Interview with Susan Stripling
What I want to do is share with you one of my friends. She is an amazing wedding photographer. And she is an incredible instructor and CreativeLive instructor and an incredible speaker and teacher. I watched her wedding segment on Photo Week and learned more about wedding photography or really more about lens compression from this woman in five minutes than I've learned in my entire career. The way she teaches is very, very clear and relevant and I love teachers that give lots of information and make a difference. We've become friends and she's also an amazing woman who's also married to an incredibly talented photographer as well. So they are definitely the glitterati of the amazing instructors and wedding photographers in the U.S. And that is Susan Stripling. So, in our conversations, Susan Stripling, as you know if you watched her workshop, the 30 days that she did around wedding photogrpahy, Susan has locked down her budget, her income, how many shoots she needs to do a year, and w...
hat she does with that money so well that when she did the segment on what she has to earn, what her future business goals were, it blew my mind because I've just spent the day telling you photographers do not know what their business goals are and this woman has locked it down to "I want to earn this much money, "This is what I want to do with it." So, about a month ago she said to me "I'm going to introduce portraiture to my business." And she is currently painted a studio and has started shooting beauty, boudoir, and glamour. To me she is going to transition, well, not even transition, add this to her business so easily and I want you to see her a this stage so you can watch the trajectory of this fabulous woman. We shoot very differently. She uses studio lights more than I do. She shoots very similar to her wedding style, which is incredibly glamorous. Susan is also very famous for her beautiful detail shots and she has a very high class element to her weddings. So I know that's gonna transfer beautifully into her portraiture. So I asked Susan if she would come on and give you another end of the spectrum and that is somebody who has been rocking their photography business for 13 years that is now including portraiture into their brand and I'm gonna watch her sales skyrocket and I really can't wait for her to share more about that over the next six month to a year. So, I asked Susan if she'd Skype in from New York because she's at the very beginning stages. She has painted her studio. She has done three shoots. And like she said, she doesn't have the luxury to make the mistakes that newbie photographers make because she is already in business. She's a high profile. She's gonna hit the ground running hard, and she's the sort of person that will run hard. So, Susan, hi.
Hi. (audience applauds) What's up?
Oh, you look so beautiful.
Welcome to my mess. It's disgusting in here. This is all the stuff that's going to the studio, so I swear, my house does not always look like this.
So, first off for the people that are just meeting you for the first time, your website is?
Stripling, so S-T-R-I-P-L-I-N-G dot com. Your twitter handle?
You're easy to find. Instagram? (laughs)
Very good. Oh, she's easy to find. You're gonna find her everywhere. All right Susan, I want you to tell everyone why you did it, what you're doing, how you're going to do it. I want you to give everybody the introduction into what you're gonna do because she's already sent me the results from her first three shoots and they are absolutely beautiful. It's totally different from me. She's gonna rock this genre and I really look forward to watching her. So, tell us a little bit about what you're doing and why.
Well, it's kind of two-fold. I used to have a studio in Florida and I hated it. I did children, I did families, I did babies. And what I learned from the several years of doing that is that I don't like children, families, or babies. Right? (Susan and audience laughing) No, I don't, sorry, no offense. I don't like your kids. But I--
You like your kids though, right?
Oh, my kids are cool, yeah. My kids are, other people's kids, not so much. But, yeah, I was doing a lot of weddings where clients were wanting boudoir photography and it wasn't necessarily something I was putting out there, but I was getting two things. Clients that wanted boudoir and then clients who wanted kind of fashion based bridal sessions or post-wedding bridal sessions of a more studio type. And I didn't have anywhere to do these and the boudoir thing wasn't really working out because clients would have to rent a hotel room or I'd have to go to their apartment and sometimes that wasn't great, and I couldn't really control the environment. So a couple months ago Jeffrey Mosier, he's a headshot photographer in New York, his studio lease was running out and he needed a studio roommate. So, I told him if he found us a good place in Brooklyn I would share with him and we found a great spot. And we've been in the space for about a month. And I started doing shoots in there. I've got some models in there because I feel like you can't sell it if you don't show it and as nobody's gonna hire me if I can't show them the work I've done. So, I've recruited some fellow photographers who are brave enough to let me put their pictures on the internet and just kind of a casting call of real people models so that I can show clients what I can do and hope they'll hire me.
So do you feel you have different challenges than newbies and what do you think they are? What frightens you the most? What excites you the most?
