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I spent more time contributing to photo forums than working on my business: Hey, when you work alone, you’re LONELY… and the photo forums of days past were my water cooler.  I spent most of my working hours reading, writing, and socializing on those boards, and wrongly believed that all the time I was spending there was fruitful.  But instead of gleaning knowledge from other photographers and applying it to my own business, I just got swept up in drama, social cliques, and the relentless quest of proving how much smarter I was than everyone else.  Even after quitting all the photo forums, I still found myself wasting days away on Facebook, caring WAY TOO MUCH about what some guy ten states away was doing with his business (or how someone I wouldn’t recognize on the street stole something from someone else I wouldn’t recognize on the street), and letting the mechanics of my business fall by the wayside.

I let my clients become friends: Now, this isn’t evil in and of itself, but we all know that lines get blurry once you move past a business relationship and into one of friendship.  Because they were my friends, I was lax on policies.  I gave away my time without compensation.  I was vague on terms and conditions.  Clients had a longer rope, and I let them pull on it because FRIENDS.  And, worst of all, those friendships I’d cultivated turned quickly back to business-only when I was late on an album design, or when I didn’t get a shot on their stupid shot list (that I claimed not to accept, but FRIENDS do stuff for friends, right?)  I still have client-friends, and I’ll never treat a client like a “prospect” – but I’m a lot more careful to set the boundaries right from the start of the relationship, and to complete our contractual arrangements before considering them to be my “friends”.

I ostriched myself when the shit hit the fan: I had a bad year.  I really hate the overuse of the word “epic”, but 2005 was bad in EPIC proportions.  By October of 2005, every last client from that year was mad at me.  I’d received no less than five letters from attorneys demanding things I was contractually obligated to provide, but too poor/depressed/fucked-in-the-head to work on.  And rather than facing the bad year head-on, I hid from it for months, letting clients get angrier and angrier, and digging a hole so deep it took me till 2008 to fully dig out.  I couldn’t muster the will to make a single phone call to an angry client, because I was afraid of being told that I was awful.   Hiding from my clients when things got bad was a natural response for someone who was raised by a woman who wouldn’t open the bills because that would mean she actually DID owe money that month; but it was the most damaging thing I could do during a critical time in my personal and professional life.


I believed other photographers on the internet were more successful than me:   Because really, who wouldn’t based on what they said?  Truth: anyone who has been in this business for a decent amount of time has had days where they questioned their worth.  Worried that they were going to be found out for not knowing off camera lighting (or whatever).  Worried  that the IRS would come after them.  Had a consult where they knew that clients retainer would make or break their rent payment that month. The ones that tell you it’s never happened to them?  They are lying, or they have another source of  dependable income.  Living on a variable income is HARD.

I thought it was all about the photos: It’s not. It never will be just about the photos, not anymore.  Yes, your photos have  to be decent.  How many photographers do you know that you see their work and you shake your head?  THAT photo got 3000 likes?  It’s not just about the photos, it’s about the marketing, the customer experience, the way you make people feel about your photos.   Anyone can make what the public now perceives as a great photo. You can rail and call the name of Ansel Adams in vain, but the truth remains that unless you can use both sides of your brain, the creative and the businessperson side, you will struggle.

I asked for help way too late:   Pride is such a shithead, and I thought it was just me who was struggling.  Once I opened up my  mouth to ask for help from some colleagues  that I had known for years I found out that they were having similar issues. From that point on, it became like Team America in my town. I know you are saying “Oh, the competition in my town is way too fierce for that, no one would ever share their stuff “. You know what?  That’s bullshit. Last month one of my competitors Riitta  gave a  super low cost seminar on In Person Sales for weddings to any photographer in our Facebook group who wanted to come.  Why?  Because in her view if we all required this it would set the bar high for photographers in our town. If you don’t have a Riitta in your town, you be Riitta.  Make some calls, plan some coffee dates and make some photographer friends. My frenemy Doug (who I talked about in this post)  put it this way ” The better we, the professional photographer community, are collectively, the less likely we’ll lose work to non-professionals.”  

(Awww.  He’s so cute with his million bajillion Facebook fans. Too bad he doesn’t know how to use a comma)

Here is the thing we want you to most understand about why we are here with this blog:  WE GET IT. Gah, so trite.  But really, Charo and I both landed lucky 13 years ago when we hooked up with a group  of professionals that to this day we can reach out to online, on the phone and by IM.  Many of you are telling us that you don’t have that.  That you feel isolated, alone and like everyone else gets it and you don’t.

