#45 Career Close-Up: Commercial Photography with Ali Wolfe Transcript



Ali Wolfe  0:00  

I like making people the best version of themselves that I can to stay within realm of how they naturally are. I think that in this profession, you have to be both creative and organized. While I was building my business on the weekends, Monday through Friday, I was like, Secretary, you know, so like having those organizational skills and I worked in accounting and having those numbers skills super helpful for me to run my business. So there’s no shame and hustling in another job while you build your business and build your brand to get to where you want to be.


Lisa Marker Robbins  0:35  

Well, careers in STEM fields are rapidly growing, other fields often get overlooked. Today’s episode has us taking a look at a creative field, commercial photography. While you might think you don’t need a college degree for that job, my guest, Ali wolf makes a fantastic case for the importance of a degree when pursuing photography. As she shares the ins and outs of owning managing and growing her business. You’ll understand the value added degree can give to aspiring photographers who want to be successful like Ali is in her career. I’m Lisa, Mark Robins and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Well, hello, Ali was so great to have you on today. I am so excited about this conversation. Welcome.


Ali Wolfe  1:32  

Thanks so much, Lisa. Thanks for having me. Oh,


Lisa Marker Robbins  1:35  

I am thrilled to ever since you did a photo shoot for our florist brand. And we had such a great conversation that day. I was like, this woman has got to share her expertise and knowledge and insight on being a photographer with our flourish families. I am just thrilled to be able to have you here. You know, so many people like stem get so much attention these days. And you are doing unbelievable work. So tell everybody to start with a little bit about what you do.


Ali Wolfe  2:09  

Yeah, so I am a commercial photographer based in Westchester Liberty township area, I shoot primarily high school seniors and business branding such as yours. So that’s kind of what I do for the most part.


Lisa Marker Robbins  2:24  

And let’s not everybody in our flourish communities from our area. So we’re both in Cincinnati, here in Greater Cincinnati. That’s what the West Chester Liberty township piece is because we have people actually there’s people even inside my lodge course right now that are from outside the United States. So we have a pretty wide reach. So we’re talking Greater Cincinnati photographer, let’s go back. This is what got that conversation going where I was like, I need her to share this with other people. I used to just think like, oh, photography, you don’t need a college degree. Is it worth it? Is it worth paying what might be six figures for some families now to get that college degree in a field that some photographers have won? Some don’t? You gave me some schooling and such a great way about the benefits for a photographer having a college degree. So can we go back in time High School, Ali is headed to college. Well, actually, your story of photography starts before that. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your journey and why you chose College? Okay, perfect.


Ali Wolfe  3:27  

Yeah, so I am a third generation photographer. My grandfather came back from the war and started a studio in the small town of Nelsonville, Ohio. And my father took it over and they were kind of more of your life touch in the schools, but they also did some senior photos and you’re kind of Posey soccer, recreational pictures. And so I did that growing up, I went to trade shows, I was eight years old, checking people out on merchandise, it was just crazy. So kind of along that way, my dad had some health problems. And it was around the film digital switch. I felt like there’s probably this gap that I need filled in the world of photography that maybe he’s not able to teach me. So I thought I’ll go to Ohio University for commercial photography to try to bridge that gap.


Lisa Marker Robbins  4:11  

It was really the timing of your dad’s illness. Plus, it really was the digital age coming. That kind of flipped that switch for you. Yeah. 100% When you go to study, so the degrees commercial photography, what are some of the other photography degrees that colleges have?


Ali Wolfe  4:29  

So essentially, you have a few of them broken down. There’s like art photography. And then I think those folks at the time when I was there, they were still on film, even though we were well into the digital era. You have photojournalism so you’re talking about documenting, creating a story through imagery, right? So think about your, your newspapers, biggest one you can quote as NatGeo where you’re going and traveling the world. We call them PJs, photo journalists their dream and then you have commercial photographers who want to work a lot with like off camera Lighting. And that’s really the big drivers to try to create commercial products that you want to sell to individuals or businesses. And that’s really the big defining thing. Where I went was just learning a lot about off camera lighting.


