23: Building a Successful Studio Structure with Urban Dog Studio

23: Building a Successful Studio Structure with Urban Dog Studio

Posted by Nicholas Ribera on

This week I pop into the Urban Dog Studio and visit with Laurie Elmer and Knicki Knowlton- the pair of professional photographers making a huge mark in the city of St. Petersburg. We discuss their journey from home photographers to building a studio and populating it with clients who receive a full service level of care from consultation to shoot to final product design and installation.

You can listen to the episode here (or wherever you listen to podcasts) or read the transcript below:

A Conversation with Urban Dog Studio

Chain Assembly: Today on the podcast. I'm lucky to have Urban Dog Studio, an amazing local pair of photographers who have a great studio and have built a wonderful environment to help other artists flourish around and within. That is Laurie Elmer and Knicki Knowlton. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Urban Dog Studio: Thank you for having us. Thanks for so excited to be here with you.

CA: Oh, good. So I'm actually in their studio right now in Pinellas Park, and we spend hours chatting about podcasts because they have a wonderful one called Let's Talk About It. Tampa Bay. But I'm just curious so much about their whole journey from starting in photography and turning it into like a physical studio space. So do you guys want to kind of just take turns?

CA: Tell me a bit about your first time you picked up a camera and when you decided to, you want to start making money with it?

UDS: Yeah. So I had been doing landscape photography for a long time, and then in the early 2000, my husband and his partner, my husband's a veterinarian and his partner were building a new practice and they asked me because I have an art degree to decorate the lobby, pick out the artwork for the lobby. But knowing that they had different tastes and also knowing that I was going to have to please the team, the staff members too, it was sort of daunting and I didn't want anybody to be that.

UDS: I was racking my brain. What could I do that that everybody would be on board with? And of course, everybody there loves animals and loves pets with all of this photograph, everybody's pets. I figured I could just leverage my photography experience for pet photography. I didn't realize at the time when I was getting myself into here was it was a pretty big learning curve because I had never done sea photography before, so I had to figure it out.

UDS: And the resources online weren't like they are today. Net materials, you know, tutorials. So I was like scouring for books and magazines and just kind of winging it too.

CA: So what was that first studio?

UDS: That was it. I didn't have a studio. It's a lobby at my husband's office, my garage clients, that team members homes. I went to their houses all about your lights. I bought shop lights from Home Depot and I used fabric from Joann Fabrics.

CA: So you're not supposed to use shop lights?

UDS: Yeah, you can. You can shop lights from home people as well. It gets really, really hot. And not a good thing is probably a fire hazard. And the quality of light is number one. I know this sounds crazy, but it's almost not bright enough. It's not the same that you would get when you're using a flash. Now, if you're into continuous light and you want it to be really sweaty and you don't care that the color temperature of the light is really, really bad, knock yourself out.

UDS: Go for it. You know what? And then that's all you have to use what you have, you know, so it can be done. And some of those photographs are still hanging on those walls more than 20 years later. So and so I'm not saying don't do it. It probably wasn't ideal, but I did learn how to use light by doing that.

UDS: Okay. Now, I did have some experience already using Flash, so like the camera mounted flash or just off camera flash. So I kind of knew a little bit about light, but I didn't have enough light to light these animals. But anyway, that was sort of my first foray client, sort of seeing as on the wall. They asked me if I would photograph their pets.

UDS: I agreed to do it, and then I don't exactly remember how it transpired other than I had another friend who was a photographer. We were in a critique group together and he was doing some editorial work for a magazine and and invited me to submit, put me in touch with the editor, and then somehow I just sort of accidentally became an editorial pet photographer.

UDS: So I had to upgrade my process, had to buy real equipment, and then was photographing for dogs and Sea Cat, Fancy Dogs USA, a whole bunch of different cats, pet titles, and was doing that and doing it successfully for quite a while. I was about to leave my corporate job and then I noticed one by one those magazines started falling off like the titles were just shutting down.

UDS: And that was probably about 2014 when all of those magazines just started to disappear, as did every magazine in the whole world. So I think Dog Fancy is still out there and there are a few others, but unfortunately they primarily get their images from Getty and they're buying micro stock. So it just sort of went away as a great business model.

UDS: So so I was still doing portrait work, but kind of stepped back from it, but was still doing some shoots and people would ask where it wasn't doing a whole lot of marketing. And then around that time, Knicki ended up moving to Florida. And we've been friends. We've been friends since the early 2000, early. So we also we met online, we did meet.

UDS: So our origin story, Love at First Sight. Yes, we we met online in a photo forum and we quick friends and realized that we both kind of have the same tastes. I would have the same goal. I would post glasses or something and she would like I have those. Okay. So we made quick friends and my dad lives in Orlando and I was in Oregon and I was in Orlando for a visit.

UDS: And I said, Hey, where are you in Florida? Maybe I'll come out and see you. So I took the drive, my first drive from Orlando to Tampa and met her out of the beach. And we got along great. We had the best year, so much fun. We went down to the beach and there was this old recliner and an older gentleman that jumped in it, and we took photos of that German for us in a recliner on north, ready to be.

UDS: Oh yeah, go figure. It's a great story. And then I went back to Oregon and at some point, obviously this Florida and called her up again and said, Hey, I moved to bring you anywhere near me. I don't have any friends. So and I drove up Disney Peyton, I love St Pete. So here I am. Yeah. And we, we just started shooting together.

UDS: So I had yeah, I had some shoots just here and there and Knicki would come up and assist and or she would have something. And so we just started working together and realized that we have this really great symbiotic shooting relationship. And it was very easy for us to go back and forth. So sometimes she would assist and I would shoot and sometimes I would assist and she would shoot and we sort of read each other's minds.

UDS: Even though our shooting styles are very different. It just, yeah, it just worked out really well. And then one day we were doing headshots. You're doing some headshots at an animal hospital and, and also photographing some wildlife. One of the Texas Oh yeah, yeah. There was little baby possums and a bird. So have you just had a great time?

UDS: And we're like, you know, this is what we should be doing because we were both working in the corporate world at that time still. And so Knicki is like, this is what we should be doing all the time instead of our corporate jobs. And that was I kind of like, yeah, wouldn't that be great? But, you know, you kind of have this velvet handcuffs.

