For the longest time, I was a “web designer and photographer for creative professionals.” So I took photos that freelancers and tiny business teams could use to create engagement on their websites—sometimes I built those websites—and on their social media.
While all that’s still true, just by demand I’ve veered more into business styling. The people I work with now usually come to me as much for ideas as for the labor. While it used to be, “Here are a bunch of photos I like—can you take some for me exactly like these?” it’s now much more, “Here’s what I do. What photos should we take?” I help people who have no ideas find good ones, and people with too many ideas weed out the unhelpful ones and zero in on what’s going to get them to their goals.
Younger business owners especially feel a ton of guilt if they can’t post at least a few times a week on Instagram and Facebook.
There’s some degree in there of Needing to Keep Up With the Joneses, for sure, but mostly it’s that young businesspeople know the value in posting, and increasing their reach to people where they spend all their time—on their phones.
When you can’t get that distraction off your plate (the sense that there’s something you should be doing but you’re not), you can’t focus on other things or feel good about the work you are doing…which makes it harder to work, and easier to blame every small bump on the idea that you’re not working hard enough. Which is rarely true.
I take that problem off the table.
Or at least I get it in a hard-and-fast spot on your calendar so you can’t put it off. The biggest way is I have a social photography subscription, which works great for product-based businesses that can ship me their goods to stage and photograph, or for freelancers and rising influencers more local to my area or who are willing to travel. Basically every month, you get two hours of photography for the price of one, and I guarantee you’ll have photos to post for at least 30 consecutive days, until we meet up again.
What is the process behind each of yours photos?
This depends on so many things! If I’m shooting a photo for a catalog, that’s a very different process from shooting for Instagram, and that’s a different process from shooting for a freelancer’s website. You wouldn’t think it’d be different, but it really is.
One thing that’s always the same is that we have to start with the client’s goals. Who are we talking to? What are we trying to say? What’s the action we want them to take or the experience we want them to have? A photo that’s meant to get you to “buy now” is not the same as a photo that’s meant to get you to hit “follow.”
Best photography tip from the last 3 months?
I’ll give you two! The first one is: Hire it out. Especially if you’re a photographer yourself, it’s important to get out from behind the camera. It’s amazing how much better my own posts do when I bring someone along to my shoots to take pictures of me at work—which I honestly only started doing recently, and now I want to make it a permanent part of my routine.
The second is: Post more photos. Particularly on Instagram. Instagram rewards the posts that users linger on longer—so, short videos, galleries, and composites do really, really well, because there’s just more for followers to look at, and by default they look longer.
How do you organise your day?
My rule of thumb is to get the three biggest to-do items off my list. Anything after that is gravy. I would work until midnight every night if I didn’t have those kinds of boundaries. Fortunately, I also have someone at home who will remind me, “Hey, you. We need to spend some time together.” He makes it a priority for us to at least eat together and watch something on Netflix.
How does your typical day go?
Every day is different. Some days are batch work days to stock up my blog for the coming month. Other days I’ll spend almost exclusively driving, going from assignment to assignment over a wide radius.
I’ve talked a lot about photography so far, but that’s only about half of what I do. Webwork is the other half. There are some days when I’ll spend a few hours on video conferences with clients, trying to figure out their messaging so they can build the kind of website that will scale with their business, or just at the computer, laying pages out. Some days I’ll spend an entire morning just catching up on emails. I get some form of inquiry pretty much every day, and it’s priority for me to respond swiftly to those, even if just to say, “I’ll be available again in six weeks.”
My job is not glamorous 60% of the time. I will say I usually try to treat myself to at least one podcast every day, but I try to double that up with driving or photo editing in order to maximize the potential of every hour.
What does your workspace look like?
I wish I could say it was awesome! Unfortunately, there’s a leak in the room that was previously my office at home. Still waiting on the landlord to get to that (hint if you’re reading this, John…).
Currently, I have a mini “film studio” set up just in the living room, because I need someplace to live stream every Tuesday morning, but that consists of a partition, a chair, and camera stand, and a ring light. I have a small desk next to that to do the rest of my work, for now.
What are the best and worst aspects of your job?
I always hesitate to say that there are any downsides to my job, because I’m super, super grateful to be able to do what I do, and to do it full-time, and I never want to complain and forget that this life I’m living is more than I ever could have asked for.
