance”.

Nathan – That makes sense. That makes sense.

Petronella – I had to manage, ’cause I knew that other, big element was coming in.

Nathan – With my experience as a wedding photographer, I was able to usually work with a couple ahead of time. We were going over a list of portraits, for example, or a list of shots that they wanted, and we planned a specific amount of time for prior to the ceremony we would do this, and then after the ceremony we’re gonna do that. That doesn’t really happen in a multicultural wedding as you’re describing it?

Petronella – It’s a little more free-flowing. You may have 10 more portraits to do. You may get pulled aside–

Nathan – How do you make that happen then?

Petronella – We talk about who’s important to you, the different factors. Luckily I’m very familiar with a lot of different cultures, so I kinda know what’s coming and I may say, “Hey, let’s build in an hour or two buffer time,” because I know that might go towards mom wanting portraits of every family member, cousins, sisters, or something else coming up.

Nathan – But that flexibility is really key, and I think that’s interesting. I mean, honestly, I think that’s applicable to all photographers. It’s easy, as so-called artist types, and we were talking about this a little bit earlier. It’s easy for our egos, to let our egos get in the way, and a lot of photographers, I hear them talking about how the couple didn’t do this, or the wedding planner didn’t do this for them, and they make it about them.

Petronella – That was me early on, yep.

Nathan – I think it’s really important, really for all photographers, particularly photographing multicultural weddings, to set ego aside, figure out how to, well certainly, let loose of any notion of control, right? Learn how to go with the flow and focus on just being there for that couple and for that family. I think you’re gonna have a lot, photographers as a whole are gonna have a lot, better experience and be able to offer much better finished product as a result. That’s really–

Petronella – Capture some unexpected moments, yeah.

Nathan – That’s really powerful, wow. Well, I know that, in addition to Instagram, photographers are gonna want to learn more about your story, and I’d love to point them in the direction of your website. Share your website with us.

Petronella – Yeah, it’s by Petronella, but I also have Petronella Photography, so both of those–

Nathan – Perfect.

Petronella – Lead into the same thing.

Nathan – Awesome, and they can go learn a little bit more about your story there. I know you go into it in some detail, which is really awesome, see some more of your work. Thank you so much for sitting down with us–

Petronella – Thank you for having me, yeah.

Nathan – And having a conversation, sharing your story a little bit and talking about what you do. Thank you so much for making time for that.

Petronella – Yeah, it’s been great. Thank you so much, Nathan.

Nathan – Awesome.


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Bokeh Podcast Episode #30: Using Instagram to Build Your Business – Lacey Oltman

Instagram - Lacey Oltman

You’re probably on Instagram, but do you know how to effectively use the social media platform to build your photography business? In this episode, Lacey Oltman walks us through how to build a purpose-driven Instagram account, and then how to create more compelling Instagram posts – both for the purpose of attracting the right client for your business!

You can also subscribe to the Bokeh podcast on the Apple podcast app or add to your playlist on Stitcher.

Read the transcript and show notes

Show Notes:

What is a Purpose-Driven Instagram Account [00:39]
Defining the Perfect Client [02:43]
The Informative Instagram Account [04:26]
The Lifestyle Instagram Account [06:35]
The Specialty Instagram Account [08:40]
The Aesthetic Instagram Account [09:16]
Writing Compelling Captions [12:33]
Tell Stories, Don’t Push Sales [14:44]
Add Value to Your Content [17:48]
Mixing the Long and Short [18:50]
Hashtags Further Your Reach [22:09]
Localize Your Hashtags [24:08]
Use 10-20 Less Popular Hashtags [26:07]
Get Reposted and Gain Followers [28:38]
Post Content Consistently [30:32]
Use Holidays to Your Advantage [32:49]
Take Advantage of Marketing Solutions [34:44]
More Likes, More Comments, More Followers [36:41] tagomatic @Laceyophotography


Podcast Transcript:


Nathan – All right, so I’m here again with my friend, Lacey Altman, Lacey, thanks for joining us again here on the Bokeh podcast.

Lacey – Hey, I’m excited to be here again.

Nathan – Yeah, and you are actually our first repeat guest so you hold a special honor and title. But you were with us back on episode number eight talking about finding your ideal client, today we’re gonna dive into a pretty loaded topic, really, and that is how to use Instagram as a marketing platform more effectively and originally we were gonna break this into two episodes, today we’re gonna actually go ahead and just try to push all of it into one, and so we’re gonna be flying through lots of information, if you guys are listening to this episode, get out your notebooks or your computers, your phones, get ready to take some notes, Lacey’s got a lot of great information to share with you and we’re breaking this really into two different segments, right, Lacey, the first is, how to create a purpose driven Instagram account, so let’s dive into that first segment, what does it mean to have a purpose-driven Instagram account?

Lacey – What it means is that we’re going to be creating such a distinct idea of who we’re speaking to that every time we’re ready to post a photo on Instagram, we know it’s going to be the perfect fit for your client, your ideal client.

Nathan – And I really like that, I’ve laughed about this multiple times over now, you and I have kind of joked about it, but I was personally and professionally using Instagram in a bit of a random manner and you called me on that, in fact, you called me on it multiple times, throwing tips and tricks at me, which have been so helpful, I can’t thank you enough for that, kind of pushed myself personally again and our brand in the right direction, but this simple notion of starting with a specific purpose in mind to drive everything that you do, it’s so simple, yet it’s so powerful, so this is really, really important, how then do we go about creating that purpose-driven Instagram account?

Lacey – Well, we want to have more interactions and engagements on our posts and we wanna create compelling content to attract that interactivity and therefore those two will attract your ideal client.

Nathan – That makes sense, so then in order to kind of get started with creating this purpose-driven Instagram account, what’s the first thing that you’re gonna wanna do?

Lacey – Well, what I have done personally, and I’ve found it very useful, is I created a story, first, about my ideal client, the reason why I did that is Instagram is, picture it as, like, a love language. Or, like, when you’re meeting a new friend or you’re on a date, and you are wanting to engage with them and find out more about them, you utilize it to speak to that ideal client, so what I did with that was first create a story of my ideal client, so where she lives, of course, I even gave her a name, her name is Charlotte.

Nathan -That’s awesome.

Lacey – Her age, her types of friends she hangs out with, her goals, where she likes to shop, where she likes to eat, her fears, just really created this person, and then that taught me how to speak better when posting content on Instagram.

Nathan – That makes sense, now when you talked to me about this before, I think you actually even described a scenario where you sat down with, like, a notebook or a journal or something and really took the time to completely imagine it and then you wrote out these details, is that right?

Lacey – Yes, I did, it was just really really helpful, now granted, Charlotte isn’t the only client, we do attract a lot of different types of clients, but overall, me making her as if she was a real person, I would always try to resonate, would Charlotte like this post, would Charlotte relate to this caption?

Nathan – That’s right, and by being that specific, that then drives the type of content that you’re creating because let’s be real, there is an incredible amount of noise in the social media spectrum, right, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera, so in order to rise above that noise even a little bit, that’s probably the simplest way to go about at least beginning to do that, is to have a very specific purpose for your account and the way that you’re gonna do that, the first really effective step to creating that purpose-driven account, then, is to very very specifically and definitely imagine this person that you’re trying to speak to so I think that’s really, really powerful. The next step that you, and you and I have discussed this topic at length at this point, but one of the things that you talked about after then establishing who this person is, who your target client is that you’re going to be communicating to with your Instagram account, you then define a type or a style of Instagram account, I think you mentioned that there are four different types of accounts, is that right?

Lacey – Yeah, there is, there’s informative, lifestyle, specialty, and aesthetic.

Nathan – Okay.

Lacey – Informative is you like statistics and progress reports, you like when people go to you for questions, you want to be or you’re striving to be the leader expert in your industry or trade, you have a strong opinion and you love sharing information.

Nathan – That’s great, and you might even, maybe a synonym to that would be educational, are you educating people, does that follow the same idea?

Lacey – Yeah, absolutely, because if you really think about it, when a potential client or a human being in general approaches your Instagram account, we always determine do I wanna follow this person or not, so we have to give them a reason to want to follow us, so anything that you do should probably be educational, inspirational, and the aesthetics should just flow, the content that you post, the photos that you post, it will have a common factor to make them flow from left to right as you would reading.

Nathan – Sure, that makes sense, okay, but let’s jump back to the four specific types of accounts, the first one that you mentioned was the informative account so I’m sharing information, relative to a particular topic, I want to establish myself as the expert, so that’s the first type, and then what’s the second type?

Lacey – Lifestyle, lifestyle is actually the account that I utilize, that’s my love language, and that’s basically you have no problem sharing personal info, now granted, keep it professional, don’t go too deep into your personal life, for example, I will post a picture about a date my husband and I went on or a walk in the park with my children, I’m confident in my personal style, I don’t mind being in photos, people compliment you on your looks, your taste, your decor, you’re outgoing, and I like to connect with people, that would be a lifestyle account.

Nathan – And why would you choose a lifestyle account, for example, over an informative account when we’re talking about a photography business, what is the benefit for you and your photography business in doing that?

Lacey – Oh, that’s a fantastic question. The reason why I do that is because I believe in authenticity and personalization, so I want my clients to see who I am, I want them to get to know me that way, that way they feel comfortable engaging with me with, let’s say, you know, a family portrait session.

Nathan – Sure, and then by clearly establishing who you are, you’re naturally gonna draw in a client who is similar to you, which naturally means, or hopefully anyway, naturally means that you’re gonna be creating an experience for this client that is even better, they’re connecting with you on a personal level now, they just like who you are as an individual, so it makes sense that they hire you as a photographer.

Lacey – Exactly, to me, that’s a beautiful thing because, you know what, not everybody’s gonna like me, they’re not, and that’s just how life goes, and so that’s okay, you know, send them on their way but that’s not even my ideal client to begin with so it kind of does the work for you by weeding out the less than ideal client.

Nathan – That’s perfect, okay, so, four types of accounts, the first one’s informative, second one is lifestyle, what’s the third type of account?

Lacey – Specialty, and this one you prefer to be more so behind the scenes, you’re complimented often for your services and products, you have a unique product and it makes you special, you prefer a business brand rather than sharing your personal brand and clients basically consider you an expert.