UDS: It's really hard to walk away from big salaries, good benefits and all that. So and then it's like November or December of 2018, and then it was like 2008 everywhere. So Saudi Arabia. Right. But we had started talking about it. We started talking about a business name. We started talking about where would we shoot? And we didn't have a studio space.

UDS: We can always use the vet clinic, you know, the lobby after hours.

CA: I do remember when you first moved into this space.

UDS: Yeah, Yeah, that was we ended up moving in here in October of 2019. Okay, so you actually.

CA: Four for you came into the studios?

UDS: No, no, no.

CA: This was the initial studio.

UDS: This is our first studio. So 2000th January 2019. We'll start seriously talking about it in February 2019. It was like, let's do this sort of everything aligned for us to leave the corporate world and and then at that time, it's number one, it was weather was nice. So we were able to shoot outside and so we were doing some test shooting and location scouting.

UDS: And our plan at that time was actually going to be to convert Knicki's garage into a studio for those times when we needed to be indoors. And she also has a very large backyard to talking about just creating some good shooting spots in her yard. But also there was there was also some trepidation with that because, you know, you just a lot of photographers have home studios and it's great.

UDS: But there were also challenges with that. I mean, clients need to use the restroom and so you have to go into your home, which means your house always has to look spotless. And then Knicki has her own set of pets. So, you know, so it wasn't ideal, it wasn't perfect, but we were going to make it happen and we were going to make it work.

CA: So when you're looking for a studio space, well, we're like, what was on your checklist?

UDS: Affordability. Well, it needed to be something that well, we had we had a minimum size requirement and it was it needed to be at least 15 feet long and at least ten feet wide. And that was the bare minimum. And then we've realized now that that was that was we were underestimating our needs.

CA: But that was that number. Based on your lighting setup, your backdrops were based on the fact it was two of you.

UDS: It was based on the square footage I was utilizing that my husband's office that I made work. So I knew that that worked and, you know, parking a restroom and it needed to be a space. It was dog friendly because a lot of places wouldn't allow pets. And as a matter of fact, I had been eyeing these studios for a while and I had gone online and looked at the application process and on the application process it said pets weren't allowed.

UDS: So I kind of had ruled it out, but I thought when they were driving by, I'm thinking, let's just go check it out. I'm just curious to see what that's like, just to get a baseline of what studios were going for and all that. And so we knocked on the door. Bobby Yeah. Bobby Rydell is with the Artist series now, living in, I think, Tennessee.

UDS: Do you think you can do this? Yeah. He's so great. Yeah. So he showed us around. Yeah, he showed us around and you know, we talked, you mentioned earlier that how things just kind of quickly lined up for us and it's been like that this whole time. But he ended up knowing his wife is related to somebody. She's related to somebody that I know back in Oregon.

UDS: Well, I come from a very tiny town in Oregon. I didn't ever run into anybody. So for me, that was like, Oh, we are where we are supposed to be. This is it. This is my family. Yeah. So you showed us around and we said, Wow, you know, we really love to be in here, but I know there's a no pet policy.

UDS: I thought when you talk about everybody brings their pets here, like, okay, oh, yeah, that's so. And we found out that somebody was probably going to be moving out in a few months. So we put in an application and our application was accepted. Thank you. John Gascot Yeah, and when we first moved in, we actually moved into a different space that smaller than this one, so tiny and we were in that, but we made it work.

UDS: But we knew pretty quick that as soon as the space, if and when the space opens, the one that we're in right now, sitting in right now, we were going to definitely be like we would fight tooth and nail to get it and we got it and we got it just a few months later on. And that was think, yeah, that was like that was still 2019.

UDS: It was still too an idea. And then we've been in here and we've been joking about since then, raising the ceiling and making it, having the whole building. And here we are then. Yeah. And so fast forward to John to now and yeah.

CA: I didn't even realize these are drop ceilings, but because they're so tall, right?

UDS: Our ceiling height right now is about eight and a half, which for photography is not ideal. I mean for a pet photographer in that that's all you do all this, it's okay. But we also photograph people and we yeah, we need to be more height because you want to get lights up high. And so we've we've gotten very creative with lighting.

UDS: We've been able to make it work and we just it hasn't always worked as easily as we would like it to. So now that we actually own the building along with John, we're we're going to be doing a renovation, hopefully starting in January and expanding the space considerably.

CA: So say you're you're you're starting your first photography studio. What are the first things you should buy? Like to go from your home equipment to now you have a physical studio space where you'll be able to do things permanently, like what's the first thing you'd want to get so light?

UDS: You have to get somebody shooting their home. You already have lights. What would you have? Well, I mean, some ideas. Some people may be doing that. So that's honestly I mean, the reality is, is that you need light of some sort. It can be window light. It can be natural light. It does limit what you guys just shoot somebody at in the night because you're not going to get that window light.

UDS: But all the studio really is is a space that you have at your village. Do you have a hand any time? So a lot of people think that when you're going to open a studio, you have to have a ton of stuff. The reality is, is you don't you can paint your wall and make out your background. I mean, if you want variety, there's and but there's a lot of different ways you can do that.

UDS: We pay our own canvas backdrops so you can buy canvas and paint it how you want it to look. You can use seamless paper, but you don't have to have all the things and you don't have to start out that way. Any kind of a background, it can be a painted wall. It can even be a brick wall.

UDS: That reminds me my first studio back in Oregon, we we had nothing. I had two alien bees and a camera and a friend, and we got a great space that had brick walls and window lights. And that's how I started. Our first piece of furniture was a headboard to understand your wall and let's see the frame and like a mattress that was it's an alien bee.

UDS: So it's a friend of mine, so it's so sorry. Alien bees are actually an amazing They're great of lights, but they are definitely an entry level from a price point standpoint. But again, light is light. I don't you don't have to have the most expensive lights out there. You can buy used alien bees or, you know, go dogs which are less expensive.

