Gary Hughes and the Business of Headshots

October 2, 2019

Welcome Gary, it is an absolute pleasure to have you as an Ambassador for RISE and for you to share a few of your photography secrets with our community.

RISE: You were in a different profession before photography, can you tell us a little bit more and did your parents influence your choices?

Yes! My parents retired from photography after 35 years in the business. They had a home studio in a small town; south of Florida of around 30,000 people. I actually tried everything not to do what my father did. So I tried out being a professional musician, had a construction business, founded an IT company, you name it I tried it…

I bought a Canon Digital Rebel on a Black Friday Sale and took pictures for fun and immediately liked it, I decided to go and work with  my parents for a while at weekends in their studio in South Florida, which was a couple of hours drive each way. Something I couldn’t sustain but knew I had to work this out for myself.

My parents recommended that I should work for a studio in Orlando where I was living, this is where I learnt a lot, carrying bags, doing photoshop, lighting and album design, up to this point I didn’t do much photography, just watched and listened.

I met my wife Julie at a bar down town, she loved photographing the music scene, so we shared common ground. After 6 months of dating we decided to open a studio together. We were very quick to learn and took that jump into photography, which paid off as we are about to celebrate 11 years of photography.

“Communication is key”!

RISE: Congratulations! How did you know where to start, what came first?

Well it took us a few years to find out, as we decided to do EVERYTHING. This wasn’t sustainable or realistic. We soon found that our most successful area of photography for us, was the area we put the least amount of advertising into, so for us it was Headshots, we do a small amount of website, branding for businesses, we also capture images for executives, actors and more recently a lot of models.

Sure it was scary to give up photographing weddings and portraits and the boutique end of our business but once we focused we became authentic. We found our niche and happy place.

We work Monday to Friday, no evenings, our hours are 10am – 6pm. It works for us and our family. this has now been our business for the past 4 – 5 years.

RISE: You say ‘Your Business should have Purpose’ what do you mean and how has this helped you?

“You should be able to say what your business is in one sentence”.

Gary Hughes

We never used to be able to do that but now we can. 

I bet if most people looked at their business they would be able to narrow their successful part down to two or three things. For us it has worked narrowing our business into what makes money, which is what business should be about and people often forget that.

“We are a Commercial Portrait Studio”.

Our “why statement” is….

‘ To empower professionals and help businesses and brands grow’

RISE: How rewarding is it for you to train others?

The biggest problem I see is photographers struggling with strobes. It seems to be a big hurdle. To do what I do, you have to know how to use strobes.  So yes I do enjoy teaching others but I mainly focus on the business training. 

I find people desperately want to do what they love for a living, but realise when they try and do what they love, the fear of failing makes them hate the thing they used to love. It causes anxiety, sleepless nights and bitterness because they realised they forgot to put the business part first!

If photographers took a look at each area of their business and admitted there was something they couldn’t do, they could outsource this area to someone who could push their business forward, whilst they concentrate on the taking images side of things. What photographers tend to do, is market their business until they get busy then take their eye off their marketing, so its a catch 22. 

My advise would definitely be to identify your strengths.

RISE: How do you manage the briefs on emails with pricing?

You know, it’s all the same, it’s taking pictures for peoples jobs at the end of the day, You have to get your pricing structure down and realise, you have to charge for your time, it is the only way to make sense of it.

The thing that makes one job different to another when it pings your email, is certain jobs are time dependant, so when a job comes in, if it’s not responded to within 15 minutes say, someone else will and you could lose that job. You can tell when a job comes in, if its a circular email and they are really just waiting for the first photographer to get back to them. You can tell with the tone of an email.

RISE: What makes up your mobile kit?

It basically fits into two bags, it’s very light and portable and almost cordless, the only cord is tethered to a laptop. Portable strobes, umbrellas with diffusing covers, reflectors and portable backdrops, light stand. As little as I can possible get away with.

We will often change the background post shoot as a lot of clients are not sure what they want. It’s often better sometimes to do a digital background replacement because I have clients with me for years, so makes things more constant. You also never know what size of space you have to shoot, I could be in a broom cupboard and I know I can adapt to whatever is thrown at me.

“You have to grow a skill set and create a great experience for your clients”.

RISE: How do you make your clients comfortable in front of the camera?

Honestly, you know there is no trick to it; just to be a decent human being. Just ask questions, listen to the answers, address their concerns, be fun and interesting. I just want them to relax. If there is a concern, ask about it and address it. Let them know you are listening, be kind, be thoughtful. People will match your energy and I work with this. This isn’t about you, its about them, help them feel good about the situation. 

You know with corporate head shots you will often only get 4 or 5 minutes of their time, so be observant, slow things down, help them to relax. Make it an experience and remember this is often a shot that will go on a company website, so make sure it’s an enjoyable experience, they are more likely to like their image.

RISE: As a RISE Ambassador and an International judge can you explain what responsibilities judges have so we can pass it on to our members.

It used to be, show the judges how clever you are. But now, with all associations I work with (I have worked with most), the judges know when a photographer puts their work out there for critique, its your job and responsibility as a judge to give feedback that is actionable, it’s your job to tell the truth but also your job to be kind. We are visual creative people, every time someone takes an image it’s almost like giving birth, you know what I mean, its your baby, your pride and joy, it’s something you have created. People will only enter their very best work into a competition, so when they have bravely put their work in front of a panel of their peers, its our duty to give them something tangible they can go away with and improve. 

Judges spend 100’s of hours judging and have worked many years to have the privilege to have that judging seat, no one is just given a seat. Everyone  who judges has worked very hard to get there and their motivation for being there is to give back.

RISE: We have enjoyed our time with you, Gary and want to thank you, before we go, can we ask….Why have you decided to support RISE and its Members

The world has made so much progress but I feel it isn’t quite equal yet and I stress YET! It’s important to realise that women are excluded from certain things. To see strong professional creative women support each other, showing other professional women to aspire and work as a family, to me is important. Groups like RISE, give that support, you know working on our own is the nature of the industry, many other professionals have co workers, we don’t have that support structure and try to figure that out for ourselves. So it is critical to have that structure to lean on. People want to belong and be part of a community and that is what RISE is doing. 

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