Brought to you by the photographers at SmugMug

How to Create Your Own Success

Amanda Reed is a fun and fearless high school senior portrait photographer. We love her attitude (in addition to her gorgeous images), so we had to ask her how she built her business from the ground up, how she keeps it alive in her tiny West Virginia town and what inspires her to keep capturing those teens at such an important time of their lives. Amanda's got some amazingly fun ideas for promotion and marketing, too, so read on to see what she says!

Photos by AR Photography

What is your niche, and how did you find it? How would you describe your specific style of photography?

My photography journey starts with a personal tragedy that took place when I was 10. When you are 10 you are mostly concerned with Scooby Doo episodes and your bike. Not me. When I was 10 and my youngest brother was 4 he suffered a brain aneurysm. To make a long story short, his life is a miracle. Doctors told us he would not have anything to offer the world, that his life expectancy would be a maximum of 18 years. Damage from the aneurysm was indeed severe. He requires 24-hour care. Epilepsy now wreaks havoc on his body and my now 27-year-old brother will always mentally be my 4-year-old brother in an adult body. So, the doctors were wrong.

When he was 21 and about to graduate high school, he needed senior portraits. Watching my brother be ridiculed, watching him tire after a seizure, I knew this would be a daunting and stressful situation. I told our mother I would handle his portraits. I was always documenting everything with my camera for as long as I could remember. So, I took my brother’s senior portraits. In that moment I realized I captured a moment doctors had told me would never happen and that these images may be all I have to hold on to one day.

That moment changed my life. People recognized my work. My love for photography became more than documenting moments – it became an outward expression of what moves my soul and a journey to perfect this profession.

In 2008, Amanda Reed Photography had legs and of course high school seniors are my niche. It is where I got started, where I feel most creative and where I feel I can have the most impact on a young adult’s life. Growing up in West Virginia it is very easy to be sheltered by our beautiful mountains and heritage. It is easy to be convinced that you will never have more than what your family has. The fact that I still live in the small town of 1500 people I grew up in and have a successful career, that I can travel and experience new places and situations inspires the clients I come into contact with. I want them to know that with hard work and faith your dreams can fly you to places you only dreamed about.

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How did you find your "happy place" in your profession? Did you know how you were going to make AR succeed from the start?

That is a hard question to answer. I shoot from my heart. A few years ago I got caught up trying to emulate what other successful photographers were doing. I spent a lot of time reading blogs, trying to figure out their style and yet I was very unhappy. I began examining my life, my choices. I was working way too much for way too little. I spent half of the night on the computer. I was spending more time with other families than I was my own. My business was running me and I was not happy.

In 2010 I attended my first WPPI convention and learned the importance of a business plan. I came home and went to work on finding me. I stopped reading blogs. I hid every photographer and photography page from my Facebook wall. I developed a business plan. I stopped working weekends. I scheduled work hours from 9 to 5, Monday through Thursdays. I quit relying on sweet light and relied on skill to manipulate and create light. I honed my craft and I found me.

If you want to find your style, turn off the noise, tune out what everyone else is doing and look for you in what you create.

In 2010, the market was saturated with photographers and the economy was in a down turn. Our business was thriving. Every six months it seemed liked I reached a point where I said “go big or go home.” We went big and broke ground on my studio in 2011, by the winter of 2012 we were moved in. Was it scary taking on the debt of a studio when the economy was crashing? Yes, but I knew when the market recovered I would be way ahead of photographers who were relying on nice weather to run a business. While they were praying for warm weather I could master in-studio lighting. Operate on a 12 month calendar of income instead of the 6 month on-location photography calendar. Right now, we are sitting pretty and I could not be happier with our success.

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Apart from technical skill and perseverance, what do you think is the secret to your success?