UDS: You don't need to have profanities and all of the super expensive lights. I mean, there's some bells and whistles that are great to have on those. But honestly, light is light. So whether you're using speed lights, which are the ones that you can put on top of a camera or move off camera, if it's continuous light, if you buy some LED and let's say you're shooting things that don't move a lot, you can get by with that continuous light because you don't need as much of it for a faster shutter speed.

UDS: But I hear a lot of people, a lot of photographers that they are getting into it, and I think they have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars. And the reality is, is you don't like one light with an umbrella and you can do almost any you can do with speed, light and an umbrella. Like we were saying, she started off with a home vehicle light.

UDS: I had a shop light that was my at that time husband's that I was using in God use know from there he found at some auction some photographer's lights probably from the sixties I use those so hot and then into the used alien bees so it's a process you don't have to start off with. Right. The best stuff on the planet in there are some of the most lucrative artist photographers out there that are doing a lot of magazine work, and they travel with two speed lights and a couple of umbrellas and a reflector their entire kit that's in the bag that they can carry without a plane.

UDS: So you don't have to have all the things. As a matter of fact, one of our most used pieces of equipment in the studio, I think it was $12 plus some tape. So it is literally foam weight foam board from the dollar store that we tape together with white tape to create what is called a V flat. And it's just basically this thing that folds into a V, and you can stack it against the wall, but when you want to use it, you bring it out.

UDS: It forms a V or actually forms a W because we had it bigger and you just bounce light off of it. So you can take a small light, shine it on there, but it creates what we refer to as a big light source, which is a softer, more pleasing light. And it was a dollar a piece for a dollar 39 at the dollar 25 Oh, but tax.

UDS: Yeah. So, but I mean for a very small amount of money, one of our most used pieces of equipment is is that so.

CA: I saw this crazy thing on TikTok the other day and I wouldn't work with dogs, but to products photography just use a single light bulb and a very low exposure and you can paint in a flash.

UDS: Yeah, yeah. Like painting is an amazing way to, to get things done. And sometimes, sometimes you don't want a lot of light. I mean, you might be doing you want to get sort of a more where you really do want just a single light. I've used the lamp, I did some product shots, made my own little white soft box on my dining room table and have lamps on either side you don't have.

UDS: You can just start off with what you have.

CA: I've shot like almost a thousand pieces of jewelry in the last.

UDS: Yeah, it was jewelry.

CA: And just yeah, just on my dining room table with a table tablecloth dropped in one light and just a bunch of, like, white 11 by 17 mailers.

UDS: So it just bounces around and creates this nice, even overall light. When you're doing product photography, you know, the biggest challenge is just looking out for your reflections when you're doing stuff that has a shiny surface. And once you understand how light works, you can use just about any light. It's any light source and it's not just light, it's it's also knowing how to take away light.

UDS: So you use a piece of cardboard to block light or something that absorbs the light or so. But it's all just understanding how light works. And there's a little bit of physics, but it's not hard physics, much like the works on heart, like angle of incidence and the inverse square law. But all it really means is you need to know how to deal with the direction of light and the quality of light.

UDS: And then this isn't directed how to direct it, where to put it when you want to light like feel soft, or when you want that hard sort of edgy light. Like how you know, that's kind of intuitively it doesn't work. The way a lot of people think it would work. Like, you want that soft light, you actually get your light slits closer, and the bigger the light source is relative to your subject, the softer the light's going to look versus if you want that hard light, you should get your light source a little further away.

UDS: And it's a smaller, smaller source relative to your subject. But once you just understand those basics and you could literally if you sat down and thought about it or just watched a few tutorials and you're focused and you practice and you can figure it out pretty easily, and once you know that you can use any, any kind of light in the whole world, a lot of sessions at Harvard's don't use lights at all.

UDS: They'll go downtown and they look at how light bounces off of the walls of buildings. So you might be I'll have a bright, harsh, sunny day. But if you get between two tall buildings, you don't have any direct light, but you get this amazing light bouncing back and forth between buildings pretty well. So.

CA: Well, I want to ask you specifically about I managed to do that. Anyone with a photography studio has to deal with this when and why you upgrade pieces of equipment. So do you have like a dedicated allocated percentage of each bit of income that is dedicated towards new equipment so that you can plan for improvements even if you don't have a specific item in mind?

CA: How do you prioritize what to get?

UDS: What's that on a spreadsheet? Yeah, so we're we're pretty we're pretty diligent about knowing our numbers. We kind of decided to do that pretty early on. So when we first decided to form Urban Dog Studio, a lot of our decisions or our initial thoughts were based on stuff I've been doing in the past before, you know, when it was just myself and my financial data, whatever was kind of old.

UDS: But before we even started seeing clients, we realized, No, we need that. We need to know our numbers before we make any financial decisions. So before we decided what we would be charging, what would we what we would be spending, we needed to know our fixed costs or variable costs and then how we were going to allocate funds because we knew we would be buying additional equipment they would need to purchase marketing materials, we would need to purchase insurance and also replacement stuff.

UDS: So we've had over time camera equipment sales like we've both we both have a new camera and we purchased new camera bodies, We purchased some new lenses because we shoot so much, we wear it out. It's now, you know, just replacing equipment and and replacing lights. Because when we first opened, I was using we're still using some lights that are over ten years old.

UDS: And just over time, things break in sale. So we definitely sort of filled that in. So we have our little our little our little stash of funds that we use to purchase equipment and things like that. And, you know, we allocate that every year knowing that we're going to need to spend a certain amount. And so far we've been pretty good about pretty good guessing a couple of wouldn't it be fun to have this piece of equipment?

UDS: So we've done a little splurging. Like sometimes we have a piece that our girls, we have a giant modifier that we got. It's amazing. You watch the video, you're like, Oh, I have to have this with one of those. Like, it was an impulse. It was a very impulsive Well, it wasn't that impulsive because you saw it and I saw it.

UDS: We talked about it. And then the impulse line, it wasn't something I needed, but it was something that would be cool to have. But we found that our current space, it doesn't fit. It's a little small for it. It's we can use it, but it's very.

CA: To say what it is.

