Community & Networking | Podcast

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

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

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Show Notes:

About Andrew and his family. [01:28]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Podcast Transcript:


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

Andrew – Yeah.

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

Andrew – It’s been quite a long time.

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

Andrew – Absolutely, over 10 years ago.

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

Andrew – Oh, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew – Yeah I did.

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

Andrew – OSP.

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

Andrew – Absolutely.

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

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

Nathan – Absolutely, empathizing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew – Right, right.

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

Andrew – There is.

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

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

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

Andrew – It is.

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

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

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

Andrew – We’re over 30,000 now.

Nathan – That’s incredible.

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

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

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

Nathan – Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nathan – A product for them.

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

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

Andrew – Absolutely.

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

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

Nathan – Exactly.

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

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

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

Nathan – That’s true.

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

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

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

Nathan – Well their identity rides on it, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nathan – That’s mind blowing.

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

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

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

Nathan – Awesome.

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

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

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

Nathan – That’s really neat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nathan – Of your work, ultimately?

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

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

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

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

Andrew – Absolutely.

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

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

Nathan – Yeah, your beautiful kids.

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

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

Andrew – Yep, Shoot and Share.

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

Andrew – Shoot and Share.

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