SKYPE INTERVIEW: Allison Tyler Jones
Our next guest is Allison Tyler Jones, you guys have heard me talk about her lots. She is in her studio in Mesa, Arizona. Good morning sweet Allison, how are you my dear?
I'm good, it's so good to see your face!
It's so good to see yours, you look fantastic. She is in her studio space at the moment, and Allison's work is so her. I just, every time I see I piece of her's it' just clear and obvious that it is. But I wanna go through that same process with you, and find out how you kinda came to this conclusion that this was your style, and how you describe your own style.
Okay, well I thought more about this after we talked last time, and I think, your style, we can't get away from ourselves, right? So we are who we are, and I came from a fine art background, black and white, dark room, I've always loved that. And then at some point, I had a lot of children. (laughter) And I realized that life was not this perfectly posed, lit situation. And so when I first started doing photograph...
y for money, I loved the lifestyle, location thing. I loved the candidness of that, but I also still really really loved studio, but I didn't love the Olin Mills, painted background, you know what I'm sayin'? So I was like, how can I get lifestyle, live candid, but still get my love for the lighting in there? Like do you light a two-year old with a beauty dish? Like this is called low-percentage shooting, right? But I wanna do it anyway, so I think you kinda said it to me when you came to the studio, you said, you're shooting lifestyle in studio, you're shooting lifestyle in studio, and that's kind of what, how I think of it. It's a candid loose, motion, emotion. That's the number one thing for me. I've tried props, I've tried backgrounds, and I like clean, just the kid or just the family, it's either going to be a personality, or a relationship that I'm photographing. So that's, I want it stripped back to nothing but that. So I love a commercial look, I love a lifestyle look, but I love a studio look, and I like the control of studio, but I don't want it to look like Olin Mills.
We just shot a family session earlier, and I think you guys can all hear and feel how much this woman has influenced me in the last six months. And her, what she does and her art, she would've been one of my picks. One of my artist picks. And one of her images that she has in her studio wall, is a little girl with sunglasses on, holding a purse. with a lollipop in her mouth, and the wind blowing in her hair, and that image is like iconic to me. And you are seeing me discover that when I go through that find-it formula, using the elements and components that Allison has mastered so well. And I encourage you to do this. I will never be Allison, Allison will never be me, it's not gonna happen. But you have found a style that is so uniquely you, and now it's inspiring others. How did you know when that was it? Like how do you know when it's it?
Well yeah, I think that you find it when you, I love listening to Lindsey, cause I think there's such similarity there as far as thought process. But you know, you'll stumble on an image and you're like yes, that is, yes, I want to do more of that, I love that. And so one image that I took a long time ago, was a dad had the little girl over his shoulders and she was just cracking up. And he's just laughing straight at the camera, and I'm like, yes, I want that more of that. I also like naughty kids two of my seven children, have autism and are really naughty. And I have five boys so like, yeah naughty rank supreme. And so I love that spark in the eye, and I love that little left of center, not totally posed normal. 'Cause we really don't do normal at our house. So I love that little wild card thing in there. So for me, central is the work. I know that there's photographers that talk about, you're work doesn't have to be that good, you just have to be a good marketer. I feel like the work needs to be great, and that that's where the whole thing starts. Is the, my work is clean, it's emotional, and then, I'm putting that into my business, it's how my studio looks, it's how my branding is, it's how my website looks, it's all, all those things are kind of filtered through that lens of connection, emotion, but spare and clean.
Now I wanna show some images of yours as we talk to you, a little bit. And I want everybody to see this style, 'cause I didn't go over the images before we talked to you. But there's always some element of surprise in what you do. And I think that's so much a part of your personality. And you use color, but you don't use a lot of color in your work, why?
I don't like color. (laughter) Even my color work you'll see, is pretty monochromatic. You might see skin tones, hair color, but I just love the expression, emotion, line, that's the most important thing to me. I want to strip everything back to just the, that kid's personality. If you're gonna use color like in this instance with this mom, she is the only girl in the family. And she loves pink, I mean Barbie pink. And so she was dang well gonna be the girl in that picture. So that tells a story about, it's her favorite color, she's the only girl in the family, you know so it has a purpose.
Now I also wanna discuss with you, this image just cracks me up, the dog's tongue out just kills me.
Yeah there were no head swaps on that, I would just like credit for the fact that there are no head swaps there.
It's just so awesome, and this is the image that inspired me so much. And I think you guys can see totally, how I'm discovering a certain part of my style from her influence along with many others. But your studio is so your brand. And we're showing images right now of that, and I wanted to talk to you a little bit about, how you've infused style into your brand. 'Cause you've done it masterfully, and that's really the next step when it comes to finding your style, is going from, okay I know what my work is, now I need to incorporate that into my business. How did you do that?