UDS: Oh, what's it called? We call it the mattress. It looks like a giant blow up mattress. It's amazing. It's a giant. It's a giant. It's an eight by eight soft, square, soft box is what it is. And you're able to put two lights on the other side. So what it does is it just creates this giant, soft, beautiful, soft light, which is really nice for photographing a family or a larger group, or if you just really want to create a look that has the quality of outdoor light, like on an overcast day, this is really beautiful, soft light.

UDS: So the beautiful we used it, it's just very cumbersome to use in our space. We need about so it's eight feet tall. We have 8 to 8 and a half of ceilings and but in the new space it's going to be all the time so you have to combine. Okay, yeah, it'll probably just stay. It'll probably stay and ready to go all the time because it'll be that useful for us.

CA: Also, like about six months ago, I started actually allocating percentages of all my income for different portions of my business. And so I, I guess I don't know if I grossly exaggerated the amount of operational expenses that I need to save for, but I've got like surplus that I need to spend on equipment. So I could just let it sit there, but I want to buy it.

CA: Right? So like, yeah, so how do you prioritize what you want to buy or is it. Well, just whatever breaks.

UDS: Yeah, I mean, I think you look at things like if we feel like we need well, we look at what our needs are, it might not be equipment, it might be we need to do some marketing.

CA: Okay?

UDS: So we might allocate that money towards some marketing.

CA: To your marketing budget. That's fluid throughout the year.

UDS: Yeah. I mean, it's kind of based on how busy we are or how busy we want to be. Like right now with everything we have getting ready to start with our renovation and everything, we're actually kind of not marketing because our schedule is a little uncertain, so we don't plan to be doing a whole lot. The first two months of the year because we're not.

UDS: We're going to be really busy, hopefully with under construction with other things. Yeah. And then, you know, some of it might be allocated towards a project, personal project that we want to do that we sort of jointly want to do. But one of our projects was our our book during COVID because we couldn't have clients in the studio.

UDS: So of course, as soon as we get in and we get set up, we start really rocking and rolling. We've got clients booked and the business is really starting to take off. Then shutdown happened, so we couldn't have anybody in here. So we did a book project because it was all outdoor shooting almost exclusively outside. And so we published for the Bird and and there was a bit of outlay on the front end of that because we had to pay for our printing.

UDS: And then a lot a lot of things, a lot of administrative stuff to make it happen. So of course we have to pay ourselves when we weren't having it was going to be a delay before we were going to have revenue coming in. So.

CA: So when you pay yourselves, is it like an even amount each month or.

UDS: No, it's kind of base. It's it's is it's based on production. So we sort of parasols after after we pay all of our fixed costs and on our cost of goods and all that. But we kind of have a percentage that it's been working out towards and it depends on who's doing what for a shoot. So like there might be a shoot that I do where Knicki assists and she'll help with a sales session or something.

UDS: But I'm doing like 70%, she's doing 30% or vice versa. And it might be she's doing a shoot. Like I don't really even get involved with a shoot that she does. I mean, that's just like, I don't need to be there. She's got it down to a science. So. So what we get reimbursed based on the sales from that shoot is based on our, our, the amount of work that we put into it.

UDS: So we kind of have we know that if you're doing the editing, it's X percent. If you're doing the if you're the primary shooter, it's X percent. If you're assisting it'sit's if you're also a second shooter, it's that. So, you know, it just kind of works out. It's like.

CA: You take a lot of iterations to end up in that situation.

UDS: A little bit, tweak it. I mean, we already started off we started off with that idea and then we just kind of tweaked it. Yeah, over time. But as I mentioned, that's going.

CA: To be a difficulty that anyone who is starting to start an art business with another person's going to have. So it's pretty great to see that you have a system that's working so well.

UDS: And I will tell you that we are the exception. We something when it comes to two photographers working at a studio and they're both shooters, there are a lot of husband and wife teams that that work together. And of course, it's all going in one part anyway. There are other partnerships, but usually one person is doing and marketing or the other person is doing the shooting or whatever.

UDS: It's very rare that you'll have two photographers that actually can continue to get along and agree and do things. And that's not to say that we don't have our discussions, but I kind of don't recommend it for most people. I really think it works for a lot of people. Yeah. Well, do you find.

CA: You have like niches that you specialize in that like this is not the kind of thing I get my hands involved in. I'm just gonna hand it off to you.

UDS: 100%. Yeah, because Knicki's great with, like, we just did a shoot the other night. We did a homecoming dance where we did, which is not something we would normally do. There are formal photographs and it was so much fun. I love that age group. I love young adults. I like kids, I like kids and young adults. I love.

UDS: 13 year old is not 13, but young adults. We're not supposed to talk about that.

CA: But it's fine as long as you don't get.

UDS: Specific right now. So young adults like she likes dogs and I love dogs that I can see. Lauri absolutely loves dogs, maybe a little bit more than me. And so when it comes to kids in that type of thing, I will take that and she'll obviously she just relates to them super well. Like they she's like the Pied Piper for tweens and teens.

UDS: I mean, they just love her fun. And so she interacts with them. She gets on the ponies really well. So like, I didn't shoot a thing. I just sat there and I was just uploading. I was taking memory cards and putting photos in the light room. Lightroom doing a quick edit in person. I'm going to pick this up for the group.

UDS: So by the time we were done, we were done like those photos were already delivered by then. The night was done, so it worked out great to have a blast. And so that's where like we have this really good yin yang. There's not a lot of ego going on where she's sitting over there working on the computer and I'm taking the photos and then it's the same thing and she's taking the photos and I'm insisting there's not that being able to edit.

CA: Them as you're taking the photos.

UDS: Yeah. So, Knicki, she was she was able to pull out.

CA: She was just like, why fire Bluetooth?

UDS: Or No, we didn't do it. Then you're kind of relying on your Internet connection and everything and that can be a problem. And we still had to rely on that to upload from the computer to our our online delivery system, which is pixie set. But now Knicki would just shoot for about 20, 30 minutes. She would trade out them the record.

UDS: And while she was shooting the next batch, I was just taking those photos.

CA: And in seconds the memory card was full or no notes.

UDS: Every time we just.

CA: We just have to keep working.

UDS: Yeah. So we just wanted to keep keep it moving.

