When Kim and I started kicking around the idea of spotlighting Real Working Photographers, Nichole was the first person that popped into my mind. She’s the real thing, y’all. She works. Hard. She is serious about her craft, and serious about the industry that she belongs to. She protects it like a mama bear, understands it from the inside out, and if you’re ever in need of a good kvetch session, she’s there for you.
In fact, I’d say that of all the people I know, she’d be in my Top Five List of people I want on my side in a rumble. And, yes, in my mind we’re still living in The Outsiders, and I don’t care if that’s stupid.
Nichole is the kind of photographer who DOES love what she does, but she doesn’t talk about inspiration and passion. She talks about lighting and exposure. Business models and pricing issues. Contracts and model releases. She’s a businesswoman who happens to be an artist (and a damn fine one at that). I’ve watched her work grow exponentially over the years, and every day I’m even more proud of the strides she’s making in the niche she is carving out for herself in our town.
So, let’s have a chat with Nichole, shall we?
Tell me about yourself, as a person.
My name is Nichole (duh). I just turned 30, I have a degree in psychology, and spent the first 3 years of my adult life working as an insurance
agent. I am a fan of black coffee, sleeping in, and most music typically enjoyed by tween girls. I met my husband of 7 years in college, and we got married in the mountains of TN. We have two tiny spawns, Finnegan, 5, a brand new Kindergartener who is pretty sure he has life figured out, and Atticus, 2, who is prepping for a life of smashing beer cans on his forehead and tackling people. We live in Wilmington NC, and I drive a mom-mobile minivan shamelessly. This is apparently the perfect recipe for becoming a photographer. Next question
Now as a photographer! How long have you been in business? What is your primary focus photographically?
My 5 year photographer anniversary is this October. Although if we look at the work I did 5 years ago, I think I should possibly reconsider that time frame. My focus was initially children, expanded to families, then moved into the maternity and birth world. Seeing as that encompassed approximately 97% of portrait subjects, I have refined my focus to children. Of course I still love families, and newborns, but if I had my pick of any subject in the world, I would pick a 9 month old first (sitting, but not walking, laughs at peek-a-boo), followed by a 3 year old (possibly the best jokes you’ve ever heard, and a fantastic workout to photograph thanks to their penchant for running). I also do photograph the occasional wedding, but I’ve never done more than 5 per year to date, and they are almost always friends, or referrals from friends. I bow down to full time wedding photographers, I could never do it!
Do you have a studio space, or do you primarily shoot on-location?
I do not personally have a studio, but I am a member of a local studio space that offers memberships to professional photographers. So while I didn’t get to decorate it, I also don’t have to pay the electric bill. Its a fantastic option while my kids are little, and I plan to open my own studio after my two year old heads off to Kindergarten. That said, I do less than 20% of my work in the studio. Living at the beach, the overwhelming majority of my work is waterfront (don’t be too jealous, sand is a bitch to clean out of a camera), with some parks, and urban locations sprinkled in the middle.
What’s the most challenging part of your job, today? How has that changed over the last several years?
Hmmm…. I feel like my challenges vary based on the month. The summer (read non-school) months are tough because I am juggling two kids, a husband in his busy season (he manages a local restaurant that beach goers LOVE), and my busiest season as well. I work from home, I put in about 3 hours during the day, and depending on how busy I am, between 2 and a bazillion more hours at night. My clients frequently get 1am emails in the summer. Baby-sitters, bedtimes, and only shooting at the beach in the hour before sunset make for quite the jenga game of life. In the winter I think I probably have the same challenges as any working photographer – no one wants portraits 3 weeks after the holiday season, and until Easter things can get SO slow. And at times even scary slow. The biggest change I’ve seen with this over the years seems to be my growth. As my business has grown, my family becomes more dependent on the income, so in the summer burn out is not an option, I must.keep.going. And in the Winter, I better have budgeted down to the last cent to make sure things will be ok until I pick back up in March.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be? How would you better it?
OMG – can I be real? Of course I can, that’s why you ladies have this kick-ass blog. I would change the lack of education and understanding in this industry. For everyone. I would like to educate people who think this job is easy money about the realities of it – taxes, insurance, licensing, taxes, business management, and taxes. Lets not forget client management, marketing and my own continuing education. I would like to educate new photographers as to WHY you can not run a profitable business for $100 a session. I would like them to learn the basics of photography (and I mean basic – exposure, lighting, composition) in an educational setting, and not passing off their consumer level work as professional. I would like them all to know it is not a $25 etsy logo, an entry level DSLR, and a wix website. Lastly, I would like to educate the general consumer driven public on what quality photography is. I would like them to understand why it costs so much. I would like them to value and appreciate the art at the end. And I would love it if they all then HUNG said art on their walls. I mean, why pay a professional to hide files on what is sure-to-be-obsolete-in-5-years-technology in a desk drawer. Ok, sipping my wine, moving on to the next question
I know that you’re a mom, with two darling little boys. Atticus is still at home with you every day while Finn goes to school. How do you cope with kids running around while you try to conduct business? Any tips or tricks for other moms?
