I cannot put into words how excited we are, here at BP4U Photography Guides, to be featuring Amy Cook this week! She is the photographer behind Amy Cook Photography, and is absolutely amazing. Her work definitely speaks for itself, make sure you check it out. Without further adieu, Amy.
Hi, my name is Amy and I’m addicted to babies, canvases, albums, junk food, Taco Bell, Mountain Dew, my iPhone, good jams, and Facebook. I have a hunky husband and 3 little girls that rock my world, and even want more (kids, not husbands!!) I love what I do and feel at home in this crazy world of photographers! I also sniff babies when I photograph them. Shh. I like pizza, Glee, Beavis & Butthead, and the GRUMPY CAT!!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a photographer? My journey into photography (as a paid job!) began in 2009 when I had just one daughter, Madalyn. She has just turned 1. This story doesn’t end how you think, it’s just a coincidence in timing 😉 I didn’t become a photographer simply because I had a child and wanted to document them (although it’s a great reason!)
I was working toward my college degree, but constantly changing majors because I just couldn’t find anything that actually made me happy. I took on a part time job at the hospital with Our 365 (the newborn company) thinking it would be great to get out of the house a few hours a week, and I couldn’t help but think “how fun would taking pictures of BABIES be?”
After having the camera in my hands, and getting really into the job, I fell in love with the photography aspect of it- but not so much the “job” part of it. It was all sales, and rushing in and out of rooms, and none of the enjoyment that I get now personally working with clients who WANT to be at my studio- and not feeling like their privacy has been invaded because I’m barging into their hospital room as they are trying to rest and recover 🙂
I also resisted strongly against their strict “rules” about the 8 required poses. I didn’t care for them, and I hated photographing babies in baggy outfits on tacky patterned blankets. In the end, I did my research, kept practicing, and went out on my own. I ventured beyond newborns, but was also able to stick with newborns along the way and do my own thing with them- not what some big company told me to do. I began my own business venture in September of 2009.
How would you describe your style? I like to keep my style clean and simple, but with a punch of fun and edgy. I love love LOVE color, but in the end I’m always drawn to the creamy neutrals and like to add that punch of color in here and there instead of overwhelming a whole session with it (with newborns).
With other sessions, it’s all fair game. The more color (within reason!) the better! My photographic style is relaxed yet controlled. I don’t call myself a “lifestyle photographer” because I’m not- my sessions are controlled (by me) but at the same time I like to give my clients room to breathe and act naturally too. I’ll direct them how I want them to sit/stand etc, and then encourage them with words, to interact naturally.
What’s in your gear bag? I’m a Nikon girl 🙂 I currently shoot with a D3S and a D800, a 70-200 2.8, a 105mm 2.8 macro, and a variety of f/1.4 primes. 35, 50, 85. I have Nikon flashes and Alien Bees too, but my dedicated style is mostly natural light. If I use flash it’s for fun 🙂
One lens you can’t live without? That’s tough, but probably my 35! Only because my 85 is too long to use in studio 😉 I’ve been truly spoiled using my 35 indoors. It’s amazing! It’s sharp and fast, but I love having that breathing room too that I didn’t have before with my 50, even on a full frame.
How did you know when the right time to start charging was? When I knew I was producing consistent work to clients and knew how to use my camera in manual (of course!). No guess work when someone is paying you.
How much did you charge for your first session and how much are you charging for the same type of session now? Okay to be fair…I only charged $20 for my first session. But it wasn’t REALLY a paid session…I charged her enough to cover my gas and the CD..etc. It was just for a friend. When I was charging for real, I started at a session fee ($50) plus prints model. I quickly became overwhelmed with that and went to the shoot and burn because it was so popular and I thought it was “the” way to do things. I ended there charging $125 for a session including a cd of digital files. I almost quit in the fall of 2010.
I got smarter and raised my prices in April 2011 to a higher session fee ($200) and prints separately. Back where I started funny enough, but I was charging to compensate for my time and business expenses now. I had various a la carte items and a few collections, the highest of which included digital files- but in the end, I came back down to a more simplistic way of pricing- something I could quickly explain over the phone when someone called to ask for my pricing.
I ended up at a flat rate of $850, which includes my time, the digital files, and a product credit. I love seeing my images in print and my clients have loved it too. But the busier I get with mentoring, and my 3 beautiful children, the less time I start to have for ordering sessions, placing orders in ROES, designing albums etc- so I raised my prices a bit again this month and set them for a last time back to shoot and deliver 🙂
$850 for newborn sessions, $350 for 3/6/9 month infant minis, and $700 for maternity, child and family sessions. All include simply digital files, and that’s it 🙂 I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily the “same type of session” now though- because my entire approach, skill set, etc has changed SO much, that they are definitely paying a lot more now, but getting their money’s worth! (Or at least I feel so!)
How did you market yourself when you started out? All of the cliche stuff- I tacked business cards to bulletin boards, I put up flyers with the little phone numbers you could pull off (no really, I did!) and I used Facebook- which I was actually quite new to, to market myself with a business page. I live in a small town, but surrounded by several other towns and cities.
