Finding an individual, albeit curious niche in a local market
I’m a photographer, but not the kind people around here normally think of. My main claim to fame is travel photography and I get income from selling prints, as well images for book covers, advertisements and magazine articles. The reason I’ve had the success that I have, is the stye of photography I practice. I wasn’t trained in photography. Like many other graphic artists I came to the field from fine art. I was a painter, not a photographer.
So to cover my lack of skill in the beginning in using a camera, I used a computer and my fine art training, to create images that look a bit like paintings. Though they violate every known photojournalism rule, they are unique. Which is what a lot of editorial and advertisers are looking for.
Since I’m online, and have the word photographer in my title, I get calls locally from people needing portraits, group shots and occasionally to my horror, a photographer for a wedding. I normally get the call because people didn’t plan far enough ahead and I’m their last resort. I have a soft heart so I occasionally say yes.
Having a big yard and a big spare room in the house, I decided it might be worthwhile to start a portrait studio. But not loving the art of being a portrait photographer, I want to do it my own way. To keep it interesting.
There are several really good photographers in the Carmi area. Some far better than me. So I also want to do something which doesn’t compete with them, or as little as possible.
And so was born The Curiosity Cabinet. I opted for that name because I already have site called A Gothic Curiosity Cabinet. When running multiple businesses, or a business with several branches, it’s easier if you can keep everything in the same family.
The Theatre of the Absurd
When I was starting off in photography, living alone in New York and not knowing many people, I was short on models. So I used myself. Being camera shy, I found that wearing a costume and a bit of theater makeup made me feel a bit less constipated. My art training had brought me into contact with surrealism at an early age, so I was already tainted by that. I also have a fondness for absurdist humor, the most popular version being Monty Python.
Using my graphic art and Photoshop chops, I created some truly odd pieces, which were unexpectedly successful, and led to my first exhibit in a tiny gallery someplace in Germany. But man, it felt like big time.
So when I would hand the occasional portrait customer their normal images, if they saw my own curious creations, they always wanted that as well.
And so it became that portrait composites became my first product. One advantage of that is that the original photo itself is less important in some ways. It’s still best to have a clear, well lit and of course, large image to work with, but people can send in their own photos and I can work with those. I usually add a different background and critters of various kinds prove to be popular.
In short, I can create the world they want, without having to create it with a set. But having the space, I can also create sets for various occasions here. Not just a backdrop, but real fireplaces, real blooming plants in the garden, trees to climb, mud for kids to play in. So if someone books a session to create the image we’re looking for, they walk away with a batch of professional, normal images as well.
I didn’t think that would compete much with the typical baby, senior and family portrait photographers. So I might not have my shutter finger broken.
Could my future be in critters?
Then I stumbled onto pets. I’ve worked with a few pet photographers and they’re often quite successful. This area doesn’t have many photographers focusing, no pun intended, on doing portraits of people’s pets. From hanging out in Britain I’ve learned how nutty people can be about their pets. So I had my second line. Which so far has threatened to completely overshadow humans.
And once again, I could work with images others send me.
What I like about photographing children
Then there are children. I’m not a fan of posing people for photos. They always put on that smile that they only use when they’re getting their photo taken. People, that’s not how you look. You look much better than that. The only other time I see it is when women finish putting on their makeup in a mirror, and guys when they’re checking their reflection in a spoon to see if they have anything stuck in their teeth.
But it really burns my butt to see children corralled and forced into making that fake smile and having an uncomfortable, or at best unrealistic image of the kid.
Kids are lunatics, they run, jump, yell and sweat, roll in the dirt. In short, they smell funny and they aren’t much different than taking photos of pets, Those are the kind of children’s images I like to create. The little varmints in their natural habitats. And that keeps me out of the typical children portrait market.
With that, and a couple other ideas brewing, I have a photography business unique to the area, which doesn’t compete directly with other photographers, and caters to those looking for something different, and those who hesitate to have portraits done because they hate the process.
SmugMug makes sense to get this started. It’s easy to use and quick to build a site. Admittedly, my skills are probably better than most at tackling a SmugMug site. With a handful of custom graphics, site elements taken from an old site and a logo modified from my blog’s logo, I had the site built in a weekend, from the time the idea hit till I hit social media with it.
SmugMug is essential for print fulfillment, and their pro tools are quite useful for this. Especially as my clients are likely to come from anywhere.
Why not SmugMug?
It’s likely if it works locally, I’ll move the main site to WordPress and keep the print fulfillment with SmugMug. SmugMug can’t compete with WordPress when it comes to search engine optimization. It could be partly the tools, but it’s simply not as quick, easy or efficient to make regular blog posts with it. And those, along with inbound links are essential to getting your site found away from home.
But in a town of less than 6,000 people, currently surrounded by corn fields and flood waters, SmugMug’s SEO will likely do just fine to get the local business brewing.
Now to fill out the portfolio so I can bump up the prices.
Rather than the usual backdrops, I’m building small sets throughout the house, taking over two rooms that I don’t really use. That also gives me a tax break, I’ve got a lot of stuff, so I can create the sets with what I have on hand and hopefully they’ll be as curious as the images themselves. If it doesn’t work out, at least I’ll have an interesting bedroom for visitors.
And besides, the idea behind this business is to make money doing things that I love, that are fun, and that are worth doing. If I can put smiles on people’s faces, real smiles and not those fake photo smiles, I’m likely to get one myself.