From Engineer to Creative Professional: Tracey Sanders Photography
From mechanical engineer to photographer extraordinaire, Tracey Sanders took a giant leap from a 14-year engineering career to embark on the path of becoming a creative professional. After seven years of learning curves and honing her skills, Tracey is now a seasoned photographer with an incredible eye for capturing the intimate and real moments in her client’s lives. In this article, Tracey takes us inside her studio and offers us a glimpse of her simplified workflow for 2015.
Tell our readers a little about Tracey Sanders Photography and how you got your start.
I purchased an entry level DSLR in 2006, shortly after “retiring” from my full time job as a mechanical engineer. I actually read the manual (once an engineer, always an engineer!) and began to read and learn about exposure online. I also spent hours on Flickr, where I could see the camera settings of the photos posted. I’d always loved photos but really began to love photography, too. Beginning with family and friends, I started offering my services. That first year was a giant learning curve, as I started to get a reputation as a good photographer who was really cheap. I was in no way running a business. Thankfully I was able to receive mentoring from someone with great business experience and also had a chance to work alongside a successful seasoned photographer. Seven years later and I am fortunate to stay booked almost solely through referral.
You focus on a number of genres including Kids, Teens and Families. What’s your favorite genre to shoot and which location setting do you enjoy most?
I shoot 12 – 15 weddings a year and about 75 portrait sessions, including newborns, families and high school seniors. I don’t necessarily prefer one genre, but what I enjoy most is working with people who have hired me because they love my work and they trust me to take great photos for them. My favorite weddings are with couples who are crazy in love and don’t take themselves too seriously. Those weddings are inherently filled with real moments. Returning client photo sessions tend to be relaxed and, I might even add, enjoyed! If I have a dad or teenager remark that it wasn’t so bad, I consider that a high compliment. Invariably, my clients become my friends. I love my job!
Your website states that you have a home studio. Was this challenging to establish? Can you offer our readers your best tips on how to convert a room or location in their homes to becoming a working studio?
I have a roughly 15′ x 15′ room in my home that serves many purposes: playroom, guest room and also is set up as my studio about once a month. I reserve studio appointments for maternity, head shots and kids between the ages of 7 months or so to 2 years old. I have a crazy simple set up: a paper backdrop and one or two speed lights with soft boxes. It takes me about 10 minutes to set up/break down my studio space. If you shoot on a white backdrop, you can light it so that it is high key or ends up looking gray. You don’t need to make a large investment in studio lighting to be able to offer studio photos, especially if those types of photos don’t make up a large portion of your business. Although you need a tidy space that is welcoming to clients, you really don’t need much to get started. I do online proofing, so I have not needed a dedicated space to meet with clients. When I do have a client meeting (usually only potential wedding clients), they generally come to my home and we meet in my living room and I display albums and other products on my coffee table. Someday a more formal (and Pinterest worthy!) studio may be necessary, but for now what I am doing seems to be working.
The new year offers many of us a chance to start fresh and reflect on how far we’ve come on our photography journey. What does 2015 have in store for your studio? What was the greatest lesson learned in 2014 that will help you achieve your goals in the new year?
In 2015 I have vowed to work to simplify my workflow. I am using Photo Mechanic to help cull images which is saving me a ridiculous amount of time (and frustration!) and switching to Fundy for album design has been seriously life-changing! My design time went from hours (and hours!) to 30 minutes. I have also started to do 90% of my editing in Lightroom, as opposed to Photoshop. I tend to shoot heavy and over the years the number of proofs I’d show my client had grown, I just couldn’t bear to not show them all the images. Last year I had several sessions in a row that had much lower sales than I’d hoped. A fellow photographer and friend suggested I cut back on the proofs as she said that I was possibly confusing the client with too many options. Lo and behold, I cut the number of proofs way back and my sales went up. Lesson learned!
SOME FAVE PINHOLE PRODUCTS:
12 x 12″ Signature Photo Book w/linen option: I love these for my “lifestyle” sessions, a beautiful way to showcase 100 pages of photos, usually one per page. I love the Mohawk superfine matte paper for these. Talk about bang for your buck!
6.5/9 x 6″ soft cover book: Every time I show these to a client they squeal! Then they comment on the feel of the pages, the matte finish is kinda luxurious. Seriously, they are so adorable! Small enough to tuck into a purse or briefcase, but not so small that you cannot enjoy the photos. These are included in a package with digital files and my clients LOVE them!
I sell the Press Cards at the holidays and also use them for marketing materials including thank you cards, gift certificates and labels. Once again, I am smitten with the matte feel of the Mohawk matte paper. The Ultrathick cards are stunning.
I offer the Mohawk Matte Prints to my clients. I add a white border and size it to 8 x 10” or 11 x 14”, and they look fantastic. They seem “special” in comparison to standard prints. I select 1-3 images and print and sign them for my wedding clients and they love them! Such a reasonable thank you gift for my wedding clients!
I love the 8.75″ Square Panoramic Book for boudoir sessions, with black leather and a b&w image on the cover. I offer this as an upgrade to the softcover books included with those sessions.
Tracey Sanders has been photographing families and weddings since 2007 in and around Virginia Beach, VA. She “retired” after 14 years in her first career as a mechanical engineer, and after purchasing her first DSLR realized a passion and talent for photographing people. She is self taught and constantly strives to improve her craft. Her relaxed approach and knack for helping people feel comfortable result in a genuine feel to her photos. Tracey is grateful for many repeat clients and for the honor of helping to capture memories for them. She lives near the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach with her husband Paul and their two children, Robyn (15) and Mac (11).
Great job. Courageous move. I knew you had it in you. xo. Ronn.