That. Has got. To suck.

Join us, and let’s talk. We’re going to be implementing more interactive things like Google Hangout chats and podcasts and hell, who knows what else.

P.S.  Last days for our friend Jamie’s class on Marketog. By the time this  post goes out, it might even be sold out, because  it usually does and when Jamie posts stuff she blows up the internets :)  If there is still room, we URGE you to consider this class if you need to change the entire face of your business.   It will rock your socks, guaranteed, or Jamie will give you money back.  We will not give you money back because we are giving you this shit for free.

You’re welcome.




Other than the two years I lived in the dorms in college, I have had at least one dog that lived with me.

Usually two, sometimes three.  And a cat…you know, here or there.  Oh those cats…they come, they go.  My last one walked in the door 10 years ago and announced he lived with me by jumping up on the couch and licking his balls as if he’d never left.  Despite being allergic to cats I admired his moxie, so he stayed. I’ve had 3 free range rabbits in my home and I’d really, really like a hedgehog.

So when Tab, my 13 year-old Springer/Brittney Spaniel started to age and had some failings I was very pragmatic about it.  “Well, you know, she’s just getting old, that’s what happens” I said.  Having had animals my whole life I’ve held some as they were euthanized and while it was difficult, I always knew was the right thing because they were very ill.

About a year ago, Tab’s bark changed and she did this annoying “Darth Vader Breathing” off and on.  It seemed to be just when she was agitated, like when I didn’t give her enough treats. Tab embraced old age like a Grand Dame demanding her due. She seemingly could turn this annoying breathing on and off according to her whim and the volume of Milk Bones administered until a few days ago.  When I saw she was gasping more than normal and refused a scrambled egg for breakfast I took her to the vet.  Immediately the diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis was administered by our hometown vet and she was off to a  specialist.

In the course of that 6 hour day from vet to vet, options and procedures were explained to me.  What became clear was that I had a perfectly healthy dog who was having trouble breathing because of a  common side affect of aging that could be reversed with surgery that put a small suture in her throat.  For $3600.  Or, I could put her down. Despite her age, she was healthy and I could not reconcile putting a healthy animal to sleep. But that price tag…I cannot lie, it still sickens me.

Every single time I turned around the vet called with an update and there was a suggestion of another procedure I “should consider”. $150 for “advanced blood-work” because her liver panels were “Oh, just a bit  elevated”.  $325 for an abdominal ultrasound “In case there is some kind of blockage”.  $325 for a “panel on her adrenal glands” and a suggestion for a dental cleaning that I stopped them from even quoting me for.

In each case, the Dr presented me with the options, but it was very clear that he would not make a decision for me nor would he guide me to the “what he would do” place. I finally got him to crack  when I bargained  for a free mani-pedi for her along with the procedure because if was spending that kind of money at least she could have pretty toes and the vet laughed and agreed to that.

I get that Veterinary Medicine is not an exact science and I know that these Doctors were covering their own asses as well as dealing with the what-if’s of a surgery on a older dog, but  I couldn’t help feel that at times I was being held hostage.  After committing to $3600, was I going to say NO to $3800? Of course not. I’ve done my own fair share of double-speak and I know when a Dr is saying ” This is your choice, and I can’t make it for you because you might sue me if I am wrong”.

That’s when it hit me.

Is this how our clients feel?  Mired in an emotional quagmire in a place they have never been before do they feel “hostage” to spending money on an event like wedding?  Do they feel like they have “no choice” but to spend thousands more than they planned on to get the photos that they want? Another $300 for those digital files, another $200 if you want an engagement session…

Do they understand what we mean when we tell them what a “file” or a “proof” is and are we taking the time to explain to them what the benefit our services are to them?

I’ve long been an advocate of the fact that photography is a luxury service.  You do not have to have a fancy wedding to be married, you don’t need photos to be married, and you do not have to spend $3800 on your dog to keep her alive to prove you love dogs.  These are, as the kids say, #firstworldproblems

So the next time I have a client sitting in front of me that seems overwhelmed or even angry at the process of hiring a photographer, I’m going to be a bit more sympathetic.  Maybe my price tag sickens them and I need to be a bit more sensitive to that.

