This interview has been on my back-burner for quite some time now. I'm so thrilled to finally be introducing you to one of my favorite photographers who has inspired me over the past couple years. Meet the uber-talented and incredibly creative Courtney Fries of Courtney Fries Photography.
Courtney is a wife, and also a mother to two precious little girls. She recently relocated her business from Florida to Colorado and has a wealth of wisdom to share with photographer enthusiasts everywhere.
We'll begin the interview with just a few questions that I have been itching to ask her and end with one or two from some of my fellow photographer colleagues. You do not want to miss this!
But first, take a look at this. Courtney agreed to let me post a few of her favorite images on the blog. Ah...I'm such a lucky lady!
And, apparently, so are these girls!
Like what you see? Look for more of Courtney's work through-out the interview. She's amazing! And, of course, check out her blog and her website for more of her current work as well. You can even register to attend one of her workshops coming up in August!
And now, the long-awaited and much-anticiapated interview:
TLP: Welcome to our blog, Courtney. I can't tell you how much my friends and I have been looking forward to this interview. I'd like to begin by asking how long you have been in the photography business?
CF: I have been shooting for 3.5 years.
Wow! I've been shooting for just over two years now. It always amazes me how quickly one can grow in this industry when they are dedicated to learning their craft. And just when you think you've reached a new level, you begin to see just how much more there is to learn. That's what I love about you as a photographer. In the years that I've been following you, I continue to see marked growth each time I view your blog.
TLP: I'm curious. How did you discover photography as a career?
CF: My daughter Piper was diagnosed at birth with Cystic Fibrosis. About 3 months after she was born, my ex-husband decided that it was all too much and we divorced. I relocated from Boston to Florida to be closer to my family. It was just Piper and I and I needed to find a means of providing for her. I was unable to put her in day-care, because of her condition. I needed to find something that I could do on my own at home, so that I could still spend my days with Piper. It was then that my father-in-law gave me his Nikon D70 and it all started from there.
Ah...so you're a Nikon girl.
No, seriously, I know from your blog that you are a woman of faith and am so inspired to see how you have taken one trial after another in your life and allowed God to fashion something beautiful in you through those hard times. Your photography inspires me, but THAT more than anything touches my heart.
TLP: Courtney, since you've "been there, done that" how would you advise a photographer in their first few years of business to invest their money in order to grow their business and talent?
CF: Equipment! Once you build up a nice arsenal of lenses and a good camera body, you'll have a great foundation to build upon. You can't build a ship with a spoon. Well, you could but...haha. Seriously though, having quality equipment ensures that you will turn out a quality product. However, equipment doesn't make the photographer. It's important to continue to educate yourself and so I think attending reputable workshops is another great investment that will help you grow in your craft.
I just registered for my first workshop for later this fall. I wish I was available to attend yours in August. Perhaps some of my readers will be interested. What I love about your workshops is that you are committed to keeping the class size small - to just 5 attendees. That's perfect! I'll post information on your workshops at the end of this post.
TLP: Courtney, in addition to your workshops, you have also had your work published in bridal magazines. For just 3 1/2 years in this industry, I'd say that's remarkable growth and achievement. Which publications have you been published in and how did you go about getting published?
CF: I am currently in the process of publication in Central Florida Bride Magazine and another for a wedding I recently shot in South Beach. I also had a full-page ad in TheKnot: Florida last year. Being published is an awesome way to build relationships with magazines that reach a large number of brides in your area. Select magazines that are demographically relevant. The magazine will let you know if they've selected your work for their next issue. This is a GREAT way to show off your skills and gain new clients!!
Many times your wedding coordinators will put you in contact with the right person at the magazine. If you are setting out to do it yourself, typically it is in your best interest to contact the magazine directly and ask for specifics about how to submit images and to whom they should be sent. I typically submit mine online.
I love this bridal portrait of yours, Courtney!
TLP: Let's talk about real-life issues. You are the mother of two beautiful little girls. How do you balance the demands of being a wife, mother, and business person at the same time? Are there any tips you would give to the photographer/housewife out there to keep harmony in the home while maintaining a successful career?