CA: And just we.

UDS: Know we wanted to have like a good maybe 20 minute turnaround for the kids so they would come in and do some photo, you know, do three frames. That was like three frames in the beginning with the couples and singles and how many the kids kids were. It was a small group. It was a small group, but it was like we did that been.

CA: Progressing by all the logistics.

UDS: And I was a couple hundred. I mean, we was a couple hundred photos. Wow. Yeah.

CA: So you had like two or three photos per kid?

UDS: Yes. Group Very groups. Okay. And then a couple of them kind of came in again. So the way it worked is they came in, we had a QR code set up, they registered it, sent them a link to the party site or the gallery gallery, and so the couple would come get their photo taken. We tell them, you know, give us 15, 20 minutes and shoot a few more kids and hand off the car gallery which put a new card in.

UDS: And then she's tweaking everything and getting it uploaded. And then those kids were like, Oh, and they would come back because they were looking at their photos. They were saying, My guys are awesome, we want more. So a lot of the kids were repeaters. Yeah, the class. I mean.

CA: Anything can you do in like 1520.

UDS: It's very quick. I mean, it was great. It was just it was basic, like it was just cropping and then just doing a little color correcting and levels. Just I assume.

CA: You were on a tripod.

UDS: And on a tripod like this.

CA: And so, like, everything is.

UDS: Everything is the same. Yeah. Okay. Yeah, I figured that out beforehand. I mean, we had, we changed some things, like for larger groups. We were having to make some, some adjustments. We were having to pull lights out. And sometimes because we're primarily shooting and like in a vertical format, but everyone's having to switch the camera over to horizontal and pulling lights out or some of that.

UDS: The set we would have to arrange. Yeah, we were prepared for I'm thinking all maybe two couples, a little groups. And then the principal came and asked us if we could do all of the staff would share how many or how many are here. 12. Right. So, so we're having. Yeah. So yeah. So you know we had to, we had to do a little bigger pants a little bit during those moments which we're really good at.

UDS: And we had at one point a whole bunch of kids try to get in one picture last night and it's just too many kids. So at one point I was like, no more than five. You have two and then you they still had to squeeze. And then we we were throwing in six or seven. But if you tell them no more than ten, you'd have 20 trying to get it right.

UDS: But and they loved being able to get these photos right away. Now, this was nothing like one of our normal shoots. I mean, this is one of our studio shoots. We do.

CA: Well, let's talk about. Yeah, what is the general process when someone says, I'm going to hire Urban Dog studio, what is the first?

UDS: So our prime, the main session that we typically do and we have a few other variations, but the main what do we do? We refer to as our signature session. The client will reach out to us and we have a discovery call, so we find out what it is we're looking for and if we feel like it's even before.

CA: We get to that, How does this client typically find you.

UDS: A Google search tool, Word of mouth, client referral. There's a lot of different ways. Sometimes it's like subjects from the item that we've donated to an auction. Yeah, it might be They want an auction session or whatever. Yeah.

CA: Are you track like how that one brought that person in? Yeah. So you look at like percentages or something at the end of the year.

UDS: Yeah. So about 50% of our clients actually find us through Google. So they're looking for a photographer. We, we rank really well in SEO. So yeah, so we rank well with us. So they find us and then the other probably other half, it's a mix of client referral and we're yeah, we're just mostly word of mouth or because we've donated something to a charity auction.

CA: To get a lot of returns from those.

UDS: We do. Investors sometimes are our best clients who refer us the most. So. So yeah. So those clients will reach out and during the discovery call we, we, we just find out if they're the right fit. So some people are looking for just one or two photos or they are they want to just go and have a one hour shoot and they want to get all the digitals on a cart.

UDS: And that's really not smart business model. So we'll refer them out to somebody else. We have a few other wonderful pet photographers in the area who do that, and we're happy to refer because, you know, we're not going to we're not going to be the answer for everybody who wants pet and pet photography. And and what I love about our pet photographer community here is that there's a lot more collaboration than there is competition.

UDS: So everybody is very supportive of each other. And, you know, we want to see all of us be successful. I mean, we love the fact that we have photographers, we have in the area that more people know it's a thing. So it benefits us so and one another. I mean, I've personally come from and I know what you guys do when another photographer does well.

UDS: So in a way. So you've mentioned that you're shooting by sharing with you and collaborating with you and your photography getting better, one that helps us grow and everybody's growing and everybody's getting better. And I don't think that it should be. The craft should not be kept behind closed doors and all. You have to figure it out yourself.

UDS: I don't want you to have to go through four different light sets. Right. And if you go helped us along the way. Yeah. So yeah, so yeah, but, but anyway, so we had that conversation. We find out if we're the right sort of good fit, the right session type that they're looking for in our client or typical client of somebody who wants a very custom session, they want a lot of one on one time.

UDS: We are very, very high service. So we will go to our client's house and help them pick out a wardrobe. Oh, we will do a precession consultation wardrobe for the dogs, for the people who are the people that people are going is people. People are always a tad. Oh, I mean.

CA: I glance around looking at all these pet photos and then yeah.

UDS: No, no. But we have gone to the house and we also even looked at the walls and looked at the rooms and helped figure out what do you want on in this space? And then we'll come back and we'll shoot for it. Yeah. Because we want to know what their decor and what their tastes are. So if somebody tells us I really want to have is a beautiful portrait of me and my dog in our family room over the sofa, we need to know what that room looks like.

UDS: So whether they take a photo of it and send it to us or we go out and take a look at it, because the backdrop, how we approach the shoot, what how we frame it, all of those things are going to be dictated by that person's personal tastes.

CA: And also as as a package, it's not like per hour.

UDS: It's not it's not per hour, but it is it's per product. So we have a session fee for this set for that particular session or for a session fee is $800, but 600 converts to a product credit. So they can apply that towards wall art, they can apply that towards an album or folio model.

CA: Those who are delivering like physically physical.

UDS: Objects and we think we do digital packages as well. But what we don't do is we don't just hand over every photo we talk, right? We just want our clients to have the images that they love. And we ideally, we don't want them to say.

CA: Well, the magic happens in the editing room.

