PhotoMerchant: Tell me about yourself and your photography business.
Brandy Roels: I contract to an amazing company called JS Photography that specializes in weddings. I have shot hundreds of weddings for them over the last 10 years. I also have my own portrait, wedding, and commercial photography business, Lifetime Images by Brandy. I met Jason, the owner of JS Photography, when we worked together in the automotive mechanical design field and we became great friends. He was into photography and thought I would be good at it. I caught on quickly and before I knew it I was shooting weddings full time.
I started Lifetime Images by Brandy a little over year ago and I focus on maternity, newborn, baby, and family portraits. I wanted to get repeat business from my wedding clients by offering studio portraits, so I made a home studio.
PM: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about running a business?
BR: It’s extremely time consuming, and so time management is important. I’m a perfectionist and am constantly thinking about how to make things better, or new, or unique. Sometimes I don’t sleep much, especially since I’m also the mother of two. Luckily my husband is very supportive, but it’s still hard to manage my time.
I’ve also learned it’s important to be firm with my pricing, particularly with weddings. I don’t negotiate the quality of work I deliver, so I won’t negotiate my prices and what I know I deserve for my work.
In my portrait work, I find pricing challenging. There are a lot of franchise and amateur companies in my area that do low quality photographs for low prices. My service is more expensive, but my clients are paying for excellent quality, which includes all the time I spend editing to make things perfect.
PM: Why do you think your customers like working with you?
BR: The biggest and most consistent compliment I hear is that my photos look like they’re out of a magazine. They’re unique.
People have also said they like that I’m professional but still fun to work with. In the photography business, it’s important to be a good people person. Social skills and how you relate to people are so important to business. I’m easy going, approachable, and I try to create a relaxed environment for clients.
When people are relaxed they take better photos. I’m not working with models; I’m working with everyday people who worry about how they look in front of the camera. It’s part of the job to tell them how great they look and how well they’re doing.
PM: Is there anything you’ve changed about your business since you started?
BR: Including portrait photography in my service is the main change. There are a lot of similarities between weddings and portraits – you’re shooting people. Portrait photography can be less time sensitive, although staying on schedule is still important because a small child could freak out at any moment!
Having my own kids has made it so much easier to take photos of children, especially newborns. First time parents are so worried about every little move. Women I work for say it’s such an advantage that I am a mother because I relate to and understand children.
PM: How do you manage your workflows and calculate the costs of running your business?
BR: Running my own business as opposed to contracting is definitely more stressful. I like to do everything perfectly, and I question myself constantly. Am I showing the right pictures? Am I advertising and marketing correctly? With contracting all that stuff is done for me. Weddings are brought to me; I meet with the client and book the date. On my own, the business side is a challenge.
With costs, I don’t have high overheads because my studio is in my home. I’m a careful saver; I budget and set my earnings aside to buy equipment. My only advertising so far is word of mouth and I’m getting enough work that I’m passing work on to other amazing photographers who work in my company. So far I haven’t had to do any formal advertising at all.
PM: What do you do to stay competitive with other photographers in your market?
BR: There’s a ton of competition in my market. I think my success comes from a combination of the quality of my work and the way I am with people. I set very high standards for myself and expect the same from those who work for me.
I compete against a lot of men and I think being a woman is an advantage. I see photography from a different point of view and have a keen eye for detail. Having been in place of a bride before, and now having had children, I can relate to my clients.
I take so much to heart. I have a great love for what I do. A wedding is one day you can’t bring back and it means everything for me to do a perfect job.
PM: If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
BR: I would try not to take myself too seriously and try not to be such a perfectionist. I feel like I miss out on my personal life worrying about business so much. Then again being a perfectionist has got me to where I am today!
PM: Do you have any tips for new photographers?
BR: Any time you’re working with people, have patience. Also, don’t let your ego get the better of you. I’ve met so many photographers who think they’re superior and it’s a bad way to deal with customers and to do business.
PM: What do you think is going to happen in photography in five year’s time?
BR: There are a lot of amateur photographers these days. People say, “My uncle has a great camera and he can take photos.” They don’t have a clue what it takes to photograph a wedding. You need patience and time management skills, not to mention the ability to take great photos. You need style, talent, and a skill that can only be gained with experience.
If you expect a quality job, hire a quality professional. I hate to sound cliché, but you do get what you pay for!
PM: What do you do in your spare time?
BR: I enjoy my time with my children. I don’t have much spare time to be honest. Work consumes me and I spend the rest of my time with my family.
Brandy Roels runs Lifetime Images by Brandy,
a Detroit-based portrait photography business.