CF: It's super important to set boundaries for yourself. I set a work schedule for myself, just like any person that gets in their car and drives to work (except I shuffle to my office with bed head). Set aside a specific number of hours during the day that are yours for editing and responding to client emails. When that time is up, walk away from your computer and give your family the love and attention they deserve. My husband and I have made a strong effort to run this business together. He assists me on my weekend shoots and is my assistant at my weddings as well. We enjoy being together and it keeps our marriage fun! My clients really enjoy him and I think it makes things more personal between the client/photographer relationship when they see that my husband and I dig each other so much :)
I personally can learn greatly from your example in that area. Great advice, Courtney! You are right. Our families do deserve our love and attention.
TLP: I wanted to follow-up with you on the workshops that you've attended. Which were your favorite and how have they helped to shape you as an evolving artist?
CF: I have traveled all over the country to attend several workshops by some truly incredible photographers. I think it's important to attend these workshops, because it gets you out of your comfort zone and it challenges you to be better. I enjoy hanging with the other attendees and have made several life-long friendships that I am so blessed to have formed. Mike Colon, Zack Arias and Bob Davis ALL have amazing workshops that I think are invaluable. You can't put a price on the knowledge that you will come away with. If you are serious about standing out amongst your peers, I think Zack's One-Light Workshop is an absolute must. It will give you the edge you need to believe in yourself and turn your work into art.
Zach Arias is incredible. I've purchased his OneLight videos. So far, I love his teaching style and am learning quite a bit. Now...I just have to find some time to get out there and practice what I've learned.
TLP: What would you say to the husband who says expensive photography seminars are a waste of money when you could teach yourself instead?
You can't get to point D without going through A, B, and C first. Photography seminars are an important part of our ongoing education. It's not that you can't teach yourself, it's about what you learn when you are surrounded by other creative artists. Being in a photography setting with other photographers gives us a special form of inspiration that you can't get sitting at home reading a book. The reason that professionals give photography seminars is because they have the experience and they have earned the right to charge the money that they do. My husband has been incredibly supportive as I've attended some very high-end workshops and the results are evident when I come back and he sees me energized, excited and knowledgeable about new and exciting things.
TLP: You have been doing quite a few weddings lately. What are the essential must-haves in shooting a successful wedding? How do you market yourself to attain wedding clients?
CF: Weddings are a whirlwind of constant change. The lighting is constantly changing and the shooting conditions are completely out of your control. It's important to always have a second (and third) camera as a back-up in the event your camera decides to take a vacation while you're shooting. Be sure to bring any lenses you feel will best capture your work. For me, it's the 70-200 f/2.8, 50 f/1.4, 24 f/2.8 and my macro 105 f/2.8. It is important to learn your flash and to utilize off-camera flash when necessary. Reception halls can be dark and scary places. Knowing your flash will give you the confidence to tackle any lighting situation. Oh, and be sure to bring LOTS of memory cards and extra batteries, for your camera and your flashes. Power bars (That's food, folks. Not camera gear.) are great too! It will keep you going when you're on hour number 8. I also have a video light that I like to use for detail shots.
TLP: What have been some of your most successful marketing campaigns in bringing in new business?
CF: While I did place an ad in TheKnot: Florida and I did book several weddings from the ad, I don't feel it was as beneficial to my business as client referrals. Implementing a great client referral program is the best thing you can do for yourself. It gives something back to your incredible clients, while bringing in fresh clientele. There is no bigger compliment than receiving a referral. Make it worth while and be sure to give perks where perks are due :)
TLP: What client referral program do you have in place?
CF: My clients either receive an 11x14 canvas of their favorite print or can opt to take $75 off of their next session fee/print order. I have one client who has brought me 10 separate clients. It makes me want to do so much for her, so I also gave her a complimentary 30x30 collage. I'm happy to do a little extra for those people who are really going to bat for me.
Wow! That's incredible. Hmmmm.....I'm thinking I'm going to have to re-vamp my own client referral program - especially after my clients who read my blog read your interview :)
TLP: Courtney, you've come so far in just three short years. Where do you see your business in 5 years and what steps are you taking to meet those goals?
