::Meet Alex Michele:: {Women In Business Series}

INTERVIEW WITH ALEX MICHELE PHOTOGRAPHY / Jacksonville, Florida

Hi Alex! Thanks for taking a little time and sharing with everyone a bit about yourself and how you run your successful photography business! First of all how long have you been in the business of photography?

I have been doing photography since the fall of 2008 when I took a 35mm class in college at Jacksonville University. I focused on natural life and architecture first, but found my real passion lied in working with people. I was a nanny all throughout college and frequently took pictures of the children {photo journalistic-ally} throughout the day. Not only was this great practice but it made the parents happy too! First sign I was great at customer service.  I started charging {very inexpensively} in the fall of 2009 when I purchased my Nikon D300 to friends and family only. I started shooting weddings in 2009 {only 3} and majorly in 2010. However, it wasn’t until Post College {July 2010} I made it a profession as opposed to being an amateur-student hobbyist. I have been in business since July 2010. So in total, about a year ‘professionally’. Whew, that was a long winded answer!

What areas/subjects would you say you specialize in?

I specialize in mostly weddings, newborns, and models. However, I really love to work with so many other subjects such as children, babies, seniors, couples and families!

Are you an on location photographer for newborns or do you have a studio space?

I am an on location-natural light-manual- settings- kinda’ gal for almost every session. However, I do have an at-home studio in my apartment with gorgeous natural lighting for my newborns and baby sessions. However, I have shot inside if the area is special to my client and there is an ample amount of natural light to shoot manually.

How do you separate and distinguish yourself from all of the other photographers out there?

There are other photographers? 🙂 I honestly distinguish myself by NOT worrying about the competition around me. I don’t care what other photographers are doing or not doing because I don’t feel that they affect my particular goals and business ideas. I don’t say this to come across conceited or vain, but competition is only a state of the mind. I don’t feel that I have ever “lost” business to any photographer; I just feel that clients gravitate to their perfect fits. I gain insight if I have a decline of a booking. Some clients book based on prices, some on style, some because they know you personally or were referred to you and some because they can’t get my AMP news feed to shush. But regardless of why, the main point is that there are many fish in the sea and people will ALWAYS want professional images. I pride myself on treating my clients like real people with real needs. I care about what they want and are looking for in their session or wedding.  They are my bosses and I listen, carefully. I am a great communicator, so I know from reading my client reviews the #1 thing that is said about my services is how I make everyone feel comfortable. I am easy to find and never go MIA on my clients. It’s all about mutual respect and comfort for the best possible result from a session and to gain repeat business. I have booked several sessions because a photographer has failed their client, namely last minute weddings! I focus on the client’s needs and try to fuse that with my artistic direction. I shoot for them and not what I deem ‘perfect-picturesque-magazine’ worthy. In all, I would say I am best distinguished by priding myself on being a selfless shooter. I want to make the experience fun and most importantly memorable, then the pictures become the prize. I get so excited when I hear my clients reactions to my work, it’s the best motivation and reward ever.

I love that last answer. Okay so when shooting weddings, what is your favorite moment? What really gets to you, makes you laugh or perhaps makes you choke up?

Wedding days, in general, are filled with a lot of emotion. I get choked up constantly, from the way a father see’s his daughter for the first time in her dress, when the groom see’s her princess for the first time, the parents pride, tears, and smiles, the guests adorning gazes, the selflessness of the bridesmaids and groomsmen and all the love that fills the day. The #1 thing that makes me tear up every single time though is the father-daughter dance.  It’s always this sweet and warming feeling to witness a father give his daughter to another man for the rest of her life. It’s this sacred vulnerable gift and a bond like none other. Watching the dance feels like a movie montage. I can see it in the daddy’s eyes the moment she first walked, her first bike ride, taking her to the mall when she was a teen, graduating high school and then getting that first real job, and then here it is, in the moment, the wedding day. I get Goosebumps reliving that perfect moment.

What is your camera of choice? Favorite lenses?