Nathan – Okay, and in some ways there’s some similarities there to informative, but this is more about representing a brand versus trying to educate clients on a particular topic.

Lacey – Absolutely.

Nathan – That makes sense, all right, so we’re to the last, the fourth type of account, what is that?

Lacey – Aesthetic, and this one is partially another one that I do, and you can combine, you know, a few of these in your Instagram, so, like, for example, I do lifestyle and a bit of aesthetic, and what aesthetic is, extremely detail oriented, you’re a planner, you love to style everything from your food, your stationary supplies, clothing, decor, you notice everything, misspellings, you know, you name it, you prefer communicating mostly through pictures.

Nathan – Okay perfect, and you mentioned earlier when you were talking about the idea of aesthetic, this notion of flow to your imagery, that you’re posting to your Instagram account, this is something you’ve discussed with me before, I know it’s not a strength of mine at this moment and I’ve kind of sort of trying to figure out how to do that best both on a personal level and with my business brand as well, but talk to us a little bit about what that looks like, how you would set that up.

Lacey – So an aesthetic, that would, you would decide, basically, let’s say a color scheme, we’ll start there, ’cause that’s something we all can easily identify with, so let’s say you post one photo of white peonies and then you post a second photo of a white mug of coffee and your Apple laptop, and then a third post you would, or picture that you would post would be a pair of white Converse chucks, pretend to see these images, what was the main color in those three images?

Nathan – Certainly white.

Lacey – Yes, and so that would be the aesthetic of it, you are doing a light Instagram, white is going to be the predominant color in your Instagram and it gives your Instagram a very tailored, customized look.

Nathan – I know that I’ve personally experienced accounts that are that way, I naturally, and I think you alluded to this before in conversation with me, it’s this idea of creating an account that it makes people want to keep looking and when there is that consistency, it’s so much easier to do that, you’re just, before I even dive into looking at an individual image, it’s just nice to scroll through the thumbnails because it just looks pretty, and as photographers and of course photographers are trying to draw in a potential client who also, at least, to an extent, anyways, is gonna be kind of visually focused it’s important to create an aesthetic that is consistent on multiple levels, but ultimately hopefully it accurately represents your brand and consistently represents your brand, so that’s a really great recommendation, that’s perfect, so for those of you listening in, this first section, we’ve talked about a few ideas on how to effectively create a purpose-driven Instagram account, if you’re taking notes, get ready to continue, or I should say, you’re gonna continue writing here, taking notes, we’re gonna jump into the second section, and we’re moving now from kind of the larger overview of what is my Instagram account about and what is the big idea and ultimately the aesthetic as well that is gonna drive what I post, we’re moving now into creating individual posts and yet again, it can be so easy to just throw content out there, hey, this seems funny to me right now or this seems interesting to me right now, or this seems pretty to me right now and I’m just gonna kind of randomly post that, but there are more effective ways to create a post that is actually going to grab the attention of our potential client or existing clients and I know that you’re gonna dive into that, I think we’ve got kind of three main ideas to dive into here with a lot of notes, so Lacey, take it away, what’s the first step to creating a more compelling Instagram post?

Lacey – I think captions should focus on your brand category so that would be the four that we discussed previously, informative, aesthetic, specialty, lifestyle, and to basically further the experience of the photo.

Nathan – Okay, that makes sense, so when we’re talking about a caption it should reflect, how would that be applicable for example if you have a lifestyle account like yours, what would the caption say in a scenario like that?

Lacey – So instead of just posting a picture right, so let’s just say you posted a picture and you’re in LA, and you’re standing on a rooftop of this cool hotel and you have a glass of wine in your hand you could say, In LA and that’s it, right, but that doesn’t really tell us the story, that just says, okay, well, we know she’s in LA, but you’ve got to write more to draw, you’ve got to write in a way that attracts your ideal client, but also tells a story, so giving you an example, you’re on the rooftop of the cool hotel, you’re in LA and you have a glass of wine, okay, for example, me being in LA recently when I was with my creative director going through my rebranding process, I said something like, here in LA with my creative director enjoying the rooftop view of Hollywood, you know, and then go on from there, explaining a little bit more.

Nathan – But you’re telling, you talked about a story earlier, more specifically you’re telling a personal story, when our brand, our Instagram account, is a lifestyle account, then the focus there is on a personal story, communicating a personal story, so that makes sense, instead of just kind of posting bland, kind of factual information, like you said, you wanna make it interesting, but you wanna make it personal in this case as well, so that makes sense.

Lacey – And some things, like, since I’m standing on top of the rooftop, right, so to stay something catching, like, in the epic center of it all, the view up here looks good, you know, things like that, that it gave your viewers, they knew the where, the when, and the why, and it drew it all together.

Nathan – That’s perfect, the where, the when and the why, okay, you guys are taking notes, make sure to write that down, that’s really great, okay, continue to walk us through this process of creating a compelling caption.

Lacey – So the next one is I would say stay away from always using a caption to push a sale.

Nathan – Yes.

Lacey – And so going back to again, my Instagram, I post personal and authentic content so that my ideal client or my potential client or my followers feel like they can get to know me, they know who Lacey is, and if we always push sales first, you know, it’s a turn off, why would I want you to, you know, take pictures of my family, you know, why would I want to bring you aboard on my personal little nucleus? So if you always do, like, a sales pitch, it’s just kind of like that annoying car salesman guy, you know.

Nathan – That’s a great way to put it, and I know that I tend to lean the direction of being, I don’t know, coming across too professional or worrying about being too professional or being too structured, not being personal and kind of open enough, so this is definitely something that I have to work on and this actually reminds me of something I’ve been listening to in the last day or so, you may know and certainly some of our listeners may know a guy named Gary Vaynerchuck, he’s become quite popular in the last couple of years, maybe a little bit more, he’s written a number of books on the topic of marketing and he talks a lot about how to go about the process of using these social media platforms for marketing, but one of the things he says, in fact, actually he wrote a whole book about the idea, that’s titled, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook and it’s a metaphor that represents this notion of sharing, adding value, sharing or adding value, doing that multiple times over and then every once in a while, and just every once in a while, not selling as much as making an ask, so then it’s personal, too, right, like you said, you’re not that annoying car salesperson who’s just up in your face and trying to sell you something, you’re just asking for something and that’s the right hook.

Lacey – That’s awesome, yes.

Nathan – Yeah, and so I think this is a really important point, the notion of staying away from being too pushy sales-wise, share some type of value add or share something personal, draw those people in, and then occasionally maybe ask them for something or sell them something, I think that’s a really effective way to use that account.

Lacey – Or even give them something, like a free PDF, a checklist, like, I created a PDF that, I posted a picture on my Instagram telling that it was, for example, five wedding shoes that won’t sink into the grass ’cause as we all know, us ladies, when we wear heels at a wedding and it so happens to be on, you know, a grassy lawn or whatever, our spikes of our heels sink into the grass, it’s really annoying.

Nathan – I can’t say that I have personally had that experience, so yes, I will defer to your expertise.

Lacey – Oh, you should have that experience, heels are fabulous, and you need a pair.

Nathan – All right, and then when it comes to writing a compelling caption, the last point that you had shared with me was the idea of mixing short and long, talk to me a little bit about that.

Lacey – Yeah, so sometimes our attention spans, especially nowadays, ’cause we have so much technology that we utilize, we’re not trying to, we stay on a subject or a topic or a photo, whatever, for more than, like, six seconds at the most, three if we’re just really not interested, like, what is this, nah, and you keep scrolling, so not every caption should be long and not every caption should be short, it should be a mix of the two, so for example, a short caption would be, you posted a photo of a glass of rose and you said something like today is National Drink Wine Day, yes way to that rose, you know, it told you what the day we’re celebrating and it’s short and catchy and straight to the point, and we knew what was going on in the photo, a long one would be, let’s say, you had a photo of a recent blog post and you went on sharing basically a portion of your blog post was your caption and then you left the link, you know, in your bio, so they would go click on that, of course, and it draws traffic to your website, that would be something that you would do for, let’s say, a long caption, or even something personal that you’re talking about, let’s say, you know, you had this pivotal moment in business and the struggle was real to get to this point so it would be a caption that you would kind of share about and obviously, the process wasn’t just one little thing, otherwise it wouldn’t be called a process, so you would share a bit longer caption of that process to educate, and more than likely to inspire fellow entrepreneurs, because, you know, this journey is intense sometimes.

Nathan – Sure, and you know, something else, and I’ll just kind of throw Gary in here again ’cause he also spoke to this in the last day or two as I was listening to his podcast, but one of the things he said was, sure it’s probably pretty accurate that the people’s attention span these days is not as long or it doesn’t tend to be as long, it takes a lot more effort to capture their attention for longer than a few seconds, the flip side to that, though, if you are creating content that’s interesting enough, they’ll spend the time watching it, they’ll watch the long-form video or they’ll read the extensive text, so maybe in this case, when we’re talking about Instagram specifically, if you’ve got an image that is captivating or compelling enough, you may be able to drive more attention to that longer form text that you’ve posted on occasion and it would enable you to be able to do that. It has to be interesting enough though, and that’s on us certainly to, I think you’ve mentioned, studying or you mentioned here, actually, in the notes that you’ve shared with me, the idea of studying the analytics, kind of watching and seeing how your audience responds, you can figure out what type of images capture their attention and they respond to most effectively and then you can use that then to drive them to some of those longer posts.

Lacey – Absolutely.

Nathan – But I love the idea of variety, I think that’s really important for keeping all of our attention, I think that’s a really great idea, so good recommendation there, so let’s move on now to the second point, the idea of how to effectively use hashtags, this is something else that you really pushed me on personally and I’ve begun doing a little bit more, how do we effectively use hashtags in our Instagram posts, and actually before we even get into how, talk to us about why, what is the significance of using those hashtags?

Lacey – It stretches your reach.

Nathan – Okay.

Lacey – With people across the world, you know, certain hashtags people do look up, like let’s say a bride was looking up, wedding shoes, again, we’ll go back to using that example, so she would find the hashtag wedding shoes and then it would draw her to a feed where the most recent posts of, let’s say, that hashtag.