So, yeah, I mean I have different challenges, and they're kind of two-fold. First, there's the photographer side of things because I do educate and I have made a good career out of good, strong, solid education for wedding photographers. And now I have a following of photographers which is really humbling, but they're all watching me do this thing for the first time. So I feel like I have a responsibility to the people who listen to what I have to say to not screw it up. So there's that side of things. And then I have existing clients. Wedding clients, clients that I've had for years, that are going to come to me for this and it needs to start at the same level as my wedding work has started. So, I can't just do kind of newbie glamour work when my wedding work is up here. It has to start out of the gate, right at the same level of my wedding work, which is, you know, I've been doing this for 13 years and I still get scared doing this. So, I'm putting a new venture out there. I putting new work out there that photographers haven't seen, that clients haven't seen, and just like anybody who's starting something new, I'm hoping that it resonates with people. I'm doing it with 13 years of business know how behind me and I'm not learning how to use studio lights and I'm not learning how to use my lenses, but I am doing something new and no matter how long you've been in business that's scary.
And exciting, right?
Tell me, have you, in yourself, one month in, do you feel confident that you've locked down the packages you wanna sell, the prices you wanna sell for, and maybe your first level of marketing which would be contacting your current database, because you have such a large database. Do you feel strong there?
I do actually, and I was never going to do this until I was completely certain what I was going to do. Because I remember my first three years of being in wedding business. I remember my first few years of being in a portrait studio and kind of making up stuff as I go along and if I'm going to command the price that I want to command for this, at the level of work that I think I'm going to produce for people, I needed to have a very clear, very concise price list and as you mentioned before, I'm a numbers person. I wanted to know that I would be profitable. So, I'm up at 3:00 in the morning making spreadsheets of it will cost this to produce it, I want to sell it for this, my profit will be this, my time in it will be that. And I'm starting off with a very small price list. I don't have a billion bells and whistles on it because I want to control it from the very beginning and not add on things until I find a need for them.
You already have a very strong, wedding business. Is this a end to your wedding business or an instead of? Are you replacing weddings or are you making more income and therefore making more work for yourself?
Yes, kind of to all of the above. No, I am not stopping shooting weddings. And a couple people have emailed me and said "Oh my god, you're not going to do weddings anymore." Well that's foolish, I love doing weddings. But still, I love doing them, but I do about 50 a year. And that's a completely insane number of weddings to do.
50, five zero? You do 50 weddings, yeah?
Yeah. Five zero. A lot. Last year I did 53, I think this year I have 47 so far. Which is a lot. And I don't want to stop doing them, but I don't like to put all of my eggs in one income basket. And I think that diversifying is a very smart thing. So it isn't an instead of, it's an in addition to. It will be another service that I can offer to my wedding clients but it will also be a venture that I can offer to people beyond the wedding world. People who aren't engaged. People who have been married. Everybody, all the way around. This will be something a little more universal, I guess. You don't have to get married to have glamorous portraits of yourself.
The boudoir movement has been going for around 10 years. Why now?
You know, because I really hated it before now. I feel like there's, the way wedding photojournalism sort of got a bar rap for a while, I feel like boudoir kind of has an image around it that isn't necessarily what it should be. I think when a lot of people think boudoir they think sleazy pin-up. They think trashy Victoria's Secret lingerie, like spread out across some black satin sheets. And I wanted to show people that it could be glamorous and it could be sexy without being dirty. And that it's more celebratory. Do something a little bit more fine art. Give somebody something a little bit more long lasting so that they don't look back, kind of like when I got Glamour Shots when I was 13, right? Like that cheesy, in the mall Glamour Shot thing. I feel like a lot of boudoir photography nowadays has gone that route. So I'm trying to do more of a timeless fine art thing and I really wasn't willing to do it until I was going to be able to do it the way that I wanted to, so that it felt like the rest of my work. And also until some very kind, sweet, friend of mine said, "You really need to do this, what are you waiting for?" (Sue laughs) I mean listen, maybe I would have done it this year, maybe I would have done it next year, but that's kind of why it's so great to have friends in the industry who push you beyond what you're comfortable doing. I feel like Sue was kind of that hand in my lower back that said, "just do it."
