Bokeh Podcast Episode #35: The Most Important Relationship In A Wedding Photography Business – Morgan Holland

Relationship - Morgan Holland

Morgan Holland has a bubbly, energetic personality paired with a sense for business that you can’t help but love and admire! She’s been an event planner in Chattanooga, TN for over 10 years, and the owner of Soirees for almost as long. In this endearing episode of the Bokeh podcast, Morgan shares how to best approach what is the most important business relationship a wedding photographer can develop, their relationship with wedding planners. You’ll love Morgan’s stories of not only some of the horrors of working with wedding photographers, but also about some of her best experiences, and bonus: you’ll learn what made the difference!

Wedding Photographer Business Survival Guide:

  1. Outsource things that get in the way of running your business!
  2. Create a contrast between proactive and reactive tasks.
  3. Build relationships with affiliate business professionals.
  4. Referrals – they work both ways.
  5. How to get “in” on a personal level.
  6. Be willing to do give business materials.
  7. Act like the PRO you are.

What NOT to do:

  1. Don’t be a diva.
  2. You selfied who?!
  3. I can’t believe you wore that.

Gain an in-depth perspective on why Morgan is so good at what she does, and how you can be that rock star you know you can be. Hosted by Nathan Holritz of Photographer’s Edit, the Bokeh podcast is one of our best yet!

Find out more about the 10 tips above by downloading the podcast from iTunes or on your phone.

Podcast:  Bokeh: The Business of Photography by Nathan Holritz
Episode 35: The Most Important Relationship In A Wedding Photography Business

Instagram: @soireeseventplanning

Read the transcript and show notes

Show Notes:

Introduction to Morgan Holland [00:31]
Outsource things that get in the way of running your business! [06:13]
Create a contrast between proactive and reactive tasks. [08:40]
Build relationships with affiliate business professionals. [12:56]
Referrals – they work both ways. [18:17]
How to get “in” on a personal level. [19:44]
Be willing to do give business materials. [26:56]
Don’t be a diva. [28:43]
Act like the PRO you are. [29:58]
You selfied who?! [30:12]
I can’t believe you wore that. [31:28]
Where to learn more [38:41]

Instagram: @soireeseventplanning

Podcast Transcript: 

Nathan – Welcome to Bokeh, a podcast exploring the ever-blurring lines between the personal and business lives of professional photographers. This is your host, Nathan Holritz, and I’m excited to have you join me in connecting with photographers and entrepreneurs in the photography industry as we dive into real conversation about photography, business, and that sometimes messy thing we call life. This podcast is brought to you by Photographer’s Edit, custom post-production for the wedding and portrait photographer. Visit And now, let’s dive into conversation. Alright, we’re live. I’m sitting here with my friend, long-time friend actually, Morgan Holland, how long have we known each other? Has it been like 10 years?

Morgan – It’s been almost 10 years.

Nathan – Maybe even more than that?

Morgan – Yeah.

Nathan – Okay. So Morgan is actually the first person to come on the Bokeh podcast who is not a photographer, not technically from the photography industry, and I’m really excited about it, I wanted to do something different. Morgan actually owns Soirees, which is a local event-planning service and that’s putting it lightly, I think they’re the best in town and I actually had the opportunity as a wedding photographer to work directly with them, we’ll talk about that here in just a little bit, but I wanted to let Morgan share her perspective about what it means to work, for a photographer, what it means to work with an event planner and how the photographer should best approach that relationship because we found a lot of value from that relationship when I was involved in wedding photography, but I want the honest opinion directly from your mouth about how photographers should best approach that relationship, so we’re gonna get to that place, but first of all, let’s talk a little bit about you, where are you from? We’re actually in Chattanooga right now, are you from Chattanooga originally?

Morgan – I was raised in Chattanooga, so born in Knoxville, raised in Chattanooga, so not too far off the map.

Nathan – Okay.

Morgan – Went to college back in Knoxville at UTK, so my blood runs orange.

Nathan – Yes, go Tennessee.

Morgan – But actually decided right after I was finishing up my senior year in college that nothing was holding back and I’d always wanted to be in L.A. so I took off for a year and lived out in L.A.

Nathan – What did you do out there?

Morgan – So it was so crazy, ’cause I went out there with the idea of like, I wanted to get into casting, it always interested me over my college career, I’d gone back and forth to L.A. and done a bunch of intensives with different casting directors and so I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Well I went out there and L.A.’s just a hard place to live, it’s just different.

Nathan – There’s a a little bit of competition, too.

Morgan – There is, yeah, it’s not something that a bright-eyed southern 21-year-old is gonna just dive right into.

Nathan – Right.

Morgan – So ended up, after four months of just playing around and having some fun, thinking I should probably get a job. So ended up working at a five-star five-diamond hotel in Beverly Hills which, just luck of the draw, they needed a southern girl to work the front desk to play all of those roles that they have.

Nathan – Did you mean any celebrities while you were there?

Morgan – All of them.

Nathan – All of them, really?

Morgan – Everybody humanly possible, so I was out there in like 2004, 2005, which is when all the HBO shows were getting big, so Sex and the City and Sopranos and all of that, so I know too much dirt on a lot of rappers.

Nathan – We could have a whole podcast just dedicated to that.

Morgan – Exactly, if you wanna veer off that way. So yeah, I know all kinds of dirt.

Nathan – That’s awesome.

Morgan – It was amazing, but I also got to see really fun event sides of that so I majored in public relations and communications so I knew that I wanted to do some sort of event type stuff but could never see myself sitting behind a desk and writing press releases my entire life, so out in L.A., just had a little bit of fun and then eventually decided, probably can’t raise the family here, so if I’m gonna meet someone, I should probably go back to the south. So I ended up back here in Chattanooga, just kinda seeing what was going on.

Nathan – And what year was that when you came back?

Morgan – That would have been 2006, so I was out there for about a year and a half, so 2006, came back and was like, “Okay, what am I gonna do now?” So I just started looking at local event planning jobs that were available and happened to stumble upon Soirees, it had been in business for maybe six months at that point. Met the owner at a Starbucks, she didn’t even have an office location yet, she was like, “You’re hired!” and I was like, “Oh, okay cool!”

Nathan – And I can see, this is Taylor that we’re talking about.

Morgan – Yeah.

Nathan – And I worked with Taylor directly for quite a long time but I can totally see her doing that, “You’re hired.”

Morgan – You’re hired, like awesome, come on, we’ll see you on Monday, kinda thing. And so, started out just working events and part-time with them and after her career and her husband’s career started to kinda take off at that point, she decided that Soirees was something that she couldn’t keep on the side, so she offered me the opportunity to purchase the company. So by the time I purchased the company, I’d only been with them for a year and a half.

Nathan – That’s amazing.

Morgan – I was 24 years old. I was 24 years old when I purchased the company from her and it was just so interesting because I was like, “Okay, I think I have a really great grasp “on event planning and things like that,” I had done numerous events at that point in time and led many of them, but then all of a sudden, I was like, “Oh, do I have to pay, these are taxes.” What do I do with that, what’s a property tax?

Nathan – So true, yes.

Morgan – I don’t own property, I don’t understand.

Nathan – This is the very thing that photographers run into too. I mean, I didn’t get into photography thinking about being a business owner.

Morgan – No.

Nathan – I just thought, “Hey, this is some really cool, “expensive camera equipment that I get to buy “and I get to go take some pictures with it.”

Morgan – Really good at that part, but.

Nathan – Gotta pay those taxes.

Morgan – Exactly.

Nathan – And we actually, there have been photographers that have gone too, and I think the school is closing down now but quite a well-known photography school that was based in Santa Barbara. They’d spend $100,000 or more to get a degree in photography and they might come out an okay photographer but they didn’t have a clue about running a business. It’s a really tough reality that business owners have to face.

Morgan – It is, and I think in the wedding industry especially back in that day, it was just now evolving so people didn’t realize what you were buying or selling or how to get into that business side of things so I think it’s really evolved over the years, but yeah, that was kind of a shocker for me at 24 years old. Being like, what?

Nathan – So how did you learn it, was it just googling, were you reading?

Morgan – It was one of those things where I immediately, I’m not good with numbers, I tell people all the time I can’t add on a calculator, so I immediately just deferred everything to my accountant and was like, I told her, I sat her down and was like, “Look, you’re gonna have to talk to me “like I’m a kindergartener and I will not get offended, “tell me what I need to pay and when I need to pay it “and we’re gonna have the best relationship “if you’ll just tell me what to do.” So I really relied on others in terms of just telling me what I needed to do for a long time, and that was people in the advertising agency, tell me how often I need to run an ad or if I even need to be in this publication or if I don’t, help me out, help me with determining my target markets. I know whose weddings I want to do and whose events I want to do, but I’m not really sure how to reach those people so deferring to other professionals and other small businesses was huge for me.

Nathan – And by the way, for all those listening in, I did not set Morgan up for this conversation to promote the idea of delegating or outsourcing but of course, as the owner of an editing company, Photographer’s Edit, we encourage photographers to do just that, but it’s not just about outsourcing or delegating editing, it’s anything that is getting in the way of you being able to focus running your business and certainly those things that you’re not that great at or that you don’t know much about, it’s absolutely vital to be an effective, it’s not, when you’re running a business, you aren’t, it’s easy, especially as a photographer to just think about being a photographer and it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae, the day to day running a business, but you have to be a manager to be an effective business owner, to oversee things and so this idea of delegating or outsourcing work to other professionals who, this is what they do, this is what they’re good at, they can educate you, you have to go that direction or likely your business at least is not gonna be as successful as it could be.

Morgan – Absolutely, and even bringing it to this day and age with the social media aspect of everything, that’s another thing that I’m just not good at. The girls that are graduating from college right now had classes specifically designed around these social media topics and how to navigate all of those correctly and when I came out of college, that was not a thing, I was still writing paper press releases and having to walk them over to people and be like, “Here, I’d like for you to publish this.” And so now everything’s just so much more fast-paced and it’s awesome to be able to bring them in and rely on them for those portions because if I spent all day paying taxes and posting on social media and doing all these sort of things, I would never have time to plan events or to meet with my clientele.

Nathan – Which is ultimately about growing your business, and I talk about this with photographers creating a contrast between tasks or activities that are proactive in nature, those things that are actually gonna grow the business moving forward and those tasks that, sure, they have to happen but aren’t really tied to increasing your bottom line and kind of reactive in nature, so again, delegating that work to people to focus so that you can focus on the proactive stuff, absolutely vital. That’s really great, wow. So that’s a cool story, so this was 2007.

Morgan – Yes.

 Nathan – And here we are 10 years later.

Morgan– I know!

 Nathan – And you just moved into this new space, we’re sitting in a new space that is absolutely beautiful.

Morgan – Yes.

 Nathan – And you’re overseeing weddings as well as other events, correct?

Morgan – Correct. So I would say our bread and butter, 90% of what we do is weddings, which is hilarious for me personally just because, again, sitting in those college courses, all these girls sitting around the table being like, “I wanna be a wedding planner.” And I’m like, “Ew, who would ever want to do that?” My first job when I was 16 years old was actually working at a wedding gown store, so I was selling formal wear and wedding gowns and things like that and I would just see the dynamics of mothers and brides and the bridal party and just all of that stuff that happens, all the stress and all the emotion and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t ever want to be a part of this. “This is not something I could ever “see me doing in the future.” Fast forward.

Nathan – And here you are.

Morgan – Fast forward 15 years.

Nathan – Little bit of irony there.

Morgan – Yeah, so it’s just really interesting. So weddings are a lot of what we do but we also have a handle of non-profits that we work with and are very passionate about, a handful of corporate clients that we have continually, year after year, which are so fun, lots of private parties, birthday parties, baby showers, all that fun stuff, and all of those, just because we get to go outside the box and come up with fun themes and all of that stuff, so those are different and I love to use a creative outlet there, but yeah, weddings, we’re in it, we’re all about it.

Nathan – But here, again, 10 years later, congrats to you for making it this far.

Morgan – Isn’t that strange? I think about that all the time ’cause even when I started on this, I was like, “I can’t see myself doing this “in 10 years, I can’t see it being relevant in 10 years,” I guess is what I thought maybe. But it’s just over the years, the industry has changed so much and the way that I describe it to most people is that before it was a luxury item and through the evolution of TV shows about finding the dress and creating these amazing receptions and all of this stuff revolving around weddings, it’s become more of a necessity now, so instead of it being this luxury item of like, “Oh I have a really huge budget, I of course need “a wedding planner because that’s part of the package” kind of deal, it’s more of everybody needs one and is seeing more of the need for the actual planning and the logistics part of it because they do wanna enjoy their day so yeah, so the market has just grown for us in general, so it’s the first time that there’s ever been multiple in Chattanooga, there used to be one or two, and now there’s probably 10, there’s probably 20 that just keep popping up, who knows, everybody that plans their own wedding decides that it’s the best thing ever.

Nathan – It’s their thing to do.

Morgan – Yeah, they’re like, “I had a great time planning “my wedding, I’m gonna plan other people’s.”

Nathan – Now speaking of, you’re engaged.

Morgan – I am.

Nathan – Congratulations to you.

Morgan – Thank you so much.

Nathan – So how does that work for a wedding planner, an event planner, engaged, are you doing your own work or are you delegating that elsewhere?

Morgan – So we are delegating that elsewhere. The great thing about that is we decided, just because we have so many friends in the industry and so many choices here in Chattanooga, we’re running away, so we’re going to Mexico to an all-inclusive, and we are just, we’re taking some of our closest friends with us, it’s gonna be an amazing time for us to just all relax and enjoy. A lot of the people that are going are wedding professionals which is amazing too, ’cause it was one of the things we decided, if we were gonna stay in town, then obviously we would want our friends involved and our friends are gonna end up having to work on our day instead of enjoying it with us, and so we were like, “Let’s just take the question mark out of all of that, “and let’s just go, let’s just go somewhere.” So yeah, so we’re going to Mexico in July.

Nathan – Oh man, I love it.

Morgan – Taking our friends with us.

Nathan – That’s cool, congratulations to you.

Morgan – Thank you, we’re so excited.