Nathan – That makes sense, and I like the simplicity of the way that you explained that, it furthers your reach so not only will individuals, brides or otherwise, who are searching for content relevant to your Instagram account, will they be able to more effectively or easily find you, they’re gonna search a particular hashtag, I would assume, maybe, correct me if I’m wrong here, but I would assume that Instagram also will make suggestions in that, I don’t know what they actually call it, the little search feed, if you click on the magnifying glass, you see all these different images.

Lacey – Yeah, related hashtags.

Nathan – Yeah, so they’ll actually put images in that feed that are relevant to their interests. If they’ve searched that particular hashtag before, they’ve liked posts with that hashtag before, then it’ll fill in that feed with hopefully some of your images as well.

Lacey – Absolutely.

Nathan – That makes sense, okay, so talk to us a little bit more about this process of hashtags, then. How do we go about effectively utilizing them?

Lacey – So I would, let’s say you are a photographer in Tennessee and you want to utilize, let’s say, local hashtags that your clients would be searching for in your area, so a mom was looking for a family photographer so you would be, hashtag Tennessee photographer, for example and basically it’s just an industry-related hashtag on your location, another thing to do is use variations of that local hashtag, so let’s say you’re in Tennessee and you’re a makeup artist so you would say Tennessee MUA, so Tennessee make up artist or Tennessee, actually, using the phrase makeup artist.

Nathan – And that’s such a 2017 thing to do, to shorten the phrase as much as possible or make it as easy to search or to type out as possible but you would actually suggest that, shorten it up, use the initials for that particular phrase.

Lacey – Yeah, absolutely. And I believe in using hashtags for your dream client, ideal customer ’cause they search for inspiration, pretend that you’re them and think about who he or she follows, so for example, let’s say you’re a girl in your 20s, a woman in your 20s, and you’re, like, ridiculously into fashion, you would do hashtag designers, for example in a stylized shoot that you did, right, the woman in her 20s is attracted to hashtag designers. And that would then again draw that person back to your account.

Nathan – That makes sense, now I know that, and I’m looking at again the notes that you shared with me, this hashtag designers for example, is a prime example of a hashtag that is gonna be extremely, extremely popular, right, there are gonna be a lot of posts with that particular hashtag associated with it, the next point that you made here, and I’d love for you to elaborate on this, is the idea of using hashtags that have less than 300 thousand photos already tagged in it, talk about what that means or why you should do that and maybe what you could do to kind of modify that hashtag designer to use a hashtag that’s a little bit less popular, less used, I should say.

Lacey – Yeah, these are the hashtags you wanna use the most because they mean your photos will get the most exposure, hashtags with more than 300 thousand get pushed down because so many people are utilizing that hashtag and you want to be listed in the top post section, now that, going back to with what I said in using the hashtag, like, Tennessee makeup artist, so what you would do instead of hashtag designer, like you were saying, it’s probably a very popular hashtag, you could say Tennessee fashion designer.

Nathan – Okay, that makes sense.

Lacey – That is a more specific and condensed hashtag that will probably have 300 thousand on down posts.

Nathan – Right, and then in that case, as you mentioned, if it has fewer posts, then it naturally gets pushed to the top.

Lacey – Yes.

Nathan – Okay, continue to walk us through, I think the next point you were talking about is the idea of using 10 to 20 hashtags, now that’s a lot of hashtags, why would you use so many?

Lacey – It stretches your reach, and there’s a lot of sometimes variables to the image that you’re posting, so let’s say you posted, okay, going back to an earlier example, the picture of a glass of rose, so yeah, you would hashtag what’s related to it, so hashtag rose, and you would hashtag drink national wine day because that’s the little catchy trend for the day, but you would also target things such as, let’s say, hashtag wedding photographer, hashtag weddings, different things like that because you can actually utilize, because we all drink champagne or wine at weddings, and that furthers your reach, again, the more hashtags you use, which you can use up to 30, that stretches your reach and broadens the audience and draws more traffic to that post.

Nathan – Got it, perfect, and then the last point, take us to that last point about how to use hashtags to gain more followers.

Lacey – So use five big hashtags that may get you featured by other Instagram-ers, bloggers, and brands, so for example, you posted you’re remodeling your house and you posted a picture of the design team that decorated the house and it was all Martha Stewart inspired, Martha Stewart is a great popular hashtag, if the photography looks amazing, that might actually get you reposted or featured on, let’s say, Martha Stewart’s Instagram, you know, they may reach out to and connect and say, hey, we loved that photo, we would love to feature you in, let’s say, our spring design home decor line, and that hashtag, too, let’s say Martha Stewart, since it is such a popular one, those that do look that up again, they will see your photo and will draw traffic to your account.

Nathan – That makes sense, now how do we, how do I understand this last point of using five bigger hashtags at the same time minimizing the number of hashtags that are so popular because something like Martha Stewart would be really popular, hopefully it would get seen, but then we also want our post to go up further, or to the top, by using hashtags that aren’t used so much, so how do you, is that the reason why you say only to use five, the rest of them we want to use slightly more obscure hashtags?

Lacey – Right, yeah, and you have to think in terms of cross-promotion as well, so if I hashtag, you know, Martha Stewart with that, you know, my newly designed living room decor, and then they want to feature it ’cause they like the picture, they kind of cross promoted me and it grew my exposure.

Nathan – Sure, sure, okay, all right, well perfect, so this is a great head start into utilizing hashtags more effectively, again, thanks to Lacey’s recommendations and advice, I’ve begun doing this more consistently and certainly in a more targeted fashion, I think a theme thus far has been specificity, throughout this conversation and I think it’s important not only that we have a specific purpose in mind, but then the posts that we’re creating, they’re very specifically geared toward a target client, and due to that effort that we’re using very specific hashtags that again, are hopefully not too or overly popular and getting lost in the mix, we want to find some unique hashtags that are relevant, again, to the target client or potential client that we’re going after so this is really great, we’re down to the last point about creating more compelling Instagram posts, and this has to do with post strategy and scheduling, so kind of take us through this process.

Lacey – So I feel that if you’re not consistent and if you do not produce a regular schedule of content, your account will not be as beneficial for your viewers because they approach accounts with what’s in it for me.

Nathan – So I can’t post just, you know, like once a month and then a couple of times here, and a few times there, I have to actually be consistent with it, okay.

Lacey – Consistency is key, you know, with anything in life, really, if you think about it. And a disciplined schedule above it all, you know what I mean.

Nathan – But that actually is a great segue then to the next point because this idea, I know certainly for me being busy with multiple moving parts, certainly, both my personal life, but then even more so really in my business, there’s a lot to keep up with and I personally enjoy approaching business and the way that I manage my workflow in an efficient manner, the idea of posting on a daily basis, as little time as it may even take, you know, in some cases, it only takes, like, what, 30 seconds to do that, if even less, but it can still seem like just yet again another item in my to-do list for the day, so the notion of having some time of structure in approaching this or more specifically a schedule will help us be more consistent, so how would you go about scheduling your posts?

Lacey – So me personally, I take about one day a month to plan out on a calendar the content that I wanna post and first where I start off, like, completely first, is I pay attention to all the holidays, the fun national days ’cause those are always, you know, great trends or, like, you know, little fun quirky days like Taco Tuesday.

Nathan – Sure.

Lacey – I don’t know, it’s a crazy trend, tacos, you know, it draws attention to your account.

Nathan – And it seems like there are always National Donut Day, National Laptop Day, there’s some day for everything, so I think that’s a great recommendation to pay attention to those quirky little days.

Lacey – Yeah, and see, why I like those days, it gives you fillers, you know, ’cause let’s face it, it’s not always the easiest to come up with inspiring, educational and fun looking fabulous content, you know.

Nathan – Right.

Lacey – Especially when you’re, like busy with life, you have children, you know, you have other factors to your personal life, it’s not always easy and I get that, but I start with those days because those are the easy fillers that you can create content for, and then I do what’s closest that’s happening within the week, so that would be, let’s say, okay, I know that on Friday I have an engagement session at Balboa Park in San Diego, so I am going to on two days later or three days later, after one of my favorite images is edited, I’m going to post that photo as, let’s say, a sneak peek, and that gives you other content that shows people your photography work, it shows them where you are at, it shows a gorgeous couple that’s all stylized and in love, and that will draw of course your ideal client.

Nathan – Now you mentioned scheduling this post for example from this session, this particular portrait session.

Lacey – Uh-huh.

Nathan – I know Instagram’s API, not to get overly technical, but doesn’t allow for, they’re very closed off, just to put it very simply, so, you know, there are lots of different pieces of software out there that allow you to manage and plan social media posts but you can’t actually upload an image and fully schedule that post, you have to come back and add the image and I know you mentioned using a particular piece of software, web-based software, I believe, to handle your posting schedule, what is that piece of software and how does that work?

Lacey – Planoly, I absolutely love it, you can actually upload photos from your PC, you can schedule your Instagram post from your PC. You upload a photo, you write the caption, it allows you to schedule the time, there’s the app too, so what will happen on your phone, your phone’ll give you a notification saying, hey, you said that you wanted to post this photo and so you just click on yes, you post the photo, copy and paste, it’s super easy and it’s right there for you and you can do, again, a year’s in advance scheduling content.

Nathan – That’s great, so it’s a bit of a roundabout way, but it gives you the notification, it just kind of feeds it all to you, reminds you, enables you to be able to copy that over and then you can post it very easily to Instagram, that’s a really great tool, we’re actually in the process right now of, matter of fact, we have just hired somebody to come on board and manage our social media for us, and they’re going to more than likely be using this particular tool to plan out our posting schedule, so that’s a great recommendation, take us to the last point in this post strategy and scheduling process.

Lacey – So if you dedicate a series of concentrated efforts to cultivating engagement with your ideal clients, and it extends your reach, you’ll see the increase in interactivity, basically, more likes, more comments, even more followers.

Nathan – So we’re right back to that notion of consistency again.

Lacey – Yeah, absolutely.

Nathan – We certainly have to be creating content, well, again, first of all, if we go back to the very beginning, we need to have a very simple expressed, very specific purpose in mind for the Instagram account, then we’re posting content that is relevant to and attractive to our target client but we have to be consistent with that, it’s not good enough to post two or three really great posts and then wait for a week or two and then come back to it, we’ve gotta actually be consistent, but if we’re consistent, we’ll see those results.

