Member Elly Russell of Ellys Photography in Winston Salem, North Carolina realized her passion for photography when she took a job at a professional photo lab and started photographing friends and family. She believes it’s all about the lighting and starting your business with a solid portfolio. Learn about her style, advice for photographers just starting out and what makes her stand out in this edition of Behind The Lens.
WPUSA: Elly, tell us a little about how you realized your passion for photography and how its integrated in your life today?
Elly: Art has always been an integral part of my life, I took every art elective possible in High school. It wasn’t until I got a job working at a professional photo lab, editing photo’s and printing them, that I realized my passion for photography. I started photographing my friends and family, and soon after I had everyone wanting me to take their photo’s.
In the beginning, I had no desire to get into wedding photography(thanks to court TV), but my mom pressured me into it. On the day of my first wedding, I was quite nervous, but as soon as I began taking photos it seemed as if I had been doing it my whole life. At that moment I knew that wedding photography was my calling.
Today photography consumes my life, I’m constantly learning and growing everyday. In my down time I read photography and wedding literature to learn more. My goal is to try something new every time I pick up the camera, this hones my skills and ensures that I become the best photographer I can be. It may sound a little cliché but I live my life by the army slogan “be all that you can be.” I incorporate that into my business and art of photography.
What’s your photographic style?
Elly: Fashion inspired wedding photography and photo-journalistic. Really a little bit of everything, but I think what distinguishes my work is my fashion based style.
What seminars or courses would you recommend to new photographers?
Elly: Honestly, I don’t usually get a lot from the seminars photographically, more business practice. The last meeting I attended was a Collages.Net one where they went over budgeting. I gained a lot from that. Besides that, I belong to a local focused production photography group that give back to the art community. Models, videographers, photographers, and musical artist all volunteer their time for creative projects in the community. This group offers me inspiration to keep growing as a photographer and artist.
I think this form of art is best learned from experience. Instead of paying for the knowledge, offer your services to a local photographer with whom you admire for a low rate or even free if your depending on your skill level. Not only will you gain photography knowledge but good business practices from doing so.
Is there a piece of equipment that you would say is most important or helpful to you?
Elly: My studio lights. White lightning 3200+pocket wizard triggering, the power these lights put out is amazing. If I need to I can almost over power the sun, which gives me complete freedom.
For all the brides reading this, is there anything unique or special about your service?
Elly: We use studio lighting which distinguishes us from most photographers. Lighting is what photography is all about. The lights give us creative freadom to capture or manipulate our surroundings artistically creating dramatic and romantic photo’s. We can turn them down to be just fill in light or turn them up to full power to get the details in the sky. The only limitation I have with these lights is my imagination.
What would you say is your biggest challenge as a business owner?
Elly: Balancing between editing, marketing, taxes, updating my portfolio, budgeting, communications(e-mails, facebook, phone calls, etc). Sometimes as an artist I get into editing and if I stop to do something else I have a hard time getting back into the groove of editing so its hard for me to keep up with communication or I get behind on editing. I usually spend 2-5 hours a day just communicating with my clients or potential clients. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for editing especially if I’m shooting that day. It’s hard to balance, but the longer I do this the better I’ve become. I’m in the process of hiring someone to help with the touch ups and such in the editing process. I’ll still handle the pre-editing(color, lighting, etc) and some major editing, but if they can do the tedious zit removal, eye enhancement, etc., that will free me up considerably. I’ve come to realize if I want to grow that is the only way. I can’t do it all.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your career that could be advice for others?
Elly: I would have worked under someone else for a year or two and built a solid portfolio before starting my business. I started off really low in my prices and once you are known as that it takes a while to get out of that price range. All of your referrals are usually no good because their friend got your services at a much lower rate. I recommend starting with a solid portfolio and your prices close to where you ultimately want them. Don’t start off super cheap, it’s hard to re-invent yourself over and over again. I’m lucky and have been able to do it, but it was hard. Photography businesses are not cheap to run and when your not profiting the first couple years your basically working for free. You are worth more than that.
What do you love most about photographing weddings?
Elly: A lot of people think photographing weddings would be fun. They can be, but they are also stressful and a lot of hard work. There is a lot on your plate, I would say more so they are rewarding. It’s the end result, making average people look like they stepped out of a magazine. Capturing someone’s big day in a unique way, that’s why I do it.
What new and upcoming technologies in photography excite you?
Elly: I’m really excited to see more and more companies offer remote triggering and CONTROL. Being able to control your lights power remotely will allow a lot more freedom.