Maybe I’ll even offer them a mani-pedi on the house.











This past blisteringly cold Saturday while I was enjoying the fact that I did not have a wedding, this email came in:

Hey Kim,

You did our pics almost 10 years ago. Wouldn’t you know that I wait until now to use the CDs to create a 10 year anniversary book for hubby that I find the online company sent us the wrong CD. The CD’s are labeled correctly but the pics are definitely someone else. I guess shame on me that I never looked at the pics but I am pretty sure you have no images from that far back now?

Thought I would drop you a note, hoping you or the online company might have them?”

As I stumbled down into my basement to my “archives” thoughts raced through my wedding photographer brain

“10 years.  WTF.  She didn’t even LOOK at the photos for TEN YEARS? ”
“I hope my contract was solid back then…did I have an archiving clause?”
“If I don’t have them, too bad for her…10 motherfreaking years, what does she expect”
“Seriously she didn’t LOOK at them for 10 years, were they that bad?”
But mostly…over and over…


“ohmygodohmygodohmygod I hope I have them, I hope I have them, ohmygodohmygodohmygod”



By the time I reached the Rubbermaid bin that holds The Ghosts of Weddings Past, I was sweating despite the -7 windchill outside.  My heart raced as I flipped through the CD’s of names I barely recalled.

I had them.

After some trial and error with bad naming and having to coerce my computer to read a 10 year old disk of images I had them.  And as I looked through them trying to place the wheres and whens of that wedding and to see if the photos truly sucked, a memory struck me.

This was the very first wedding that I used off camera flash on my formals.  I remember it because it was at a swanky venue in a nearby resort town that I had always wanted to work in. In fact, back in the day it was one of Hugh Hefners infamous Playboy Clubs.  I spent weeks learning how to perfect my lighting, reading online and taking seminars, and was a shaky mess setting up the strobes, lugging the heavy battery packs. I worked alone then, and this was a big endeavor for me.   In fact, truth be told I was a “natural light” photographer because I didn’t really understand strobes.  In my head, learning this one key piece of information that terrified me so (math does that to me) turned me from an amateur to a real live photographer.

I nailed those formals.  Now, we won’t talk about the fact that I had yet to have a great grasp on posing, had an unnatural love for Gaussian blur, tilts and Becker’s Sepia and Blue Split Tone Action, or the fact that my color balance sucked ass…everyone has their dirty secrets and it was one of the first years of digital, a girl gets a little carried away. But those formals…I learned something, and something with math.  It clicked.

But the most surprising revalation was this: How much I’ve invested financially and personally in other peoples memories.  How much it means to me to preserve them.

Yeah yeah, “the photos are the only thing that’s left, the cake gets eaten, blah blah blah”.  I’ve always hated that sentimental wedding bullshit photographers use in marketing, just as much as naming your packages “Gold and Silver” or “Rome and Tuscany”.  WTF does Tuscany have to do with a wedding in Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

In my Grinchy heart, I really do believe photos are that important.  This brought me back around to the nagging question:

Ten years.  She didn’t look at them for ten years.  Why?

Maybe because I thought a tilt and a sloppy boarder was “Art” back then?IMG_0212

Maybe because I thought this action would convince someone  that this was shot on Chrome?




Or maybe because I actually charged her cash money for this piece of shit:

So I decided to ask.

Moving. Kids.  House.  Job changes.  She looooved her photos, and cried when she looked at them again, she assured me.  Artist Angst pacified, thank you 10 lb 9oz baby Jesus.

Excuses.  We’ve all got them, right?

And then clear as day it came to me:  I decided that if my clients won’t safeguard their own memories, I am going to do it for them. I’m no longer going to offer only a shoot and burn package where I turn over the disk because despite my rationalization that “no one” would put a 3K disk in a drawer for 10 years, someone did.

Moving forward, all of my packages will include an album, no matter how rudimentary.  They’ll still get their damnable digital files, but they are not walking out of my studio without a tangible printed item to show their children (or their dogs, or strangers on the street…)

Yes, it will increase my pricing.  And I’m okay with that.  You may disagree with me, or tell me “In MY market that would never work because, blah blah blah”.  I’m okay with that too.  Every passionate business model has a “Unique Selling Proposition” and in that moment I knew what mine was.