Lacey – Yes, but one thing I wanna stress too, is, don’t get overwhelmed by it, when I feel like I constantly have to post on social media, you can sometimes get burnt out, so I do take, if I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed or burnt out with stuff, I do take, like, a day or two hiatus, maybe even three days from social media period, just to refresh myself, because like I said earlier, it’s fun, it’s exciting, you meet new people through utilizing the world of Instagram, but it can be tiring, it can be, you know, a lot to always think of the next creative post that you’re gonna make.

Nathan – For sure.

Lacey – So taking a break, just to recharge yourself, there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s not going to interfere with connecting with your ideal client or, you know, sales, or whatever your goal is, utilizing your Instagram.

Nathan – Sure, that makes sense, the cool thing, though, about using something like Planoly is that you can hand over that app to a partner, a business partner, friend, family member, whatever the case, and they can actually manage just copying and pasting those posts that you already created in Planoly for you while you’re taking those few days off, I totally get the idea of taking a day or two or three off, I think it’s important on multiple levels, but even applicable to this effort in social media, but again, being able to utilize some of those tools will allow you to fill in those spaces even while you’re taking a break, so I think that’s really, really great.

Lacey – It saves you a lot of time, and another great time saving app is called Tag o’ Matic, you type in a hashtag and it will list the 29 best related hashtags. And you basically, all it does is you copy it and you paste it and it goes straight into the comments section of your Instagram.

Nathan – Tag O’ Matic, and is that a IOS app, or is that a web-based app or?

Lacey – It is an IOS app.

Nathan – Perfect, all right, this is a lot of interesting information and certainly helpful information, Lacey, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to go through all of this with us, because we are talking about Instagram, where can everyone find you on Instagram?

Lacey – Oh, you guys can find me @Laceyophotography.

Nathan – Lacey O, and that’s just all one word, Lacey, L-A-C-E-Y, O, photograph on Instagram, is that right?

Lacey – Yeah, absolutely.

Nathan – Perfect, again, thank you so much for your time.

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Bokeh Podcast Episode #29: Community: How It Strengthens a Photography Business – Andrew Barlow

Community - Andrew Barlow

There is strength in numbers. Just ask Andrew Barlow, who manages Shoot and Share, a photography community of over 30,000! In this Bokeh podcast episode, Andrew explains what it takes to create a real community, how community engagement can help build your business, and why personal success doesn’t always equate with personal fulfillment.

You can also subscribe to the Bokeh podcast on the Apple podcast app by clicking here

Read the transcript and show notes

Show Notes:

About Andrew and his family. [01:28]

How Andrew got started working with the photography community. [02:51]

Why empathy is important in community. [05:15]

How the Shoot & Share community got started. [06:11]

Creating a safe place for photographers to communicate. [08:31]

What you need to be a value part of a true community. [10:58]

How contributing to a community helps your business grow. [14:35]

Communities photographers can get involved in. [20:07]

Why remembering your priorities is important. [25:46]



Podcast Transcript:


Nathan – I’m sitting here with my friend, long time friend actually.

Andrew – Yeah.

Nathan – Andrew Barlow, who I think I’ve actually known since he was 16 or 17 years old maybe.

Andrew – It’s been quite a long time.

Nathan – I think maybe even the first time that we met was at your family’s home in Chicago. I had the opportunity to come visit and we got to hang out with you guys for a little while.

Andrew – Absolutely, over 10 years ago.

Nathan – Yeah, long time. We got a lot of history. What’s exciting now is, I mean we’ve been in the industry together for a while, but we’ve had the opportunity to be able to share ideas with each other. I’m learning a lot from you. I hope I’m in some way contributing some type of value to your life.

Andrew – Oh, absolutely.

Nathan – But we’re in this stage right now where we’re trying to figure out a variety of things that are centered around community, so we’re gonna dive into this topic of community here in just a little bit, but for the few people that may not know you, give us a little bit of info, history if you will. Where you from, talk to us a little bit about your family.

Andrew – Absolutely, I’m originally from Chicago. I grew up there with a large family and the second of seven kids and so just grew up living community. Whether that was through church or through, you know, home school communities or whatever that was. Just a lot of people around. Very involved in different types of community settings. That’s kinda always been what I’ve known and so that’s been kind of a natural approach for me, just going through life. Being involved with people, learning how to be together and make each other’s lives better doing life with other people. It’s been an incredible journey and that’s grown, kind of now, into my career and the work that I’m doing and have been able to do. Moved out here to Santa Barbara back in 2010.

Nathan – Wow, it’s already been that long ago.

Andrew – Yeah, yeah, I’d been working with the company there. With David Jay and the crew for about five years at that point and came out here to Santa Barbara and just–

Nathan – Just to interject, to specify. DJ, David Jay, currently has a company called Pass, it’s an online photo gallery. And then Agree, which is contracts and payments. But at the time, he had, what were the companies you were involved with? Helping out at that point?

Andrew – So it was called Show It and that was, it’s currently still a website tool. Absolutely incredible. Really gives you creative freedom in building your website and so I was involved very early on there. And as we started to build the product, there was a very passionate group of people involved in using the product. So I got a call when I was living in Chicago. I got a call from DJ back in 2010 saying, hey I want to start doing some new stuff with community. I want to rally people together. Let’s get you out here to Santa Barbara so we can work on this together. I was going to school at the time and so I said, hey this is the direction I want to go and so I loaded up my car and I hit the road and drove out to Santa Barbara and I got out there and DJ handed me a stack of book and he said, read these and let’s try some stuff. So we dove in and started to rally people and just created some incredible relationships along the way, grew, built community and so that’s just been a journey that we’re still on to this day and we can talk more about, but that’s been just a wonderful experience.

Nathan – Well it’s turned into something really big. I guess you started out kinda in customer support right?

Andrew – Yeah I did.

Nathan – That was initially what you were doing with the company, which turned into an incredible opportunity to over see an absolutely massive community, which to this day, aside from the community that I was a part of as a photographer for DJ’s open source photo, it was a forum.

Andrew – OSP.

Nathan – OSP, yeah aside from that community, I haven’t seen a more vibrant, more engaged community that genuinely cares about people and, like you said, we’ll talk a little bit more in detail about the significance of community here in just a little bit and the value of community. What a wonderful opportunity that you have and I have to add too, you have an incredible example in your dad.

Andrew – Absolutely.

Nathan – Of somebody who, I know anytime I talk with your dad, I immediately feel at ease. Like I could just share any and everything with him. It’s just an unusual experience when you’re talking with somebody, you actually feel like the person genuinely cares about you, and not just on a surface level, but actually wants to get to know you and help you and encourage you in anyway they possible can. So you have an incredible example in your dad and you’ve been able to take, I’m sure, much of what you learned at home and bring that to the community that you’re overseeing now.

Andrew – Absolutely, it’s just the basic tenants of loving people, having a focus on other people. When you sit down in a conversation, not thinking about oh what’s the next story I can tell about me or the next thing I can interject myself, but actually caring about genuinely being interested in what they have to say, what they’re going through. Not always having to have an answer. Sometimes it’s just being there for them.

Nathan – Absolutely, empathizing.

Andrew – Yeah, exactly and so I do have an incredible example in my father in how to just love on people and he’s, as a pastor, someone’s who’s done that his whole life. He’s been an incredible example and support system for me throughout this whole journey.

Nathan – That’s really cool, so you had the opportunity to kinda oversee the Show It community, which then transitioned to overseeing the Shoot and Share community, so tell us just briefly what the Shoot and Share community’s about.

Andrew – Yeah, so we launched the Show It community when I moved out here and that grew and it still is an incredible community of photographers and creatives who use Show It for their business. As we kinda launched other products, we launched Path as a photo sharing tool and we saw this group, this certain group of the industry that at the time was really kind of getting very ostracized.

Nathan – The so-called shoot and burn photographers, right?

Andrew – Yeah, and they would call ’em names and all that because it was a different method of running your business where you would charge for the service and you would deliver the digital files to your client. You would still offer print and products. It was different than the standard at the time of charging very little to shoot and making all your money on the prints and products.

Nathan – I think, just as a side note to that. Something that the photography industry doesn’t really seem to talk about or consider, we may have talked about this before, but the last stats that I heard about 85% of the weddings shot in the US were shot for about $1,700 or less.

Andrew – Right, right.

Nathan – The next 10%, it’s about $1,700 to $4,000 range. And then the top 5% is above four grand, but the reality is that the majority of the potential business out there actually does fall in that lower end and everybody kinda shuns that, or at least talks down about that particular segment of the market, when really there’s an incredible opportunity to serve that market.

Andrew – There is.

Nathan – And there were a lot of photographers that were doing that, they saw business opportunity, but they were doing something that was actually needed.

Andrew – It was actually needed, and unfortunately at the time, the photography community that existed, wherever that happened to be and whatever environment, looked down on that. The people who were serving that demographic of people.

Nathan – And they’ll speak to the art of it. We don’t need to undercharge for our art and I understand the thought process, but no amount of that philosophy is gonna change people’s income. The reality is that it’s such a significant portion of the US.

Andrew – It is.

Nathan – Just the US, has a relatively low income that doesn’t enable them to pay five grand for a wedding photographer.

Andrew – Exactly, exactly. So what we wanted to do was create a place where photographers who shoot and share their photos would feel safe and would be able to have a community where they wouldn’t be ostracized and they wouldn’t be looked down on and they wouldn’t be attacked because we were hearing these stories of photographers being attacked in these online communities for the way that they chose to run their business and the way that they thought they were best serving their clients and so we wanted to have a place that was safe and so we launched the Shoot and Share community. Kind of rallying a community more around an ideal, certainly the business model but more around, hey we’re gonna build a community of people that are focused on others and focused on serving their clients well. And that’s where the idea of the Shoot and Share community came from and that community grew very quick, very large.

Nathan – How many members, roughly right now? Do you know?

Andrew – We’re over 30,000 now.

Nathan – That’s incredible.

Andrew – That’s specifically in the online, kinda the main group. We also have local groups around the country. And so it’s been a wonderful journey, just getting to do community and come together with people.