UDS: And the magic happens in the physical product when you see it on video. I mean, we love seeing the process and I would say the magic happens. The entire process. The magic happens on set when you're bonding with the animal and having a good time, when you're having that experience, it becomes a playdate. And then they come back and they say, I'm going to jump the gun, but they see their images.

UDS: And then the final we're like, is the product of the magic, is the printed image. And we want them to have something tangible to touch and feel and put on the walls.

CA: You also want them to have positive memories of every single step along. Yes.

UDS: This is no. Yeah. No, we're not we're not providing that.

CA: You're not just inviting photographs.

UDS: We are providing an experience, we're providing memories. And yeah, it's from start to finish. So when they come in for the procession consult, if they come into the studio versus us going out there, it is a fun playdate for the dog and we go over everything I need to the point of you need to get a manicure and pedicure and we just love the dogs.

UDS: No, no to Sorry.

CA: So what percentage of dogs and I don't know.

UDS: So every dog comes with a human and we always encourage people to be in the photos with their dog, even if I don't ever show it to anybody else. So we want to capture that bond. I mean, that's what it's all about, right? It's your relationship with your pet. So we strongly encourage that. No, not everybody does it, but invite them.

UDS: So if you wanted to have a picture, let's say you wanted to bring in your dog, Fluffy and you bring Fluffy and we do the pre session consult, we invite you to when Fluffy comes in for their shoot if you'd like to be in. This is some ideas and have a manicotti and all of that other advice. And sometimes you're like, Oh no, no, no, no, thank you at all.

UDS: And then other people like, let's see, maybe and then they'll take us up and say, Yeah, will you help me pick out clothes? Are you, you know, I did this and they'll, they'll come prepared and sometimes we've, we've been out there shooting Fluffy and the person is like, yeah, I want in now too. And we always tell them, even though they'll tell us, I don't want to be in it.

UDS: I'm like okay. We're going to tell you how to prepare anyway because you might change your mind. And we, we, we don't force or pressure, but we encourage them to consider it because 15 years from now, 20 years from now, and that pets no longer they're they're going to really cherish that photograph that they have of them with their pet.

UDS: Because most of us, we take photos of our pets, even with our phones. But when they're in the photos, right. It's like the kids, right? It's the mom. Yeah. Yeah. So we do encourage it. So when I say we're going to tell them to do a mini patty, and the reason why we do that is a lot of photographs.

UDS: You see them holding their head so their hands are in it or they're they're down on the floor with them or they're down by their feet and we see their toes in it. So and it's also a great excuse to go get them. Anybody even have to.

CA: Partner with any salons.

UDS: For that? We actually do have a hair and makeup artist and hair makeup, but not the salon for manicotti. All right, everybody, let's look at this, Heather.

CA: But it makes sense.

UDS: Yeah, but anyway, so sort of getting back to the process, do the pre session consult, we let them know what the process is going to be. They'll come in for their shoot. We really don't put a time limit on it, but it usually is. It's almost always 2 hours. I mean we spend a lot of time because of it.

UDS: Sometimes it takes that long for pets to really like relax into it. Sometimes we have multiple pets we want to make sure and that a lot of times people are doing wardrobe changes. So and we do a backdrop to it and a lot of times we're just having so much fun, right? There's that. We're having fun in there talking.

UDS: By the time people leave that shoot, we're friendly.

CA: Okay, How much time do you usually allocate to the actual shooting? Oh, signatures.

UDS: On average for a signature session, it's probably 10 hours from start to finish from the.

CA: Time they're getting the whole day.

UDS: Oh, no, no, not shooting. No, no. From the recession console to the shoot to editing to to product fulfillment, no one is slash or shoot. Probably camera pickup to the end. Good hour. Well, it can last. It depends on what the shooters and sometimes a dog has done and sometimes we'll have five dogs. So I mean it just depends but we'll we don't put a time limit on us.

UDS: Our point we're going to shoot as long as we need to shoot. And then usually a little bit on top of that because.

CA: Usually like maybe two per.

UDS: Day, that's for that is it's one a day that we don't have. We're we're done. We're spent by the time we do a signature session, we are done there and easy, hard, easy. And then they'll usually come back a week or two later and we review their with we'll go through and whittle down their set to the best photos.

UDS: And and then again, depending on how many animals and stuff, we don't have a set number. We don't say we're going to show you 50 or anything like that. We're going to show them what we think are the best photos from the bunch. And it can range anywhere from 50 to a couple hundred if they have three or four dogs or they did multiple wardrobe changes and whatever.

UDS: I do want to point or put in on that one. When we first started, we down the proof set, it's fairly low compared to what we showing now. And then we discovered that people taking photos that we would have never picked just based on we pick our favorites and the client typically picks something different than what we would have thought is a favorite.

UDS: So we started including even more so maybe like in the beginning, we started off with 50 and now we'll show you 90. And if we've expanded it, it's a subtle expression changes that will really resonate with them that like we might have had like five photos that we thought were almost identical or very similar. So we'll whittle it down to show them one.

UDS: And then we realize, wait a minute, is that just that little squint of the eye or something that's really reminding them all? That's the look I get every morning when I when I had my dog. And, and for our clients who were doing albums, they actually really love the outtakes. So we started including a lot of the funny outtakes, knowing that there's a good chance that is going to say no.

UDS: But they were fun and they were funny. So we released one of them to see them, you know, and let them pick and decide if they wanted it in there. But sometimes it's like all you can see in the frame is a dog because we're running off the set and it's just funny and they love it. And when we're going through the photos to build, that proves that we're looking for technical details where as when you're as a client, assuming that they're looking for again, like she said, that little twinkle, that little more than a little emotional connection to the photo.

UDS: And we are, you know, going for details and so it it is very different. It's one thing that's very different about photographing pets versus and it might be similar photographing little kids. I just haven't enough to say that that's the same as photographing pets. It's like you can't just say stand on the X like you can with people like dogs are just and we don't we don't we don't confine the dogs.

UDS: We like them to do what they're going to do. And if it's a dog that's super jumpy and hyper, we're going to photograph them being jumpy and hyper. What that means is we have a lot of law that a lot about race. I mean, this film is focus or the dogs. Like like I said, they're jumping out of the frame or you see a slobber line, which we kind of love.