Nathan – So this is, I mentioned earlier that this is kind of a different format for us because we’re actually bringing you in, not a photographer, somebody from kinda outside of the industry, if you will, but I’m really excited to get your perspective on this idea of developing a relationship with an event planner, a wedding planner. And I’ve told this story so many times before but we had the opportunity to work with Soirees years ago, I did as a wedding photographer who was hosting meetings with potential clients, we’d have a client come over, we’d sit down, show them albums, engagement session images, talk about the whole process, how much it cost, et cetera, but we developed such a relationship with Soirees, Taylor and yourself at the time, that Taylor would literally come over and sit down in our office and I would just sit on the couch quietly, she’d bring a client over, the client sitting there across from me, they’re looking at albums, Taylor’s sitting on the couch next to me and I’m sitting here, and literally, I’d just sit and I’d listen and we had such a cool relationship that Taylor would literally do the selling for us, she’d just go on and on and on about how great it was to work with Holritz Photography and the client’s looking through the images and listening in and I really didn’t have to do the work. And that’s kind of the ideal scenario, but I’m really curious to get your take, your perspective, having now been in business for quite some time, about what it takes for, or what you would hope, for in a relationship with a photographer, the photographer is saying, “Hey, I want to develop “a relationship with an event planner “because I know this is ultimately a really important “component of me growing my business.” How should they best approach that relationship with you?

Morgan – Right, so there’s so many different ways to initiate that relationship. A lot of people, again, it’s the same in all the different facets of the industry, but people are getting nice equipment and thinking, “Oh I’m just gonna “dive right into this,” so we have a lot of people cold call us and just say, “Hey, I shoot weddings, “can I send you my pricing and you can “recommend me to your clients?” Well no, that’s not exactly how we work. We have extremely close relationships with the majority of vendors that we use. And the reason that we do that is because we can honestly trust people, I tell people, with our packages specifically and the way that we work, we don’t take any of our kickback fees, referral fees, anything like that, so our clients know that if we’re recommending someone, it’s because we’ve worked with them, we understand how they work.

Nathan – It’s a genuine relationship.

Morgan – It is, it is, and we can tell them the ups and downs of what we’ve experienced and even give them referrals from other clients that have used them as well. Being in our clientele and using these same people, it’s a very honest relationship, it’s very open. So that’s one of the things where I feel like we do need to get to know each other, but also it’s one of those where I need to see you in action because everybody can put their 10 best pictures on a website, everybody can hand me a piece of paper that has pricing that’s comparable to other industry standards.

Nathan – Or even look like a nice person for five minutes, right?

Morgan – Absolutely, absolutely, but if I don’t see you on an actual eight- to 10-hour, sometimes 12-hour wedding day, and see how we’re interacting and how we’re jiving and how you’re working with my clients and things like that, then it’s very difficult for me to just recommend someone off the bat. So a lot of times what it is, is coming in and it’s being willing to spend a little time and sometimes money by developing that relationship, so whether it’s a stout shoot that you guys wanna get together on or whether it’s sitting down and just being like, “Okay, hey, I have a wedding, “if you are available, if you’d like to come “and just kind of see me in action,” that would be fantastic, we’re so open to do that because we’re always looking to grow our recommendation base so it’s interesting to me that so many people will just shoot me a website link and say, “Hey I do weddings,” because I feel like photography in general is way more of a personal relationship, it’s the closest vendor that you’re gonna have other than your event planner because you spend so much time with them and you have to be, it’s a really intimate relationship, which is strange to say.

Nathan – No that’s so true, absolutely. I can remember interacting with some of the clients that we had, I mean, you’re spending as much as 12, 14 hours a day with these people and on certainly one of the most important and intimate days of their lives, they’re letting you in and ideally you have that relationship where you’re almost, they would treat us like family. And it was just a really incredible experience, even looking back in hindsight, I’m not shooting anymore but I shot for about 10 years and I consider what an opportunity it was to be let in the way that I was, so absolutely, that personal relationship, not only with the client is important, but then the relationship with the event planner because I remember how closely I worked with you guys on that day and you almost kind of have to, to the extent that you almost learn to read each other, looking for each other across the room, you’re looking for that head nod, that, “Hey we’re getting to start cutting the cake,” or whatever it might be, but that close relationship is really important.

Morgan – Yeah, and it’s important for photographers too to encourage their clients to outsource the event planning because as a photographer, you know, if there’s not an event planner, then it’s you that it falls on, you eventually become the event planner, telling people what to do, when to do it, and you’re not being able to focus on your craft at that point, which is so difficult.

Nathan – I’m hearing a theme through this whole conversation, the importance of delegation, right?

Morgan – It’s crazy, I mean, that’s just, again, in this industry, as it’s evolving, a lot of people are trying to come up and do this one-stop shop kinda deal where they’re trying to have everything in house so you’re gonna walk into a space and they’re gonna provide you with all of these people that are ideally cut from the same cloth, and I’m just really different, I have a different take on it where I think that each piece should be very individual so that that person is focusing on exactly what they’re best at and are able to bring their best quality work instead of the event planner also trying to do your makeup, that’s not something that you can do well at both. And so same thing for the photographer, I don’t think that they can do their job well if they’re running to this side of the room and having to corral the bridal party over here but then also having to run to the other side of the room, find the mother of the bride and then queue the deejay to announce the cake cutting, it just doesn’t work out, we need you there for the organic moments and for those special in-betweens that aren’t those posed shots of, okay, they cut the cake, that’s great, you got that, but did you get all the stuff before and after when you were running back and forth. So it’s huge for us to be able to have that relationship because that’s what we ultimately want from our photographers on the day of, when I need you, I want to know where you are, I want to be able to come over to you, tell you exactly what’s gonna happen, and you’re just doing your job, you’re not doing anybody else’s job, so it’s so nice to be able to have that relationship with someone.

Nathan – How would you say the photographer should approach developing that relationship in the first place because like you said, just sending a website, that’s not gonna do the trick, how would they begin that process with you?

Morgan – Absolutely.

Nathan – And to be clear, I know you talked about the idea of inviting you, for example, to a wedding, to come see, but I’m thinking more on a personal level. One of the things that I’ll recommend to photographers is hey, you know what, first of all, start with just inviting them to coffee or to lunch and have a real conversation with them. Be upfront with them about the fact that you’re in this to do business together, I hate fake relationships and so if there is that honesty and transparency upfront, it seems like it would be really important.

Morgan – It is, and that’s exactly how I explained it to my clients as well, you can look at their websites, you can look at their pricing, everything could be comparable at that point in time, but what I’ll do is I’ll have them narrow down that 10 that’s all comparable to two or three that they wanna meet in person and I sit them down over coffee or here in my conference room and I want them to meet in person, I tell them all, we’ve already looked at all the details, you already know the specifics, this is not a business conversation. This is you guys getting to know each other. I was like, they’re gonna ask you weird questions about how he proposed and things that might make you feel uncomfortable because you don’t necessarily think that you would be talking about that with a vendor for a wedding, but that is so important that they understand how the two of you all operate in relation to how they’re gonna photograph you. And every single time, it happens just as I say it will, they know who they click with immediately and that becomes their wedding photographer. So yeah, those personal relationships are very, very important to us, but in terms of meeting with us as an event planning company, I think sitting down, going to coffee, explaining to us about how they work on the day of but then also being willing to hear how we work as well is very very important.

Nathan – You have to kind of set ego aside.

Morgan – You do.

Nathan – I’m amazed sometimes at some of the things I read from photographers, there is such an ego where they kinda expect the world to revolve around them, the photographer, on the day of the wedding, and that’s just not what we’re there for.

Morgan – It’s so hard for event planners and myself and even other vendors to deal with that kind of personality because ultimately, that person is not there to benefit the greater good because I feel like with a strong wedding team, all the vendors are working together to make sure everything is flawless and when you have that one person that’s setting themselves aside instead of being available and being open to doing this, that, or the other, they are demanding their vendor meal and they wanna go and they wanna sit at a reserved seat for them with the bridal party, so there are so many things that I feel like the flexibility of it needs to come into play, so let’s talk about how you do business, but let’s talk about how I do business and how can we make this work together? And so a lot of times when people do sit down and hear how we operate and how we like for that personal relationship to be above anything else, above the logistics and the timelines and all of that, they really start to think about it and be like, “Oh, that actually could work for us.” So it’s fun to kinda see that evolve as well.

Nathan – You’re educating them.

Morgan – Yeah it’s kinda fun to see, especially when they’re new to the industry, they just don’t know and it goes from A to Z and so they can be the ones that are too concerned about the logistics and the payments and only this many hours for certain things and then it can go to the polar opposite of them just being too creative and all over the place and you can’t reign them in, so I think that understanding of being able to work off of a timeline and having a certain set amount of time for certain creative aspects is very important. But yeah, so sitting down and being able to chat through all those details beforehand, lets me know a ton about how you operate on the day of, what client that I could place with you, because that’s another thing, I’m not gonna sit there, say Holritz Photography, I’m not gonna bring all 40 of my wedding clients every year to Holritz Photography. Just not all of them are going to be in that, whether it’s a budget situation, whether it’s a style situation, whether it’s just a personality situation. So it’s really important for me to know a lot about my client before I’m able to even recommend the photographer.

Nathan – And I’m client you mentioned something about the budget too because one of the big value ads in our relationship with Soirees was the fact that we went from shooting weddings, we started, I think, well the first wedding I shot was like 250 or 350 bucks, but the first time we started putting price lists together, I think the base wedding package was like six or 800 bucks and it went from that to literally $10,000 for a wedding and you can’t, as you’re increasing your prices, the idea of getting referrals from this past client that you shot a wedding for $1500 for when your prices are now $3000, it just doesn’t work because more than likely, their friends are in the same income bracket, so working with a wedding coordinator who can refer you, just like you said, to the appropriate budget, makes so much sense and that was where we found a big part of the value in the relationship that we had with Soirees.

Morgan – Yeah, it’s fantastic though because your clients in general don’t understand necessarily what photographers do and especially in relation to an actual event day, so they’re gonna come in and they’re either gonna be, one of a few things, budget-minded, so they’re gonna come in and they’re gonna look at your price sheet and they’re gonna say, I can afford package A, B, or C, which unfortunately is not always what’s gonna be best for them, but it’s what they can afford, so that’s what they’re gonna focus on. Or it’s gonna be the idealistic one that’s like, “I want all of these things, I have to have all of them,” but here’s how much money I have to work within. And so you have to figure out how customize that package and make that work for them, so I think that that is a huge thing, where the budget comes into play, is figuring out where they come into play in terms of the income bracket, but also what we need to create for that specific person because there’s plenty of people that you could sit down and sell an album too that is never gonna open it up or that you’re giving your digital files to that’s never gonna print them. So being able to know what and how flexible our photographers are and being able to have that conversation candidly with our clients is very important. I tell all of our photography vendors that it’s something where, I get that you have it all printed out, but if I can come to you, if you’re willing for me to be able to come to you and say, “Okay look, I have this client that I think is going to be “the best style match for you, you guys are gonna get along “so well, you’re gonna gain a best friend out of this, “you’re welcome, but also they only have x amount of dollars “and this is what I need to happen for our timeline,” so can I have an extra hour, can you gift me an engagement shoot, help me out here because it’s gonna be beneficial for you in the long run but maybe they’re just not reaching that income bracket. And so by having those really cool personal relationships that I can come to a client candidly and then come back to a vendor candidly and say, “Okay, work with me here, how do we do this?” It is a huge benefit to everyone, I think. So that’s definitely something to take into consideration.

Nathan – You’re talking about bringing a significant amount of value to the photographer and one of the things that I’ve talked about with photographers is the importance of, in developing a relationship with a wedding coordinator or wedding planner, to figure out ways to add value to that relationship, how can photographers best do that from your perspective?

Morgan – In terms of adding value to our relationship, it’s again being willing to do those things that also highlight our business, so as we’re sitting at the conference table right here, you see all these books piled up, I know that it costs money to create those books, these beautiful canvases on the wall, I know that there is time and effort and money that goes into those, but by being willing to do that, it only helps me be able to sell you even better because even if a client comes in and isn’t even thinking about photography yet because their first stop was the venue and the next stop, the event planner, but they’re sitting there and they’re looking through all these books that we’re talking about, “Oh, this wedding happened here at the venue “you’re interested in, and this so happened to be “photographed by so and so,” and they’re like, “Oh, I love the look of that,” it’s the easiest sell in the entire world, so I turn around, I have pricing already printed out and I say, “We can talk about this, “but it can be flexible with your budget “once we kind of dive into that.” So I think the product side of things and the availability of being able to step outside the box and do fun things like styled shoots with us, again, those things, they do, they cost time and money and resources and we recognize that, but that’s what helps us as a vendor be able to promote you even further. So being willing to do that I think is a huge portion that photographers don’t necessarily, there’s a lot that get it, but there’s a lot that don’t get it.

Nathan – Which I think is a brilliant segue, actually, what are some of the craziest things that you’ve seen from photographers at events, just name one or two things that come to mind, of course we’re not gonna name names but.

Morgan – We will remain nameless. So some of the things, unfortunately, that I have seen, again, I mention the vendor meals which I always think is hilarious, I get that you have to eat, I’m on site probably for at least, whatever your hours are, add five to mine and I tell my staff, bring snacks, you’re not eating all day. You can come in the morning and you can bring your breakfast, you can go to late-night Crystals at two a.m., but you’re not eating all day unless you bring your own snacks because we’re on the go the entire time so I understand that vendors have to eat, I totally get that part, but when you’re standing there, when I’m in the middle of coordinating something or if I’m loading gifts in, taking them out to the car and you’re demanding, “Where is my vendor meal?” Or if I know that the caterer is going to bite your head off if you walk into the kitchen at that point in time when she’s plating up a meal for 350, if I tell you just to hold on a second, don’t pull the diva move on me and just be like, “I demand to eat, it’s in my contract and I have to eat!” That’s happened more often, I have a power bar in my bag, I will bring it to you if you just wait.

Nathan – Be practical, you’re doing a job.

Morgan – Exactly, exactly, so there’s been some diva moments. Other moments have included things like using your personal cameras, iPhones, things like that, to take pictures of your own self.

Nathan – Interesting.

Morgan– I’m not a huge of fan of, hey I’m gonna take a selfie of me in the middle of the dance floor or a video of me on the dance floor, dancing with the guests.