As for the best aspect of my job… I was afraid when I went full-time that I would never be good at “selling myself,” because I thought I’d feel like I was taking people’s money for something that brought me joy and that came pretty intuitively to me, and I thought for some reason that was unfair.
As it happens, though, I never have to sell myself. All I need is for someone to say, “My website is so old,” or, “I really didn’t like the last photos I had taken,” and my whole body perks up and I’m like, “Tell me more!” And before I know it, I’ll be in business with that person and we’re both really, really excited about it. So I guess the answer is: I get to help people, so I always go to bed feeling good about what I do.
Where do you find inspiration for photos?
Everywhere! I have a whole slew of collections of inspirational images in my “Saved” tab on Instagram. I also have Pinterest boards galore. What I pick up on out in the world changes based on the clients have at that moment—“This is a photo of earrings, but the idea could really work for my yoga subscription client, and I’ve never seen this done for a yoga shot before,” that sort of thing.
I have a folder just for screenshots I’ve taken of, like, Facebook ads and other things I can’t really pin, but that make me feel something and that I don’t want to lose. I actually bought a painting off the wall of a chiropractor’s office because I thought it would provide inspiration for the vibe of my photography as a whole.
What has been a career highlight so far?
Just recently I got to shoot for Starfish Project, which if you haven’t heard of it is a jewelry company that provides job skills to women who have survived human sex trafficking. It’s not the biggest brand I’ve ever worked for, but it’s probably the best cause—and working with them was truly pure joy. They were as excited to work with me as I was with them, which is saying something!
Biggest challenge to date and how did you overcome it?
Biggest challenge… I actually just did a talk on this, so it’s top-of-mind, but I had to raise my prices in 2018. All my business-y friends had been telling me for a long time that I needed to do it, and I just kept saying, “No, I like my prices, and I want to be accessible to people who don’t have a ton of funds but will stretch a little for what they want…”
And then there was this day that my car broke down and I had to clear out my bank account to cover the repairs. And for the first time, I realized: this was always going to happen, and I did this to myself. I wasn’t running my business like a business, but like the friend who always drives a buddy to work and just asks for $5 for gas so it’s not complete charity.
And when that event happened, I immediately put a cover page on my website that said, “Site under construction, still taking clients,” and on the back end I way up-leveled my brand, figured out how to offer a much higher-level client experience, set up systems, and basically re-launched my whole company 6 weeks later. Best decision I ever made. Long, long hours put in, but totally worth it.
Favourite filter and favourite way to edit pics?
Even though I shoot on a pro camera, my photos always look a little duller when uploaded directly to Instagram, which is because web colors aren’t the same colors you get on your computer when you’re editing in Lightroom or Photoshop.
I use the @acolorstory app to add a little saturation and sharpness back into my images before I publish them. I own a couple of filter packs that don’t come with the pack, too—Picnic and Journey.
How do you unwind after work?
I have a nighttime routine that I always follow right before sleep, just typical things you’d do before bed, but I always do them in the same sequence, over the course of about 30 minutes, so that my brain knows, “Hey, it’s time to shut down.”
Before that, I always try to spend at least an hour with my better half. By that point, we’ll have already had a couple other blocks of time together during the day, so if 30 minutes sounds like very little—it’s pretty proportional.
I’m trying to rediscover what I loved to do for fun before I had a business. It’s hard. I was a writer and an artist for fun, and now that’s sort of my job, so what do I do that’s just for me? Working on figuring that out.
How do you prepare for the next day?
As much as I can, I try to pick what those 3 things will be that I’m going to try to get done. If I have shoots I’ll charge all my camera batteries and make sure I have memory cards for the work. I’ll print out any brand files or emails or shot lists I’ll want. I also always plan out what I’m going to have to eat because I can’t function without fuel in my body.
What mantra do you live by?
“The best you can do is the best you can do.” This covers a myriad of ails. If I did my best and the shots don’t come out like my vision, I still know I did my best. If something happens that is totally out of my control, I focus on what is within my grasp to handle and get done. If I worked my tail off all day and my list of 3 isn’t done—well, I still did my best, and there’s nothing higher than the best, so I shouldn’t ask any more of myself. I started telling myself this about 8 years ago, and it hasn’t failed me since!
Alexis is a digital media business stylist from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, specializing in digital photography, social media for business, and Squarespace design. Her signature contributions to modern business include a social photography subscription, a masterclass on live streaming for small business, an intensive Squarespace designer workshop, and blog and social photography classes.