Lisa Marker Robbins  5:14  

I’m curious, when you talk about those three main areas, what is the biggest like if we looked at sheer numbers and people working in the different fields, like what percentage of photographers maybe our photo journalist versus commercial versus more artistic?


Ali Wolfe  5:33  

I’d say like you’re probably the art photography has substantially dwindled with everything being online Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, like all of these things, I would say most people shoot and more of a PJ style, and that in order to be a commercial photographer, you really do have to have an extensive understanding of lighting and, and how it falls on the face. And, and all of those things. So I would say, for the ease of entry to market, most people are shooting like a PJ.


Lisa Marker Robbins  6:03  

Okay. And so that’s making me think and I’ve seen you in action, you got some equipment, there? Is the equipment, part of that, that piece of it with getting that lighting, right, and is that expensive to get started?


Ali Wolfe  6:17  

Yeah, it is a super expensive field to get into. So the lighting is really expensive. And then the other thing of it that’s really interesting is that there are very few female commercial photographers, because the equipment is so heavy, and you have to lug it around, and you’re moving it. And so I kind of tell my people like the reason I exercise is so I can better serve you because I get to carry all this stuff around like, so yeah, it has a huge cost burden.


Lisa Marker Robbins  6:43  

So getting started cost wise. And I see I mean, because obviously I follow you on Facebook, and other people should too. You’re sometimes outside, you’re sometimes in a studio. So you’ve got to be ready to go to all the places and do all the things,


Ali Wolfe  7:01  

right. So the lights that I use in my studio are different than the lights I would use on location. And so that’s just an added cost. Certainly there are people that don’t take strobes or lights on location. Because when you’re also putting your equipment at risk, right, like when it comes, it gets knocked over, you hire somebody to stand there and hold the light, right. So that’s another incurred cost. But I’m everywhere, all the places with light.


Lisa Marker Robbins  7:26  

Absolutely. And I have to say like not the stuff was heavy. But what we’ve done shoots and you were recently shooting my entire team. At my other brand, you’re moving like a table over not that they’re huge or super heavy, but you also are still is still doing all those things. Now I know you have high school interns that work with you like I love it. We have a college intern here helping with us with social media, they love it when professionals give students the opportunity to help figure things out. So you’re like you have three student interns. This isn’t for the school year for the semester. It’s for the school year. Okay. And so what advice are you giving them along the way or advice you could give our students really thinking about like, what type of photography what I want? How do I figure out if I’m more artistic or photo journalist or if I should be more going for the commercial studio?


Ali Wolfe  8:25  

Yeah. So there’s three words always be shooting. Right? You will find what you love, and you will find what you hate. If you’re always shooting. I don’t love shooting products. I love people. So I know that in my heart, I’m meant to be working with people and portraiture and doing that. And he found it through just shooting all the time.


Lisa Marker Robbins  8:45  

Okay, so what do they need? I mean, is their iPhone? Is there? Yeah, good enough to start with?


Ali Wolfe  8:51  

Yeah, for sure. You could start there. In fact, I think a lot of my interns, that might be all they’re working with, I do have a spare camera that I let them use. And you know, we can talk about the functionality of that. But yeah, just go out figure out what excites you. What do you love to photograph? Are you a humanitarian and you love learning about people’s stories? You’re probably a diehard photo journalist. Yeah, and if you’re really into like, wow, how the light hits in this way, then you might want to go the commercial route and commercial you can do products or people.