Nathan – So tell me your perspective on this because I think this has become kind of a popular thing to do, at least based on what I’ve seen online.

Morgan – Yeah, it’s different when there’s that personal relationship of like, “Oh we’re gonna step aside “and we’re gonna take a picture to document, “hey I was your wedding photographer, this was so fun, “I love to take selfies,” those are awesome. But when you are physically in the middle of the dance floor, not photographing anybody else on the dance floor but you’re dancing along with the guests or you’re at the bar grabbing a drink, for whatever reason, that just crawls all over me, I just think it has an air of unprofessionalism, I think that it’s taking you, especially for drinking, it’s taking you out of the game, you’re just not as aware of what’s going on around you, so if you’re in the middle of the dance floor, enjoying the party, or if you’re at the bar, enjoying the party, I just don’t think that you are doing the professional job that you were hired for, so I’ve seen a lot of that and it’s unfortunate that it has to go that way and those are the people that I can’t recommend, I can’t trust my clients to them because at what point does that line get drawn.

Nathan – And again, it’s making it about them versus the client focusing on their job there are the photographer.

Morgan – Right, that’s huge for me, attire is another thing.

Nathan – Okay, yeah, talk about that.

Morgan – My girls and I, we’ve always just worn standard black, a lot of the professional photographers I know where standard black, again, it’s a nice outfit, I get that you have to move and bend just like we do, I can’t tell you how many times I’m in a dress but I’m still on my hands and knees underneath somebody’s dress, fixing something, so it happens. But I just think that you’re more neutral colors, you’re blacks, fade into the background, plan on fading into the background. But when you have brightly-colored hair or when you are wearing some ridiculously bright red shirt, to come and photograph somebody’s day, I just think that that really distracts from what’s going on, I think as vendors in general, we should all fade into the background because ultimately, I want my clients to be able to take credit for what happened, I want the mother of the bride to be like, “Oh, thank you so much for complimenting me “on my daughter’s wedding day,” I don’t want it to have to defer to me that it was my event or anything like that.

Nathan – Interesting, I love that.

Morgan – But yeah, so I think that’s really important for photographers to take that into consideration too, ’cause it goes a lot with that professional appearance, I came prepared for the day, it’s not about me, I’m here to service you and let’s do this together. So yeah, I think that’s huge, but I’ve seen a lot of different outfits.

Nathan – I can only imagine. Okay, so let’s kinda flip that and go to the opposite extreme, what are some of the things that you get really excited about, that you see from photographers, that you’re like, “Oh man, we’re tracking together, “this is good,” talk about some of those things.

Morgan – The timeline portion of things is huge for me. So, and that begins even in the pre-planning stages, that’s not even just on the day of, it’s all leading up to it, so a photographer that’s willing to sit down and be flexible with us in creating that timeline is so important because again, your client, if you don’t have an event planner, your client doesn’t necessarily understand how many minutes need to go into a posed family shoot or how many minutes need to go into your bridal party shot and they’re willing to tell you things that might be untruths, “My family’s not that big, “it’s not that big of a deal, we’ll just knock out “maybe 15 minutes for that,” so you as a photographer are going in and thinking, “Okay, so we’ve got 15 minutes “scheduled for posed photography, post-ceremony,” and all of a sudden you see these people crawling out of the woodworks for these giant family pictures, you’re like, okay, 45 minutes later. So I think coming together and making that realistic timeline beforehand and that even goes into your posed shot list which I place so much value on and it wasn’t until probably four or five years ago that I really sat down with some of my local photographers and was like, “Talk to me about this posed shot list, “because a lot of you include it in your information “on the front end that you want them to,” but they don’t really know how to create these posed shot list and they’re getting online and then they’re sending you really irrelevant pieces of material that say things like, “Dress draped over back of chair.” “Bride gazing at groom.” It’s totally irrelevant, they’re gonna get those pictures, it’s like wedding rings, we’re gonna get a picture of your wedding rings, not a problem, but your photographer might not know that your grandmother’s wedding gown lace is embroidered on the inside of your dress or that you have a special piece of something hanging from your bouquet or your groom’s gonna give you a gift of some sort, these are the things that we need to talk about. Also, they don’t know who your Aunt Susan is, so I need to know if Aunt Susan is really important to you, I need to know that she needs to be in a photograph and at what time, pre-ceremony, post-ceremony, how close is she to you? So it was awesome when photographers sat down and explained to me how much time was allotted for things, what was ideal, and then also how to really create and help them create that posed shot list, so I would encourage photographers as well, your client has no idea, they’re just so, “Oh no, we’re gonna hurry to the reception, “we wanna get to the party, my family’s small.” Is it really small, because you’re the one that needs to determine whether it’s large or small for you. Do you have one shooter, do you have three shooters, because that helps you determine that timeline as well. So a photographer that’s gonna come in, be willing to have those conversations with me on the front end and then ultimately sit down with the client and say, “This is what’s realistic.” It is gonna take us 30 minutes to get through all of your bridal party because you want this, that, and the other, or you guys aren’t gonna see each other so it is gonna take this amount of time. And then alternately, on the day of, just letting us kind of corral people and bringing people in is so helpful because it’s a team effort.

Nathan – It’s so helpful to us too, makes it so much easier.

Morgan – Such a team effort at that point in time, so letting us even hold that posed photography shot list and start calling out the names, Johnson family, up here, Smith family, up here, it just makes it go so much smoother on the day of, so I think a lot of those are pre-planning conversations and so remembering to have those and being willing to be flexible on those, we have so many photographers that are like, “Oh no, I’ll just talk to the client about it.” You can, but the client also has zero realistic expectation of what that looks like, so from our perspective and the hundreds of weddings that we’ve done, it’s important that you realize how the day’s gonna go because we’re trying to help you, ultimately, we don’t wanna be tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “You have four minutes, you have three minutes, “you have two more shots, let’s go,” we’re not trying to cut into the creative process necessarily, but at the same time, we got places to be. So I think that that’s where a lot of the discord comes between event planners and photographers, is there’s not that realistic timeline of figuring out, the photographer knows that the sunset is gonna be so incredible at this time but if you don’t communicate that to the event planner and say, “I need to sneak them out “for five minutes from 7:40 to eight,” then there’s this shock of “Okay no, that messes everything “up because that’s cake-cutting,” so talk to us about being flexible, just as event planners are extremely flexible, there are times that are on a timeline, but it’s just a guideline of how the day’s gonna go, but we like to know those specific things and kinda what your likes are and what your special things, ’cause each photographer has this special little thing that they like to do, so here in Chattanooga, if it’s running from the Hunter Art Museum over to the Blue Walking Bridge to get that iconic shot, I know that that’s gonna take you 18 minutes to do, so you need to tell me that so that I can make time and so that your guests aren’t turning around and wondering, “Where’d the couple go? “What’s supposed to be happening?” So that’s huge for me, so that works really well when we’ve pre-planned all of those things.

Nathan – Communication.

Morgan – It’s huge.

Nathan – I think you can really just sum it up with communication.

Morgan – Exactly, it’s so huge, but it might take you an extra meeting or an extra hour or a phone call with your event planner to sit down and discuss all those things, but you being realistic in what you want and them being realistic in what their client needs and coming together with that happy medium is huge.

Nathan – And it only further bolsters the relationship, which can only be good for both businesses, so that’s really awesome. This has been an incredible conversation, such a massive value add to the wedding photographers listening in, I really can’t thank you enough for making time to sit down and do this, this is awesome. Where can everybody find out more, for the brides to be as well as the photographers, where can they find out more about your business online?

Morgan – Absolutely, head over to our website, which is, it’s got a link there directly to where you can send us messages with any questions that you have, we have active social media accounts as well, so Facebook, Instagram, at Soirees Event Planning, so yeah, come check us out.

Nathan – This is so great, thank you so much, Morgan, for doing this, I can’t thank you enough, this has been awesome. Thanks so much for listening to the Bokeh podcast. Please let us know what you thought by leaving us a review in iTunes. If you’d like to hear a particular photographer or entrepreneur in a future episode, don’t hesitate to email me, The Bokeh podcast is brought to you by Photographer’s Edit, custom post-production for the wedding and portrait photographer. Visit



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Bokeh Podcast Episode #34: Define Your Values, Define Your Business – The Harris Company

Values - The Harris Company

Makayla and David Harris are the epitome of a photography power couple. They met by way of a simple photobomb, and have been inseparable since. Growing The Harris Company into a business successful in photography and cinematography, Makayla and David offer powerful advice on what it means to stay true to yourself and your business.

In this episode, Nathan Holritz of Photographer’s Edit discusses just what it means to stay true to yourself while running a successful business.

“Find yourself, and be like that” – a quote borrowed from Makayla Harris. The world is full of so many options today that it’s easy to lose perspective. Goals, values, daily tasks, our inner selves – they all get lost in the complicated hustle and bustle of this thing called life. So how do we dial it back and reconnect with who we are and what we represent?

Makayla, David, and Nathan tackle this with one key step: decide what your values are and define yourself with them. When you’re building a business, it’s important to decide what’s important to you and let that shine through in your work – especially in something so personal as photography.

“Your brand doesn’t always have to be perfectly polished. You can sprinkle in a little personality in there as well.” – Makayla Harris

Find out more about encompassing your personal values in your business by listening to the full interview. You can download the podcast from iTunes or on your phone.

Podcast: Bokeh: The Business of Photography by Nathan Holritz

Episode 34: Define Your Values, Define Your Business

Instagram: @hcophotocinema

Read the transcript and show notes

Show Notes:

Introduction to Makayla and David Harris [00:31]
Maintaining Authenticity [05:12]
“Find Yourself and Be That” [07:04]
Defining Values [14:30]
Setting Goals  [18:06]
Where to Learn More [20:01]

The Harris Company –
Instagram – @hcophotocinema

Podcast Transcript: 

Nathan – All right, well, as I like to say, we are officially live. I’m live here with my friends David and Makayla Harris. Guys, thanks so much for coming back on the Bokeh Podcast with me.

David – Any time, we love hangin’ out with ya.

Makayla – Thanks for having us, Nathan.

Nathan – It’s absolutely my privilege, and we actually had you on the podcast before, but for those listeners who aren’t familiar with you guys, with your brands, can you fill us in a little bit? Tell us a little about yourself and what your brands are about.

Makayla – We are wedding photographers and filmmakers. We focus the majority of our business in the wedding industry, be we also tend to end up shooting portraits and family portraits, and some intimate photography as well for other clients that come across our path with regards to getting married. So we do that for both photography and cinematography.

Nathan – And, David, are you doing primarily film or are you also shooting weddings with Makayla? How does the business break down?

David – Yeah, we love, obviously, to shoot together. We do shoot separately, so I will book just cinema clients, but we really try to make sure that we’re working together, ’cause that’s what being married’s all about.

Nathan – That’s cool, and I’m reminded, as you say cinema, I have to say cinema because these days film has a whole different connotation. So many people are shooting film in still photography. So yeah, cinema and then still photography. That’s really great. How long have you guys been in business, in photography and in cinema?

David – Jeez, six, going on six years or six years?

Makayla – Yeah, just over five, going on six years.

Nathan – Yeah, that’s right, and I actually remember our conversation, our previous podcast conversation, we talked about how quickly your business has grown. That’s really, really exciting, and speaking of which, you’ve gained a little bit of notoriety in the photography industry as of late. You’ve had some speaking opportunities, I think. What kind of things do you have going on, and what do you have coming up?

Makayla – Well, I myself just accepted a spot at Mystic Seminars, coming in January of 2018, so I’m excited to be a part of that community, because it’s kind of a closer-knit community, and the style of the conference is really exciting. And then we have a few other workshops coming up soon that we’re not exactly able to announce just yet, but hopefully all of that will be out there soon.

Nathan – Ooh, top secret, huh?

Makayla -I guess so.

David – Everything about us is very top secret, you know?

Nathan – Where did this so-called notoriety come about? How did you guys start to get exposure to the industry and begin to have these opportunities to speak and share and teach?

David – Networking, really.

Makayla – Yeah, we’ve always been a part of WPPI and expanded upon that the past few years just a little bit, trying to get an idea of what other kinds of workshops and conferences were out there. And we just love the community that we’ve been finding. Because we do this together, it’s nice to kind of connect with other photographers and filmmakers in that sense. I guess just as we’ve been checking out new places and new things, we’ve learned that maybe we do have something to offer other photographers as well. And because the speakers and the conferences heads have provided us with so much in our career, we want to give back and do the same thing for other photographers as well.

David – Yeah, and I think just to add, real quick, it’s amazing what happens when you kind of reach out to the companies that you work with day-in and day-out and introduce yourself and let them know what you’re all about. It just opens up so many doors when you do that.

Nathan – Absolutely. Well, there’s something to be said, first of all, for relationships. You talked about networking, the significance of relationships, I mean, it’s almost a cliche thing to say, to talk about, but this has become more and more real for me. As a single person, I spend a good bit of time working alone, and so the opportunity to be able to connect with other people, and more specifically, our wonderful photography community, is just so extremely fulfilling. I’ve had the opportunity to go to some smaller conferences recently as well, and there is so much to be said for that very tight-knit, as you were talking about, Makayla, in regards to Mystic, that tight-knit community, where you can sit down and have real conversation and then certainly learn from the various speakers that are there. But then, the opportunity to be able to add value to those relationships by sharing what you’ve learned. I think that’s an incredible opportunity, and I’m certain that you’ll see wonderful things come back in return. Now, I have a question about this, because this is something that I’ve struggled with a little bit, how do you guys maintain authenticity as individuals and as a couple and a business as you begin to get a little bit more exposure to the industry? Because I know, personally, owning a company and then having been a photographer as well, and had a little bit of opportunity to speak and have some exposure to the industry, it’s easy to go into professional mode and almost put on a show for the sake of the brand and maintaining a particular appearance. How do you maintain authenticity through all of that?

David – Oh, that’s a great question. It’s funny, and we don’t necessarily practice this, but in just you asking that, I think that if you go and write down the core, key values and philosophies of your business, and have that as a constant reminder to go back to, that might be a really good way to do that. So maybe we have some homework now.