UDS: The clients don't always like that. But my point is, is that with people, you can pretty much sell almost every single frame with dogs because they can be literally running circles around us and we're photographing them trying to photograph them just as they have the right spot on the set. We don't always catch focus or, you know, it's a challenge like it's not 100%.

UDS: So we usually get we'll get rid of anything that's just technically about photo. And here's the thing, and it's a little bit different if you're a client. That's if you're a photographer who's mainly serving a client who just wants digital files and they're just going to show them on Instagram, you can get away with a lot of things.

UDS: Our clients and what we're shooting for is we're shooting for somebody who's we want every photo that we deliver. It's something that could be print easily printed either 50, 60 inches long and no problem. So a photo that might technically be just fine for somebody who's using them on social media or whatever, or even just like a branding, it can look fantastic on Instagram.

UDS: Fantastic. But it also but but if you try to print it, say like the examples that we have on the walls in here is not going to hold up. It's not going to look. It's going to fall apart. Yeah.

CA: So what type of you mentioned that there's like products that they can spend some of that is credits purchase. How is that coordinated? Like are you putting those yourself? Is it another.

UDS: Service we use or. Yeah, we use professional lab. So we have a couple of different places where we do our law. It might be that we order the print from one of our labs and we have a local framer do it. We also have another vendor that we can use for print wall art.

CA: Is that all seamlessly connected to your website or is it?

UDS: Yeah. No, no, they come in here, we do a design consultation, so we we've either gone to their home or they have sent us photos per our instructions and we will actually pull in the photos and read where they're going to hang art. And we have a way to do that so that we can then pull the framed artwork in to scale on their wall so they can see exactly what it's going to look like to scale.

UDS: So they're going to be scratching their head wondering if they've chosen the right size or if this to come over. This frame is great. So but we I mean, we basically we put our our interior design hat at that point, and we're helping them select the right frames to coordinate like, let's say they're doing a gallery wall. You don't necessarily want everything framed in the same frame.

UDS: We help them pick out frames that we know coordinate well together and to put together arrangements that are going to look incredible on the wall. And we will sometimes spend easily three or 4 hours with the client during their design session. So this is after the shoot, after they've chosen the photos that they want. We'll spend that much time.

UDS: Or if it's a client that's doing an album, usually only the design of the album to us, but we spend a lot of time doing that and it's still based on the things that we learned about that. Client. Let's say it's a client who their home is very modern and sort of clean and simple and all of that.

UDS: How we design that album, it's going to match that esthetic. If it's client who's, you know, has more of a warm, very earthy feel like we might have, well, we have kids so we help them pick out Yeah but interior and yeah, but even the design of it like we might have more images per page for those clients.

UDS: So we're doing more storytelling versus it being more portrait on each page. So all of that comes into play, so you can see why we need to get to know our clients really well because we, we take that to the end. What we never want to have happen is for that client's photos to be sitting on a hard drive or on or even more for thumb drive in a drawer, never to be seen again.

UDS: And having had experiences with my in my own family, losing my parents and then not being able to even find the family photos that my dad took the last ten years of his life because they were all digitally never printed them, couldn't find them. I mean, so they're gone. But I have but I have photos of my grandparents and my father when he was a child, a small baby from over 100 years ago.

UDS: Well, not I mean, that was but I mean, I have I have some family photos dating back that because they were printed and I still have them and my my nephew and great nephew and they're going to get those. They're going to have those, but they're not going to have that last ten years of digital photos that just they're lost in the ether somewhere.

UDS: So, yeah, it's digital is forever is only until only as long as you can access it. And she's right. As long as you're printing it. I have photos from my great grandmother that she had and. They're priceless to me. Right. And this is the first things you grab. We print no right to print. So that's and I it worries me because kids today, you know, when they take soap and when I say kids, young people who didn't, they like, they they didn't have that excitement of taking a roll of film to a lab to get a print because I was way you can see your photos.

UDS: Yeah. And they're taking hundreds and hundreds of photos every week and they're not printing them. Like, what are the odds in 20 years still going to be able to access those photos? I mean, when we first when I first started shooting professionally, I was delivering to clients on floppy disks and then CDs. And then CDs. As you know, they call up their name.

UDS: I can pull over, but you can't read all of the files in 15 years. So it hasn't even been that long. And that technology is it's just obsolete. You have to go in thrift store. Yeah. To find a way to read it or pay praises on this side or. Yeah, you've got it plugged in and there's a lightning strike and your power surge and all that and who's gone, who's really as good as they should be about backing up and copying to new media every time something becomes obsolete.

UDS: I mean, professional photographers are. Yeah. You know, because we understand that. But the average person doesn't do that. It's like, I think you understand it because you lost something. I have backups now because I have a nice little silver box of about 17,000 digital images that I can't access because it in fact, I'm up on something Never. So yeah, I learned that lesson.

CA: The tears don't do cloud storage.

UDS: Oh, we yeah, I've seen that back in the day. I know everything's backed up for time, so yeah, now we have onsite offsite and cloud storage, so. But now so is 15 years ago.

CA: So is there someone whose business you've been maybe inadvertently, maybe on purpose, modeling your business after.

UDS: I think we, we've text things from different things. So number one is just things that we just evolved. I don't even know how it came about over years, but there are I don't know any other double photographers that I don't know any other partners like us, but like some refrigerants. Yeah, but there are all sorts of either all sorts of things online now that have great courses like the business course, like if somebody was just starting out and I wanted to know if they're doing regular portrait photographer photography, like Sue Bryce has really great courses from using like all the technical side, there are a number of other groups that Shelby is great.

UDS: If you want to learn editing. Matt class goes to the tell me what used to be Photoshop USA or whatever. There are a lot of great resources for learning how to edit and how to process photos. Lots of great online courses for that. There's, there's the podcast. Andrew Yeah. Andrew Homans has an amazing podcast. The business of Photography and his photographers from different genres all the time.