It is a balancing act. A very very delicate one. Finn is gone from 7am-almost 3pm, 5 days a week, Atticus is with me full time. We’ve created a balancing act that seems to work well for us. I work while Atticus naps, trying to be sure to make any phone calls I need to make, because for reasons I have yet to understand, the rest of the world doesn’t usually function late night. The kids go to bed at 7pm, and my husband goes to bed early because of work, so by 8pm I’m back to the grind. Some nights I work until 10. Some nights I work until 2. I do what I need to do to get it done. I schedule sessions week nights (2-4 a week), with the exception of newborns which I aim for Tuesday or Thursday mornings. I do try and mandate days off for myself, I have to for my sanity. I have found over the years that a schedule or at least a plan helps. I keep to-do lists, I prioritize everything I can. And like I said – days off. I need them, and I take them – without apology.
If you could start your business all over again, knowing what you know now, what are three things you would have done differently at the beginning?
My two biggest lessons learned the hard way were scheduling my time, and pricing. I didn’t schedule my time, I was working around the clock, and was at my clients beck and call 24/7. It’s not a successful business technique, and I am forever thankful I managed to figure it out, without burning out entirely. As far as pricing… well… I did exactly what I said I wish people wouldn’t do. I charged pennies, and I didn’t budget for squat. Again, it’s a small miracle I came out on the right side of it all. I’d say my third start over lesson is super trivial in the grand scheme of things – but I wish I had used a logo with less colors. Random, right? But can we talk about 6 color screen printing? For crying out loud! I don’t want to re-brand at this point, I love my logo and branding, and it is (luckily) incredibly recognizable in this town, so instead I just suck it up. But for real – never use 6 colors in a logo.
Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?
In five years I plan to have a studio of my own. I see my happy face sitting at my desk – AT MY STUDIO. And when I pick my kids up from school, I will leave my studio and be done with work for the day. Business hours. A dedicated office. I may even cancel my internet at home and go back to a Zach Morris cell phone so I can’t work outside the office… aaahhhhhhh… one day
What do your order at the bar when you don’t have to play designated driver?
Gin and tonic. Always.
What were your main resources starting up (forums, blogs, magazines, etc)? How has that changed over the years? Do you still have any go-to places for industry information, trend watching, or just bitching with other photographers in the same boat?
I have always been a forum girl. I started on ilovephotography.com lovingly known as ILP. That is where I gained the majority of my photographic education. I have a firm policy about wearing big girl panties at all times, and appreciated and loved the honest and at times harsh critique I received there. I eventually moved on to clickinmoms.com. Knock it if you must, but there were some inspirational women there in years past. It was more of a social setting than an educational setting for me, but I enjoyed the opportunities to discuss things with my peers, and it was wonderful for following trends in the industry. From there I moved to 4theloveoffocus.com This was a small private forum, exclusive to women, and restricted members by a 45 mile radius – meaning I could talk about business and marketing strategies without one of the other 457 local photographers reading it. Currently I am a member primarily of facebook groups. Some local, some not. I also attended the PPA convention – Imaging USA – this last year. At this point, when I have a desire to learn something, or have questions, I go to the appropriate group and seek out the answer. I appreciate the time everyone puts in to these groups, and have nothing but respect for the professionals I have access to in my life and business at this point.
In your opinion, what does the industry need, right now, to help photographers like you?
I think this industry needs rehab. It’s over saturated, it’s filled with people lacking in education, who are in it for the wrong reasons, and those who just follow the ‘rockstars’ you ladies are working so hard to help the industry take a step back from. I have no problem with talented and successful people who have a following. But people who are popular for being popular. They’re like the Kardashians of the industry. Gross. On an ever so slightly more serious note, I think when the economy fully recovers, a lot of the entry level ‘moms-with-cameras’ will fall by the wayside. Families won’t need that extra income, lessening the number pf photographers out there, and likewise families will have more disposable income and the ability to once again choose boutique and luxury services like the ones so many of us offer.
Will you be my date at the next swanky local studio soiree?
YES!!!! That needs to happen. SOOOOOON!!