Nathan – You say that very graciously because it’s a lot of hard work too, you got a lot to oversee.

Andrew – Thankfully, as people got involved in the community, we had people pop up their heads and say I want to help with this and no community can be run only by one person.

Nathan – Absolutely.

Andrew – It takes a village, it takes a big group of people. And so we’ve had a lot of help along the way from leaders and people who’ve invested a lot of their lives into this community and to making it strong and a friendly, helpful place to be.

Nathan – So community is not a new concept, right? That’s how human beings even exist in the world. At the basis of that is this concept of community. But it also seems almost cliche these days to throw around that term, so I want to make it really practical for the photographers that are listening, what is the significance or the value of community to their business? Because in the end, we’re running businesses. We need to build, to grow our businesses. How does this community add value or significance to that effort?

Andrew – That’s a great question and that’s something that we’ve kinda had to learn along the way because just creating a group and putting a bunch of people in one environment together isn’t necessarily community, it’s just a group. It’s just a bunch of people.

Nathan – Okay, that makes sense. That makes sense.

Andrew – What we’ve seen is a true community is comprised and built of people who have a desire for two main things: one, a desire to grow and learn personally. Personal growth, they say if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

Nathan – It’s true and whether that’s on an individual level or even in a relationship with a significant other. Definitely seeing that.

Andrew – So people who have that desire, who realize that they haven’t arrived, that they have stuff to learn. A lot of times what we’ve seen in this industry is sometimes you find people who think that they’ve arrived and that they have nothing more to learn, no new ways to grow and that’s a dangerous position to be in. So, number one: people who have desire to grow and to learn. And then the second one is a desire to contribute. And that’s where we found, I’ll kinda dive into the growing area specifically, but contribution is a way where we’ve seen people be able to shift their focus away from themselves into a more outward focus. What we’ve seen, and we’ve seen this countless times over the years is that there’s this aspiration pyramid that a lot of people are on of what they believe is the ultimate of running a photography business.

Nathan – When you say aspiration, explain what you mean by that.

Andrew – Yeah, so there is an idea that in order to have made it in your photography–

Nathan – Yeah and you said that with air quotes. “Made it.”

Andrew – There’s no video here. So in order to have made it as a photographer, that you have to get to a certain point and a lot of people’s lives, what that has ultimately been is, oh I want to do a workshop, oh I want to speak on the stage of WPPI, I want to achieve this thing we’re people are looking at me as almost a celebrity. What we’ve seen with a lot of people that we’re in community with, a lot of people that we do life with now is that they went though that. And they got to that point where they felt like, oh now I’ve made and they got there and they weren’t happy, they weren’t fulfilled and what they realized–

Nathan – And not only that, just as a side note. The philosophical piece of it is massive and I’m sure you’ll continue to explain your perspective on that, but it doesn’t do anything for your business.

Andrew – That’s true. No amount of standing in front of photographers, unless you have maybe a product to sell.

Nathan – A product for them.

Andrew – Is going to actually help increase your bottom line in the end, so it might feel good in the moment. But if you’re actually in business to be a photographer, it’s not actually gonna help that either.

Nathan – It’s true and we’ve just seen that countless times where people thought that that was the penultimate and then they got there and they’re like, well now what? And so what we’ve seen is as some of these photographers and people who have made it, they had to kinda go back introspective and say, hey what’s gonna actually make me fulfilled? And what’s gonna actually make me happy? And what we’ve seen and what they’ve learned is that it’s when they can be in a place where they’re contributing to others and helping others along in their journey and where that focus isn’t, they’re not doing that to get more famous themselves. They’re not doing that to try to build themselves up, they’re actually genuinely interested in helping others along in their journey.

Andrew – Absolutely.

Nathan – And community has created an incredible environment for that, where people have a place to go where they can help people along who maybe are going through the challenges they just recently went through. And it’s not just that group of photographers who maybe, at one time, made it. This is everybody along the journey because everybody needs to be growing and everybody needs to be contributing. Whether you’re one year into your business, you have something to contribute. You have lessons that you learned in that first year that somebody’s who’s one month into their business needs to learn and so–

Andrew – And the beauty of it, it’s a never ending cycle. Ideally, right?

Nathan – Exactly.

Andrew – If you’re growing, you have something to share. Especially with photographers that are coming into the industry as so-called newbies. But it’s a never ending cycle that, I mean it’s a beautiful thing. It can only help

Nathan – Exactly. The industry at large, but certainly it will build community as you’re talking about.

Andrew – Exactly and so as we kinda have explored the idea of growing and the idea on contributing as two main goals of being involved in community, there needs to be opportunities for those things and that’s where running a community gets challenging because you want to create opportunities and environments where these things can happen. Anytime you put a whole of people in one place together, you’re gonna get some friction. It can be a challenge, but in looking into opportunities to grow, we’ve seen a lot of that come out of the community online where there’s questions that come up and as people who have the answers to those questions answer them, there’s opportunities to read and read comments and be able to learn from that. There’s opportunities to grow and as you’re starting your business. Especially for people who are very early on, you opportunities to get out there and shoot. You might not have shooting opportunities and there’s people in there who are maybe a year or two ahead of you who can invite you to second shoot, they can refer events that they weren’t able to take on. That’s where it creates a lot of different opportunities to grow your business. A lot of times it’s like, hey this is somebody to have your back. Hey, my camera broke and this wedding’s tomorrow. I need some help and being in community creates that support system. And then, beyond that, diving into the contribution. That’s where, like I mentioned, that creates a lot of real fulfillment. Fulfillment that can’t come from getting, quote, unquote, famous.

Nathan – That’s true.

Andrew – And it’s fulfillment that comes from seeing other succeed and being able to share some of the lessons that you’ve learned along the way.

Nathan – And I have to say, when you’re talking about those who become, quote “famous,” that aren’t fulfilled. I’ve been in the industry long enough to see, unfortunately a lot of cynicism from those who are at, so-called, top of the game. The ones that you’re hearing speak at conferences and workshops and so-forth. But I think a lot of that comes back to the fact that, like you were saying, the focus isn’t outward. It’s not on how am I bringing to the community because there’s a never ending opportunity to improve on that. Instead, the focus is inward and how are they meeting my needs and how are they making me look better? It’s a losing game at that point. I know that I spent the last three or four years personally doing a lot of introspection for the sake of, well just trying to figure life out. Myself on a personal level. What I also realized was that so much focus inward ultimately inhibited my ability to grow as quickly as I could have. I tended to become a bit reclusive and almost kinda shy to let my skeleton show, if you will. Rather than at least making an effort to stay connected to a few people, knowing that that community would ultimately help drive growth. The moments where I kinda got over myself and got on with my own way and did contribute in some way, it was like so extremely fulfilling. I’ve also seen this, again, on a personally level even in the world of relationships. It’s easy to be extremely critical of a significant other when the focus is on how are you meeting my needs. And yet, the moment that you start to focus on how can I add value to that person’s life, how can I make them better, how can I make them feel loved? The mentality changes significantly and you’re so much less focused on yourself that you can’t help but be happy. So I think that that then multiplies 10 and 20 and hundred-fold when you’re talking about community and being able to add significance to community or contribute to community.

Andrew  – Absolutely and unfortunately, I think what we’ve run into a lot is you see people who get stuck in the loop, where they’re so focused on themselves and it’s hard to break out of that because you see people kinda spiral further into that–

Nathan – Well their identity rides on it, right?

– Exactly and then they get frustrated because they’re not feeling fufilled and so a lot of times you see them focused even more on what’s that next thing that I need to achieve. We’ve seen that cycle be broken by something as simple as being able to just contribute and be genuinely focused on someone else.

Nathan – That’s beautiful, I love it. Do you happen to know a community that photographers can get involved in?

Andrew  – Absolutely, there’s some great options out there. If you’re look specifically for local community, people to meet, getting Facetime, being able to do coffee dates, that type of thing. There is a incredible community called the Rising Tides Society and they’ve created their Tuesdays Together chapters. They have 350 of them around the world.

Nathan – That’s incredible. And in just a short amount of time too, right?

Andrew – Yeah, absolutely and that’s the Rising Tide Society. Honeybook is one of that companies that’s partnered with them and we’re partnered with them as a community as well because they’re in the same heart and the same vision of being focused on others in the community over competition efforts that we’re really all focusing on together.

Nathan – And you say we, referred to Shoot and Share. How can everyone find Shoot and Share on Facebook, we’ll just say, just type in Shoot and Share?

Andrew – Absolutely yeah. Join the Shoot and Share community as well. It’s an incredible place. It’s a community that I’ve been involved in running for a couple years now and just a place to be able to share, to be able to ask questions and know that you’re not going to be put down. We don’t allow negativity there. So that’s an incredible community to get involved in. We’re running a really fun photo contest right now.

Nathan – You guys are killing it. How many votes did you say have come in thus far?

Andrew – So we’re a week into voting, we’re one week into the three weeks of voting and we’ve had about 22 million votes come in.

Nathan – That’s mind blowing.

Andrew – The goal of this contest and another goal of community, beyond and contribution is actually kind of tied in with those, but it’s inspiration. As artists, as creatives, there’s a lot of incredible work that’s created. Photography, whatever that might be.

Nathan – And it’s easy for that to kinda get lost in the noise, right? I mean so many pictures posted to Instagram and to Facebook, all these other mediums. It’s easy for that to get lost. So it’s great that you have a central locations. Photographers have a central location where they can come in and share their work.

Andrew – Right, right. So through this photo contest, we found a great opportunity for photographers to share their work and the voting part of it is anonymous, so it gives everybody a chance. It’s not a popularity contest.

Nathan – Awesome.

Andrew – It gives everybody a chance to inspire others with their work, no matter what your existing reach is.

Nathan – Another significant element of community, if I can add one in, is encouragement. And I know that photographers have experienced that encouragement through the process of this photo contest as well, right? They didn’t see themselves as, quote “great photographers.” And yet they share something and then are awarded for their work.

Andrew – Exactly, it gives opportunities for that encouragement, in some ways, for validation on like hey, the effort that you put into working on your craft and growing your business and working on your art is paying off and it’s seen. And so often, people work very hard on that, but they don’t have a way for that to be seen, to be discovered and the contest creates an environment for that to happen, so we’re really excited about this. This is our fourth year doing the contest and it’s grown every year. People get incredibly excited about getting involved with voting on it and so it’s another community effort where we are able to reach those goals of helping people grow, because it’s a nice little check point where they can say like, hey I submitted last year and here’s how my photos did and look how much I grew over the year.

