Studio of the week – Tracy Autem and Lightly Photo
This week our Photographers spotlight is going to focus on a studio instead of just one photographer and how the studio owner successfully setup a sister company for associates to shoot additional weddings. Tracy Autem is the main photographer for Tracy Autem Photography and also runs a sister company Lightly Photography that has 2 associate photographers. Here are some thoughts on her business and how she works her sister company.
How did you get started with weddings?
After graduating from college with a degree in art photography and not sure how to make money I was teaching high school. Like many art schools my college had frowned on commercial work and I had sworn I’d never be a wedding photographer. After a year of not picking up a camera for anything other than snap shots I HAD to shoot again and took a risk and took a wedding for a co-workers daughter. I loved it! It took me awhile to learn the rules and then better yet to break them and make what I do my own but sharing in someones day just won my heart right away. If you make plans guaranteed you find your self doing something else like this!
What is the main style and focus of your business?
We have two companies, one for myself and one for the associates because we do target different markets. Our style is a fusion of the artistic backgrounds we all have and photojournalism. Our focus in business is take images that make us squeal, that is the best part of any shoot.
How did you first get the idea to have associates and how did the process start?
Jared Baughman had come to speak at our local Pictage User Group and spoke a bit about it and that is what started me thinking about it. I had a highly qualified second shooter who I knew could shoot weddings on their own so we just went from there. It was a slow start and there were some misteps along the way but we learned and did a better job when adding our second associate. Both of my associates took smaller weddings at first to build their confidence as they already had the ability but standing up and being in charge at a wedding is another skill set.
How do you handle inquiries, do your associates have a different style that
you try and match to the first time the bride calls in?
All inquires come to me and I hand them out to the photographer that is available and in the brides budget. If a bride is coming in from a referral of a past client it always goes to that photographer if they are available. Our styles are very similar but when I call a bride and chat with her I usually get a feel for which one of my girls she will get along with best. It is more about a personality match.
Do your associates meet with clients at the first meeting, or are you the face of the studio?
My associates meet with clients as I think that the bride needs to like and get to know who will actually be their photographer. I have heard bad things from brides that went with other studio’s where they met a salesman or main photographer and then actually had some one they never met show up to a session or their wedding. Like I said before it is all about the personality match as much for us as the bride.
What about sales after the wedding (albums, etc…) does your studio manager handle all of that for the studio?
The studio manager and myself handle all the after wedding sales and the associates reap the benefit with commission on sales such as albums, gallery wraps and parent books.
How has having associates changed your business?
I love my girls and being a team has made my business stronger. It allows me to bounce ideas off them, get feedback and receive honest critique. It has made me a better photographer and forced me to be more educated about running a business. I don’t miss the days of being a one woman show, we are a family and our brides benefit.
Where do you see your sister studio going in the future?
I see Lightly Photography continuing to grow and being a place for other talented photographers who don’t want to learn quickbooks, deal with sales tax and all the legal stuff. I definitely see one of my associates stepping up in the future and taking more of a management role if we do grow in numbers. I hope my Sarah’s (currently both my associate’s are named Sarah!) stay with me a long time and that we can continue to all benefit from this system.
Additional advice from Tracy:
My advice to those that are interested in doing an associate program with in their studio is to ask them selves why. Do you want to make more money? If that is the only reason don’t do it. It is allot of work and you must have the patience to teach, desire to see them succeed, professionalism and business know how to make it legal and so much more. I have a heart for education and that is what makes it work for me above all else. Seeing these two women grow as photographers has given me so much satisfaction. That has been worth more to me personally than the extra income they bring in.
Here is some of their work for you to enjoy!