CF: I am currently working on obtaining a studio space. My goal is to have this little photography oasis that I can call my own. Somewhere people can come and feel at home and see my work. It is also very important to me to give back to the photography community. I'd love to be able to help educate up-and-coming photographers and give them the knowledge that I have so generously been given throughout my time in this industry. A speaker at WPPI maybe? haha, we'll see :)
Oooh....I can TOTALLY see you at WPPI!
TLP: Let's talk gear. If you could take only one lens with you on a photo shoot, which would it be and why?
CF: The 50 f/1.4 is an incredible lens. I absolutely adore the depth of field and it's dreamy results!
I'd really have to sit down and think about MY answer to that question. I love them all for different reasons, but lately, I'm really digging my 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens.
TLP: You can tell quite a bit about a person by who inspires them. Who are the photographers who most inspire you?
CF: We have so many talented people in our industry. I love Kelly Moore. Her work really pushes me to be a better photographer and causes me to constantly reinvent my way of shooting. I am also a HUGE fan of Nate Kaiser from The Image is Found. If he gets any more creative my head is going to explode! Serious awesomeness.
My cousin's wife, Jennie, of Jennie Mejan Photography, introduced me to Nate Kaiser's work. I agree, that man is FANTASTIC! He's ridiculously creative. Viewing his work makes me all happy inside. He has a special gift of bringing humor to life in a portrait.
TLP: Back to you, Courtney. How would you define YOUR style and how has it evolved over the years?
CF: I would definitely say that my style is very dramatic. Every time I shoot, my goal is to evoke emotion. I love art and I love fashion and so I think my photography is definitely a mix of the two. I think when I first started, I looked around and saw what everyone else was doing and thought to myself "oh, that's awesome. I need to be more like her. I need to shoot that way" - and I think that's the case with so many photographers just starting out. It's so hard to define who you are, because there are so many different directions you can go. Over the years, I have really peeled back the layers of my photography and realized that I don't want to be like everyone else. If I don't shoot bright, happy pictures all the time, that's okay. The only way you will ever elevate yourself as a photographer, is to allow yourself to shoot what you feel. I am an emotional person. I have alot happening in my life and so once I put that into motion in my photography, I finally found who I was as an artist.
Dramatic AND Adorable! That's quite something.
And I think that brings us back to how God has allowed you to grow through your difficult life-struggles over the past few years. Your images are full of passion and emotion. What an amazing gift that God can use a camera to bring healing and beauty to your life. And, what's really awesome, is that your clients receive a blessing in return. Double the goodness!
TLP: So, now, for the question every nosy photographer wants to know - What's in your bag?
CF: My equipment includes a Nikon D700 and a Nikon D300. I have several lenses, some used more than others. I just recently sold my Fisheye Lens Nikon 10.5 f/2.8, but I highly recommend it. It's a GREAT lens!!
Nikon 70-200 f/2.8
Nikon 50 f/1.4
Nikon 105 f/2.8
Nikon 28 f/2.8
Nikon 14-24 f/2.8
SB-600, SB-800, Vivitar
TLP: I'm going to knock a few questions out one right after the other.
Please describe your editing process. How long does an average session (from booking to delivering the final product) take you?
CF: When I finish a shoot (prep time and the actual time at a shoot can take Courtney anywhere from 4-5 hours), I come home and upload all of the images directly to my external hard drive. From there, I burn 2 copies to CD (just to be safe). I had a hard drive hit the floor last year and I lost EVERYTHING. Sometimes we learn the hard way, but at least others can learn from it! BACK UP EVERYTHING TWICE (or 3 times if you're feeling frisky). I use Lightroom and CS4. I first import everything into Lightroom and begin the culling process. I rate my images 1-5 stars and discard anything that I find unacceptable to deliver to the client. I then do any minor adjustments to the images that are necessary (color balance,exposure, etc.). From there, I export in .jpeg to Photoshop. In Photoshop I will run my favorite actions and do any sharpening/final adjustments before finishing the image. I recently switched from giving my clients CDs to giving them flash drives. Personal preference.
