Starting a Commercial Photography Studio

Q: How did you get started in commercial photography?:

Connor: Photography has long been an interest, love, and passion of mine. I have spent the past several years learning how to be the best photographer I possibly could be, and still have a long way to go to reach that unending goal. Short of spending time with my beloved wife Krysta; anything and everything related to photography has become the way I like to spend any free moment I can come up with. It is more than an obsession at this point, it is my life and that is why I am over the moon with excitement and energy to build and grow our business and our studio.

Sandy: Oh goodness. I’ve been obsessed with photography since I was 15, but sometimes I didn’t realize that it was supposed to be my career path. I would always joke with my friends that I didn’t have “a thing”. After the military, I had ZERO clue what I was supposed to do with my life. But one day, it just became very clear: the one thing that’s always been consistent was photography. I was a four-year photography student in high school, I took photos for a living in the military (only these pictures were from and reconnaissance plane 70,000ft in the air), and when I worked for Apple Retail, I was one of the trainers for programs like Aperture and iPhoto. I even helped OTHER people learn how to use their cameras better. How I was so oblivious to it for so many years is just beyond me. I was clearly born to be a photographer. So at 28, I went to art school and pursued a degree in Digital Photography.

While I was in school, I interned for the largest commercial photography studio in Las Vegas, Sampsel Preston Photography. I loved it there so much that I never wanted to leave. They became my family, and I even rented a little office at the front of the studio.

To date, I have been pretty happy as a product photographer. It’s comfortable for me and I have no problem finding clients. I enjoy working with entrepreneurs and I am excited to help others succeed. I’ve learned more from Greg Preston and Sharon Sampsel than anyone else in my life, and now I feel ready to “fly the coupe” and start my own commercial studio with Connor.

Q: What made you decide to take on a business partner?

Connor: I have a tendency to rely so heavily on myself that I have taken roads that are decisively more difficult than one I could easily take on with another person there to help lighten the burden and bolster me with their camaraderie. I was always the kid in class that would do three people’s share of the work on a group project because I was worried the others wouldn’t come through on their portion up to my standards. Over the past few years of running my own business as its sole employee, I have realized just how difficult it is to do absolutely everything on my own. Realistically, I don’t do absolutely everything in my business on my own because there are only so many hours in the day and they are quite a bit more limited than what is needed to get everything done. I have learned in a less than pleasant way that it is often necessary to work closely with others who have similar ambitions and like-minded goals towards achieving a shared dream.

That is where Sandy has come in.

Sandy: Working at Sampsel and Preston was a real eye-opener for me. After watching the team members work in harmony, I realized that I would never be able to do this on my own. Greg is so great with lighting, and Sharon is amazing with people and doing all of those things behind the scenes that are needed to run a commercial studio (i.e. business, bidding, post-processing, etc.) On top of that, they have Marisa and Lynn. Marisa is their wonderful studio manager and Lynn is the studio’s makeup artist/stylist. Finally, Sampsel Preston has a tight-knit community of assistants and digital retouchers they depend on and trust completely.

I am always grateful to me around them, and so happy that they took me in. Although, I have to admit that I felt a little disheartened when I started working there. How could I ever find that kind of team? I knew my heart was in commercial photography and I couldn’t see myself happy any other way. But how could I possibly do this alone?

So Connor and I got to thinking: what if we joined forces? It started as a joke at first. “How awesome would it be if we could just go into business together?” But quickly we realized it was a real possibility. What if we grew our commercial photography business together? Could we both focus on what we are both best at, and let the other help in areas of weakness. How AMAZING would that be? We both agree that a division of work is a huge a force multiplier.

Q: Do you have any reservations about starting a business with someone else?

Sandy: Is going into business with someone scary? Sure! Of course. But if we decided against everything we were scared of, how we accomplish anything? I was having lunch with someone the other day, and she said, “I don’t know if I could just jump into a business with someone else, just like that.” I told her that I didn’t feel that anxious about it at all, and I think it’s for one main reason: we depend on each other. Of course, I trust Connor, but most importantly, we need each other. Just as Sharon needs Greg, and they both need Marisa and Lynn. Connor cannot do all of the work behind the scenes, work a million hours a week, (and plan to stay married to Krista) and keep taking the amazing photos he does. I can’t keep networking and marketing without backing-it-up with a solid portfolio. Would we get there on our own someday? Of course. But why would we want to do things the hard way? Starting this commercial photography business is the obvious path for both of us.

I feel that photography is overwhelmingly solitary, but it really doesn’t need to be. I will forever be grateful for Sampsel Preston, Improve Photography, Connor, and all of the new photographers I work with. No matter how successful I am, I want to surround myself with other creatives. It will be hard. But I know I can speak for both of us when I say that we are up for the challenge!

Connor: With the launch of our commercial photography studio I can see a mountain of hard work and determined to fight ahead and carve out our spot in the market, and yet, I do not feel intimidated by the large task at hand.

And so we turn a page to reveal a new chapter of our lives beginning. I must say having pursued photography for the better half of the past decade I am quite anxious and brimming with excitement over this new venture with my business partner Sandy.

Q: How did the two of you meet?

Sandy: We have worked together for almost a year now as co-hosts on this insanely popular podcast/photography community called “Improve Photography”. We interviewed for the position at the same time, and I felt a strong bond with him for many reasons. He is equally driven (actually, more driven in some areas), and he just “gets it”. He’s authentic and smart, and WAY better at the technical aspects of photography than I am.

Connor: Sandy and I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted after being selected from a large pool of applicants to audition to be hosts on the Improve Photography Podcast Network, a group of top professionals dedicated to teaching others with an interest in photography about elements of the craft.

Sandy is one of a very small number of people I trust to give me honest feedback and motivating words when it comes to my work. She has an incredibly sharp eye for details and has no fear in telling me when something needs improvement. She has a calm demeanor that does a great deal to act as a balance when I seem to think the sky is falling. But most importantly she shares a vision for her desires in building a company focused on providing top-tier quality commercial and advertising photography services.

Q: So what exactly is it you I want to do with this company and hope to see in its future?:

Connor: I believe over the coming years that we will be able to grow our business to serve a variety of companies both large and small to be able to showcase the things they are the proudest of, the fruits of their labor, in a way that helps them to grow their profitability.
It may be a bit hackneyed to say, but a picture is worth a thousand words. And while I believe that to be true even today, I think such a phrase is evolving for the modern era. In an atmosphere in which people are inundated with thousands of images a day, I think it is important to be someone creating images of a higher quality.

It seems that some people and businesses believe that just any picture will say the exact thousand words they want it to say about the thing being photographed and that just isn’t the case. In the same way that hiring Jack London to write a thousand word story would provide a result greatly different than that of a thousand word story written by a high school English student, not all photographs or photographers are equal.

It is my goal for our studio to be one of the best in our field; to create high-quality imagery that will last in the memories of viewers and grow the profit margins of the brands we serve.

Q: Anything else you would like to add? Anything you would like to say to someone just starting out?:

Sandy: I think it’s important to always be looking to the future. Our five-year plan is to build an entire advertising agency with amazing photography in-house. For anyone that says, “That is not possible”. Ask them: “Why not”?

Connor: I believe Sandy and I make a perfect team with individual skill sets that mesh incredibly well and that together she and I will be able to build the business we have both been dreaming of.

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