Helen, with one of the vintage cameras she and Lindi collect
I’m super pumped to share today’s So What Do You Do Exactly?! This is Helen. She and her wife Lindi own their own photography business in Fayetteville, Arkansas. They are also the masterminds behind lifestyle blog Bettencourt Chase (which I have written about here and here).
This whole photography thing, how’d that start? Lots of people take pictures, fewer people make a living at it: We had both done photography in some capacity for years before we ever thought about doing it as a business. We were both on newspaper staffs in our respective high schools, and then did student media in college as well. Photography was a creative outlet, something we did for fun. Eventually it just evolved into something we made money doing! It takes an enormous amount of work, but we both love it.
You are business owners! That is extremely badass! Tell me a little about the process of getting up and running. Originally Lindi was the main photographer while I assisted. After a few months, though, we realized that we both wanted it to be completely a team effort. We scrapped the old business cards (with her company name), had a new one made.
We were definitely not well-versed enough in state and federal tax laws before we started the business. In some states, including AR, business owners have to pay sales tax and income tax on services rendered. Because I’m from OK, where the law is different, we didn’t know about the sales tax when we started. As a result, we were audited, which was frustrating and a little scary. It was a mess, but luckily not too traumatic and it was sorted out in a few months.
Give me a little behind the scenes. How much time do you spend planning, marketing, at actual events and then editing? We finally sat down last year and figured out the ratio of working time to shooting time, and it tends to be between 3-6 hours to 1, depending on the project. If we shoot an 8 hour wedding, we might spend upwards of 60 hours meeting with and emailing the clients, doing an engagement shoot, editing, creating online galleries, ordering prints and so on. I think that’s something a lot of people don’t realize when they object to the prices photograpers quote them. Although a figure like $125 an hour might seem like a lot of money for a one-hour portrait session, after all is said and done that actually only evens out to about $15/hour each… before taxes.
How do you market yourselves and drum up business? Our marketing has been mostly online and word of mouth. We have a website and a Facebook page, and we put up fliers around town once in a while, but most of our clients come to us because they know someone we’ve worked with who has recommended us. I love thinking about how working with one person branches out into other contacts and referrals!adf
Since we are sort of ‘jack-of-all-trades’ photographers and don’t just work in one specific field, we also often work with people for more than one thing. Someone we have done portraits with may come back later for their wedding, or a couple we’ve done wedding photography for may return for maternity or family portraits.
Do you feel like wedding photographers get a bad rap? I don’t know that many people would consider wedding/portrait photographers artists, but I do. We see and capture so much beauty and emotion with the work we do, and it is the sort of beauty and emotion that is relatable (and treasured) by everyday people. Certainly fine art/high fashion photographers do some phenomenal work as well, but I feel as though we do work that is often perhaps a bit more accessible.
I’ve met some lousy wedding photographers (one yelled during group shots, “Big girl, big girl, move to the left!”) What have you learned about managing families while doing this? I think the biggest thing we can do is to always be calm (or at least to seem calm, even if we don’t feel like it). We’ve been the awkward ones standing in the corner during family drama, and the ones who have ended up bustling more brides’ dresses than I can count. We’re there for nearly every moment on one of the most amazing, but also challenging, days ever for each of the couples we work with.
The most helpful tool we’ve found for group shots is to have the bride and groom make a list of all the combinations of people they want photos of during the group photos, and then just work our way down the list. That way we have the ‘authority of the list’ and we also make sure no one gets left out.
What are your views on the amount of money/energy/insanity that goes into the wedding industrial complex these days? As people who rely on the wedding industry for a fair amount of our yearly income, we are nonetheless both kind of freaked out by it. We try to keep our prices as reasonable and fair as possible, while still supporting ourselves, because things shouldn’t be more expensive just because they are for a wedding. We also don’t want to contribute to couples starting their marriages in debt.dsf
Lindi and Helen
Our own wedding cost about $2500 (which is less than 10% of the current national average for wedding spending) and we’re both pretty thrifty and crafty. That being said, I do think everyone should have exactly the kind of wedding they want to have, whether it costs $100 or $100,000. I just don’t think anyone should be pressured in to having a wedding someone else thinks they should have. We had the wedding that made the most sense to us, and that is what I hope others are able to do as well.
You guys are married! What’s it like to be at the other side of the lens? I can’t imagine ever doing this by myself. We’re a team, and we work amazingly well together. I would guess that being married has strengthened our business, and also that it is pretty likely that working together has strengthened our marriage.
Where would you like this business to go in the next few years? Someday shooting Malia Obama’s wedding? Hah! That would be a lot of fun. In a few years, we may be supporting ourselves 100% with our art (right now I have a day job to provide steady income for pesky things like student loans and utility payments, while Lindi manages the business and our home). As it is, though, we are pretty busy and are just getting busier. It is amazing to be able to make an income with something that started out as a hobby and a love for both of us.
One thing we do have to be careful of is not letting our photography just become ‘work,’ which is actually harder than it seems. Although we certainly love nearly everything we do and all the people we work with, we are super busy and have to make a concerted effort to take some time to do purely creative work.
What do you make of Instagram, where everyone fancies themselves an artist? We both think it is great, although I do hope that people are still taking photos with actual cameras and printing them. Instragram is pretty trendy, but I also worry that in twenty or thirty or fifty years, no one will have photo albums the way our parents and grandparents had. Digital is so fantastic for so many things, but who knows how technology will look in the future? Printed photos serve as such a tangible record of the people and places and things we love. At any rate, though, it is great that people are finding creative ways to express themselves.