We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Ian Johns a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Ian, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Before we get into specifics, let’s talk about success more generally. What do you think it takes to be successful?
Well, outside of a couple key factors like having a passion for something that’s in demand and being great at what you do, I believe one of the most important factors is that you must leave your customers with a sense of increase. In the headshot world, there is a general expectation that getting headshots taken will be a dreadful experience, so the bar is already set relatively low before people even come to the studio. So, to deliver an impression of increase, my goal is to guide my clients through an enjoyable session while capturing headshots that leave them feeling great. It’s that feeling that people remember and will broadcast your services from the rooftops for others to do the same. That’s the first place you start seeing success in this business.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your background and context?
My name is Ian Johns, and I am a professional headshot photographer based in Greater Boston with a studio conveniently located in nearby Braintree, Massachusetts.
Before joining the photography world, I spent several years in media, public, and club relations for the New York Yankees and at the Commissioner’s Office for Major League Baseball. It was an incredible ride, one filled with gratitude and an experience that 10-year-old me would have never imagined back in my roots in Northwest Ohio. As fun as working in baseball was, the seasonal schedule proved to be a tough balance while raising a family, so a career change was in order.
While working in New York, I discovered Peter Hurley, the world-renowned headshot photographer out of Manhattan. At that point, I was knee-deep in baseball, so a photography career wasn’t in my sights. But Peter’s infectious energy kept me entertained, and as a hobbyist, I wanted to learn more. He had this way of making portrait photography seem accessible even to us introverts of the world.
After getting married and starting a family, my time in baseball ended with a move to the Boston area. Suddenly, a career that allowed more flexibility became a high priority. The timing was perfect to follow through on a new adventure, starting my own photography business capturing headshots in the clean and modern style Peter brought to the mainstream. It wasn’t the most effortless transition, but, with the full backing from my wife, I began tapping into a passion that had been burning since I was in baseball. Even though the career transition was tough, when you have a passion for something, putting in hundreds of hours of work behind the scenes can make things seem effortless.
I began capturing anything that came my way to start out – families, events, conferences, and headshots. I knew headshots were my end game, but getting those reps in other genres helped me on multiple fronts:
- It allowed me to learn my equipment.
- I understood how to work with people through the discomforts of a photo session.
- I learned how to use photography to help tell a story.
As a headshot photographer, I work within a few layers of niches. I capture headshots (#1) in a studio environment (#2) on solid-colored backgrounds (#3). It doesn’t get any more specific than that. Still, that specificity has allowed me to define a certain style people have become familiar with within a brand they can trust. What you see is what you get. Finding my niche helped accelerate my learning, and I’ve since been able to show prospective clients precisely what they will get when working with me.
These days, I’m here to help busy, executive-level professionals in all industries get headshots that help tell their stories. But, so often, getting new headshots can be seen as hugely inconvenient, leading to a lack of desire to get anything done. This is when the cropped photos from weddings and bar scenes get used as headshots. Yikes.
Deep down, however, they desire a headshot that best represents them that isn’t stuffy and old-fashioned. Instead, they want something authentic and approachable that looks like them. But how can that happen when they don’t like having their photo taken? Everyone should have an incredible image of themselves, but this mental roadblock often keeps them from that goal. This is where I come in as a headshot photography specialist.
I prefer to avoid being in front of the camera, too. I always joke I’m on the backside of the camera for a reason. But I’ve used my discomfort to become a better photographer and, most importantly, a people person that can put everyone at ease when in front of the lights.
For anyone who has partaken in the headshot process with me, one of the main words they use to describe the experience is ‘simplified.’ The session booking process is quick and painless. The preparation guide I send out with every booking contains actionable steps that gets people ready for their shoot. The session itself, along with image selection at the end, is guided and customized to each person’s individual needs. Even the deliverables and continued support are straightforward. I am here to put everyone at ease, knowing great headshots are well within their reach.
Taking the stress associated with a portrait session and removing it from the equation before the first photo is captured will yield incredible results people never thought possible. As a result, my clients score modern headshots that show genuine authenticity and a confident and approachable look. They get a headshot for every occasion. They leave the studio feeling empowered, knowing they have headshots that elevate their identities personally and professionally.
How’d you build such a strong reputation within your market?
One of the biggest things that helped me build my reputation is staying niche and delivering that impression of increase I mentioned earlier. I never set out to be the “everything photographer.” Because of that, I could zero in on a specific look I wanted my headshot photography to be known for. So, when visitors see my website, they see what they’ll get from me. They’ll get headshots that are similar in style; headshots that deliver unique expressions that are natural, authentic, and beautifully lit.
I also bring a lot of energy to every session. I’m an introvert by nature, but going back to that passion thing, when you’re passionate about something, there is this natural vibration that elevates yourself and everyone around you. This is entirely true for headshot sessions. I’m confident they’ll nail their shots; however, my energy grows when I see someone’s confidence increase with each frame. In turn, this increases their energy, and before you know it the vibes in the room are through the roof and everyone has forgotten there was a camera present. It’s truly magical.
Now, as the full quote says, “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” I took this age-old line to heart about a year ago as I began toying with the idea of bringing videography alongside my headshots. One of my closest friends in the business, Danh Nguyen of Danh Nguyen Photography, kept pressing me on the idea before I finally began seeing Ian Johns Photography version 2.0 come into full view. Since then, I’ve spent several months doing the “quiet work” behind the scenes that’s required when preparing a videography service that brings the same quality and energy to the table that my headshots do. With a superior product out of the gate, my hope is that my clients find video as a perfect complement to outstanding headshots that will serve their content needs for years to come.
Whether it’s headshots or video, or anything really, in the end, no matter what you do, people remember how they feel when they leave an experience. Between a unique style and a fun experience, people talk about this to their friends, family members, and colleagues. Every time that happens, my reputation for outstanding work and a fantastic experience grows. It’s something I’m incredibly grateful for every single day.
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
One of the lessons I had to unlearn quickly was the idea of competition. Indeed, knowing who’s doing what within your niche in your market is essential. However, worrying about your competitors can become all-consuming and exhausting. I learned it was best to concentrate on what I could control, and that’s making my clients feel great through outstanding imagery. Cutting out all the external noise helped me focus more on myself, leading to increased productivity.
On the flip side, one thing I’ve learned is you can make some great friends in the business who are nearby. I am very close with three other incredible headshot photographers in the Boston area: Danh Nguyen, who is a stone’s throw from my studio and will be opening an updated studio in Holbrook (Mass.) in December; Norman Jaillet of Norman Jaillet Photography in Peabody (Mass.), and Charlie Abrahams of Charlie Abrahams Photography in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston). We cheer each other on, celebrating the wins and learning from the losses. In my mind, this unique dynamic makes us a quartet of headshot photographers that can’t be topped in the area. The positivity from these relationships, along with those I’ve formed in the business outside of the Bay State, are valuable beyond any words I can describe.
- Website: ianjohns.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ianjohns/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ianjohns
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ianjohns/
Main image of myself in the blue suit is by Danh Nguyen Photography. All headshot images are by Ian Johns Photography.