I feel at the bottom of my soul that my job is to preserve memories and that’s what people really pay me for.




2011 was a pretty shitty year.  Most photographers started feeling the pinch around 2009, but the Midwest (always slow to adapt) felt the rumbles about 18 months later by my calendar.  That was the year that my regular, dependable business model started to crumble.

My regular, dependable business model went something like this: start the season off around May, work pretty much non stop until November. During those months, cash was fat.  Bringing in 15-20K in the peak months was not unusual, and from years past I knew to bank as much as I could for the lean times in winter.  But something always came up…a new car, a furnace gone bad, a kid who got hurt and craptastic medical bills to pay. But the bookings kept coming, the retainers came in and while I wasn’t living large in February like I was in June, it was a living.  I wasn’t ever in a bad place at any point in my then 15 year old career.

Until suddenly the bad place was around the corner.  Not on my door step, but way too close for comfort. And then the rumblings became stronger, from friends and colleagues. Some were within range of the bad place, some were outside the door and some admitted to have been living there for awhile. Long standing iconic studios in my town closed.  The only major camera and equipment stores closed shop or moved to Chicago.

Long-time clients started showing up in my newsfeed with family photos from photographers I had never heard of who claimed to be “natural light photographers” and had twee names like “Strawberry Fields” and they all had a passion for affordable photography and loved sushi and puppies.  At first, I kept my head down and kept doing what I had always done figuring this was just like the transitional years between film and digital where everyone had to make big changes in their workflow and procedures. But soon, it was clear that this was not a bump in the road, the industry had really changed. I had to recognize that the tide had turned.

Every artist deep down has a fear that they suck and someday someone is going to figure that out they’ll be exposed for the hack they really are.  We all wrestle with that demon in some form or another.  In the space of a few months, my demon was fed by a series of 8 wedding consults in a row in three weeks time that did not hire me. Until this time, I was used to a 90% booking rate so I fully expected to book 7 of the 8.  Every single one of them cited price as the reason that they did not hire me. This was on top of losing long-time clients to the $99 shoot and burner momtographers and one particular stinging moment when a friend contacted me to photograph her sons  photos. After sending her my information as well as a generous friends and family discount she responded with “While we love your work, we put your prices into our spreadsheet and you’re sadly not the most affordable even with the discount”

She put me in her fucking spreadsheet?  Is this what I was reduced to now?

Through the next several months I made some stupid decisions because frankly I was scared.  Knowing that I am not qualified to do anything but this or work at Target (and I look horrible in red)  I took on clients I could should not have, I made exceptions to in-person sales and proofed portrait sessions online to get the sale and I relaxed payment terms.

Looking back, I know now that these mistakes were made not only because I was scared, but because I had never prepared myself for anything like this before.  I had by all accounts a successful thriving business.  I was doing 30 some weddings a year at a upper end price point for my market, was averaging around the 1K mark for my portrait sales, had associates that I paid a decent wage to.   Nothing that I had done had changed.  My work hadn’t changed, if anything it had gotten better.  My prices hadn’t changed. But everything else had.  I had never truly considered that my thriving business would go south because of the economy or made a plan of what steps I would take if it happened.

2012 was marginally better. 2013 was 100% improved and 2014 looks to be a better year yet (crossing fingers and toes) So what did I do that brought me out of the slump?

I sat down and made some hard choices.  I figured that all I could do was to stop being scared. I had to take a hard look at my business and be honest about what I sucked at and what I had never planned for.  I took a look at people who had been in business a long time and listened to what they had to say. I tightened my belt even harder than I ever had and bought not one single piece of gear in 2 years other than gaffers tape. My accountant was astounded.   I had to do all of this when I was feeling bad about myself and my business and photography and that, my friends, was my number one mistake.

Everyone talks about having a business plan. But no one talks about having a “when should I call it a day plan”.

I should have been doing this Every. Single. Year.  I should have done it in the heyday of my career and not just in a slump. I still think that the economy/recession whatever you want to call it played a part, but I have no doubt now that I would have not been hit as hard as I was if I had a plan of at what point did I need to end my career as a photographer.  When I decided I wasn’t going to go out without a fight,  all I could think to do was to buckle down by revising my price list and raising my prices.  Along with that came looking clients in the eye and telling them that no, I could not give them a discount because they were paying for the wedding themselves.  Along with that came telling portrait clients that no, I could not put their photos online because they were “too busy” to come in for the in-person sales session.  Instead of giving more, I resisted more and held out for more.