Nathan – No, I think that’s actually a really great point. And in fact, this is a really great segue into what I wanted to have you guys onto the podcast for, which is a conversation that has a bit more of a personal slant. But to your point, before we move to that, David, I think the idea that we have established as individuals a set of values that we’re always striving for, and living by those, using those as kind of a guideline, our core guideline for how we do our personal life and our business life, I think that’s a really, really great idea. And I can’t recommend that enough to everyone listening. Now, let’s dive into really the meat of this conversation. I was really excited to have you guys back on to dive into, as I mentioned, a more personal conversation. That’s really what I was hoping this podcast would become. We’re certainly going to talk about photography and about running a business, but, ultimately, we’re all doing life, and I think there’s something to be said for being a bit more open and honest, and we use the word authentic a lot these days, but authentic about what we’re going through, what we’re learning, what we’re struggling with. And Makayla, you posted something on Facebook the other day, and it was just a very simple quote, and it says, “Find yourself and be that.” And before we dive into what all of our perspectives, our opinions, on what that can mean, I’d be curious to hear what that quote meant to you and why you posted it.

Makyala – I think as an entrepreneur and a business owner, it’s really hard to find yourself in your business. Sometimes you get caught up in the branding and this perfect curation of content and what you want your viewers to see you as. And I think sometimes your personality gets lost in that. In this stage, I feel like there’s so many options out there for couples and people, in terms of finding a photographer, that what really we like to strive for is making a connection with our couples. I feel like we were losing that a little bit when we were trying to put on this very polished approach to our brand. We want our business to be that way, but we also want to have an authentic connection with our couples as well as our industry peers. I feel like, for me, a lot of that came out when we segued into the education circuit. We wanted to be relatable. We wanted people to understand that we went through a lot of the same things that they’re currently going through in their business. That was our goal was to help them. But by having this perfect impression of being this business powerhouse isn’t relatable. It’s not authentic, and it’s not how it went. I mean, behind the scenes, it’s usually a hot mess over here. I think it was just kind of an inner struggle for me where I just wanted people to know that your brand doesn’t always have to be perfectly polished. You can sprinkle in a little bit of personality in there as well.

Nathan – And then I think that a perfect, it speaks very well to what we were just discussing a second ago, this idea of being authentic versus trying to put on a show, if you will. It’s so easy, and I’ll just speak for myself. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in maintaining a particular appearance for the sake of my brand, and ultimately, for the sake of my own presentation, my personal presentation to the world, because we all have that now. We’re on social media and different platforms. But this notion of coming back to our core principles, our core values, and ultimately who we are, and we’re gonna talk about what that might mean here in a second, but I think that’s absolutely vital just for the sake of authenticity. And I know personally, I feel much better about myself as an individual when I’m being, quote, myself. Maybe you guys have found that, and maybe that’s what you’re speaking to, Makayla. You were talking about trying to get back to that.

Makyala – Yeah, exactly. I think we’ve been trying to figure out what our education brand is going to be, and what we really want is for it to be us. For it to feel real. For people to be able to relate to the same struggles that we’ve gone through and hopefully join us on different workshops or things like that that we could help improve their business.

Nathan – That’s wonderful. I actually wanna read the comment that I made on that Facebook post. You posted that quote, and I love a good conversation and kinda dive deep into conversation about something that goes beyond the surface, if you will. And I just said, “This is an interesting conversation. “Do you think you find yourself or choose “who you want to be?” And then, David, you actually jumped on and commented. You said, “Personally, I think we find ourselves, “but with the caveat that yourself, quote, unquote, “yourself, evolves through time based on our “internal and external experiences. “Maybe at the subconscious level, we are choosing “based on those internal/external experiences.” And it was kind of a question mark and really a good beginning to a discussion that I find really fascinating, because there’s a lot of conversation these days about this notion of authenticity and, ultimately, being ourselves. But I’m not sure what that actually means. I think it means different things to different people. What does it mean to find ourself, and do we actually truly find ourself or do we have the opportunity to choose who we want to be? What do you guys think? I’d love both of your opinions on this.

David – Yeah, I mean, every time I think about this, I’m on like both sides of the perspectives. I do think that you find yourself, but I think it’s just this constant, evolving thing. So you’re choosing who you want to be, but then it evolves, right, like me five years ago, I would not be happy with myself five years ago. But I’ve evolved, and I’ve changed. But I was happy with who I was five years ago. I don’t know, it’s just this constant, evolving, perspective, I guess.

Nathan – Yeah, I like that word perspective. Makayla, what do you think?

Makayla – I think the process of finding yourself has to do with a lot of decisions, and I think that’s kind of where the choosing comes in. And I think that when you start to make decisions about who you wanna be or what your goals are, that’s ultimately the process of finding yourself, because you’re seeing a lot of your personality and your traits or your goals come out in that decision-making process.

Nathan – So are we actually talking about a balance, here?

Nathan – Could it be that it’s not one or the other? I tend to be kind of an extremist, and I go one direction or another direction. I tend to function in the best way possible in those kinds of extremes, but I’m continually reminded of the reality, which is that the world is a great place, and there is, in the end, most things, probably, require a balance for, well in this case, we’re talking about a healthy personal existence. So maybe, in this case, this notion of finding ourselves, there’s a balance between understanding who we are, or more specifically, when we were talking about the idea of who we are, what are strengths are, what are weaknesses are, what are goals are, and then, ultimately, exerting our ability to choose on our life. Choosing to become this person who we want to be. And I was talking about the idea of values earlier. I took some time, it’s probably been a year maybe two years ago at least, now, I had the opportunity to read a book called Awaken the Giant Within. And Tony Robbins is somebody that I talk about a lot. I’m a huge fan of what he does and what he’s about. But in that book, he talks about the importance of establishing values. So I actually took the time to do just that, six or seven big ideas that I live by, that I strive to be. And it’s not necessarily that I am those things currently, but I know, based on what makes me happy, at least at this stage of my life, and to your point earlier, David, at least at this stage, I know that these particular things make me happy. And so I strive for them, and I choose to be them. I do that within the context of understanding, again, this idea of what makes me happy. What makes me feel fulfilled. Do you guys have a list of values or ideas, kind of big ideas that represent who you are? Have you taken the time to think through those things?

Makayla – When we set up our business plan, we kind of did an elementary version of this. Because it’s both of us that are involved, we wanted to make sure we set, we took the time to talk about what are values were as a family and as a couple and as a business, so that way, we didn’t get lost in our business and jeopardize the other areas of our life together. But I think it’s definitely something that’s worth revisiting often because as time progresses, it becomes back-of-mind. And I think it’s one of those things that you have to be constantly reminding yourself of, because it’s easy to get lost in that.

Nathan – Yeah, for sure, and this is something, and I don’t do it consistently enough, but this is something that I try to do on a regular basis, which is to remind myself of these values. It might kind of seem odd to some people, the idea that you have to remind yourself of what you want to be, but I’ve taken so much time over the last three or four years kind of hashing these things out, and I’ve come up with this list, seven different items. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and read them off here, just for the sake of perspective and context of this conversation. One is the idea of being healthy. And just to be clear, these are personal values, being healthy, and I have that at the top of the list for obvious reasons, ’cause that, of course, translates to literally everything else that I do. Then being kind. Anytime I’ve been able to show someone kindness in word or deed, particularly through empathy. And then the idea of being proactive is the next one. Anytime I’m moving forward or thinking ahead. Another one is growing. I find so much fulfillment in constantly learning, and by this word I’ve put the definition anytime I’ve learned something new or always ask how and why. Another one is connected, anytime I’ve been able to engage with someone on an emotional level, consistent connection with a community of people. And we talked about the importance of that earlier. We all find some type of fulfillment in that. The next one if consistent, anytime I’ve been consistent in my values and/or emotional state. And then the last one is simple. I find a lot of fulfillment in simplicity. If you come to my apartment, we were talking about owning homes, and I’m currently in an apartment. if you were to look in my apartment, you’d almost think that I was a college student or something. There’s minimal decoration. But I enjoy living that way, because it’s fewer moving parts, less to keep up with, less to clean, and I can focus on other things. But simple, anytime I’ve been able to reduce an idea or process to its absolute minimum and most important parts, the 80-20 principle. So those are the values that I can outline for myself, and, again, it’s not that I am those things, necessarily, or not consistently those things, but certainly those are my goals. And we were talking about this idea of finding ourselves versus choosing who we want to be. That list of values for me, personally, it is my effort to choose. These are the things that I strive to be, and it kinda gives me a guideline to work toward. I like the idea, though, that you were talking about, which is that balance. You mentioned, kinda you separated, you contrasted between personal values and business values. When you talk to other photographers in the industry, and you’re speaking, how do you recommend to them to establish these values? Or, ultimately, I guess what we’re really talking about is the brand position, right? What the brand actually represents. How do you teach other photographers to most effectively establish that position?

Makayla – I think it’s something that begins when you start doing some goal setting and essentially your mission and how you want to position yourself, position your business. And I think a lot of it is reflected in your personal values, because it’s such a personal business, especially as a creative entrepreneur, a lot of your personality comes through in your work and your passion. So just in the beginning of the process, or anytime you’re looking to refresh and reset, I think it’s important to sit down and think about those values and establish that as you’re kind of setting your goals for your business so that you can keep all that in mind and be realistic about how much effort you’re going to put into which areas.

Nathan – For sure, and that very beautifully kind of brings us back to the original pointed conversation, which is this quote that you posted, the idea of finding yourself and be that. And it’s not just in your personal life, but you can let that then translate to your business life, and your business, your brand. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. We’re already in a field, in an industry, that we want to be in, because we enjoy photography or we enjoy cinematography, but then to let our personality shine through our business, I think that just naturally kind of ups the ante, enabling an even greater sense of fulfillment. So I think this has been a wonderful reminder both for me and for our listeners. Makayla, I can’t thank you enough for posting that the other day–

Makayla – Of course.

Nathan – And both of you for being willing to dive into a bit more personal conversation. I love these types of conversations. Where can everybody find you online? Talk to us about where your Instagram accounts are, your websites, et cetera.

Makayla – Yeah, so our business is The Harris Company. You can find us at or at hcophotocinema on Instagram, and you can also find some of our educational content on

Nathan – Perfect, that’s awesome. Thank you guys so much, and I’m sure many of our listeners are going to have to go check out those websites, your educational website in particular, to find out about these secret workshops coming Thank you guys so much for making time to sit down and chat again today, and we’ll talk to you more soon.

David – Thanks for havin’ us, Nate, definitely.

Makayla – Sounds good, Nathan, thank you.



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Bokeh Podcast Episode #33: Is Blogging Relevant Anymore? – Carrie Swails

Blogging - Carrie Swails

“You only live life once, so you might as well do it as loud as possible.” So says today’s Bokeh podcast guest, Carrie Swails. A photographer and a blogger, Carrie has not only learned to leverage her personality to attract a unique client, but has created a popular blog (over 8 million unique visitors!) called Photography Awesomesauce. In this Bokeh podcast episode, Carrie discusses the significance of being yourself in business, the value of blogging in 2017, how important Pinterest can be in that process, and how automation can help you create more freedom as a business owner.

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:

Introduction to Carrie Swails [00:54]
Being Driven to be Different [05:07]
Being Different as a Brand Position [08:35]
Important Photos vs Pretty Photos [10:46]
The Photography Awesomesauce Blog  [15:13]
The Relevance of Blogging [20:35]
Running a More Effective Blog [24:06]
Using Automation Tools [34:41]
Where to Learn More [42:02]

Shootproof – Online Proofing Galleries for Photographers Use SWAILS25 and to get 25% off any annual plans.
Pixifi –
Edgar –
Schedugram –
Carrie Swails Photography –
Photography Awesomesauce –

Podcast Transcript: 

Nathan – Alright, so as I like to say, we are live. I’m here with my friend, Carrie Swails. And Carrie was gracious enough to come on the podcast with us here kind of last minute. Actually, you sent me an email and reached out and said, “Hey, I’d love to join the conversation.” And I love that and I’m excited about this topic that we’re gonna dive into about blogging. But Carrie tell us a little bit about yourself first before we dive into that topic for the day.

Carrie – Oh, where do I start? I am, I guess I’m what I would call a serial entrepreneur. I just come up with, I love coming up with ideas and starting businesses. I started out as a photographer, thought I was gonna be the world’s greatest gift to newborn photography, turns out I’m not. Moved into weddings.

Nathan – Is this a decision that you made on your own or feedback that you got from clients?

Carrie – Maybe a little bit of both.

Nathan – Okay.

Carrie – And I just think newborn photography is more physically taxing than wedding photography. You’re in a hot room and my back always hurt and I just don’t like babies that much.

Nathan -Well, that would probably kind of automatically take you off the list of good baby photographers then.

Carrie – Yeah, I mean I really, I gave it a really good shot, but it just wasn’t for me. And I ended up shooting weddings. And when I took my business full-time I actually started a blog, Photography Awesomesauce, and thought I would just sort of start writing down things that I learned as I went. ‘Cause I’ve always kind of been into blogging since I was a teenager and we had LiveJournal back then.

Nathan – Yeah.

Carrie – And I just thought if somebody reads it, cool, and it helps them. And if they don’t, they don’t. And now it’s five years later and there have been 8.5 million unique visitors to the website. So it just totally blossomed into a bunch of projects and businesses and different things I never anticipated. So that’s a little bit about me as a business owner.

Nathan – That’s awesome, well and we’re gonna actually get into the blog and this topic of blogging here in just a second, but I actually wanna take a step back. Tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you’re based. In fact we were just chatting about the fact that you’ve got a blizzard headed your way. Where are you at?

Carrie – I am in a very tiny, remote town in Colorado. We call it the western slope, but I’m actually much further north on the western slope. I’m an hour and a half north of Grand Junction. Live in a town called Rangely. We don’t have a grocery store.

Nathan – Do you grow your own food?

Carrie – Yeah, we actually, we have big plans for gardening or putting together a greenhouse this summer.

Nathan – Oh, wow.

Carrie – That hopefully we can add some solar panels to and heat in winter so that we can have our own produce year round.

Nathan – That’s incredible. Are you from that area originally?

