We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Laura Bravo Mertz a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Laura, thanks for joining us today. Coming up with the idea is so exciting, but then comes the hard part – executing. Too often the media ignores the execution part and goes from idea to success, skipping over the nitty, gritty details of executing in the early days. We think that’s a disservice both to the entrepreneurs who built something amazing as well as the public who isn’t getting a realistic picture of what it takes to succeed. So, we’d really appreciate if you could open up about your execution story – how did you go from idea to execution?
For many years I shot at my home, in fact my husband and I bought a home specifically because it had a studio space where I can shoot clients and it had an abundance of natural light, it was perfect. As my business grew, family life was constantly being disrupted by clients coming in, picking up their merchandise, coming in for a shoot, coming in for a consult etc..
I consider myself a very social person and I would love clients coming in and I would serve them coffee or wine and we would talk, laugh, commiserate like old friends. My husband is very private and friendly enough but I knew the every day client activity at home was encroaching on his downtime and I was finally ready to get a brick and mortar studio space away from home.
My best friend Kinda who is also a photographer wanted to get a studio together to share the costs, so we opened up shop in Carlsbad in January of 2019. We always talked about eventually we would have our own studios one day (which did happened!) but this was an easier transition than to to just dive into the extra rent, utility, insurance costs it would take to make our dream come true on our own.
It was wonderful sharing the studio with her and when she moved to Chicago in 2020, I was left alone at the studio. It was time to create the dark and glam studio I always envisioned. I have been forever dreaming of a photoshoot experience that was decadent, sexy, personal, and I knew that to entail to redo the white, basic studio space I was in.
It was time to have this vision of this magical place in my mind to come to fruition. During the pandemic, the studio was shut down for a few months and it gave me time to really dream and start designing my fantasy studio. Keep in mind I’m still shooting men for business and branding purposes. Still, 75% of my clientele are ladies who were getting either branding or boudoir. I’m going to cater to them. I envisioned a Hollywood Regency Retro vibe for the studio. Neon signs, dark blue walls, velvet curtains, beautiful furniture, extravagant large plants in gorgeous planters, gold statement pieces, super ornate vintage mirrors, geometric, bold rugs, full on luxury. I wanted the ladies to feel like they were backstage at the Moulin Rouge. I also decided that with the added dark and sexy set, I would invest in some expensive large installation lights.
Now all this luxury and added lighting does not come cheap, but I saved throughout the years and re imagined my shoot packages to reflect the investment I was making as well as the experience I wanted to create.
I used Pinterest as organized inspiration and shopped online at vintage auctions and “hired” my teenaged kids and husband to help bring this into fruition. I was pleasantly surprised that Amazon had many amazing recreations of mid century modern furniture that helped with our bottom line. It also helped that hubby is quite handy and actually enjoyed the process. What did we ever do before YouTube tutorials? I also studied established fashion photographers and made note of the lights and equipment they were using. I plunked down my Amex and bought everything I needed. I would do natural light photography in the back warehouse and I would shoot Fashion Editorial and Boudoir in the front part of the studio in the redone “glam” area with my new lights.
What was that movie, “if you build it, they will come?”, that’s exactly what happened in 2021. My clients were excited to be greeted with candles, music, champagne on a beautiful set whilst one of our talented makeup artists would beautify them.
It seemed to be so much easier when they are in a glamorous, darkened set to “transform” into the Goddess versions of themselves. Shooting even a simple Headshot Shoot became an event from start to finish. My clients reviewed their experiences on websites, blogged about it and told their friends and their friends” friends. 2021 turned out to be a record year, since I started Solifoto in 2007.
Remember, I still shoot the dudes. I was pleasantly surprised that they too enjoyed being pampered in this audaciously over-the-top “femme” environment.
Coming into the studio now, feels like a transformation for myself as well. I find that I’m often dressing up, excited to see my makeup and hair team, and we are ready to greet clients and make them feel wonderful. I believe that’s our superpower at Solifoto, we genuinely want anyone walking through our doors to see themselves as the magnificent creatures we forget we all are.
In 2022, we hope to build up the wardrobe styling part of the studio. Jewelry, dresses, blazers, shoes in every size and color are now a part of the studio space. My goal is to make the dressing area a bit more boutique like and easy to navigate. Investment now looks like Veronica Beard blazers, gorgeous statement jewelry from local and not so local designers, Louboutins in neutrals and bright colors. A one stop shop that always ends with an empowering experience and gorgeous images for every client coming into Solifoto.
Laura, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I’m a mom of 2 teens and wife to my husband Rich.
I started shooting Boudoir many years ago (before I was a professional), I continue to be obsessed with the transformation of “regular gal” to gorgeous bombshell.
I typically shoot in fashion editorial style especially for boudoir. I typically use my trusty Canon Mark 4 and use my favorite 85 mm 1.2 canon lens. I use 2 Profoto lights (one as a beauty dish and a super large octagon filtered version) as part of my tool kit.
I’m most proud of the experiences that clients give back to me. When they start having fun and letting go, I’m doing my job.
I’m proud of the team of talented makeup up and hair professionals, Paige Henry, Julie Koeth, Cindy Stirling, Draeh Jirnae, Brenda from Bee Glam that have the same goals as myself, to make clients feel and look fabulous.
I think what sets me apart is making people feel comfortable, I honestly don’t know on a conscious level how I do it, but I really try to get in the energy of “we are in this together, have fun with me!” I truly love what I do, I really look forward to connecting with people in a real way and I feel so fortunate I get to do this everyday! I meet the most wonderful and diverse humans that otherwise I wouldn’t have the opportunity to get to know., for that alone, I’m forever grateful.
Where do you think you get most of your clients from?
Word of mouth, period, end of story. In terms of Branding, I realize I shoot a lot of realtors and dentists. In the last year, I’ve noticed I’m shooting more naturopaths, holistic healers, people in the spiritual realm of mind, body soul education and practice.
Instagram and LinkedIn has been a huge tool for me in the last few years to showcase my work and get a sense of what the experience of shooting with me is like. I get lots of inquiries through DM’s on insta and LinkedIn.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
The pandemic changed the way I shoot. I used to go to hotels, outdoor common areas and since the pandemic, myself and my fellow photographers would be literally kicked out of public areas that we would shoot in the past with no problem.
I realized I had to maximize my studio space and offer different sets and lighting options. Indoor, outdoor, living room set, office set, bedroom set. A dark glam set, a lighter, bohemian set, a colorful, whimsical vibe, I had to invest in furniture and lighting to give each client a diverse look.
- Website: https://www.solifoto.com
- Instagram: www.Instagram.com/Laurabravomertz
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SOLIFOTO
- Linkedin: Laura Bravo Mertz
- Yelp: Solifoto
Makeup Credits Paige Henry Julie Koeth