We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Shaun Baker a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Shaun , thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Earning a full time living from one’s creative career can be incredibly difficult. Have you been able to do so and if so, can you share some of the key parts of your journey and any important advice or lessons that might help creatives who haven’t been able to yet?
Back in 2007, I was working at a fine dining restaurant in Manhattan. A job like that made it easier for me to try to get my photography business started. It allowed for a lot of flexibility in my schedule so that I could always be available for a photoshoot at a moments notice. As a young photographer just getting started, I needed to build a solid foundation of work that would attract the type of clients that would best suit us both. In order to do that, I was accepting every inquiry that came through. I was trying to gain experience in the entire field of photography. From small events, to corporate work and headshots. Getting my camera in front of people was the most important thing to me. I wasn’t so reliant on the earnings from photography at the time, as the restaurant was taking care of that. It was the experience that what I was looking for. The money was just a bonus. I began to get a decent amount of work and found myself photographing these amazing events almost every weekend. I felt great! I felt important because the clients and guests treated me that way. Which was a sharp contrast on how I was treated the rest of the week as a server in the restaurant. I felt like was living two separate lives. As an artist, all I wanted to do was create and I knew that one of those “lives” had to go. It was by far one of the the scariest things that I had to do. The life that I was going to give up on was the one that was paying all the bills. As scary as it was, it turned out to be the best decision that I ever made. It was such an eye opening moment for me because I didn’t realize how much more that I had to give to make my business successful. I had to be committed 100% and working at the restaurant was taking up too much time. When your back is against the wall you can do some amazing things. Taking that safety blanket away forced me to step up my game and allowed for me to not only concentrate more on photography but to also learn about business.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I graduated from college with a communications degree specializing in film and television. Shortly after college, I began working on television shows as a Production Assistant and Stage Manager for both HBO and 20th Century Fox. I was at the bottom of the barrel and the hours were long. I was watching all the magic happen and had little or no part of it. It was during this time, around 2005 that I began to get more into photography. I would be on set watching the production photographer photographing the scenes. I was blown away. The lighting was always perfect and the subjects were super interesting. I wanted in! Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way but I didn’t want to wait. I saved up and a few years later I bought a really nice camera. A Nikon D3. This was the tool that I felt that I needed to stand out. It was Nikons first “full frame” digital camera and the photos that I made looked cinematic. My clients didn’t understand why my photographs looked different from others but they always were impressed with the image quality. I always wanted to be a story teller. I thought it was going to be through film and television but once I bought that camera and a 28mm & 85mm lens, I realized that I could tell stories through photographs and they could be just as or even more powerful than in video. There’s an old saying that “the book is always better than the movie”. It’s true. Reading the book opens up our imagination and that takes the story to a whole other level. A more personal level that differs from person to person. A great photograph works the same way. Eventually, making the photographs becomes the easy part. It’s everything else from gaining your clients trust to solving any problems along the way. You always have to stay one step ahead. I shifted into wedding photography and made that my main focus. I quit the Film/TV business and took a job at a restaurant so I can still make a living but also free up a lot of time so I could pursue my dreams. I quickly learned that most clients don’t have any experience having their photo taken. A lot of people feel weird in front of the camera and I totally get that. It’s my job as a photographer to make them feel comfortable and to guide them in any way to make the best photographs. That’s a major piece that sets me apart from everybody else. I take 100% responsibility for my photographs. I don’t want the client to feel like they didn’t do a good job during the session. I’m a people person and I’m very sensitive to feelings. I can connect with people and almost feel what it’s like to be in their shoes. I care so much and work harder than anybody. Exceeding expectations is what I strive for and I’m happy to say that I do it every time.
How did you put together the initial capital you needed to start your business?
We’re very fortunate to be in this digital era. Prior to the internet, a photographer needed a storefront. That was the main way to attract clients. If there were two photography studios in a small town, those where the people that were photographing everything. It was also a very costly. You had the rent, film, cameras, flashes, frames, staff and other overhead. That all changed. The “storefront” for a photographer today is their website. It’s open 24 hours a day and cost next to nothing. For me it was simple. When I was just getting started, I put all of my earnings that I made through photography back into photography and my earnings that I made from the restaurant paid the bills. I was able to obtain the gear that I needed as well as advertise to get my name out there.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
In almost every industry comes ego. That could be your very downfall so be aware. Photographers join groups with other photographers. They enter contests and start comparing themselves to others. This will only make things harder on you. You are special in your own way. Let that be part of what makes you a great photographer. I’ve meet great photographers with terrible personalities. They are not easy to work with yet the end result is amazing. There are a lot of factors at play. Focus on yourself and you will get where you want to be much faster. Concentrating on others only has you mimicking their style instead of creating your own. Once you make over 100,000 photographs, you will begin to see what your style looks like.
- Website: www.ShaunBakerPhotography.com
- Instagram: ShaunBaker35
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shaun.baker.3158
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa8u69oyjFEIc80oNCCfCvQ