The actual session of a newborn shoot can take anywhere from 2-4 hours, depending on the mood of the wee one. Sometimes they sleep the entire time and others they need to be snuggled, fed and then snuggled some more. Positioning without waking takes time and once they are asleep, KEEPING them asleep takes time. I use a bean bag, a heater and lots of towels for propping them into the position I want. Newborn sessions are time consuming, but SO rewarding. I love them and I love how much the parents love the images once they see them for the first time. All in all, from the shoot to final delivery would be around 5-6 hours.
Oh, but the time spent is so worth the end result! Take a look at this:
TLP: I often struggle in convincing my own children to smile for me. The smiles are usually forced and silly. It's very difficult for them to relax in front of the camera if I am the one behind it. Many photographer friends of mine struggle with the same thing. Can you offer us any advice?
CF: Our poor children. haha! For a very long time, my daughter was rebellious about me shooting her. She would see my camera and dart in the other direction. I finally realized it was because I was making a big to-do about the photo shoots I would have with her. Once I started taking a more laid back approach, she started to care less and less about my camera. Let them do their thing and just be there to capture it. Photo shoots with your own children are lengthy processes and if you get 1 shot out of 50 that looks non-cheesy, you're doing good. I tell my daughter to stand in the vicinity that I want her and then I leave her alone. I say things that I know will make her laugh, but I do it in a conversational tone and not in a directional one. It has made all of the difference. It WILL happen one day where they actually ask YOU to take their picture. Crazy, right?
Here's one Courtney took of her daughter Piper for her Valentine's card this year that perfectly illustrates how well her approach is working:
TLP: You recently relocated from Florida to Colorado. I notice you are maintaining your Florida client base by offering several weekend sessions over the course of the year. This means that you are traveling back and forth to Florida. I think that's a brilliant idea - AND you get to see your family at the same time!
What are you doing in Colorado to build a new client base there. What marketing campaigns have worked well for you in the past and which one's have been less successful?
CF: When we first moved to Colorado, I set out to target smaller local businesses that I knew had a large amount of foot traffic. I would either email or stop by and ask to speak to the person in charge and would always bring a large portfolio of my work. I recently outfitted an entire spa here locally with approximately 15 canvases of my work. They were excited to have my photography on their walls and I was excited to gain the exposure and form a new client base. It has been a great opportunity and I am so blessed to have my work displayed in their place of business. I have a space in their shop for my business cards and promotional materials and it's been a wonderful resource that I highly recommend to other photographers. I think paying for advertising too early in your career is not putting your money to its best use. Try getting your name out there using less expensive means. You will be surprised at the response you get from business owners that are excited to help other entrepreneurs.
TLP: If you could change one thing about how you conducted your business in the first few years, what would it be?
CF: I suppose it would be the print advertisement that I placed. It was a very costly venture, costing me upwards to $7,000. I didn't realize that I could have gotten my work published instead and gained the same exposure. I could have put that money to better use, by purchasing better equipment.
TLP: What's the hardest lesson that you've learned in this industry?
CF: I've learned that there are people in this world that will take advantage of your kindness and your giving. No matter what you offer, they will always ask for more. It's important to create particular business practices and adhere to them, so there is no room for doubt and no room for being taken advantage of.
TLP: What has been the most rewarding experience in your career thus far?
CF: The most rewarding part of being a photographer for me is knowing that I am providing my clients with images that will be there regardless of the outcome of their lives. I think I am just so completely aware of how important memories are, because I know how fleeting and fragile life can be. I've learned that being a photographer is more than just handing prints over to a client. In effect, you're preparing history that will later be treasured by the members of the families that entrust you with their memories. It's knowing that I've given someone the gift of forever.
TLP: What was your funniest client moment?
CF: One of my couples were at their reception and were cutting the cake. They were completely surrounded by friends and family and everyone was awaiting the big moment that they would feed each other their wedding cake. Rather than feed each other, they completely forgot they were supposed to and started shoveling the cake in their own mouths instead. So, basically there was a room of 100+ people standing around just watching them eat. She was so embarrassed when she finally realized that everyone was staring at them eating when they were supposed to have fed each other. She and I couldn't stop laughing. It was too funny!