I should work for Nikon because I promote them so much. I LOVE my Nikon D700! I use a 50mm 1.4. , a 85mm 1.4, a 14-24 2.8 wide angle, and a 105mm 2.8 macro.  I chose Nikon over Canon equipment because I wanted a natural and creamy look & tone to my work. I find that canons shoot crisper and more saturated with a blue tone. The clarity is more apparent in Canons while Nikon seem less sharp and more realistic. This is a great debate, but Nikon also has killer auto-focus points- 51 to be precise! I wanted a piece of equipment I could rely on every time. I have happily converted 4 canon users to Nikon ,… mawahaha.

LOL! Love it, I’m a Nikon D700 girl myself ;). Okay another question…If you could shoot a wedding anywhere in the world, where would you like to shoot at?

Hands down, somewhere in a rustic gorgeous open spot. I think it would be amazing to shoot an outdoor wedding in a vineyard, an old dairy farm, an open barn, or a fruit orchard. I love anything rustic and chic, natural and pretty!

Okay a little business talk now…. I always hear photographers telling me they don’t know how do find the “right type” of clients to fit their style. How do you find/target clients who are look at your art & value your work and not just consider the bottom line price?

I don’t find my clients, they find me! It’s significant to note that the #1 important characteristic to have is self-confidence. Then, the public and your clients will respect you so much more. I am not sure really ‘how’ my clientele built so quickly. All I do know is that it has taken 4 years to master the technicality of shooting and the unique understanding of lighting. I am just NOW {within the past 4 months} in LOVE with my own work. I always held myself to such a high standard of where I want to be with my work. I gradually built myself as I gained more experience and got better. When that happened, I raised my prices to reflect the growth. I do not feel I EVER charged more than I was worth at the time nor have I ever undercut myself for what I could do. It’s all about understanding oneself and having the patience to grow.

When I first started, I charged my friends & family $25 for an hour session and a CD. I didn’t care about marketing myself, nabbing clients from other photographers or undercutting the market because I wasn’t advertising my services openly. I simply did it for practice because I knew I would ONLY get better if I worked hard at it. I remember in the fall of 2009, I shot everything that walked and breathed around me and in that time I shot hundreds of people and learned SO much, including post processing and Adobe Photoshop. Now, my sessions are $450 with a $100 minimum print order. I book atleast 2-4 sessions a week and finally feel comfortable in the price bracket I am in. My clients are becoming repeat clients and they refer me to their friends and like clients that all respect my work and love what I do.  It’s an awesome cycle!

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

“You work for your clients, not the other way around” This statement humbled and enlightened me greatly.

What has been your best form of advertising?

Without a doubt for it’s social relevance and free-ness {not a word?!} FACEBOOK is the easiest form of advertising. However, the best form is word of mouth and good old-fashioned client referrals. I am starting to have a family of AMP clients and it’s so awesome!

And because everyone is wondering….how in the world did you get so many FACEBOOK FANS?! LOL!

When I first got a fan page, I use to run contests for the ‘hundredth’ person to like my page and the person to refer them would get a free session. I stopped doing them after 3,000 fans or so when Facebook got strict about running contests! Then, when my images were stolen in December 2010 from a crazy photographer, I gained about 2,000 fans in 3 days- it was nuts how many people cared about my well being and how consumed they were by the nerve. Lastly, I ran a promo with Pure Photoshop actions through their blog that in the end gave me an additional 1,000 fans or so. But then there are 6,300+ that aren’t accounted for and honestly, I am not sure how in the heck they got there! It’s crazy to think that 12,300 {and growing} people know about me in some way! Positivity just spreads.

Well at least some good came from that crazy theft situation! And finally, what five pieces of wisdom would you leave anyone either starting out in business, or trying to better themselves as business people?

1.  Always have self-confidence first and foremost, if you don’t –get out. This industry can be very tough at times where our jobs consist of a pretty abnormal work schedule, you have multiple bosses, deadlines, specific and unique needs per client, and the usual nasty run in with other photographers. I think this is a job that has so many facets including advertising, marketing, shooting, editing, digital media, understanding social media, being a people person with good communication skills, office manager, being computer savvy and on and on and on.  Just be honest with yourself and what you are capable of doing with the lifestyle you lead.