Carrie – No, I was actually born in Salt Lake. And I’ve lived all over the world, I’ve been lucky enough. And I’ve lived all over the U.S. So it’s really hard to say that I’m, I don’t feel like I’m from anywhere, if that makes sense. I’ve moved most of my life every couple of years.

Nathan – I totally get that. I’ve lived, actually grew up in Japan and I’ve lived on both the West coast in Washington state. I’ve lived in Georgia and Tennessee. And course have visited a variety of places internationally as well as nationally. But I can totally relate to that idea of just kind of being from everywhere. Your accents even begin to run together. People don’t know where I’m from based on the way that I speak because it just all kind of runs together.

Carrie – Yeah. Well, I feel, I did some growing up in Virginia and I had a nanny with a thick Southern accent. And so sometimes I think when I’m really tired or maybe I’ve had one too many glasses of wine, I get a little bit Southern, maybe just a tad.

Nathan – It just kind of comes out of nowhere, huh?

Carrie – Yeah.

Nathan – That’s funny. Well, your Facebook profile is one that stands out to me and you began to mention the various businesses that you’re involved in, we’re gonna touch on that here in a second. But, I love your Facebook profile tagline. When you go to just search your name, it says, “Rock your weird.” It says that you’re nerdy and loud and that you photograph less traditional weddings. And you even, you’ve had a site that was called Rock Your Weird. So, you are needless to say, the last thing I mean that anybody would think is that you kind of fit into the typical mold of a photographer, much less an individual. I wanna understand a little bit better where that all comes from, where it is this drive to be different come from.

Carrie – Well, I guess I would first say, I don’t feel like I’m driven to be different. I feel like I am just different and I’m driven to embrace it.

Nathan – Oh, I like that.

Carrie – I think a lot of people, just in general, not necessarily photographers, hold back and we tend to look up to a lot of leaders in industry, we wanna do the same thing as they are doing. But the best thing about being a creative is that there’s so many different solutions to a problem and you can be whoever you wanna be, there’s a million ways to run your business. There’s a million ways to accomplish the same thing. And I just am willing to own that I’m very different. I’ve always been a weirdo since I was a little kid. I just go with it.

Nathan – What is being a weirdo when you’re a little kid look like?

Carrie – Well, I mean, like we talked about, I moved around a lot so I had to go to a lot of new schools, make new friends quickly. I just always felt different. I was often teased, made fun of because I was different and I was into different things. In high school I was that kid playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends during my lunch hour.

Nathan – Yes.

Carrie – You know, we would spend our weekends going to Renaissance festival, dressing up in costumes even at school for movie releases. That’s just, and I’m willing to be that person I guess because that’s what I love and I think you only live life once, so you might as well do it as loud as possible.

Nathan – Hey absolutely. You even have, is it purple hair right now or you onto a different color?

Carrie -I went from dark purple to pastel to kind of like really bright, fake red to right now it’s actually brown with like a purple streak in it, so.

Nathan – I love it, yeah, why not mix it up. Life’s short, have a little bit of fun.

Carrie – Yeah.

Nathan – Be interesting, right? The metaphor that comes to mind, and this always kind of cracks me up, but it’s also a good reminder for me, you talk about how it’s easy to just kind of follow the so-called leaders in the photography industry or even just your peers and do what they’re doing. The metaphor that comes to mind is how we as just human beings tend to kind of be like sheep even when it comes down to something as simple as coming up to a red light. And let’s say you’re coming up to a red light and you wanna turn left and there are actually two left hand turn lanes, but everybody kind of files into this one turn lane and because the car in front of you is doing it or a few cars in front of you are doing it, you follow suit. And then this line begins to build up while there’s this wide open second turn lane if you just go over one lane, there’s this wide open second turn lane there available for any and everybody to jump in. And yet nobody does because they just assume because everyone else is in that one turn lane that’s the direction that they have to go. And maybe that’s a little bit of a rough metaphor but I think that we have a tendency as human beings to follow what most people are doing, when there’s maybe a very obvious alternative right there in front of us that is kind of wide open for the taking and it’s not as crowded, right? So we have the opportunity to set ourselves apart in that which I think is a great segway then to how being different if you will, has affected the way that you run your business and the clients you attract. How has that given you an opportunity to set yourself apart from other photographers in the industry?

Carrie – That’s a good question and I like that analogy. Sometimes, I heard from a friend of mine, Chip, at BlogStomp, he calls it the zombie analogy in the photography industry, it’s just like a zombie movie.

Nathan – Yes.

Carrie – It’s all these zombies outside of the door clawing their way in, only one or two end up inside because those are ones that figured out they can go through the window.

Nathan -Right. That’s a great analogy, I love it.

Carrie – I love that, that’s why I thought I’d share it. But, yeah, I think what, I guess being different has been easy for me in business because there is a huge group of people who are getting married who, I think, like me when I was younger, didn’t ever see themselves in a bridal magazine. Maybe they don’t see themselves in that white dress. They grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons and wearing costumes and those were the kids in school who I think were maybe the most authentic. And those people when it comes to weddings they’re just, the wedding industry is not made for them. So I think, I tend to attract people that I can be an advocate for with my clients. They want somebody who understands that they’re gonna do something different and that they don’t have to fit into that ad in the Knots magazine on the shelf in the grocery store. But I want my clients to feel like they deserve to feel that way at the same time. So, I really think that’s how it’s affected my business is that I attract these people who are super authentic and they own whatever they’re passionate about. They’re amazing to work with. And by being such a small niche, they really trust me. So working with my clients has always been very easy and I haven’t had a lot of troubles just because they love hanging out, we end up becoming really good friends just because we have so much in common.

Nathan – What have you done to attract that type of client? How do you put yourself out there to rock your weird if you will, in such a way that clients are like, oh, I wanna work with her. Her message or her brand resonates with me. How do you put yourself out there so that you attract that type of client?

Carrie – Oh, I think first it starts on your website. And I think it also comes, you have to not be afraid to just say how you feel. I even felt this way at one point as a photographer. I was afraid to kind of put my beliefs and my thoughts and my morals out there because I wanted, I didn’t want anybody to feel bad about working with me, but what I’ve learned is that I’d rather polarize people and have them go to my website and be like, I don’t want to work with her. Or go my website and feel like, yes, she is exactly what I wanna hire.

Nathan – Right.

Carrie – So it kind of starts on my website for me, that’s where people go, they read about my bio, I took a long time writing a bio that I felt had the kind of vibe that I like. And then adding in small bits here and there. Small nerdy things. If you go to my wedding photography website my logo is Star Wars font. My blog says something about muggles, which is a Harry Potter reference. You can fill out the contact form in Harry Potter mode.

Nathan – No way.

Carrie – Yeah.

Nathan – That’s awesome.

Carrie – They’re just small details that I think resonate with my clients a lot. And I think the second part of that is that you can put your personality out there and connect with people that way, but if you’re not backing it up with quality work, it doesn’t really do a whole lot for you. So it’s really important to me that I’m taking important photos instead of just pretty ones.

Nathan – Interesting, how would you differentiate the two? I mean pretty photos obviously, well certainly from the standpoint of a photographer. A photographer loves to look at pretty photos. I was just chatting with, we’re working right now on hiring somebody to come on board to manage social media for the Photographer’s Edit brand and the commonplace thing to do in the photo industry is to share pretty photos. Photographers like to look at pretty photos. I think the average person likes to look at pretty photos. But how do you differentiate between just simply pretty photos and important photos? What does that mean?

Carrie – I think, when I think of a pretty photo, I think of a bride standing there, maybe she’s posed looking just over her shoulder. She’s wearing a beautiful dress. She’s a beautiful person. But there’s nothing else happening in that image so it’s not telling a story to me. I like, for me important photos are ones that are full of expression and laughter and joy where something is happening. And they’re not perfect. A pretty photo is something where you’ve been posed, at your chin is just right, every finger is perfectly placed.

Nathan – Right.

Carrie – But an important photo is something that just happens and it’s a beautiful moment. And it can tell a story by itself.

Nathan – I love it so yeah, it tells a story, it’s raw and it’s expressive. I used to say I could, and I was a photographer for about 10 years, but I can take a, I can create a beautiful engagement session in a Walmart parking lot if I just have some decent light and an emotive couple, right, where I’m–

Carrie – Yes.

Nathan – Capturing images that are emotive. And if you have decent light and great emotion from these clients, you can get a beautiful image pretty much any and everywhere, whether it’s a Walmart parking lot or in a beautiful field or wherever it might be. But I totally understand what you’re saying there. And I love the differentiation between creating something that is perfect by, I guess, industry standards versus something that actually is going to communicate a story in a way that is going to resonate with people in a emotional level. I think that’s really, really powerful. Now you’re a photographer and how long have you been a photographer?

Carrie – Oh, man, I started in college. Photographed a couple weddings here, there on film and with a point and shoot. I graduated college 2008, so roughly 10 years maybe.

Nathan – So about 10 years, okay.

Carrie – Yeah, the first few years not so good.

Nathan – How long have you been photographing professionally would you say?

Carrie – Full time, I went full time in 2012.

Nathan – Okay, cool, so about five years then.

Carrie – Yeah.

Nathan – Now, you’re a photographer but you mentioned earlier your involvement in this blog or starting this blog called Photography Awesomesauce. Over eight million unique visits or visitors. Tell us the story behind, or a little bit more detailed story, I know you started to get into earlier. But take us through this process of starting this blog, the significance of it to you and then of course to your photography brand.

Carrie – Yeah, so I have my degree in K through 12 art ed. I’m actually a licensed teacher in the state of Colorado.

Nathan – Interesting.

Carrie – Teaching has always been something very, very important to me and I just think access to knowledge and to options and with the internet it’s so important that you be able to find what you need. So, when I started the blog I just thought maybe a couple of people read this, maybe it will help a couple of people. If not, that’s okay. But what happened is that, I think it was, I started it in April 2012 and in June, two months later I had two blog posts I wrote go viral on Pinterest. And I feel like I’ve been learning backwards ever since because I had no knowledge about blogging, I didn’t know what I was doing and my audience went from maybe 15 visits a day to hundreds of thousands overnight. I actually broke the shared server that I was on.

Nathan – Oh, wow.

Carrie – Yeah, it was really crazy and–

Nathan – What were the posts about?

Carrie – One of them is 20 things I wish I knew about photography posing and the other one is 20 things I wish I knew about manual mode. And they still carry the traffic for the website to this day.

Nathan – Wow, that’s amazing. So, what, again how did that go viral on Pinterest? Did somebody find it and share it or did you? And how did that end up turning into something so big?

Carrie – Well, that’s what’s cool about blogging and Pinterest is that they kind of go hand in hand. And you don’t need a big blog audience or a big following on Pinterest to have something go viral. I just was taking what I wrote and pinning it to my own Pinterest account. And I did not have very many followers, maybe 100 or so. And it showed up in search results for a few well-known Pinterest users. They were re-pinning it, they liked the content. And then from there, their accounts were re-pinning, hundreds of thousands of people had pinned these things. And that’s kind of where it went. Then I started doing even more of that. And I guess some people would say I got in Pinterest early because now it’s easy for me and I don’t have to pay for the advertising, but I still think this concept of blogging and pinning your own posts and work on Pinterest can work for anyone, no matter how many followers or how many readers you have.

Nathan – That’s really interesting. I would never have guessed and I guess this shows my lack of knowledge when it comes to, well at least Pinterest anyway. I would never had made the association between Pinterest and blogging. That’s quite interesting.

Carrie – Yeah. Well Pinterest is what I like to call a discovery platform. So it’s just essentially a visual search engine.

Nathan – Right. And that’s, I guess that’s where my assumption lies is it is a place that you go and you scan through a bunch of images and you create these boards that are relevant to whatever your interest is at the time, but it just, the connection between that and blogging is not one that I would’ve made. So that’s really interesting. So this turned into something that has generated over eight million unique visitors, how does that then affect your photography business? Have you actually gained clients from that? Or is it just a whole separate venture?

Carrie – I have gained a few clients here, there. What’s really funny is that I wrote a blog post that also went viral and it was called, it was just like a list, I made it for photographers, 54 must have wedding photos. And it’s just like all those moments ’cause I was teaching wedding photographers, they were like, “I’ve never been to a wedding. “What are the important things to pay attention to?” So it’s a really basic list, like make sure you get a picture of the couple and their parents, you know. It’s so basic that what I didn’t anticipate was that a bunch of brides would go on Pinterest and pin it. So, I actually had clients not realize that I wrote it and they send it to me, “Hey, here’s our shot list.”

Nathan – That’s hilarious.

Carrie – And I’m like, that’s great because I wrote that.

Nathan – That’s really awesome.

Carrie – I’ve gotten a few clients from Photography Awesomesauce but not a lot. I get a lot of my clients though through blogging and Pinterest even on my own personal photography business. Which doesn’t have a huge following on the blog either.

Nathan – So that actually brings, that’s a great segway in fact to my main question as part of this interview. Understanding that you have extensive experience creating a blog that has generated so much traffic. Blogging and how it relates to a photography business. Is blogging relevant in 2017 to running a photography business? Because five years ago let’s say, or even maybe six, seven, eight years ago, blogging was kind of the platform for photographers to share their latest work and that seems to have kind of transitioned to Facebook. Facebook’s an easy platform to post to, both text and image content and people are spending their time, probably most of their time of any platform online on Facebook, on their phones as well as of course on their desktops or their laptops. So is blogging relevant to photographers in 2017? Is there still a benefit to being on a blogging platform as well as Facebook or instead of Facebook? And if so, what is that benefit?

Carrie – So, that’s a good question and I love this question because I kind of agree and disagree with your perspective of it.

Nathan – Okay.

Carrie – Photographers are spending a lot of time on Facebook I think because back five, six years ago we were all using our business pages to reach clients and it was easy for us then because Facebook’s algorithm didn’t kind of punish us for posting content. So what I actually think is happening is that photographers are still posting on Facebook and we’re actually struggling to reach our audience there if we’re not paying to do posts or we’re not using live video, which is what Facebook is really promoting right now. So, I don’t think that people are necessarily switching to Facebook over blogging. I think we’re just kind of behind the times in some ways. But I think our clients are still reading blogs, they’re still doing Google searches. They’re on Instagram, they’re on Pinterest. And it’s up to us to kind of pick and choose which platforms to be on. But I don’t, I definitely wouldn’t say blogging is dying at all. I would say Facebook maybe is dying. But blogging has been around since 1998. And WordPress actually is the basis for 25, I think, percent of the websites on the internet.