I attribute 75% of that to my personality. I am a people person. I love honestly and openly. I know that when you walk into my studio that smile on your face may be hiding hurt and insecurities. High school is a tough time. My high school years were some of my hardest, personally. I want my clients to feel comfortable. We talk personally and comfortably. They are making an investment in my work and I am making an investment in them. I come from a genuine place in befriending my clients. I want every young adult who walks in that door to walk out feeling better than when they arrived. Not only do I invest in my client but I invest in what is important to them. We often joke that I give away more money than I make but I have no problem with that. I give back to our high schools, I rally around them. I want Amanda Reed Photography to be integrated in the happenings of not just my town but my state. If it is a charity event, a sporting event or a simple prayer that I can offer my heart to then you better believe I am going to make every effort to be there.

My essential gear:

 • Canon 5D Mark II

 • Canon 70-200 IS L series lens

 • Adobe Bridge/Photoshop

 • PhotoVision Reflector goes everywhere I go

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We hear you've done some pretty fun events to market your brand. What are they?

One year we decided to see how far our fans would go to show their love for AR. The craziest idea would win them $1500 worth of products. My brother kicked things off by shaving my logo into his hairy chest. Yep! Things only got crazier from there. A few examples of entries were: my logo burned into a field, a sleeping baby lying beside milk spilled into my logo, people with backstage passes to concerts having music artists sign autographs to "AR." All of these were fabulous ideas but the winner tattooed AR on her leg. Those were not her initials, not by any means! We had over 200 entries. Lots of them amazing so it was going to take something big to seal the deal and this did it. I posted every entry to my Facebook account and tagged the entry. When you tag 200 entries and multiply that by their number of friends we were getting maximum exposure. People were waking up to see our page and the craziness going on around it.

This year we are going to prom. Yes, prom. I offered a free session and an iPad mini to the first person to take me to prom. I have no plans of crashing the prom. Only to create buzz, arrive in the limo with clients, pose for prom portrait and be on my way. If you missed out on taking me to prom then you can take Flat AR. It is a twist on the Flat Stanley character. Snap some images with my flat AR persona with you getting ready for prom, family portraits, at dinner, on the dance floor, etc. Whoever shows Flat AR the best time at prom and documents it through images wins $1500 worth of products.

All of these fun ideas create a ton of buzz for our business and our clients realize that we are about having fun.

The promotion I am most proud of is our Annual Toy Drive event. During two weekends in November I will photograph 34 sessions. The cost of these sessions is a new toy valued at $35. Each session lasts 20 minutes with option of purchasing another 20 minutes for another toy donation. Our print pricing is deeply discounted for this event but that still doesn't stop some clients from ordering over $1800 in products from a 20-minute session. Each year we donate toys to a different charity so that I can spread our love back to different communities who support us. Some of our clients really outdo themselves by donating bikes and electronics to make a child’s Christmas a little brighter.

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We have to ask: What are your favorite SmugMug features?

High school seniors live in the moment. I believe the faster we can put products in their hands, the happier the client experience will be. That’s where SmugMug comes into play. The ability to link clients to their galleries and the sharing options they have right from their computer or mobile device leads potential clients directly back to me. If I am photographing a charity event or a high school basketball game, the option my clients have for to downloading and sharing the display copies directly from my galleries creates amazing word-of-mouth advertising for our business.

So, what would you say is the #1 secret to success?

How you define success is very important and my definition should be different than yours. I define my success by the quality of my life and the time spent with the ones I love. It is not about the money, the exposure, magazine covers or speaking engagements. When photography affords me the opportunity to make a difference in an individual’s life, that is when I am most successful. Please do not get caught up in the "do it all" mentality. You do not have to be on the cover of a magazine, have a million dollars in the bank, be on speaking circuit, and have products to sell to the photography industry to be a great example of success.

I believe you have to carry a smile in your heart. When you find you, you find success.

As a final note, I know you are going to visit my blog and website but please do not spend much time there reading about my life and my work. That is how you waste time worrying about the competition. Instead, grab your camera, go find you and find success!