2. Understand your purpose in this business. I think the biggest problem with unsuccessful photographers is the reason why they start shooting in the first place. Money can’t motivate you. You can’t just do this because it seems easy. You can’t just do it because you have the easy button with Facebook and social media. You can’t just do it because you are bored and have nothing else to do with your time. You can’t just do it because you want to one up your family and friends.  You can’t just do it because a bad photography experience motivates you to want to do “better” than them. Do it because you love it, ultimately and truly. I do it because I’ve loved it for years. I continued doing it because my clients returned the love back. It’s the most rewarding job in the world. My purpose is real and not superimposed.

3. Don’t try to be every photographer’s friend. Not every photographer in the community will get you for you. That’s okay, really it is. To each their own and at the end of the day this isn’t a popularity contest, its our job. Our clients able us to continue doing what we do and we owe it to them to pay our energy towards them particularly. Reading a revolting review about myself/personality from another photographer who hadn’t taken my workshop but criticized it, was therapy for me. I knew from that point on where I stood professionally and where I needed to utilize my best qualities.  My energy is spent with my clients, not buddying up with photographers. Although I LOVE networking and meeting new photographers, it isn’t the most important thing to me.

4. Listen & pay attention to what your client really wants and expects from you. If you have ANY {obvious} red flags, politely decline their business. It can be a mutual disservice to both parties to take on business that you feel isn’t a perfect fit. On the other end, be flexible to your client’s wishes. If you aren’t a fan of rings on the toes on Newborns, GET OVER IT- do it any way. It won’t hurt you to go out of your comfort zone and it will make you client stoked that you were obliging them. Again, focus on who ables’ you to do what you do every single day.

5. Don’t let social media dictate your professional career. I stopped and thought about what would happen if I lost ALL my fans on my page and Facebook spontaneously evaporated. Where would most of us be? Where would I be? That was when I took 6 weeks away from Facebook and learned a lot about myself personally as a business owner. I still booked sessions, I still shot weddings, I had plenty work to do and I had happy clients. So who cared if I was gone? I had tons of emails asking where I went, and although flattered, they were all from fellow photographers, not clients. Did my absence really matter to my self-esteem or contribute to a loss of business? Absolutely not! If anything, it redefined what a good work ethic meant to me. I got re-organized and re-focused. Therefore place your time in your clients. Treat them like people. Treat them as if they are your only client and pay attention to what they want. You can find a happy and pleasant balance between your creative force and their investment in you. You can still have a framework to your morals/business ethics without compromising your talent. 

Absolutely couldn’t have said it better myself. Beautiful interview Alex! Thanks for sharing with us! Visit Alex Michele Photography on her website, blog & facebook!

 

All images in this post are (c) Alex Michele Photography

Did you enjoy this WOMEN IN BUSINESS interview? Please leave a comment below as well as questions you’d like to see asked in future WOMEN IN BUSINESS interviews! Let Alex know how much you enjoyed her words!

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Also come by and say hi on my facebook page, I’d love to meet you!

~Heidi



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  • Tina Stephens - Thanks Alex!!! I was one of your first 500 fans back when you were elle photography 🙂 and then you’ve faced one dirt bag after another and you didn’t give up… which was a huge encouragement to me 🙂 You’re pics are A M A Z I N G and your business skills phenomenal!!

  • katie - Thanks for the encouraging interview. LOVE your confidence, talent & advice. Sounds like you’ve had an amazing journey so far, best of luck as you continue doing what you love!

  • Nickelle Johnson - Awesome interview Alex! What you said really makes sense to me. It really is a matter of confidence in yourself that draws the clients in! And you are a fabulous photographer also 🙂 Thanks for the info!

  • Nickie Bennett - Alex… Loved it. Thanks so much for sharing…! 🙂

  • James Reyes Photography - Great advice Alex. You’ve impressed me with your photography skills int he past but your business savvy is nothing to sneeze at. A great and informative article for photographers.

  • Christene - Loved this interview Alex! The last answer especially helped put the business side into perspective. Thank you for sharing!

  • Jennifer - Thanks Alex! Love the interview! You are an awesome photographer with such an awesome personality!

  • Lincy Jarowski - Thank you Alex for sharing your wisdom. You have no idea how many of the things you said just hit home for me. I have taken so many notes from this interview. As a growing photographer I struggle a lot with business and building clientele. You should run some business workshops! I know I would fly from Maryland to attend. Love your personality and work ethics. And thank you Heidi for showing us this admirable photographer. I never knew about her until I read this post.

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