TLP: You come up with great location ideas. Have you ever been afraid of being charged with Trespassing or do you ask permission before shooting at random locations?
CF: My motto is "shoot now, ask later". Odds are if it looks like it's off limits, it probably is. If the location is killer though, for me personally, it's worth the risk. Even if you are able to get 1 or 2 shots in before someone comes barreling around the corner and tells you to leave, at least you got 1 or 2 shots! If you ask and they say no, then you'll have zero shots. I've been asked to leave before, yes, but more often than not, I've done it under the blanket of ignorance. That is to say, my response is "Oh, I didn't know. Thanks for telling me." and then I bolt for my car. haha
I could stand to gain some of your boldness in this area. Politeness may be my downfall. Risk-taking. Yep, I need a little bit more of that in my life - especially for a shot like this:
Now, if only the ocean were nearby Allen...
TLP: You have taken pictures of babies, couples, brides, families, and even recording artists. What's your favorite genre and why?
CF: I love portrait work. That is to say, I love being one-on-one with no time constraints and the ability to go from location to location and take my time when composing a shot. I love fashion work. I feel I'm at my most creative in these situations. When a client goes above and beyond and brings lots of clothing choices and accessories, I get all giddy inside and I can just feel my creativity come alive. I think more than anything, I love bridal sessions. They are just a ton of fun for me!
TLP: What is your average session intake for portrait work and what do you do to increase sales?
CF: My 2 hour sessions are $350, and my 30 minute sessions (which are reserved for very young children) are $175. A great way to increase sales, is to give your clients options that they can look at, feel, and touch. Bring samples to your sessions...a canvas wrap, a large 30x30 collage, an album....let them see that there are options other than just prints and you'll see your sales increase dramatically.
TLP: Weddings are significantly more work. What are your wedding rates and what products are typically your money makers?
CF: I recently made a change to my wedding pricing and am now offering my most basic package at $3500 and my highest at $6500. I use Graphi Studio for my albums, as I feel they have an incredibly high-end product. My clients LOVE their albums and it's a big seller with my brides. Custom thank you card's featuring one (or more) of their wedding images is super popular as well. I offer all proofs in an image wrapped box, which is a nice little addition to their coffee table and large canvas wraps are also a crowd pleaser!
TLP: Who do you use for your printing and albums?
CF: White House Custom Color and Graphi Studio
TLP: What inspires you creatively?
CF: I am constantly inspired by movies and magazines. I find images that are pleasing to my eye and then aim to put my own twist on them by recreating them in a setting that works for myself and my client. I am constantly looking for new inspiration.
As I did in my interview with Dina Marie, I invited several of my photographer friends to ask questions of Courtney this time as well. Here's what my friend Margaret wanted to know:
MH: There is a photojournalistic quality to a number of your images. How much of it is spontaneity on the part of the client, and how much requires "guidance" to get those images? If you provide guidance to the client, can you suggest how to get a more natural result from them?
CF: I tend to place my clients in front of me and ask them to interact with one another or ask them to interact with someone standing out of the frame of the camera. The most natural images come from people that are comfortable in their environment. If they take me out of the equation, then they are free to behave as they would if I were not there. The natural laughs are just that, natural and genuine. I can guide them to an area and ask them to stand in a certain position, but once I get them there I leave them alone to be who they are. If they require more guidance, I assert more direction, but I find the best results come from feeling at ease.
And, that's a wrap! If you have questions or comments for Courtney, please leave them in the comments section of this post.
Courtney, THANK YOU so much for the time you took to answer all these questions. I hope your upcoming workshop is a huge success! I have no doubt we'll see you at WPPI in a few years. Blessings to you in your career and to your family.
If you'd like to attend Courtney's Photography Workshop, visit the following link:
Where: Polk City, Florida. At the "Fantasy of Flight" Museum
When: August 7, 2010 from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.
How much: $375.