So when I would post “sneak peeks” of sessions and tagged my clients in them, it would show up for their friends in their newsfeed and word of mouth spread my name very rapidly. I was very active and didn’t just wait for clients to fall into my lap. I had to put myself in front of them. I also put an ad in the yellow pages. I only drew one client from it (that I know of) but it was something I tried in the beginning 🙂
First person that comes to mind when hearing…
Newborn Photographer– Kelley Ryden
Wedding Photographer– Jasmine Star
Lifestyle Photographer– Emily Tesnow
Most Inspirational Person- Teachers and Military. How they can do SO much for so little pay, so little benefits, and so little thanks. They just amaze me.
Did you go to school for photography or were you self taught?I was self taught. What helped me the most, and take this with a grain of salt- was comparing myself to the photographers I admired. I didn’t want to COPY them. But I wanted to be that good. I wanted to be that respected because I was able to produce a quality of work like that.
I wanted to make people and myself, go “wow”. By comparing myself to them, I was constantly going okay- what do they have that I don’t? What am I doing wrong? HOW CAN I GET BETTER? Yes I put that in all caps 🙂 But it’s important.
I wasn’t comparing myself to them to BE like them. I was comparing myself to them so that I had a goal. Because if I had only my blinders on and was only seeing my work and what I was doing, I wouldn’t have really known that what I was doing wasn’t good enough. That this image wasn’t quite as riveting because it had a super large depth of field and there were so many distractions in focus.
That this baby’s fingers were curled tightly and the background was too close to them, and that’s why my image didn’t look as peaceful and distraction-free and theirs, where the fingers were smooth and the background was pulled back and away to create a natural shallow depth of field. Things like that. Do I continue to compare myself to them now?
No. I’m on a path for myself and only myself. I compare myself to my last session and improve upon that. I’m always getting better. But in the beginning it helped me, because I wasn’t quite sure what I was needing to improve on without seeing what others who DID have it all together, were doing.
What have been some of the hardest things to overcome in your business? Negative people. You have to realize that not everybody will like everything you produce. They just won’t. As long as you are happy and your clients are happy, that should be your main priority. Also budgeting my time. If I’m honest, I still struggle with this. I’ve molded my business in to a model which is higher pricing and lower volume- but it still doesn’t take away the times that I just HAVE to sit here and edit a sneak peek because I WANT to 🙂
It’s great to come home from a session and be pumped to start editing right away, but not so much when your family is waiting on you to give them attention. I’m still trying to come up with a schedule that I can live with but my family can too. The trials of loving your job so much! It’s hard when your work never really leaves you. You can’t just “clock out.” 🙂
But you have to discipline yourself to mentally clock out. One thing that HAS really helped me, was getting a separate phone line from business. Instead of using my personal cell as my business line, I finally broke down and got a separate cell line this year and it’s been amazing. It’s also night simply to answer the phone “Amy Cook” and knowing that it’s a professional call, and not guessing whether it’s a personal or professional call coming in 🙂 Helpful when you have 3 littles at home who are loud!
If for some reason you couldn’t be a photographer, what do you think you would be? That’s tough. I suppose if I HAD to choose something, i’d go back go school for nursing and be a NICU nurse. Or a famous singer 🙂
What’s the best lesson in photography you’ve learned so far? Charge what you are worth- this is a business that needs to profit. A business that has overhead and unexpected costs. It’s not a hobby. Get your pricing right in the beginning so you don’t sticker shock clients later on who are used to your dirt cheap prices (because you didn’t know any better in the beginning, like me!)
Network with people and make friends. Be genuine. And don’t ever let your family and loved ones take the back burner, as easy as it may be. It’s a very demanding profession so you need to be prepared to budget your time. It’s easy to let it take over your life 🙂
What are your thoughts on props? I love props! I prefer more wooden, vintage type stuff. I love textures and warm colors. I’m extremely picky on the newborn props that I use- and sometimes I feel terrible telling someone that I can’t photograph their props- but they are simply not always my style. I want to photograph props that I LOVE, and props that are made with materials that I know photograph well.
Not all yarns are equal 🙂 When I work with a vendor (whether they want me to photograph something for them, or I have simply purchased from them, which is most of the time!)
I love being able to truly PROMOTE them because I love what I have used from them. I want to stay true to myself, and my style, and genuinely guide those that care about my opinion (which is just crazy to think of!) toward vendors that I myself love and would vouch for in terms of quality and customer service. When it comes to child sessions, I try to keep props more minimal.
I don’t like having to carry stuff around with me, but I appreciate props and how well they can set an image apart. I like wagons, crates, balloons, bubbles 🙂 I think that a great prop can make or break your shot, but you should always be careful not to make the props the focus of your image by overdoing it.
If you have any questions or comments for Amy, please feel free to place them in the comment section below!
Have you had the chance to check out BP4U’s guide, The Ultimate Guide for Posing Newborns? Click here for more newborn tips!