Lisa Marker Robbins  9:24  

So we’re talking about like, always be shooting. So I love that advice. I’ll probably call this blog entry always be shooting, although that could be misconstrued. Be careful with that one. So we’re talking about like all the studio time, and always be shooting but I think a lot more goes into your job than your time just behind the camera shooting your subject. So can you give us a feel for the rhythm from a client like start to finish? Like if I say to you like hey Ali, we want to get your Team photos, I wonder what percentage of your time is spent with us as compared to what is the front end work? What is the back end work? And what is that process like,


Ali Wolfe  10:10  

I would say that kind of 20% of my time is spent with you as the client in person shooting and the bulk of its on the back end, you know, kind of start, let’s say, you email me and we kind of discussed what you want from the shoot, what kind of shoot you want. And then we can talk about pricing and getting you quotes and those things. And then I have a system setup where it sends you session reminders, and all of that clerical organizational stuff. And then obviously, we do the shoot for the allotted amount of time, and then back to the computer, right, it’s back to the backend processing of getting rid of the bad stuff, and keeping the good and tweaking the good and sending it to the client. And then I pause and wait for you to pick and then I’m back into editing, it’s definitely a lot more time behind the computer than it is behind the camera.


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:57  

Sounds like it. So if somebody’s considering this, and they love just that camera piece, they need to be super aware of all of those other pieces, if seriously, I 20%. That kind of blows my mind. So you probably really liked that the editing phase, I would assume? Or do you not


Ali Wolfe  11:17  

know I do I like making people the best version of themselves that I can to stay within realm of how they naturally are. I think that in this profession, you have to be both creative and organized. While I was building my business on the weekends, Monday through Friday, I was like a secretary, you know, so like having those organizational skills. And I worked in accounting and having those numbers skills super helpful for me to run my business. So there’s no shame and hustling in another job while you build your business and build your brand to get to where you want to be.


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:52  

So what would be your kind of reference some of them but business skills? I mean, because you’re self employed, like somebody’s feeding you these clients? So what are the key business skills, traits, things that students would need to be comfortable with to be successful ultimately, as an adult working? And I mean, obviously, they may not have all those skills right now. But to be an adult in that with their own photography business.


Ali Wolfe  12:21  

Yeah, I think customer service is huge, making people feel comfortable welcome, that you care, we need to do a great job at listening rather than listening to respond, right? I mean, that’s a very basic skill that you can really start with.


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:35  

And I’m curious, and I don’t know the answer to this at all. And I probably could look it up by looking at the course curriculum at Ohio University or somewhere else for their photography, commercial photography, like what percentage do they give you courses and things like that outside of photography?


Ali Wolfe  12:52  

Yeah, and that’s really the great benefit, I think to going to college for this is that, ultimately, college makes you a well rounded person. I took classes that I didn’t even know was a actual profession in this world. And those classes may make you pivot and go I’d rather actually rather do that. And that’s great, right? Because you want to find your path in the world. But it’ll ultimately just make you a better human being. So while I was at Ohio University, I took while I was a commercial photography student, the commercial photography, students and the photojournalism students start out in the same courses for the first year. And it’s just kind of basics, like learning how to use your camera stopping by like, You’re too you guys pivot and go different directions. But I learned graphic design, and that stuff was super helpful in running my business in terms of being able to design my own ads, right? I don’t want to outsource that, or my logo. Yeah. 100 I would recommend it 100% Just to be able to broaden your horizons, learn new skills and be forced to learn them, right.


Lisa Marker Robbins  13:57  

Puts you in the hot seat. Like I gotta figure this out. Yeah. Or I’m gonna have to pay somebody to do it. Right. For sure. You know, you said you do a lot of like senior you mean senior citizens. You met seniors in high school. So you do a lot of senior photos. What’s kind of the rhythm of your calendar year like what are your I can guess a little bit that because you also do corporate branding and things like that. What is your calendar year? What are your busy seasons and your light seasons?


Ali Wolfe  14:26  

So my busiest season are talking Ohio weather, right? So it’s really all revolves a bit around the weather and been around when yearbooks are due. So for the public schooling system, those yearbooks are due here by Christmas. And so that was my big push. So between the summer leading up to someone’s senior year through Christmas break, I am in high SR time, with the highest peak being the month of October because the colors are pretty right. Yeah, the colors are pretty and then I think people want to hold off as long as they can And to like, so that their kids like looks the same. They think they’re gonna like change vastly from like fall to spring, right? Like, I think there’s that too. So that’s really my high point is, is in October, and then it kind of dies down through the holidays for seniors. And then you may see some public or private schools pick back up in the spring, the private schools, they get like a life touch kind of yearbook photos. So for them, the yearbook deadline doesn’t matter. They’re more like, what season do I want it to be in. So you get a few of those, and then you head into summer, and you’re back in it again.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:34  

And so also, as I’m thinking through with you doing a lot of seniors, obviously, like the corporate people can be done during the day. And I know you’re also a mom, so your kids are at school. But that takes some of your evenings and weekends. What advice would you have for people considering photography when they think how many evenings and weekends? How do you manage that with being a mom having a family?