Nathan – Yes.

Carrie – So when people are reading Huffington Post and Buzzfeed articles, those are all blogs. So blogging is still this thing, I just think it’s maybe changed to a place for maybe media long form content. People are using it to build cornerstone and evergreen content that you can pull up from your archives and share over and over and over again. But I would encourage photographers to use blogging more because it’s something that you actually own. So when Facebook is kind of dying and we’ve spent all this time building up all these thousands of followers on our business pages and now we don’t have that same access to those followers we worked so hard for, that can happen on any platform. But if you have a blog, you own that. Always gonna be available.

Nathan – And that makes sense. And that makes sense. Now to be clear, Facebook’s not dying in the sense that people aren’t using it. I think they’ve got two billion users, active users on their platform now.

Carrie – Yeah.

Nathan – But when you say it’s dying, it’s the algorithms that you mentioned earlier that are affecting how much–

Carrie – It’s dying for, yeah.

Nathan – Your content’s actually being seen by clients or potential clients, is that right?

Carrie – Yeah, it’s dying for business owners, for being a good place for, photographers especially to use if you’re not willing to do sponsored posts and live video, I don’t think you’re ever gonna be able to get the same kind of engagement that you used to be able to get five years ago.

Nathan – That makes sense, yeah, that organic reach.

Carrie – Yeah.

Nathan – So the fact that you own the blog content, or blog itself, of course, but the content on that and can promote it, share it any way that you choose is extremely powerful. Are there particular ways that you drive traffic to the blog? I mean are you actually sharing that blog content on Facebook or how do you expect for your clients or potential clients to see that content on the blog?

Carrie – So I think my main way of driving traffic to my blog is either with SEO or with Pinterest. And then my goal is that, I don’t wanna just have people go to my blog and read, I need to convert them into something, right? And I don’t necessarily wanna convert them into followers on other social media platforms because then I don’t own those things. Even if I convert them to a follower on Pinterest.

Nathan – Interesting.

Carrie – Or on Instagram. I don’t own those things and you never know what those will look like in five years. So, I think it’s a great idea to develop an email, basically an email list off of your blog, use that to convert your readers into followers. And I would actually urge people to use, maybe blog once a week, put out your, blog a wedding, share their story and then maybe write some useful, resourceful content, tips that can help your potential clients that’s exclusive to an email list. And start gaining followers that way and only send out that content on an email list.

Nathan – That’s interesting, now, so I wouldn’t have assumed that this would be a good approach to marketing to photography clients. When you have a business like Photographer’s Edit for example or any industry specific business that is trying to sell a service or a product, the notion of creating content that’s a value add, to pull someone in that hopefully they’ll either later invest in your service or your product or at least be interested enough to continue to follow you where maybe they’ll make an investment down the line. That makes more sense to me. But you’re actually talking about creating content to build a fan base for your photography business. And that’s really interesting to me. So talk to us a little bit about the type of content that you write and create for your blog readers.

Carrie – Well.

Nathan – And I guess maybe to add to that, I’m sorry to interrupt you. But the email, you’re talking about sending emails out to those readers or to the subscribers, what kind of content would you put in those emails?

Carrie – I think that’s, I think you’re definitely right. It’s something photographers don’t do or haven’t historically taken advantage of. But what’s cool about photographers is that whether you’re a wedding photographer or a newborn photographer, you probably have more experience with weddings and newborns than most of your clients will. If you’ve been a wedding photographer for 10 years, you’ve been to hundreds of weddings. Do you how much great advice and experience that you can provide to clients? And be a resource for them, which I think builds trust. And once you’ve made that connection over trust and somebody sees you as an authority, that’s when they’re gonna book you, refer you, whatever. So for me writing out content as a wedding photographer it’s just using stuff I know from my own experience having been to so many weddings. What can I do, what kind of information can I offer that can help kind of ease the pain of planning a wedding or take some stress off or give them some real life tips from somebody who’s actually gonna be involved in the day. If somebody’s hired you, you’ve already kind of won. And they’re gonna trust you to know more than what they know. I think a lot of wedding photographers can probably say that they’ve had clients email and say, “I’ve never done this before.” Well, yeah most people haven’t planned a wedding before.

Nathan – Right.

Carrie – So I write a lot of articles like how to, top 10 things you should know about wedding dress bustles. My favorite wedding venues in Colorado and I link to them, I link to posts that I’ve done that share my own photos at those venues. So it’s a great way to kind of provide a tool, help somebody out and hopefully get a booking in return. I’ve actually had people who have never booked me but have loved the content on my website, maybe I was out of the price range, but they referred me to friends who they know can book me. And it’s intriguing to receive referrals from people who you’ve never photographed with. But they found that connection with you and they just think that what you’re doing is useful and helpful and that you’d be a great fit for their best friend.

Nathan – Well they see you as an authority, that’s interesting. Now, this is a common thread, I mean it’s something that you hear in the realm of content creation, content that will hopefully add value to, as I mentioned earlier, a potential client which will hopefully translate down the road to converting that person to a client. That means that a lot of people or you’d assume anyway, that a lot of people are doing this out there. But what you’re saying is you’re maybe a bit of a unique case in that not a lot of photographers have taken this approach to establishing themselves as an authority, creating content that adds value to the potential photography clients. And so maybe you’re a bit unique in this or what have you found?

Carrie – I haven’t found a lot of people doing it, but I have been teaching it, so I’ve been seeing more photographers getting into it.

Nathan – Okay.

Carrie – I think a lot of photographers say they wanna start blogging and they automatically think on blog tips and then they just default to kind of what they know which is photography and they start writing tips about photography, gear, business on their blog. Which might be great for getting readers and visitors and numbers from other photographers, but it’s not necessarily bringing in people who are actually gonna book you and pay the bills.

Nathan – Right.

Carrie – I’d love to see more of even newborn, family, high school senior photographers, they can all do this because you interact with that population on a regular basis, you know what’s in, what’s trendy, what questions people have, what they struggle with. As photographers I think we’re naturally very observant, so if you take the time and really sit down and go, what are, what kind of problems are my potential clients having that I can solve for them. Start putting that content out on your blog.

Nathan – That’s incredible. And not only are you helping them out, but then as I mentioned earlier, they see you as an authority on the topic and then it makes sense that somebody who’s never used you or had you as a photographer is referring their friends to you because they see you as that authority and you’ve given something of value to them. So that’s really, really great. So this notion of creating content that’s a value add to the potential client, that’s a major first step for a photographer who’s wanting to develop a blog. Are there any other tips or recommendations that you would make when it comes to creating a blog that’s actually valuable for a photography business?

Carrie – I would say maybe in terms of consistency, try to blog at least once a week. That’s something, I know it’s hard to do. People just hate sitting down and blogging, I hate it too, I don’t feel like a writer. But every time I do it, I get more inquiries and it makes my clients feel really good about, if I’m blogging their wedding or something. I think too, photographers often think that everything we’re blogging is for future clients or when we’re blogging the latest family session we just shot, that’s to put an advertisement out to get future clients, right, to show them our work. But it’s also important to just tell your current client stories as well so when you’re sharing your own work I think in order to be a real storyteller you need to make sure that you’re writing things and not just saying, I’m gonna let the photos speak for themselves and fill up a blog post with 30 images. Clients love to see, I mean, to see themselves through your eyes. They’ve hired you because they love your photography and they love the way you tell a story so if you add words into those kind of posts, your clients are gonna become basically walking, talking billboards. They love hearing how you see their love for each other or their love for their kids, that kind of thing. So I recommend making sure you’re taking the time to write just a couple paragraphs when you do share photos. I see a lot of photographers who just don’t say anything or we talk about the weather or how great the couple was. Or we say that they’re our favorite session. We can’t say that about everybody, right?

Nathan – Right, yeah, there’s those, I mean I was guilty of it too back when I was creating blog posts for our photography business, it was that, it was a great session today, we had so much fun or there’s these kind of stereotypical three or four lines that we all use in our blog posts. And I mean, it just takes a little bit of effort and creativity to kind of break out of that. But–

Carrie – Yeah.

Nathan – Yeah, getting a little bit of creative and actually telling a story, I love that notion of telling a story and it kind of romanticizes the whole process particularly for the client if they get to come back and read that and how you see them and their story, I bet that just makes them that much more excited about what you’ve done for them.

Carrie – Yeah, it actually sort of cements the deal. You’ve delivered the photos, they’ve ordered products. And I always wait quite a long time to post a blog post because I’m slow and I’m busy and I fail. But by the time I do post it, even if it’s six months later, the clients end up re-posting on their Facebook. And if I follow through and kind of look at my stats, I can see that I’ve had 600 posts and it’s because their entire network has shared it because they love the story.

Nathan – Wow.

Carrie – People who were unable to attend the wedding or something, or something personal. And I struggle too with not talking about the weather and I’m always trying to do a better job making sure I get to know my clients really well so that I can tell their story. I think it makes taking photos easier if you really get to know them. But, yeah, it just helps build a really good sense of wellbeing, love for you, and when that blog post spreads like wildfire after they share it on their Facebook, then you’ve got a bunch more people knocking down your door and saying, “We just love the way you told Susan’s story. “And we wanna book you.”

Nathan – Absolutely, it’s so powerful and what great recommendations and advice. I’m learning from this myself, so I really appreciate this information. Before we close out this conversation though I’m really curious, and this is kind of a theme for us here at the Bokeh podcast, we certainly dive into photography as a business and how to run our photography businesses more effectively in various areas of the business. But how do you create freedom for yourself as a business owner? I know this is something I’ve said so many times before but I see running our own business, being an entrepreneur, being a business owner, probably the primary benefit, or at least what I think should be the primary benefit is the freedom, the flexibility that we can have as business owners, and yet it’s so easy to get caught up, and I’ve certainly been guilty of it, to get caught up in the process of running a business and then not really capitalize on that. So how do you create some of that freedom, that time for yourself, for your husband. The time to do things besides photography. How do you create that freedom for yourself?

Carrie – Well, a lot of it’s come from automation. So I own four separate businesses, which makes it really tough. I could be totally bogged down with social media, content creation, blogging, et cetera. But I automate a lot of processes behind the scenes. So emails, social media, all kinds of stuff. So that really the only kind of stuff I have to do on a day to day basis is edit photos, write blog posts and maybe create videos or courses for my other businesses. Which are the things that I like to do the most. So I actually work maybe on average 30 hours a week on a busy week and–

Nathan – That’s awesome.

Carrie – Just because I really value time for myself. I’m very introverted. Maybe you wouldn’t believe that from my website. I am. And I just love having alone time. But I take guitar lessons once a week, even though I’m so bad at playing the guitar. And I make sure that I read every day. My husband, he just got this job up here recently and he’s come from a place where he was working 70 hours a week.

Nathan – Wow.

Carrie – Never having any days off. So we’re really excited to be in this little town with no grocery store just because it means that now when I have the free time, he actually has it and we can spend that time together.

Nathan – That’s incredible, so.

Carrie – So that’s, I mean. Yeah, that’s how I make it.

Nathan – So when you talk about, when you talk about automation, are you using other particular tools that you would recommend photographers take a look at that you’ve seen a lot of benefit from?

Carrie – Yeah, I use a pretty good handful. I automate as much as possible. I use Pixafy to automate email communications with clients. And I actually tie it into blogging so all these resourceful blog posts I will link to and send out in emails periodically to my clients to help them out along the way. Kind of anticipate when they’re gonna have a question about timelines and already have sent them an email that has five links to timeline tools.

Nathan – Oh, that’s brilliant.

Carrie – So I do that because then instead of having to remember to email them and send them content, they just reply. And that’s been amazing for me. And Pixafy’s automation email system is great. And then I use ShootProof, they are actually, I think, the only online gallery system that has an automated email system where once the online gallery is delivered, I have a year’s worth of email automations going through there to help to sell product. And then I use for social media, I actually use a tool called Schedugram.

Nathan – Okay.

Carrie – Which is the only thing that fully automates Instagram. So it doesn’t just send a reminder to your phone, you make it go live, it actually just does it all for you. And then I use Meet Edgar as, for Facebook and Twitter, what I love about Meet Edgar is that it’s a queuing tool and a lot of these other companies have come out with tools for creating a queue. But Edgar lets you create a library of updates, however big you want, and then it just alternates through them repeatedly. So I actually have just loaded up my whole portfolio in there and it posts one photo a day, seven days a week.

Nathan – Wow.

Carrie – And then I copy that over onto my Schedugram and that way even when I’m not busy, I’m putting out content regularly at least. And then I can add more spontaneous posts and feel kind of the freedom to add whatever I want versus going, oh my gosh, what should I post today? ‘Cause I think we don’t realize that a lot of photographers post one sneak peek after a wedding. Maybe they follow it up in the next couple weeks with a couple more, but they don’t ever post those photos again. And our work is awesome, right? If you love what you do, you can reshare that. There’s always gonna be somebody who hasn’t seen it yet.

Nathan – For sure.

Carrie – So that’s what I do.

Nathan – And when you’re creating that content for, or I guess importing that content into Meet Edgar, and you post that or automate the posting process, do you, are you writing text to go along with that? Or is it usually just an image on its own?

Carrie – I do have text that goes along with it. Just the nice thing about Edgar is that you go and you create a library, you assign your updates to categories and then you assign those categories to a schedule. So I have mine, just for an example, Sundays it posts a wedding prep photo. Mondays, ceremony. Tuesdays, a couple. Wednesdays, wedding party or detail shot. Thursdays a couple. Fridays a reception photo. And Saturdays an engagement photo. And then within each category I have a library of at minimum 52 photos.

Nathan – Wow.

Carrie – So that it cycles once a year.

Nathan – That’s incredible, wow. This is, you’ve just offered enough resources for photographers to be busy for the next couple of weeks I think. This is–

Carrie – Well, the nice thing is it just takes so much energy out of deciding what to put on social media.

Nathan – Right.

Carrie – ‘Cause I think you’ve probably heard people talk about decision making energy.

Nathan – For sure.