It was, and continues to be, a bit terrifying.  But I’ll be honest less so because I know what’s in front of me and how to prepare when or if it changes again.

Watch this amazing video Transformation by Zack Arias . Get out a pad of paper or grab a friend and do a brain dump.  Just get it all out there, talk about the good, the bad, what you sucked at, what you are proud of and what scares you.  (I also recommend a tall vodka tonic with a lot of lime, but that’s me).   Do it once a year, more often if you can.

Stop letting your business go on without a plan for both success and failure.


99% of “stupid things I have done”  in client relations  have happened when dealing with friends, family and acquaintances.

A few years ago a woman I network with in a professional meeting every month wanted to hire me for her May wedding.  Early May is not a busy month where I am located as the weather is still very unpredictable so I was willing to work with her and told her that.

What I said: ” I have a 4 hour package that would fit your budget, but the only caveat would be that if I have an opportunity to book a full day wedding that day I will have my associate shoot your wedding”

What she heard: ” I have a 4 hour package that would fit your budget and if someone else calls for your wedding day I will have my associate shoot their wedding”

The contract wording was clear and spelled out that I would shoot the wedding unless I booked another event.  But as we know, people don’t read much these days.

So when the inevitable happened, I called to let her know that I had booked another wedding on her date but my associate was excited about photographing her wedding, she was crushed.  When I reiterated what we had talked about, she remembered  the conversation very differently.  “Remember how you told me May is not usually a busy month?  I thought you said you would send your associate to shoot any other wedding”

I told her May was not a busy month.  In her bride-addled brain, that translated to ” I  am sure I will be able to shoot your wedding because it’s not a busy month for me”

What she felt: She felt like I thought  the other wedding was more important than hers and I had willingly dumped her for a bigger better wedding for more money.  Which, technically speaking, I had.  To me it was business, to her it was personal. This was a person that I could not have told you anything more than her name, what she did for a living and that she liked the color pink a lot.   In her mind, we had “A relationship”.  I know this because it was the phrase she used over and over as she expressed her disappointment with the way I handled things.

What I should have done:   Contracted my associate for the coverage and all the verbiage and conversations with her should have specifically been about my associate shooting it. Then  at my discretion I could  have surprised her prior to the wedding that I was available and shot it.  The way I handled it caused hurt feelings and to this day we remain distant with each other.   She was “happy enough”  (her words) with the photos, but I am sure somewhere in her mind she feels like I sent out the second string.  Frankly, the photos were phenomenal.  But that doesn’t really matter, does it?

My contract may have been clear, but sometimes by being right you don’t win.

Kim’s Friends and Family Pricing, revised.

Family Pricing: Includes the people who are my parents, anyone married to one of my parents for more than a few years (yeah, don’t ask) anyone dating or married to me currently, my kids, my sister, my stepbrothers and their children.   These people receive my services 100% free of charge as long as I am am available.   They get their photos outright on a disk and pay cost for prints if they want them through me.   I also have a VERY select few good friends who are included in this list.  They are as close to me as family and they know who they are and are also sworn to secrecy that they are on the list.  It’s kind of like Fight Club with more awesome photos.

Friends:  Anyone that I know that does not meet the criteria of above, but is a friend.  Not just a Facebook friend, but a real live friend that I am likely to have lunch with/drinks with on a semi-regular occasion or extended family such as second cousins that I barely know.   They get a discount on my fees and a discount on prints.  If my prices are too high for them, they are welcome to use another photographer.  I let them know that shooting a portrait session is not ” stopping by and taking a few pictures” and a wedding isn’t “taking a few photos and putting the camera down to have fun”. I treat their session or their wedding exactly as I would a paying client and they need to respect that while I am appreciative they love my work enough to hire me, it’s still work and I am going to treat it as such. When  I am shooting a wedding I am working, and when I am done my camera goes into my bag and is put away for the night is when I turn into a guest and not a second before.