Nathan – That’s really neat.

Andrew – And also contribution, they’re able to inspire others with their work and their photos. Community’s a wonderful thing. I’ve dedicated my life to it and a lot of that came from family and from my up bringing. It’s never not been worth while. It’s always been an incredibly fulfilling part of my life. It’s been my whole life and so I’m very passionate about it and am continuing it in my life to find other ways to help people in their own communities to learn how to grow, to make make communities healthy and sustainable. It’s an exciting thing.

Nathan – That’s really cool, so photographers can simple Google, it’s just, is that correct?

Andrew – Rising Tide Society, if you wanted to get involved with local groups, that’s a great place to go. The online area, there’s some different great communities you can get involved in. Rising Tide is a good one for that as well. Shoot and Share as well.

Nathan Also, correct? If they just want to go to a website.

Andrew – You can check out our community there. You can check out over 350,000 photos from past photo contests, you can sort and filter them by category and camera and lens. It’s a free tool on there.

Nathan – That’s so powerful, that’s really incredible resource.

Andrew – You can get in there and get inspired if you have a new born shoot coming up, if you have whatever kind of shoot coming up. A wedding, an engagement session. You can go into those specific categories and just get some great inspiration.

Nathan – And you can see the technical details behind those images, that’s really cool.

Andrew – Yeah, you can see the ISO, you can see the aperture, you can see the lens that was used, the camera that was used, so it’s a powerful tool.

Nathan – Oh brilliant, I love it. Well before we close out, you had mentioned a quote to me earlier today. Something that your dad used to say. Can you just repeat that here for the listeners?

Andrew – Absolutely, so as I mentioned earlier, growing up in an environment where we were very heavily focused on community that can be a lot of work. Something that my dad always shared as we were doing community through ministry with the church and a lot of different ways is that you don’t want to sacrifice your family, the things that are most important in your life, the priority that you have. You don’t want to sacrifice those on the alter of community or ministry.

Nathan – Of your work, ultimately?

Andrew – Exactly, of your work. That needs to be something that’s important to remember. That family, that’s like the ultimate inner circle of your life and those areas need to be healthy. A lot of times people have too outward of a focus and they lose sight of some of those core things and it creates an unstable and unhealthy environment.

Nathan – Absolutely. Well at the end of the day, we can talk politics and religion and all of these other areas that are a bit controversial and there’s gonna be disagreement, but we all have relationships. If we’re allowing our work, whatever that work might be, to get in the way of those relationships. We’re missing out and that’s putting it lightly. I’ve seen the negative results of that. Both experienced that personally in my life growing up. I know that I’ve been guilty, at times, of not prioritizing my family. And ultimately, I have a company in Photographer’s Edit and part of the focus here on the Bokeh podcast is about how we can prioritize those relationships. Create more efficient business models so that we can ultimately prioritize those relationships, because as you said, allowing those relationships to die on the alter of whatever we’re focusing on that we think is so important to life. We’re gonna miss out over all. We’re certainly not going to be the best individuals that we can be, we’re certainly not gonna have the most fulfilling life that we possibly can when we miss prioritize those things.

Andrew – It’s true, you have to work from a place of health and that’s where the correct prioritization of those areas, making sure that you in and of yourself are healthy and that you’re taking care of yourself. You’re learning, you’re growing internally. Beyond that, the next step has to be your family. Those closest to you. Allowing your work to come from a place of health, that’s how you’re gonna minimize burnout and that’s how you’re gonna see more fulfillment in your life.

Nathan – And isn’t that an interesting thing that as much as it’s easy to get caught up in the notion that I have to put priority on the work, the reality is that in many cases, prioritizing those relationships which means a more healthy personal life means you can produce so much more effectively in your business and your work.

Andrew – Absolutely.

Nathan – That’s really, really great. It’s a great little line there and I’m glad we can end on a beautiful note such as that. How can everyone follow you online, whether it’s on Instagram or Facebook. How can they find you Andrew?

Andrew – For sure, primarily, jump into the community. I’m very active there, I’m involved there. If you want to, on Instagram, it’s mostly just pictures of my kids.

Nathan – Yeah, your beautiful kids.

Andrew – The Andrew Barlow on Instagram, but yeah my heart and my passion is in community. This is my life and so what would bring me the most joy is just seeing people get involved, and like we said, growing and getting benefit from that and then finding ways to contribute.

Nathan – And actually, speaking of Instagram, Shoot and Share is the Instagram account, correct?

Andrew – Yep, Shoot and Share.

Nathan – Just all one word, no spaces, no underscores or anything right?

Andrew – Shoot and Share.

Nathan – Thank you Andrew for making time for this conversation. This is wonderful.

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Bokeh Podcast Episode #28: The Key to a Long and Successful Photography Career – Luke Edmonson

successful - Luke Edmondson

What if someone told you that the key to the longevity of a photography career wasn’t about the art of photography? In this Bokeh podcast episode, Luke Edmonson shares how he found his own path in photography, his perspective on working with family members, and the big idea that has enabled a legacy of successful family of photographers.

You can also subscribe to the Bokeh podcast on the Apple podcast app by clicking here.

Read the transcript and show notes

Show Notes:

Tell us a little about yourself (1:36)
Where does the wonderful connection with your photographer father come from? (3:10)
Tell us about your family (7:56)
How has having kids affected your photography career? (10:10)
A practical approach to relationships and marriage (12:36)
How do you create a career with longevity? (15:45)
How do you balance the business of running a photography company, while maintaining a creative outlet? (20:20)
How can photographers find you online? (28:44)



Podcast Transcript:

Nathan Holritz:                    All right. We’re live. Here we’re and I actually get to sit with my friend Luke Edmonson who, I’m trying to think how long we’ve actually known each other now.

Luke Edmonson:                 Six weeks I think.

Nathan Holritz:                    Is it six, not seven?

Luke Edmonson:                 Not seven, but we’re going to get there.

Nathan Holritz:                    Okay.

Luke Edmonson:                 Because I’m an optimist.

Nathan Holritz:                    There are a few people in the industry where if I have the opportunity to get to see them I feel like I’m seeing family that I just spoke to the other day. That’s the kind of relationship, I mean at least from my perspective, that I have with my friend Luke. We’ve done business together. We’ve done life together. We’ve gone really deep in conversation multiple occasions and encourage each other, and hurt together, and so I feel like you’re family.

Luke Edmonson:                 Absolutely. I feel the same way.

Nathan Holritz:                    I have such respect for not only what you’re doing in the industry but just for who you are as an individual. There’s a certain level of transparency that you have every time we dive into conversation that I look forward to, so I thank you for that. Tell us a little bit about yourself. You’ve been in the industry for a long time and I mentioned before we got started that we’re going to kind of dive into this topic of longevity. It’s kind of unusual these days in the photography industry but tell us a little bit about your background.

Luke Edmonson:                 Sure. Absolutely. My unique situation is I come from three generations of photographers. My grandfather was involved in photographic sales and photographic supplies. My father launched into full-time photography in 1974, which is before some of the people listening to this may have even been born. I was born in ’75 and suddenly I’ve grown up just surrounded by this world of creativity and photography, and I started professionally at the age of 21. I’m 41 now so that’s 20 years for myself, so this was this long period of our family’s life where photography in some form has been kind of woven through the fabric of what makes us, how we relate to the world, how we see the world, and of course how we like to think.

One of the most beautiful things for me is the fact that my father and I now have gotten to do business together for a little over a decade at this point and that’s really a privilege. I would say this, when I first started working with my dad I said I could work with my father but not for my father, and today it I could absolutely gladly work for him. That’s been more about the grace that he’s given me just to mature and of course for me to establish my own sense of identity within what it is that we do.

Nathan Holritz:                    What I think is so beautiful when I see the two of you together, and we’re actually here at a photography conference so I get to see you guys together. You’re hearing background noise. We’re actually in a convention center, but when I get to see the two of you together there’s always this, you speak about grace, but you show a certain level of grace to him in such a consistent fashion. You’ve been around him for a while. You’ve been doing this for a while.

Luke Edmonson:                 I’m old. Great.

Nathan Holritz:                    You have a talent set to speak of on your own and yet you’re always there to serve him. What is that about?

Luke Edmonson:                 You know, I didn’t always want to be a photographer. In fact without, I think intentional thinking on my parent’s part, what happened is my sister drew a picture and everybody goes, “Oh, you’re the artist in the family.” I probably kicked a ball and they said, “Oh, you’re the athlete.” Or somebody else played a musical note and you’re the musician. They gave each child their sense of fiefdom and tried to encourage them and so forth. I never associated myself with the arts, so to speak, so when I grew up in the family business it was just something that we did, a little bit on the lines of The Karate Kid, which is an old movie that some people may have seen, it’s a classic, but you’re working in the studio and you’re doing stuff and for me it was a chore, a total chore.

But at the same time I was learning and I didn’t realize what it was that I was learning at the time. When the time came in my life that I realized that I would not be well rounded as a person if I did not explore this thing called art, and that was when I got to college, and never having expressed interest in that realm beforehand, my father gave me the best gift he could ever give me, which he said, “Absolutely.” I said to him at the time, I said, “I don’t even have any idea where this is going to go. I just know that if I don’t do this that there’s going to be a part of me that’s going to always be missing.” He said, “Go for it.”

So I did and that’s kind of when he first extended that sense of grace towards me and that opportunity just to go into something without knowing what the final outcome result was going to be. Later on when I came back to work with him and so forth, when you think about, let’s say a musician, somebody who plays on the highest levels. Somebody who’s new to perhaps picking up the guitar or whatever says, “Oh, I so love guitar. I just want to wear my guitar everywhere because it’s my identity. I want to let the world know that I’m a aspiring musician,” and you really just want to jam, right? You want to jam with anyone anytime you can.