Carrie – And I don’t wanna sit down and have to decide what to post every day. I want it to just happen and then use that energy for creating content, helping my clients, the important stuff.

Nathan – Wow, that’s really incredible. I do have one last question about this though and this is actually something I was reading recently and doing some research about creating and posting social media content, but that is using a third party tool to post to Facebook. Does that affect its natural ranking in the Facebook feed to use a third party tool or do you know anything about that?

Carrie – I don’t know a ton about it. To be honest at this point I’m kind of at the mindset that I don’t care.

Nathan – Sure.

Carrie – I just post to Facebook as sort of a courtesy in case anybody wants to see it. But other than that I pretty much ignore Facebook.

Nathan – Well, I guess the key there is consistency and content and sharing of content.

Carrie – Yep.

Nathan – It just makes such a big difference that somebody can go to that, whether it’s a Facebook platform or Instagram or, I’m not sure if you’re using Twitter or not, but your blog certainly, the fact that you’re consistently posting to those platforms, that there is always fresh content, that’s the key here. And back to the original question, the fact that you’ve automated this has created freedom for yourself, so maybe the trade off, if there is any trade off there, the trade off is certainly worth it because you’ve saved so much time as a result. So that’s, wow, what a–

Carrie – Yeah.

Nathan – What a great, what a great piece or pieces of information, just a load of information. I really appreciate you sharing that.

Carrie – I would just add to that that people who are looking into this, a lot of people go to and they see sticker shock, it’s pretty expensive. But people are often asking in Facebook groups, I wanna hire somebody to help me out with my social media. It’s cheaper to automate it than it is to hire somebody. You can automate all your social media for less than $100 a month.

Nathan – Wow. That’s a great resource and a great tool and we’ll certainly link that and the other resources that you mentioned in our show notes. I can’t thank you enough for coming on and sharing this wealth of information with our Bokeh podcast listeners. Where can listeners find you online and certainly your companies, the projects that you’re involved with online as well?

Carrie – Well you can check out my photography at You can go to to learn more about how to shoot weddings, how to run your photography business a little bit differently. At Rock Your Weird, I’m actually building out a course on confidence and learning to be confident being yourself, so that’s just gonna be a place, not necessarily for photographers. But if you go there, I’m about to release sort of a new website revamp in the next couple weeks with a lot of information, content about that. And then you can also find me at Made in the Lab., I’m a third of the ownership but I don’t do any of the graphic design.

Nathan – Yeah and tell the photographers a little bit more about what Made in the Lab is about. I had the opportunity to be a part of that just recently.

Carrie – Yeah, we’re all about creating affordable website design options on Showit5 and we’re hoping to branch out to other online platforms for website building in the future. But we really love what Showit5 does and it’s easy system to build on. So we’ve created a yearly subscription for $199 and you can get access to all of our templates and we have lots of extra tools, icons, buttons, arrows, and basically take bits and pieces from multiple templates to create a totally custom website. So, that’s what we’re all about is helping kind of the DIY photographer build their website.

Nathan – Perfect, and then lastly tell us where the photographers, our listeners can find you on Instagram because I know they’re gonna wanna check out your work.

Carrie – I’m Carrie Swails on Instagram.

Nathan – Perfect, perfect. Carrie thank you so much for setting time aside in your relatively busy work week to make time to chat with our listeners, for sharing all this wonderful information. Can’t thank you enough.

Carrie – Thank you for having me.

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Bokeh Podcast Episode #32: Working on Your Own Terms – Matt Grazier

Working - Matt Grazier

The primary benefit of running your own business is being your own boss, and yet so many photographers let their business run their lives. In this Bokeh podcast episode, Matt Grazier shares how he and his wife, Enna, have been proactive in creating a photography business that enables the life they want as they prioritize time with family, working, and time building community in the photography industry.

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:

Introduction to Matt Grazier [00:55]
Working on Your Own Terms [02:02]
Creating the Inspire Community [06:17]
The Problems of Being a Destination Wedding Photographer with Family [14:53]
Change Your Brand Position [17:47]
Networking with Wedding Planners [20:27]
Prioritizing Family [22:54]
Creating Tintypes [26:15]
Where to Learn More [29:00]
@ennachocolate @grazierphoto @mattion

Podcast Transcript: 

Nathan – All right, we’re live officially. Or as live as we can be as we’re recording into a microphone and an audio recorder. But I’m here with my friend Matt Grazier and we are here at the Inspire Photo Conference, February 2017. We were just chatting about the conference itself, but it’s a privilege to be here, to be part of something that you and your wife created, how many years ago now?

Matt – This is our eighth season.

Nathan – Eighth season, that is so obviously community-driven. So I wanna get into that here in just a second, but tell us just a little bit about, or us, I say us, the listeners of the Bokeh podcast, a little bit about who you and your wife are and what you guys do.

Matt – Yeah yeah, well Enna and I we met in college in art school literally in photo class. One of our first dates was she came to second shoot a wedding with me.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – Which was kinda funny.

Nathan – Yeah but that had to give kinda interesting insight into the potential of the relationship too.

Matt – It really did, it really did, and then you know from there she I had to sell hard on getting her to convince her to move to Boston with me.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – As we had only been dating for a couple of months when I was moving.

Nathan – Wow.

Matt – So I sold her on that fortunately and we moved to Boston and I finished my schooling and we started the studio right when I finished school. And, it’s just been you know a very idealistic driven journey for us and lifestyle.

Nathan – And what is that ideal? What is the idea that–

Matt – The ideal is to really work on our own terms.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – You know, we wanna be creative and we wanna have a home where we work. You know we don’t wanna be in the lifestyle where we’re commuting to a job.

Nathan – Sure.

Matt – Working for somebody that’s not you know that doesn’t care about us as people if you will just working for somebody who’s on the bottom line.

Nathan – Yeah, well and the simple idea of creating kind of an overlying mission almost or what I refer to as a big picture view. I was chatting with a few photographers during the mentoring sessions last night and we were talking about this idea of establishing a big picture view it drives what you do and your kind of big picture view if you will is this notion of creating a business that enables you to work on your own terms and I think that’s one of the primary benefits of running your own business or it can be, the problem is a lot of times photographers get lost in the minutia the busy work of just trying to keep up without having that overlying goal in mind. So I think that’s really powerful.

Matt – Yeah and you know actually the last time you and I saw each other was at Partner Con 2009.

Nathan – 2009 wow okay, all right.

Matt – That’s the last time we saw each other. And when I was there, Enna and I did the presentation with John and Kim Sanderson from Lancaster, and the presentation was on being married and working together and working from home. And during the talk I actually had the revelation that I never thought about before was that I’m kind of living out the same lifestyle my parents lived. And subconsciously I think I kind of built that lifestyle without even planning for it. And now it just kind of organically happened because in the back of my mind that’s what I wanted and by that I mean I work with my spouse.

Nathan – Right.

Matt – And we work from home.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – And like you said earlier we just kinda of set our own terms my parents are just like that.

Nathan – What type of business do they run?

Matt – Well my father’s a chiropractor.

Nathan – Oh okay.

Matt – And my mom manages his office and is the X-ray technician.

Nathan – Wow, how many years have they been doing that?

Matt – Oh, 50.

Nathan – Wow that’s incredible.

Matt – About 50 years now, yeah. So a little under that. Probably maybe 48, 49. But yeah they’ve been at it for a long time and they’re in their original office still with our house above it.

Nathan – That’s amazing. Did they ever speak to I don’t know two or three principles that have enabled them to have this kind of success over a long-term? Or have you been able to see what drives that?

Matt – Yeah patience.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – Patience, seriously my mom and my dad are two of the most patient people you’d ever meet. And I really think that’s their key. They just when things go bad they step back and take a breath and look at it from a distance and then go back and tackle it.

Nathan – And would you say the patience is shown both in the way that they engage with their business and clients as well as with each other or where does it stand out particularly?

Matt – Oh it’s universal.

Nathan – Everywhere okay.

Matt – Everywhere yeah, and they’re very you know they were also very community driven people. So, you know I grew up coming home from school and my dad on Thursdays all the chiropractors would take the day off in our town. But they would all come over to my dad’s office and hang out and talk about how to help each other. Yeah so they wouldn’t compete, they would help each other and one of ’em were to go on vacation they’d all pick up the patients, but they wouldn’t steal patients they’d all come back to the other office you know what I mean?

Nathan – That’s fascinating.

Matt – And they would do things to help each other out. So that you know.

Nathan – And is that the norm for that particular industry? Or is it normally pretty competitive.

Matt – I honestly don’t know. I mean, I don’t know every chiropractor I’ve ever met has been friends with my father that I’ve met in an intimate setting. And I’ve met them throughout the entire country and they’re always the same style type personality but of course you’re gonna hang out with people that have similar personalities as yourself.

Nathan – Sure sure.

Matt – So I can’t really judge on that chiropractic community in general just the people he surrounds himself with.

Nathan – But that’s fascinating because now you’ve been a part of creating you and Enna started Inspire how many years ago?

Matt – This is our eighth year.

Nathan – This is the eighth year so you had not only had this example in your parents of business owners who created a life for themselves the business that enabled them to work under their own terms I love that the way you sum that up. But you also had an example about somebody who prioritized community which is a great segue related talking about what Inspire seems to be all about.

Matt – Right.

Nathan – There’s an incredible opportunity for photographers to come and learn. A variety of classes a variety of topics that by the way isn’t really centered around kind of the so-called celebrities in the industry it’s more about the education the value of the education and the connection. There’s certainly opportunity for vendors such as myself, photographers edit they come in and be able to share our services with the attendees but ultimately everything seemed very much geared toward community.

Matt – Yeah.

Nathan – So you had this wonderful example in your parents talk about how that translated then to creating Inspire and what was the inspiration behind–

Matt – Yeah well when Enna and I started our photo studio one of the big keys for Enna convincing me to be a full-time wedding photographer was the discovery of Pictage.

Nathan – Yes, and you and I are both members of Pictage back in the day.

Matt – We’re alumni. And what I loved about Pictage was the simplicity, the availability of people to buy images, prints online, and that just simplified the whole ’cause I didn’t wanna open up the traditional wedding studio and film, you know and we were shooting film at the time and so up until the discovery of Pictage being a wedding photographer was very much just a couple a year for people that I knew or word of mouth for somebody. And then as soon as Pictage came out we were in and then Pictage had the pugs. You know, the monthly meetups. And, there’s this Pamela Price was the pug leader in the Boston area and she was wonderful and we’d go to her pugs at her house and she was a great guest. I mean a great host and she called us up one day and said I’m stepping down from the pug leader I just have too much on my plate. And she asked us if we’d take it over and we said sure.

Nathan – Really okay. So I was a pug leader as well so we have that in common, that’s cool.

Matt – So Enna and I were pug leaders for I don’t know eight or so years. And that was kinda the start in us building community in Boston. So we had a really great pug Lens Pro To Go hosted it, Paul has always been a key part of the foundation of the Boston community. Without him it doesn’t exist.

Nathan – And I had a chance to meet him really really great guy.

Matt – Amazing guy.

Nathan – Very committed to the Inspire conference as well sounds like he’d been here most if not all the years that you guys have been doing it.

Matt – He’s been very loyal, good friend. Very supportive, and but you know the community in Boston was one of those interesting communities where you had key players where if one of ’em stepped out you’d almost feel like the community would collapse. We needed everybody in the leadership role. You know you’re talking about probably like eight key people that really held it all together. And they’re still involved today but in different ways.

Nathan – Wow.

Matt – Yeah and so from that we were going so we became the pug leaders and then we were going to conferences we’d go to WPPI we’d go the Partner Con and on a flight home Enna and I were just talking about what we liked and disliked of all the different conferences.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – And then we took out a piece of paper and Enna just started cherry picking like okay if I could build my dream conference I would want this, I’d want this, I’d want this, I’d want this.

Nathan – I love it.

Matt – And I was just like all right that’s cool. And then when you know every Saturday morning we’d get in the car and we’d drive to a wedding. And Enna and I don’t shoot local weddings. So most of our weddings involve at least a two hour one way trip to the wedding with a hotel room or something for the night.

Nathan – Sure.

Matt – So we get a lot of time to talk and dream while we’re driving. And she wouldn’t shut up about this conference dream that she had. She just wouldn’t stop talking about it and it just kept going and going and that’s how Enna is, she gets something in her head and she can’t let it go. And you have to let her make it happen, you know? So one day in the car I just said listen we’re either gonna do this or you’re gonna shut up about it. I mean literally I think that was the exact quote. And she just looked at me she was like well do you wanna do it and I was like yeah. Let’s give it a shot. What do we got to lose? So from that week we sent out an email, Paul at Lens Pro hosted a little meeting. It was about 10 photographers all the key members of the community and people like Carla and whatnot they all drove up from Connecticut and we sat down in a circle and Enna and I pitched ’em Inspire. And I kid you not 12 weeks later we had Inspire with 90 photographers attending. It was insane.

Nathan – 12 weeks.

Matt – 12 weeks, we pulled it off.

Nathan – Most conferences are planning a year in advance right?

Matt – It was just one of those things where Enna and I just said if we’re gonna do it we’re just gonna do it. We’re not gonna mess around. We didn’t have anybody who was speaking on a national level really. The one exception to that was Melissa Guyonas, she came and spoke which was phenomenal. She was a Boston photographer and she’s a sweetheart and she came in and chipped she was all in, supporting us and yeah it was great. And but besides that it was really a lot of trust from the community to come in and listen to these speakers that they really didn’t know that well. They didn’t hear much about ’em. They just weren’t photographers who were putting themselves out on a speaking circuit. These were just very experienced photographers who had great information to share and were willing to share it. And the community bought into that.

Nathan – Yes.

Matt – And that is still the core of Inspire. We’re not, you know, I say we I’m not in the board anymore it’s Enna, Mark, and Eric. So when they’re looking for speakers their number one priorities are two things one how well do they know what they wanna teach, and two are they willing to just come and give it all. Like you know be part of the community for those three days minimum, you know and if we’re lucky enough they’re part of that community for the entire year afterwards.