Ali Wolfe  16:00  

Yeah, so I actually built my business, mostly on family photography, right? So I was in the thick of it, I had small kids and, and I just loved kids so much, because I was just in it. Because my kids have kind of grown I’ve shifted, my energies increased to have more time to dedicate my kids are in school. And so seniors are brilliant in the way that they can actually do Mondays and Fridays, a lot of high school seniors get out early, or they start late. And so they do offer me a lot of flexibility. Monday through Friday. In fact, I was just shooting one this morning. Yeah, at 10am. Oh, my god, yeah. And they have random days off the teacher and service days for me. So it does allow me to free up some weekend time, so that I can see my kids when they’re not in school and balance that out. But in the beginning, it was a lot of weekends.


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:52  

That’s what I imagined. So now some commercial photographers out there are going to specialize in something else maybe that they should be thinking differently about their calendar or their day and their rhythm, right? Yeah, everybody’s going to be doing families or seniors or things like


Ali Wolfe  17:11  

that. Yeah. And it’s a good profession, like any other where you own your own business, that you can make your own hours, you can say no to a job, and that’s okay. If it’s not something you want to do, I probably wouldn’t recommend that starting out. But there’s a lot of hustle that’s in there.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:25  

I started two companies myself, I would say to anybody, there’s always hustle when you’re starting something new. So if you’re gonna be self employed, you got to expect a hustle and say a lot of yeses. When you get started. And then you you’ve got the space to say more nose later, I think. So what would your parting advice be? If to a high school student or even a college student? Who’s thinking of photography as a career?


Ali Wolfe  17:55  

Oh, I mean, I’m gonna go back to always be shooting, really get out there and then be okay, with your schedule being chaotic. It’s never going to be nine to five. I’m answering emails all the time. And if you’re okay with that, like, I’m fine to hustle all the time. But some people just aren’t built for that. And that’s totally fine, too. But yeah, I would just get out and shoot, find what you love to shoot.


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:20  

Oh, that’s great advice. So people should follow you because they should if they’re considering photography, they should see what you’re doing professionally. So where’s the best way for people to do that?


Ali Wolfe  18:32  

Yeah, so you can check out Elliot photography on Facebook. You can check it out on Instagram, and Tiktok. Or if you just want to make it easy, breezy, you could just go to my website, which is Ally wolf.com.


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:44  

Perfect. Well, thanks for carving out time for me and to help our families. It is so appreciated.


Ali Wolfe  18:51  

Thanks so much for having me, Lisa.


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:56  

Ali is an inspiration. If you want to take a look at her fantastic photography, just head over to the flourish website. She took all my photos for the site. I’ll link to it in the show notes. But before you head over there, I have your weekly college bound challenge. If you’ve made it this far in the episode, your teen is likely considering a career in a creative field or maybe even specifically photography, photography, and other creative majors often require a portfolio for application to the program. My weekly college bound challenge for you is to check out the application requirements for a sampling of college photography programs even if they aren’t schools your student is considering now, portfolio requirements aren’t something you want to get caught off guard with when applying for college. They take time to put together if your student is unsure of the right college major and future career. I hope you’ll join me the next time I open the doors to my launch Career Clarity course which will be in early 2023. If you’re listening when this goes live, you’ll see your team move from overwhelmed and confused to motivate a clear and confident about their future. If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share it with a friend who needs us to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a job they will love. Thank you for listening to College and Career Clarity. I’ll see you next week.