My dad was the guy who practices his guitar all the time but probably doesn’t really want to jam with some guy that’s just still learning how to play the scales, if that makes sense. There was a certain amount of grace that he gave me in that to be able to get up to speed with him, and I had to do that on my own. That work had to be done on my own to the point that I could finally run alongside him in a photographic sense and be able to stand on my own, to be able to think in an interesting way about how is it we’re going to visually problem solve a particular situation or particular look? How am I going to have a unique vantage point and idea and so forth?

There was a lot of grace that he gave me all along that growing process so it’s very natural and very easy, to answer your question, for me to extend that back to him at this point. It’s just something that it’s a choice that we make every day. It’s like every other relationship, a business partner, perhaps you work with a family member or whatever, it’s just this choice that you make about the time that we have is so precious together so why in the heck do I want to spend it arguing over something that’s just a minor detail?

Nathan Holritz:                    Right. That’s really beautiful. I know we all have different experiences with our fathers or mothers, different types of relationships. My dad and I weren’t always close. We’ve had the wonderful opportunity to kind of build on our relationship in the last, even the last few years, connecting over riding motorcycles. We were just talking about riding motorcycles little bit ago but I just have so much respect for, you talked about the word grace, but even just the word respect to itself, the level of respect that you guys show each other not just professionally but as individuals. It’s so consistent. It’s something that I always notice even in just the simplest interactions.

Luke Edmonson:                 You think about that word respect, you know, on some level people say well, you just need to respect me. Well, I have to accept you where you are, absolutely, and I have to accept you for who you are, but respect is both given and it’s earned. My dad’s earned my respect. It’s easy to give it, if that makes sense.

Nathan Holritz:                    Absolutely it makes sense. Take us back just a little bit to, well first of all you’re based right now in Texas. Whereabouts in Texas?

Luke Edmonson:                 We’re in Dallas, Texas.

Nathan Holritz:                    Okay, and tell me a little bit about your family too.

Luke Edmonson:                 Sure. Well, I have a beautiful wife. I’m completely undeserving of her, of her love. I do have to remind her on occasion that she chose me. She could’ve chosen anyone and she chose me, including the sets of problems that I have. We have an absolutely delightful three-year-old daughter who is one of just the joys of my heart. Her name is Holland and I adore her and four months ago we had a son come into our lives, Rhett, who I mean I just love getting to know. At this point our interactions are belly laughs and watching him roll over and that kind of stuff.

We had a moment when he was born where we had a bit of excitement, let’s say, and we started our journey off with him for nine days in the NICU. It wasn’t a premature type thing. It’s just kind of part of how the birth process went and it taught me a lot. I used to say give me 10 fingers, 10 toes, healthy baby, I’m happy. It was very cavalier and I don’t hold that against myself. I think that’s just a normal type thing.

When you’re faced with the reality of leaving a hospital with your child still there it’s just a different reality, right? It’s given me a lot of empathy for people that perhaps have a child with a disability or anything else that could have happened with birth and it just makes you say to yourself as a parent, and you know this with your own kids, you’re going to love your children regardless of any particular situation. That’s been part of the process that we’ve been going through and I think ultimately, we’re seven years into our marriage, it’s helped bring us closer and to work better together as a couple, and again, that goes back to the grace and the choices and all that kind of stuff as well.

Nathan Holritz:                    How does having kids now, and I was so excited when I found out that your daughter was going to be born, that I was going to get to observe you as a father. We’ve known each other for a little while prior to you having kids and we talked about fatherhood and that whole experience, and I was excited to see what that would look like for you, especially knowing of course your relationship with your dad. How has that influenced your photography career?

Luke Edmonson:                 You know, I’m going to bring it back to something here so we’re members of an organization as well over in England and they had an opportunity to go for, it’s called Your Fellowship and it’s, let’s say, a terminal degree in photography and so forth. To set the stage, what you do is to create a portfolio of 20 images in a particular field. My particular field was weddings, and with that you have to include a statement. It causes you to pause and reflect on how things are.

When I started shooting weddings I was single and I was the same age or younger than many of the bridesmaids, and you could flirt and do all this kinds of stuff, and it was all about energy …

Nathan Holritz:                    Energy, that’s what you call it?

Luke Edmonson:                 Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. That energy led to me meeting my wife. I met her on the dance floor of a wedding that I was shooting so that worked out.

Nathan Holritz:                    That’s awesome.

Luke Edmonson:                 But when I was thinking about it I started off the premise to say something like this. I said, “You know, I don’t think it’s a requirement for you to be married in order to be a wedding photographer and I really don’t think it’s a requirement for you to have children to be a wedding photographer.” But both of those events, and how could they not, have shaped the prism that I now view wedding photography through. I can see it now through the eyes of a husband and what the wedding day in retrospect will mean.

Nathan Holritz:                    Interesting.

Luke Edmonson:                 I can also now see it through the prism of what it means to be a father and what that will mean to those children, and here it is, you’re having the opportunity to capture on a wedding day this idea of shooting someone through the eyes of a loved one, right? The way that my daughter will look upon her dad is going to be different than the way my son will look upon his dad. My son’s going to get to see, hopefully, how I model loving a woman. My daughter, I hope, also sees the same thing, right, and sees the value that I place in my wife and I hope that that means that I have done something to shape the type of man that she desires to have in her life so she doesn’t ever settle for second best, right?

That she find someone that values her for who she is, at the same time accepting her for who she is, and you know, when you get to this idea of marriage and all that kinda stuff at the end of the day we’re just choosing the set of problems that we want to deal with for the rest of our life, right?

Nathan Holritz:                    That’s a good way to put it.

Luke Edmonson:                 There is no perfect person out there, right?

Nathan Holritz:                    Right.

Luke Edmonson:                 Right, so because of that it’s like can I live with this particular set of problems, and if I do then I chose that and now let’s go.

Nathan Holritz:                    That’s a very almost cynical yet quite beautiful and, again, gracious way to approach a relationship like that. And I think too something that you mentioned earlier when you talk about your relationship with your dad, you talked about about identity, being uncomfortable in who you’re as an individual and not looking for your identity in someone else enables you to show that type of grace and love, and really any type of relationship that you’re in, the other person.

Luke Edmonson:                 Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean that becomes the fundamental thing. You know, we can get into marriage or relationships or whatever you want, but I mean at a certain point when you first fall in love with someone, I mean you’re just excited thinking about them, right, and they’re perfect. They have absolutely no flaws, right? You’re just daydreaming about them and it feels good just to daydream.

Nathan Holritz:                    It does, yeah.

Luke Edmonson:                 And then you spend more time around them and you start realizing they’re a real person. You’re not matching this mental 5 x 7 of the person that I love, you know? Most people kind of when they hit that friction point, you know we call them pinch points of whatever, that’s when they kind of go oh, okay, well now I’m going to start separating for you or whatever and stuff like that, but at the end of the day it comes down to I have to be filling my own tank. I can’t be looking to them to fill my tank, my emotional tank or whatever. If I do that and they do their part of taking care of themself, then naturally we’re going to have something to give to each other, right, but if I’m only looking at it for them to pour into my life it’s unsustainable.

Nathan Holritz:                    Absolutely. Absolutely.

Luke Edmonson:                 There you go.

Nathan Holritz:                    Like you said we can go on about that because that just brings so much to mind about personal experience even recently, but I think it’s such a beautiful point. I’m almost 40 myself and I’m just now realizing the significance of that very fact, that to look to other people to feel that so-called emotional tank is futile in the end and it leaves you wanting, always wanting more versus when you do focus on the other person and what you can do to porn to them. As long as you’re mutually working at that then you can have a really, really beautiful relationship, so great, great advice on relationships.

I want to dive into photography, and actually it’s kind of a great segue into photography because perspective, your perspective on life, which is a very rich one, I have again so much respect for it, I think has a significant effect on your longevity in the industry. I think a lot of photographers dive into, I know I did, dove into photography just at the initial excitement of even just having a cool camera. There’s not a very deep motivation that is driving this attempt to get into a career which can be quite challenging, especially when it comes to maintaining a business over the long run. What is it that you think, having been in the industry for 20 years yourself, and then certainly having the perspective of being able to watch your dad in the industry for so long, what would you say is it that enables you to stay, not only to be in the industry for this period of time, but to continue to challenge yourself?

You guys are always going to print competitions and not only-

Luke Edmonson:                 We’re growing.

Nathan Holritz:                    On both sides of it, judging and then also submitting your work in these competitions, so you’re pushing yourself. Is that the key element? Is there some other key element that drives this longevity?

Luke Edmonson:                 The answer to longevity is this, care about the people that you’re serving. We consider ourselves ambassadors of lugs, of love, excuse me, cleverly disguised as photographers, right? Photography gives us permission to go places we have no business being and do things we couldn’t do otherwise.

Nathan Holritz:                    Oh, absolutely.

Luke Edmonson:                 We’re invited into people’s lives, some of their most intimate moments. We’re able to capture them in a sense that they never even own the prints, the images, whatever it is that you do. They’re just the custodians of them for future generations, right? We think of our audience as people that we’re shooting for, but really they’re not, right? They’re going to just enjoy them for a period of time and then they’ll be passed on.

When you go into this process of figuring out how you work with clients and people and so forth, and have long-term relationship and achieve success or do any of this kind of different stuff, it’s on some level you have to place a higher importance on them than you do on yourself. Photography is so easy to be an ego driven thing, right?

Nathan Holritz:                Absolutely. That’s the phrase that was running through my mind as you were explaining this. Yeah.

Luke Edmonson:                 Yeah. I mean, so where does it start? You take a picture and some family member says you’ve got a great eye. You’re like,”Yeah. I kind of do. It’s my right eye. It’s good, right?” Then you start doing other stuff and you start trying to see if your friends feel that way, and then you start doing other stuff and you try and get, it’s this external validation of who you’re and it feeds your ego.

Then if there’s ever a point where somebody doesn’t give that to you then you’re like well, forget them. Like they don’t get me. I need to find my perfect client, right? I need to only work with people that think like me or that like me, right? Well, that will only get you so far and it is in some way unfulfilling. You know, from a wedding perspective you might say is there something good about trying to target a certain type of client? Well, sure there is. At the same time I don’t care who you are. If you’re going to pay me a ridiculous amount of money I can find a way to get along with you for eight hours. Right?

Nathan Holritz:                    Sure.

