This Career Advice from the Pros interview features seven professional photographers who have either transitioned to begin full-time Photo Managers or added photo management to their services. Although they are all photographers, they come from all different backgrounds, locations, and niches. Let’s meet them and hear more about their experience as Photo Managers and the advice they have to share.
On this panel, we welcome Dave and Carrie Koster (Delaware, USA), Nicole Olds (Ontario, Canada), Shlomit Levy Bard (California, USA), Peter Bennett (New York, USA), Gladys Marietti (Arizona, USA), and David Wagner (New York, USA).
What has been the surprise as you shifted to becoming photo managers?
Carrie Koster: I think my biggest surprise when we decided to add photo organizing to our services just over a year ago, was that clients had no idea what it was. But then again, a year or two ago, neither did I. So that gave me a better understanding. It took almost a year of me educating and sending newsletters to communicate with our clients. Over the winter, I took time to really reach out to them, not just to sell them, but just to let them know what we are now doing with our own personal photo organizing. Now that we’re offering it to clients, our clients are starting to book us.
I found that most clients don’t start with photos necessarily. They start with a VHS tape or a box of videos that they just haven’t done anything with. A lot of our clients have an old photos they want to be restored. We’ve been doing that for clients forever, but now that it’s at the forefront, we’ve been pretty busy with that over the winter.
Nicole Olds: For me, the biggest surprise was joining The Photo Managers. It really is a community! So if you join, like, it’s not just sort of people who are nice to each other, but you can actually get advice on things that you thought not a single person on the planet would care about – like how to download an iCloud Photo Library. There are so many tiny little things that come up and you can ask the community. There are no crickets! People will chime in and you feel very supported.
I talk about The Photo Managers to my clients. I tell them that they don’t have to worry because if anything comes up that I’ve never seen I have a globe of people that I can ask about and someone will have the answer.
How has your work as a professional photographer prepared you for being a Photo Manager?
Shlomit Levy Bard: A lot of the technical skills obviously translate. Knowing what makes a good photo, culling, editing, Lightroom, and all of that kind of stuff was all useful. There’s so much more to learn, obviously, but it just felt like a natural extension.
All along, I’ve always educated clients about the importance of not only having the photos but doing something with them. I’ve always done albums, gallery walls, and printed images for clients, so it’s just a natural extension to talk about what the client will do with all of their photos and digital files. I help them discover what the point is of all of this photography and all the amazing memories that they are capturing.
Peter Bennett: The biggest skill that you can learn is how to be a problem solver. When you do your first photo organizing job, it can feel intimidating. So what you’re taking into it is your skill set and hoping you can kind of figure and navigate your way through whatever comes up. When I ran my own photo agency, I learned how to manage enormous groups of images successfully, with an end result in mind. That was really something that translated into photo organizing because it was essentially coming in and giving some kind of context to people regarding what they have, what they need to do, and why they are doing it.
David Wagner: One of the most important things that I ever learned was leaning across a table, probably around 1991, pressing my hand on top of the external hard drive that contained all the photographs from my company, and having it click on and click off and disappear. All of my photographs for this particular project were gone. And there was no backup. That pain has stayed with me forever and one of the things that I insist on for every new client is a backup. If they don’t know how to backup, we get them set up, we make sure that they’re all ready.
Like Peter, I’m used to dealing with tens of thousands of photographs so I’m used to editing (or what some people call culling). I’m using those skills that I learned running my company and I apply those to my clients, but with a very gentle hand, because some clients are not able to let go of certain images. For example, a grandmother may have 500 pictures of the same scene of their grandchild crawling across the carpet. I say it’s one scene and they have to pick one image, but they can’t. I encourage them as much as possible, but, as I learned with my advertising agency clients, they’re always right. So those are the basic things I bring to the table as a Photo Manager. Technology aside, it’s important to make the client feel comfortable and accomplished.
What do you enjoy most (and least) about the process of photo organizing?
Carrie Koster: So far, what I enjoy most about this process is just getting to meet the clients on a much deeper level. Most of our clients come from out of state to get photographed, so we’ve never had much time to connect with the clients other than in the studio. But now that we have clients reaching out to us, and they might come to our studio to drop off their photos or we meet them, I’ll spend an hour just hearing about their stories. So I feel like we’re developing more of a connection, which has really been my goal the last few years is to find ways to connect to our clients, even before I got into this business.
My least favorite is, after all these years of running a business, having to learn so much new stuff. So what I’ve decided to do, because Dave has actually a second business, in addition to photography, is I’ve decided to outsource. So I find what we can do in-house, and everything else we outsource. And then we also do all of our digital management because we’ve had an IT person for so long. It’s not to say that we’ll never learn anything, but if you’re a photographer, and you already have so much on your plate, but you want to add this, I just recommend maybe looking at how you can outsource things.
Nicole Olds: I’ve always loved techy stuff, and to get paid for that is fantastic. And also the very, very personal relationships that you develop. It’s not just your photography client who you go and take photos of, come home, rush through, and get your edit. You get to know the family, and their timeline, you become very close to these people. I also love that we can lower their anxiety. They need your service, and you are really helping people, which I think pretty much we all love to do.
As far as what I don’t love, I’ve never been that great with project management. I was in business but I never had to run one, so I have used The Photo Managers community to learn how to run a business and to understand that just because I’m not that great with the business side, doesn’t mean I’m a bad photo manager. So those are the things I find difficult. I don’t say I don’t like them.
To hear our panelists answer more questions about how Photographers become Photo Managers, watch the full video.