Just so we're very clear, I'm never gonna shoot weddings, no matter how hard you push me in the lower back. (both laughing) 'Cause 53 weddings, I'd rather stick pins in my eyes 53 times. But you know what, all I see is that she photographs these incredible weddings and I get the chance to photograph those women every year and you don't get that with wedding photography. Now granted, you probably get five years of income instead of one, but I get these women back every single year and now she can double market, cross market, and it will not hinder her wedding business. I probably think the biggest complaint you're gonna get is from Cliff because he's not gonna see you much and your children. It will be (laughs)
No, it's, that's another thing that's kind of a challenge is you bring a new venture into an existing business, how do you fit it into the framework that you already have and how do you make sure you can see your husband and see your kids and this doesn't do what businesses can do and just take you over. So I have a threshold, if I reach this point I'm going to need help in the studio. And if I reach this point I'm gonna bring on an intern into the studio. So that I don't do what I did to my wedding business, which was let it eat my life, like six years ago. So, that's never gonna happen again.
So when you did your financial on your 30 day workshop on the last day, when you ran your financial (both laughing) diagnostics that blew me away. Because you not only had it locked down to spreadsheets and you had numbers and you even had your children's college in there which really freaked me out 'cause I don't think beyond, I don't have kids so I don't think beyond next month's shoe purchase. That's not quite true but you know what I mean. The truth is what excites me is I wanna see what you do with this in six months time because I know how open you are to making this work and how you've already planned it. You're so different to me and you shoot so differently to me and you have an existing market and you're a brilliant photographer so good luck and thank you so much and watch this space. And at the moment you've done a teaser on your blog.
I have one picture up on my blog. I have a couple more on my Facebook page. I didn't want to, you know, throw everything that I shot out all at once, so I've been, I'm going to be leaking it out in bits and pieces and just to show people who, wedding clients who want to see what it can look like and then people who just come to my site and say "Oh, she does boudoir, what does that look like?" I wanna show it to them steadily instead of one big post out there and that's it. I've got some clients on the books. I've got people already coming in, but what scares me is the same thing that scares everyone else, it's that intangible thing that you can do it all by the books and you can do it all right, but is it gonna catch with your market? Are people actually going to book you? Well, come back in six months and find out. Hopefully I don't just have a big expensive studio that I watch TV in all the time. (audience laughs)
So, what I do love is that you can obviously shoot sessions on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday when you can't do that with weddings, if you chose to. You can shoot while your daughters are at school. And I feel like you're opening a revenue stream into a studio that potentially could be huge for you. And I just feel like it's a given to somebody at your level, shooting weddings at your level.
Here's hoping. I mean I'm doing, like I said, I'm doing it all. I'm taking my own advice, I'm doing it all right. I'm doing it all the right way. I just have to hope that when I put it out there, and I start marketing it out there, that it's something that people want. And I just hope they do.
All right, does anybody have any questions for Susan, because that's really where I wanted to go with that and then I'm gonna--
Here in my messy room I'll say anything.
Well, people are asking about, oh, hi Sue.
There's too many Sues and Susans in this house. Good to see you. Sue's neighbor wants to know "how do you balance work "with your kids, especially when you started?" Work-life balance, what does that mean for Susan Stripling?
I mean I, it's so important to me that I actually spent an entire day of the 30 Days of Wedding Photography talking about this. I set a schedule and I don't deviate. Like for example, I don't do engagement sessions on weekends and I won't shoot your session at 9:00 at night on the days that I've got my kids. I have these hills that I'm willing to die on. And I'll turn business away before I will lose time with my kids. Like Sue said, my husband's also a wedding photographer, so if we don't make time to be with each other, all we'll do is work. So there's no hard and fast way to do it. You just have to know when to say no to work. And when to shut the computer down and go do something else.
Well, cool. (both laughing) We had a couple in here. We have Amy and Dusty who were also talking about that working together and work-life balance and so lots of great conversation going on Susan. That's all I have for now and we have a lot more to get to. Oh, Laurie. (mumbling off mic) (Sue and Susan laughing)
We're phoning you in there. Talk to us.
I actually have every single one of Sue Bryce's CreativeLive classes. And I'm watching them, like daily, with pen and paper and taking notes so I'm going through the 28 Days just like everybody else did.
But what I really love is when she's watching it she critiques me and she's saying to it, she's like "So I'm watching this," and I always think (laughs). It's so funny, cool
I do. I miss you guys.
Aw, we miss you too.
We miss you too.
Thanks Susan, I can't wait to watch. I'm gonna go and read your blog and make sure you head over to her Facebook page and watch that because I think that's gonna be really neat to see.