Luke Edmonson:                 Right. And then after that we finish the job and we move on, right? But that’s providing the food for my family and the different things like that, so on some level it’s really not about me. We have times where I have people absolutely hire me [00:18:30] to say, “Luke, I want you to do your thing. It’s all about you, whatever it is that you want.” Does that feel good? Of course it does. Are those days more fun? Absolutely. There are other days that I might show up and for whatever reason I’m just a guy. I’m just there to do a job. They’re there to have their party or they’re there to have their fun, or they’re there to throw their big event because of their stature and stuff like that and it’s all about them. I’m just supposed to come in as a servant.

That’s fine. I can humble myself, because it’s not about me, and go in there and serve them, and the fact that we’re serving them allows us to then develop a relationship with them, and that relationship hopefully gives us an opportunity to have influence on their lives. Sometimes it’s about putting down the camera and just talking to that person. That’s one of the things that I think happens quite often is for these people, perhaps it is that nobody ever really cares about them. What they care about is their image, right, who they think that person is.

You’ll see it sometimes where people are quick to express I just shot so-and-so’s wedding, or I just did a portrait of so-and-so. It’s all about this and on some level it’s also about marketing them. One of the things that I believe has helped us have favor with people that perhaps have discretionary income, or resources, or notoriety, celebrity, or whatever, is the fact that at the end of the day I’m not out to make their event my marketing vehicle, right?

Nathan Holritz:                    Wow. That’s powerful.

Luke Edmonson:                 That authenticity, let’s say, and just saying I’m here to serve, whatever it is, here is the range of options and the ways that I can serve you. What looks best to you? There’s an element of refreshing, I guess or an approach to that, and a believability, and that’s what allows them to invite us into their lives.

Nathan Holritz:                    If I’m going to play devil’s advocate the photographer is going to come back and say, “But Luke, I love this idea of serving and helping others, of capturing this day for them and for generations to come, but I’m an artist. How do I maintain some type of ‘artistic integrity’ in this effort to set myself aside and serve others?”

Luke Edmonson:                 Sure. Absolutely. Separate the artist from the business person. The artist can go do whatever it is that they want, right? That’s why we do our print competitions. That’s why we have a side of us that does fine art and the different things, the stories that we want to tell, because quite honestly the stories that we want to tell may not have an audience other than ourselves, right? And that’s okay. Hopefully they resonate beyond just myself but that’s for me to fuel myself. That’s where I need to practice on my own.

Some people say like, “I won’t pick up my camera unless I’m getting paid.” That sounds really good, right? I don’t know any professional that doesn’t practice when they’re not getting paid. I mean you should be practicing, right? Or excuse me, I should’ve said practice and getting paid. There is an element of the artist mindset which really needs that external validation, really needs everybody to like them. Lots of the most famous artists were not well-liked during their lifetime and they died penniless, right? Vermeer is a guy that we’ve studied and so forth and I think that it was on his death certificate that they said essentially he had no clothes to be buried in because nothing that he owned was of quality enough, right? He was so broke at that period of his life and then later on his paintings go on to sell for hundreds of millions of dollars in his death, right?

It’s not uncommon that as artist your particular genius will be recognized in your lifetime.

Nathan Holritz:                    Would you say then that you proactively separate kind of the artistic focus from your so-called job or your business?

Luke Edmonson:                 Absolutely, and even within this. I’ve give you an example. I did a photo of my wife and my daughter because I want to use the fullness of my hand. You talk about what if it’s not appreciated? My wife would say to me,”Can we just say it take a normal photo, right? Why do we have to go to these lengths? Why am I dressing up? Why am I bathing her and we’re building this set, and you’re lighting it and it’s taking 30 minutes for us to do this thing for you to get one picture, right?” And you go, “Because I want you to experience the fullness of my hand.” But what happens if this fullness of my hand isn’t even appreciated by my own family? Should I not do it? No. I should.

We think about our clients and stuff like that, we think everything that we do they just need to love. Well sure, it’d be nice if they did but I also need to have stuff that they’ll buy. If they want the picture where they’re just smiling, looking at the camera, and I want this back lit shot that’s all artistic and they don’t get it, that’s not a rejection of me. That’s just their visual IQ or it’s just them saying this is what I like. Okay, great. Let’s do it. Let’s sell it and be done.

Nathan Holritz:                    What type of projects do you, I means aside from photographing your own family now, what kind of projects fuel you? Where do you find that creative outlet?

Luke Edmonson:                 The projects that fuel us are, again, it kind of comes down to this storytelling messaging. You know, there are some things that we’ve been doing with like Edward Hopper, which is a little bit more on the idea of American realism, and in some ways exploring the disconnection between two people.

Nathan Holritz:                    Okay.

Luke Edmonson:                 That’s always an interesting thing to me because as you know, or anybody that’s in a relationship knows, you can literally sleep next to someone and yet be disconnected, right?

Nathan Holritz:                    Absolutely.

Luke Edmonson:                 You go, “We’re separated by inches but we’re in our own separate worlds,” right? That’s an interesting thing to go through an exploration of. You also have-

Nathan Holritz:                    Are you trying to figure out ways to capture that artistically then?

Luke Edmonson:                 Yeah. Yeah. How do you visualize that?

Nathan Holritz:                    Okay.

Luke Edmonson:                 And then what is it that you’re trying to say, you know? Often times what we like to do is give just enough information that there is a story there but the final interpretation is very much what the viewer is bringing to look at it, if that makes sense.

Nathan Holritz:                    Absolutely.

Luke Edmonson:                 Because all of us do that, right? I mean there’s, it you know, as they say three people present in every photo. There’s the subjects, there’s the viewer, and of course there’s the photographer, you know? How is it that people are going to look upon this and what is it that they’re going to see, what is the story that they take from it versus the story that I’m trying to tell?

Nathan Holritz:                    In order to maintain a healthy business and to keep the focus in that business on the client and serving the client while also somehow trying to find an artistic outlet for yourself, what would you say the balance is in your, I mean when you’re looking at let’s say a month’s time frame, how much time are you spending on the business side of things? How much time you’re allocating to personal projects?

Luke Edmonson:                 Absolutely. I think that the answer is that there’s a time to sow and a time to harvest. When it’s time to harvest you harvest, you’re out there. If that means that you can’t do anything personal for two, three, four months, you do it and you make that money. It’s within that at what point do you feel yourself perhaps getting burned out or perhaps needing a recharge or whatever? I don’t care whether it’s an hour, it’s a day, whatever it is, you build in these little pockets of time and then you also look at your schedule to see when well I have an opportunity so I have something to work towards, right?

Concepting begins well before you ever pick up a camera, right? It has to start with an idea and most people say this, “Well if I just had the resources. If I just have the equipment. If I just had this then I’d be able to do something for myself or something that I’ll enjoy.” You go, “Okay great. Well here’s all the resources and here’s all the equipment.” And they go, “Well actually my problem is I don’t have enough time.” You go, “Oh, I totally understand. How about I just give you all the time in the world? You can do it, whatever it is you want, you can have all the resources.”

Well what’s the crux of the matter? The real thing is that they don’t have any ideas, right? The reason they don’t have any ideas is because creativity is a muscle. It’s something that you have to practice. It’s not just something that you go okay, now I want to be creative and I want to pull that out, right? My suggestion is if you’re struggling with creativity, the way that you start to get around that is something that’s often times the things that we most don’t want to do, which is you have to become still. At some point you have to become introspective before you can become expressive, right? Most people want to go straight to just I want to express, but they don’t have a voice. They don’t have anything that they want to say.

It’s coming within yourself, being quiet, being still. I heard this once about trying to solve a puzzle. If you want to solve a puzzle it’s sometimes easier to do when you’re lying on your back because your brain spatially thinks differently than it does when you’re sitting up, right? It forces your brain to start seeing the world a bit different. You know, there’s a show-

Nathan Holritz:                    It’s all about perspective, right?

Luke Edmonson:                 It is. It is about perspective. There’s a show called Sherlock and many people may have seen it or whatever, but there’s always those scenes where they do this thing where they show Sherlock’s brain. He’s sitting there and suddenly the world splits out and all the symbols come apart type things, and they separate. They’re no longer a whole but he starts seeing the connections in a different way and the answer becomes obvious, right? It’s that type of ability to be able to sit back, reflect, allow things to come through and process, your subconscious comes to the forefront, and there’s a term we call percolate, it’s that grace to be able to think about things. It’s then all of a sudden there’s something, this aha moment, and now suddenly you see the textures. You see the weight of the objects that perhaps are going to be the elements within the scene. You see the story, the crux. What is the real story it is that you want to tell, and now how do I go about communicating that very efficiently and decisively, right?

Once you have that now you know all the things that you need to go out to do to actually do the how and the what, so I guess the sum of the answer is this, once you know the why you have your answers. But until you have that you’re spinning your wheels.

Nathan Holritz:                    I can’t thank you enough for making time to sit and chat.

Luke Edmonson:                 It’s my privilege.

Nathan Holritz:                    We’ve dove into life. We dove into business and I think that kind of mirrors the conversations that we normally have so I really appreciate you making time for this. How can photographers find not only what you guys are doing business-wise in the industry, but I also see some of your personal work as well?

Luke Edmonson:                 Absolutely, so pretty much on any social media it’s just my first and last name, so it’s @LukeEdmonson, L-U-K-E E-D-M-O-N-S-O-N. You can go see our wedding work at, that’s with an S at the end, and for our fine art you can go see it at Art1095, that’s A-R-T1095. The reason why we have Art1095 is essentially I’m trying to give my dad the gift of three years, and so that’s 365 days times three get us to that 1095, and that’s too kind of explore. He’s earned it at this point, kind of creating whatever it is that he desires to do, and just have these stories that we want to tell.

Nathan Holritz:                    Some of that artwork that I’ve seen come out of this, I guess you could call it a project-

Luke Edmonson:                 It is a project. It’s an ongoing project.

Nathan Holritz:                    … an ongoing project, has been absolutely mind blowing. It takes part to a whole different level that I’m not used to seeing in our industry, so you guys definitely make time to check that out. Again, thanks so much Luke Ford making time to sit down for a conversation today.

Luke Edmonson:                 Privilege is all mine. Thank you.

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