Acquaintances:  I like to call these people “clients”.   If  I know you, that does not mean I have to give you any sort of a deal or discount.  I can at my discretion throw in a free print or something if the spirit moves me but it is never promised or implied.  So for the sister of the guy I dated in high school, she’s an acquaintance.   The soccer moms that I have known for 10 years because our kids played together?  Still acquaintances. However, an acquaintance can be moved into friends if they ALSO provide a service for me.  My plumber gives me a discount because I’ve sent a lot of business her way, and that moves her into friends pricing even though we really don’t socialize in our day-to-day lives.

So, let’s hear it.  Your best horror story about the gig you never should have taken and how it turned out.  And somewhere in there, I want to hear you address two things:
How they felt and what YOU could have done differently.









Ever done one of those Briggs Myers personality tests that describes your traits?  Pretty fascinating stuff.

Hey baby, I’m a ENFP, how ’bout you?

After being in the photography business awhile I’ve noticed similar traits with most of my friends who are in the biz who describe themselves as an “Artist” first and foremost:

Prone to periods of great bursts of activity and productivity, followed by periods of despair, self loathing, drinking and getting abso-fucking-lutely nothing done.

Read more…


This business can be isolating.

That was one of the first things I learned in my first weeks of self employment.  At first, it sounded so glamorous.  No time clocks, no “man” to report to, no asking for days off, no office politics to navigate, no godforsaken grey cube.

But what I missed, desperately, was the water cooler.  I missed having people to bounce ideas off of, I missed  that on my birthday no one brought me a birthday donut.

I started my full time business before Al Gore’s internet was a staple in most homes, and I missed people.

Enter the internet, and shortly thereafter, Facebook.

Read more…


A few weeks ago at a wedding I was photographing I sat for dinner with the guests next to a lovely older woman at dinner.

She clearly was of the age that when you sit next to someone you don’t know, you make introductions.   After some niceties (“how do you know the couple”, “how long have you been photographing weddings?”)   she surprised me by asking “You’ve been doing this some time.  Can you tell me when it was that the weddings went from celebrating the marriage  with family and friends to seeing who had the most trinkets?”

I wasn’t really sure what she was asking. I wondered if it was a trap.  I wished she would just ask me how many megapixels my camera is or how many photos I had taken that day, because I know how to answer that.

I stammered that I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, and she elaborated.

Over the past few years, she’s noticed a shift in weddings.  That it seemed to be more about the “stuff”

That it used to be that if a wedding was earlier in the day, say 11AM the bride and groom did a bridal luncheon and the wedding ended in late afternoon.They didn’t expect their guest to entertain themselves in a strange city and then carry on with the reception until midnight.

She said that in the past 5-7 years, it seems that brides and grooms don’t care about the guests. They seem “obsessed with silly details, like they are trying to outdo each other”.

Read more…

Today I committed to attending our town’s monthly photographer get-together for August.  My husband and I have attended exactly one of these in the last three years.  Here’s the thing: it was FUN!  There was beer and sushi and laughs, not too much posturing, and I got to spout off about things I knew better than they did because I’m a billion years older than almost everyone else in the industry (APPARENTLY).  I had a blast.

And then the announcement for the next monthly meeting showed up on my Facebook Timeline, and I was like “Oh. Ew. People and things.”

I’ve somehow spent the last twelve years of my career attending almost NO networking meetings, and very few conventions.  At the conventions I’ve been to, I ducked out of classes to go hang out with the cool kids at the casino or in the bar.  I spoke at a convention once (badly!  OH SO BADLY!), and that was probably the worst experience of my life.

I suck at networking.

We get invited to the coolest sounding parties and shindigs in town, almost weekly.  And, don’t ask me why, but when we don’t attend said cool parties PEOPLE ASK WHERE WE ARE.  As though we’ve ever been to a single party!  I don’t get it either.

And you know what?  This isn’t some shitty tactic to appear cool or mysterious or “better than”.  I really can’t stomach the thought of choosing which of my three pairs of jeans to wear (this should be easy – THE PAIR THAT FITS), or which side of my head to part my hair.  I can’t deal with the idea of small talk and chatter, or of listening to some blowhard talk about how he’s booked ninety-seven weddings in the last two weeks “at an average of twelve thousand dollars!  Yeah, I’m kind of a big deal”.  In my head, all networking meetings are exercises in bullshittery, and the thought of that makes my tummy hurt.

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