Nathan – And I think so you met the first requirement that you mentioned was knowing their topic it’s funny how many photographers, talented photographers, that we have in the industry who are presenting speaking but don’t necessarily know the topic well enough to communicate it or maybe communication’s just not a strength of theirs. And so it’s tough to sit and listen so that is an absolutely vital requirement for speakers. Not only do they know their topic well but do they know how to present the information effectively. But then the fact that you asked the photographers to be involved that their so called celebrity that you see in our industry sometimes doesn’t get in the way of connection with people relationships with the people. Being on their level with them and engaging in that community I think that’s so absolutely important and I have to say again that was the vibe that I got being here this is my first time at Inspire. Certainly as a sponsor but also just as an attendee in general and community I mean community rang through the whole conference and it’s really really powerful. So I can’t say enough about that. Kudos to you guys for creating something that’s that powerful, but for those listening who are looking for a conference to go to and need a break from the kind of commercially driven celebrity driven conferences that you see sometimes, this is an incredible opportunity. And you guys already announced the dates for this next year it was February 26th to 28 is that right?

Matt – Yep.

Nathan – For 2018.

Matt – Yep in Newburg Port.

Nathan – By the way we’re literally on an island. I’m looking out the window of my bedroom and I saw a lighthouse I mean that’s the kind of beautiful location that we’re in. So it’s absolutely amazing. Can’t recommend enough, so thank you again for hosting that now just to get back a little bit to your photography business wedding photography is your brand correct that is what you guys do.

Matt – That’s my specialty.

Nathan – And we had a conversation I think it was yesterday you started talking a little about the fact that you used to be more involved in I guess even further destinations. Destination wedding photography was an even bigger deal for your business that was driving some pretty significant revenue. But one of the things that you said yesterday that I don’t know really caught my attention because it’s certainly important to me as a father of two. And then creating and focusing on a brand whether photographers edit that is ultimately about freeing up photographers to spend more time with the important relationships in your life. You said you had kind of a turning point where you realize this business focused on destination wedding photography and being able to go to these beautiful locations and photograph some incredible events it was interfering with family life.

Matt – That’s yeah.

Nathan – So talk to me a little bit about that share with the listeners kind of what that was like to go through that realization and what changes you made.

Matt – Yeah we had lucked out by fortune on having one of our favorite planners refer us to this couple who was getting married at this gorgeous venue down in the Caribbean that was really starting to go after the wedding market. A new ownership of the venue he saw where the money was he wanted to bring in weddings and we were one of the first weddings there after the remodel with new ownership and because of that, we started getting a lot of weddings there and then we started getting a lot of weddings elsewhere. We were going to Mexico, we were going to the Virgin Islands we went as far as Moricious which is 600 miles off the southern tip of South Africa.

Nathan – Oh wow, I’ve never heard of it before.

Matt – I hadn’t either but I got the inquiry I was like Moricious where the hell you know I had to look it up and I was like this can’t be real. And it was this really awesome two lawyers from New York who love to travel and play golf and they had a great golf course at the Four Seasons there and they found us just on an internet search and brought us down and it was awesome but you know right around that time, that was kind of the peak of our destination career if you will, international destination.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – That winter I was gone a lot and Enna was gone with me a lot. There were a few weddings I shot without her but almost all of ’em she was with me.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – And you know her mom is a sweetheart and she would come and stay with the boys while we were gone and what happened was we came home and our older son Ollie who was young at the time started having a really bad attitude. I mean and not being mean to other people but just to myself and Enna in the sense of who are you to tell me what to do.

Nathan – Interesting.

Matt – And I don’t think he realized it and he was a long way from being a teenager. But he had that attitude of you know I don’t wanna go to bed right now and you can’t make me. I don’t wanna eat my dinner and you can’t make me. And there were a lot of tears from him a lot of fighting, and Enna and I got talking about it and I said we’re the problem. Number one I was like think about it we just sent four months flying all over the world coming home for a couple of days and then packing up and then going again. And that was how that winter went for us. And I said you know the kid just feels neglected and he doesn’t even know that but he’s just mad at us, you know. And I said this just isn’t worth it. You know we sat down we talked about it and we decided to change our marketing and we said you know what we’re gonna take a lot of emphasis off the travel and just put it back into the local region and if we pick up one destination wedding a year that’s cool. But we decided we’d rather just spend time with our kids more and just be gone one maybe two days a week on the weekends through the summer. But still be home five days a week for them. And it was a lesson, and one that I’m very glad we caught onto early you know?

Nathan – And how did you see that effect your family I mean did you see an immediate result did it take a little bit of time?

Matt – No no no it was pretty immediate. As soon as we stopped traveling a lot, we kind of the summer was like every other summer where we were home if you will five days a week with the boys and we’d gone on the weekends shooting. But then when the next winter came and this is the key when school started up again and we had to get back in the routine of homework and dinner on time and all of that I was very being very observant of it. And to make sure that Ollie was being happy. And he was it was great. He immediately just it was nice, it was just a back to seeing the kid being happy so.

Nathan – But yet again this is a great example of how you there’s a big idea driving the direction of your business right, rather than you kind of functioning haphazardly now the priority is my family. Connection with my family, time for my family, and that drove what you did. How did you change just so some of the photographers listening in they may be kind of curious how do we make that transition in our marketing message? How did you make that change for yourself? Was it on the website, communication with local vendors or how did that work?

Matt – Yeah it wasn’t too drastic.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – The networking with the local wedding planners was key.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – I prefer to network with wedding planners than venues.

Nathan – Yes.

Matt – More because I love shooting at different locations as often as I can. I find that exciting, I find it cool, you never know who you’re gonna meet. You never know where you’re gonna end up. And so we love working with event planners that also kind of have that same mentality of like let’s do something exciting. You know, they could know the ballroom downtown inside and out and book a wedding there every weekend and be whatever. I love the event planners who are like that’ll be really difficult to do, let’s make it happen. You know and then put a tent up in a crazy place or something you know or build a deck out in the field so they can put a tent out there. I mean just awesome stuff and I love that.

Nathan – And I think it’s really important too that the wedding coordinator I know I found when I was in wedding photography myself that the wedding coordinator that’s kinda where it all starts in many cases. And the cool thing is even if you decide to change your price point for example. As you change your price point you go from let’s say 3,000 to 4,000 or 4,000 to five whatever the case may be, if you’re simply reliant on word of mouth referral from previous clients who may no longer be in that market segment or income bracket, you can’t rely on referrals from those clients. You’ve got this wedding coordinator who is quite aware of where your brand is, what it stands for, the price point and they can refer accordingly which is really really powerful.

Matt – It’s so true and you know what I really love about working with the event planners are that almost you know every year they always ask me for my updated price list because they expect your prices to go up. And I love that, I love that about my planners we work with. And they encourage it if you will they’re like yeah we should all be doing well. And instead of being the type of event planner who’s like will you give my client a discount? No as soon as they do that I don’t wanna work with ’em again because I’m just like no I got a family to support. I’m not a wealthy person.

Nathan – Well and the fact that they’re enabling you to grow your business in that way is really powerful I know that we worked with a coordinator who would literally come to our office and sit.

Matt – Yeah.

Nathan – Right here in our office, I didn’t have to say a thing. She was so excited about our business and promoting our business that she would do the selling for me and they’d book and on we’d go.

Matt – Yeah.

Nathan – But those kinds of relationships are really powerful and focusing our effort and time it’s easy to get distracted by a lot of busy work again running a photography business there’s so many moving parts but focusing much of our effort on those relationships that drive business such a valuable move so that’s really cool to hear. Just to kinda close out this focus that you’ve put out or the conversation about the focus that you put out, put on connection with family what does a week look like for you guys? How do you prioritize family and balance that with work?

Matt – I mean for us we always try to find adventure time. And it’s not something we do a lot of but we try to three or four good adventures here and by that I mean packing up the car, hitting the road, going someplace and seeing something you know whether it’s a road trip down to DC or going up to the mountains to hike or something or a ski trip you know. We try to always find a cool ski house for the boys and do stuff like that. So those are really big moments for us as a family because that’s where the stories really develop you know?

Nathan – Yeah the experiences, yeah.

Matt – The experiences and the things we always laugh about. But on a weekly basis we’re pretty much the boys are now at an age where they’re fairly independent. They get themselves up in the morning and off to school on their own which is just amazing for us you know. After any parent who’s raised kids knows that’s a milestone.

Nathan – And school starts so early these days it blows my mind yeah.

Matt – It does yeah so they’ll go to school come home and then the after schools are pretty busy we have Ollie and Enna both do Aikido so they practice together.

Nathan – That’s so cool she was telling me about that.

Matt – Without each other sometimes they go together, but they do Aikido a couple times a week. Our younger son Will is a hardcore soccer guy. He’s on two teams, just insane.

Nathan – It is the best sport just by the way FYI.

Matt – I’m learning it, I’m learning it.

Nathan – I played all the way into college so yeah that’s cool.

Matt – You know and then I’ve got just my own stuff going on. Enna’s making chocolate in the house we have a commercial license that’s been a new passion for her.

Nathan – I got to sample that last night and it was absolutely amazing.

Matt – It’s great.

Nathan – Incredible, what is the website so people can find her online?

Matt – It’s just her name Enna, E-N-N-A Chocolate.

Nathan – Dot com.

Matt – Yeah.

Nathan – Perfect you guys absolutely have to check it out if you have any interest in chocolate.

Matt – You can mail order it.

Nathan – And we’re not just talking about some run of the mill chocolate I mean there’s a back story to this that’s incredible so I’m sure they can find that information on the website.

Matt – Oh yeah and she’s got some of the top chefs in the area ordering her chocolate for their restaurants and it’s just flattering yeah.

Nathan – That’s amazing.

Matt – Yeah so we’ve got that and the boys are our older boy Ollie is naturally into the arts. Without being pushed. So he loves to draw and take pictures and do video. So a lot of the time in the week is Ollie actually hanging out with us. So he’ll actually if I set up the tintype stuff he’ll make tintypes with me. Which is awesome, you know he’ll put on the goggles and the gloves and the apron and he can make a tintype and I mean he’s 12 years old. And he knows the digital cameras inside and out so he’s got his little a really nice laptop that he can edit on. He’ll bring it in and hang out and it’s really funny, you know it’s cool.

Nathan – Well the fact that you have that space to I don’t know you’re getting a little bit of work done but also connecting with your son is really powerful. That’s really neat. And you’re enabling him too to explore that artistic side. The tintypes you were sharing a little bit of your experience with creating tintypes and I think you showed me a few examples of them as well. Working with even something as big as a 16 by 20 camera is mind blowing to me.

Matt – Yeah well you know I did for my birthday Enna got me a workshop with John Coffer who’s really huge in the world of tintypes.

Nathan – Right.

Matt – Very interesting gentleman. Nice guy and I spent three days with him out at his farm, and he makes 20 by 20 four inch tintypes.

Nathan – Wow.

Matt – They call ’em mammoth plates and I hadn’t made one in person and I still haven’t made one but this other fella John who was there retired Vietnam vet really sweet guy. He made some 20 by 20 for us and I documented that for them. I had my camera out and took some photos so it was his first time.

Nathan – That’s amazing.

Matt – Yeah yeah I really wanted to do one but I was like it’s a big investment and I was like I’m gonna wait, I’ll come back another time when I have more of an idea of what I want to hang on my wall that’s 20 by 24 inches.

Nathan – Sure yeah yeah.

Matt – You know, which is what the other guy did actually. He had been to the workshop once before and decided I’m gonna wait, think about it, and then come back and do it you know? And he made gorgeous plates it was awesome.

Nathan – But it’s a fascinating artistic outlet that you have. So you’ve got a business to run and there’s again a lot of moving parts to running a business but to have an artistic outlet like that where you’re doing something that’s a bit unique, actually extremely unique in fact, it gives you that outlet. Kinda take a break from what can seem like the mundane day to day activities of running a business, that’s really really great.

Matt – I need it because I was a dark room photographer. Starting out, I loved the dark room. And I’ve always dreamed of having a dark room at my house. The house that we ended up purchasing is a little too small for a dark room unless I sacrifice space for the kids. And, so I can’t remember how it came about but one day I was just like you know I don’t need a dark room to do tintypes.

Nathan – Okay.

Matt – You know you can work out you do need a dark room if you will but it can be pretty you know I use an ice fishing tent.

Nathan – And you were showing me this mobile setup it’s small enough you can put in the back of your car right?

Matt – Yeah yeah it all folds. I mean on the back of a Mazda 3 hatchback.

Nathan – Wow wow.

Matt – So I got my dark room if you will the ice fishing tent packs in there. And all my gear chemicals and everything I can hit the road and just make tintypes anywhere literally it’s awesome.

Nathan – That’s amazing. Well I have to thank you for making time for sitting down and sharing, certainly what you’re doing with the photography business but it captured my attention yesterday when you started sharing about the priority that you’ve put on family and putting that over running a business and certainly being able to do just fancy destination weddings is incredible it looks great in your portfolio. There’s some financial benefit to it but the fact that you prioritize family and relationships in the end over that, it speaks so powerfully to well you your character, and the priority that you and Enna put on community and connection which is also reflected in this retreat which has been really incredible so thank you for taking time to share a little bit about that.

Matt – Awesome.

Nathan – Talk to our listeners about where they can find first of all information about the Inspire retreat.

Matt – Yeah.

Nathan – And then also your photography work.

Matt – Yeah well is the website, has all the information there. Has videos from past years and such and you can really get a good sense of the conference.

Nathan – And it’s the same thing on Instagram yes? Inspire Photo Retreat.

Matt – Correct, yep, with an S at the end.

Nathan – Okay retreats.

Matt – Inspire Photo Retreats yep and then our work is at it’s like Fraizer with a G.

Nathan – Simple enough, and how about on Instagram you guys on Instagram?

Matt – Yep, Enna has her Enna Chocolate one. We have Grazier Photo and then my personal one is Mattion M-A-T-T-I-O-N.

Nathan – Perfect.

Matt – I just put a if you’re a Star Wars nerd you might get that.

Nathan – No yes. I love it that’s great. Well you guys make sure to go online take a look at what Inspire has to offer. Make sure that you take a look at Matt and his work including Enna’s chocolate. Again I can’t recommend it enough. I was just telling Enna that I’m gonna be ordering it to give as gifts to people so it’s absolutely amazing. Thanks again for sitting down Matt. We appreciate your time, thank you.

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