UDS: So you're all these wonderful online resources to get inspiration and then you can choose what works for us. Yeah, and then from a business standpoint, Meghan, the Puro has a great offers great courses. If you're a pet photographer, just starting out really, really good content for somebody. Just starting out with pet photography is here all of the dogs.

UDS: So they're just like tons and tons of resources, which is amazing. I wish I had had that when I started. I mean, maybe was it, but I didn't know where to get it. And FFA to argue with you a thing like people like what happens? Good, That's.

CA: Good. There's like ten books on photography because I used to own one of those like tourist photo studios and people dress like Bill.

UDS: I love that. I did that in the eighties. I did that. No, I just did A couple of months ago. I loved.

CA: It. And you would print on like large format Polaroids are like, Wow, Yeah. But And so he's got this huge collection of photography books. And like, now that I'm actually playing with photography, I want to read those. But I imagine most of that stuff's going to go over my head because it's all filmed there.

UDS: There are two books I recommend to people a lot. If you're just starting out and you don't know how to turn your camera onto you, I recommend that you get a book. It's called Lighting Essentials. I see the one like Magic and then the I remember that the author of that book is a photographer. I can't think of his name right now, but it's lighting essentials.

UDS: And I think he's got like the third or fourth edition out. But it's great for people that need to learn how to like exposure triangle. So knowing shutter speed, aperture.

CA: That's every time I start using my camera.

UDS: Yeah. So lighting incentives is great. And then if you really want to if you really, really want to master light and you don't have to do it all at once, but there's a book and it's very dry, but it's called Light Science and Magic. That's what it is. And, and it has really great examples of how to shoot a lot of different things.

UDS: Great. Look, it is it's not it's not super colorful. They don't have a lot of like color photos in it, but it has a lighting diagrams and explain some of the science on it. It's yeah. And if you just like if you're just doing portraits photography again. Sue Bryce Her online courses are great because you have to see how she's setting up lights for She shot Paramount lighting and Rembrandt lighting and clamshell like all of the, all of the things that have regular like a human portrait photographer would do.

UDS: Yeah. I mean, you can't go wrong with one of her courses either, but light science and magic is going to teach you how to do product photography, just about any lighting scenario, but possibly also just putting your camera on manual and experiment. Experiment. Yeah. So the difference between us and it's the ying yang thing, obviously Lori is very book and technical and I call her a gearhead and I am very let's see what this button does.

CA: I know personally, like I because I go to the Tampa Bay Society photographic arts meetings a lot who Jose Gomez runs he's been on the podcast. I'm always impressed with his photos because he doesn't worry about things being clear about they're not being noise and like I'm terrified of there being noise in my photos, so I really need to get more comfortable just.

UDS: So that's where you learn the rules and then you break and every single one of them, right? I mean, I think I have never told anybody how they should do it. But if you want to have the most control, the most creative control, where you can actually decide how you want your photo to look, you should know how to do things.

UDS: From a technical standpoint. You should know how to not have noise in your photo and how not to have motion blur and how to deal with a low light situation or a fast moving subject, or how to get the greatest depth of field or the shallow depth of field. So knowing all of those things I think is important.

UDS: The more you know your craft, the more you can then create what you want to create and it becomes intentional and sort of accidental because as a professional you have to be able to produce consistently good quality work. You can't just always get away with spray and pray. You know, you can't just, you know, hope that you get something.

UDS: In practicing, I accidentally I accidentally discovered shallow depth of field because I bought a lens that was 2.8 and I just knew I needed more light. So that's why I bought the lens. And then I knew at 2.8 different steps that, oh, I could have the light looked good and then I discovered, Oh, when I do that, it's really soft in the background and I'll look at the Boca and look at this.

UDS: And now if you look at my catalog of all the photos I've taken ever since I discovered Shallow of the Field and then how much I loved it. Now I shoot that because I know exactly what I want and I want to look exactly a certain way. I stumbled on that at first, and that's where I'm seeing you practice and you're like, Oh, this didn't work.

UDS: This worked. And then you fall in love with something. And for me personally, I have a grass series that I've been shooting 20 years, 20 years, and I will follow up. You'll find a subject that you will fall in love with. And it sounds ridiculous to say, but I could go shoot for hours in the grassy little parking lot here and and shoot, you know, So you just practice and play this plane.

UDS: Yeah. So, yeah. And this is that whole Bob Ross thing, too. Happy little accident. Yeah. So you got all these notes and that's that's part of the excitement too, is experimenting like I know how some photographers just always stick to the rules. Like I said, knowing knowing how your equipment works is great, but so then you can call.

UDS: Yeah, As.

CA: Busy as you are in the studio, do you allocate time to play? Okay, good.

UDS: Yeah, we we both always have some personal parts going, not going to a series of sort of abstract seascapes I've been working on. I actually have a project. I'm not going to talk about it too much, but a personal project I'm doing with John Gaskin as a muse. He's been on your podcast as an artist. It's a really cool project and yeah, and I still do wildlife and nature photography and I still do conservation and photography.

UDS: And that's not something. I mean, sometimes I'm showing and selling, but it's not something I plan to do. Like I just do it because I absolutely love doing it. It's very meditative for me and it's a great excuse to get outside and photograph birds and nature and wildlife to look at birds. Let me just offer the graphic. Yeah, I haven't either outside with my camera and shoot or just walking down hill and doing some straight shooting and by mixing things up too.

UDS: I think it helps us come back with a fresh perspective for our shoots to the other things that I've shot outside of the studio. And then we get a dog out on the set and I saw this one shot with a dog. Yeah.

CA: So awesome. Well, thank you both so much for being on the podcast.

UDS: Thanks for sharing.

CA: Your amazing I know we could go on for like another 9 hours.

UDS: Right? We don't want to ruin your evening, so we could definitely chat. If you come in the studio, you'll find out we can chat, so I will. Thank you again so much. You'll be all wonderful. Thank you. Thank you. Bye.


Chain Assembly: Art for profit sake is recorded through Riverside FM, distributed through Spotify for podcasters, and edited on Adobe Audition. The music is provided by Old Romans. If you learned anything useful or found this podcast helpful, please rate and review us five stars. If you want to learn more about me or my art, head over to ChainAssembly.com.

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