Okay, so it starts for me, always with the work itself. And so for me, as a fine art photographer, prior, coming up through the fine art world in the dark room, I was cutting my own eight ply mats, framing, finished products. And so once I finally settled about five years ago that we're not doin' digital files, all I'm doing is a finished product. It made it very simple for me to just say, okay now how do I want my work to be presented? I don't want it on purses, I don't want it on jewelry, it needs to be in a fine art substrate, on a wall. What would Museum of Modern Art do? What would MOMA do? And so, is it on a canvas with a black photo frame, is it a framed, fine-art print framed to image? So that's basically how I'm doing it. So the work itself, how it's presented, well, when the work is presented in that fashion, how do you hang something like that? Well it's usually in a gallery type space, so we did white apoxy floors, kind of a gallery type space. But then I think when people come into a gallery type space they might think, oh you're a good photographer, but they don't think how's that gonna work in my house? So I wanted them to have the context of, furniture, like this is a wall that could be in your house. You have a sofa that could be like this, you probably, if you have children, would not cover it in white. However, you would have a picture above it. Or if you have a doorway, like the picture you can see in the back there with the studio over the top. You've got, everybody has a doorway in their house, you could flank it with four pictures on either side of a doorway. So it was really a function of, I wanted that gallery feel, but I also wanted the home feel and it was a place for them to see, for me to be very intentional about what I wanted to show my client. This is what I should shoot for you. Oh my heavens to Betsy, wow.
(laughs) You gotta tell this story. You gotta tell this story. (laughs)
Okay so when I first came into my studio, I had this picture, and I loved this family, they're one of my favorite clients. I had this family hanging on the wall in a very traditional presentation, my sister, who's an interior designer and designed my space, walked in and she's like, get that picture off your wall. And I'm like, I love these people, I want this on my wall. And she said, that is so not your style, that is so not what you're doing. And it really wasn't, but I just loved the people so much. And I mean if you look at this, this is like Kevin Kaboda's Lord of the Rings like action with like the glowy skin and all that, you remember, remember? Yeah so yeah this is wrong on every level. I mean darling, technically correct. But just not my style, so sometimes it takes your sister, and you know this very well with Jenny, to say, my name is no.
(laughs) My name is no. And but tell us, I remember, I know we don't have any pictures of it, but you replaced it with that negative space canvas thing that you do. She does this, like she'll do a lot images with clean, and lot of negative space. Well she did this, was it a six up canvas series?
I might be able to show it to you, hang on.
Oh here we go.
I'm gonna get test, this is gonna be scary, just a sec, okay I don't know if you can see it, hold on hold on.
There we go.
We can see it.
Can you see it? We can see it right there, tilt up there you go. So she did this 'cause these two kids on either side of the frame, and there's two gray canvases in the middle.
Yeah so six total, 20 by 24 canvases, yeah.
And so you replaced it with that, why and what has been the response since then?
Everybody loved it, and so they're like that is the coolest thing I've ever seen. That would never go in my house. But what it did is it kind of elevated me in their mind as someone that could create something cool for them. And they may still only buy the traditional photograph, because as we all know, we tend to be liars when we go and shop, people will come in, those of you who are photographers know, and they'll say, "Oh I just want all this "loving and hugging and kissing and I love that picture "of the girl with the lollipop." And they come in and they've got the kids hair is like mommy mommy my pigtails are too tight, and they're like quaffed within an inch of their life, and they're like yelling at their kids like "sit down, I just want to see how much "we love each other damnit!" (laughter) We can't photoshop love, okay? Calm, be calm. So you want to shoot that normal picture, normal picture. But it took a while, probably about five years for somebody to actually buy that and put it in their house. It did, no maybe three years, yeah, before somebody finally bought it and put it in their house.
That is awesome.
But it just, you need to have something in your studio that maybe nobody will ever buy. But it just shows that you have the balls to go there.
Yeah, you've got it nailed. How do you think, I mean and I'll ask you the same question I asked Lindsey, 'cause I think it's an important one. There's so many people out here who struggle with this. But when you're branding, and you've got two different genres that you do, I mean you mainly focus on families and kids and some high school seniors here and there. But when you've got like, say you do family portraits and weddings, and they're two totally different styles, how do you merge that into one business?
Well I quit doing weddings, so that was my solution. (laughter) Just quit doing weddings, it's too hard. And besides, the bride and groom are so not interesting anyway. (laughter) So it's like the old people and the kids, really that's the only interesting people at the wedding. So just quit doing weddings, stop. Listen to Ryan Calaway, he'll tell you what to do.
(laughs) That's true.
You know what, I make a joke, but that is actually true, I finally realized that like that one, I did do weddings for a while, but that one product line, was sucking me dry, and making me lose joy for life. And I don't really totally love to do seniors either. My sweet spot is kids and family. And, like I said, I used to do location, then I realized I loved studio. And so I've just kind of like gone nrrrr. Like this is what I wanna do, and so people will come and say, well do you do location? Like I see on your site that all you have is studio and I don't know that I really wanna do studio, and I'm like, okay, well I just wanna focus on your kids expression, their personality, I don't care about the trees in the park. I care about your kid. So what are they gonna say? Okay, well I don't care about my kid? Like let's go see the trees in the park. But if you want trees in the park, and chasing into a field, then you're gonna pick a different photographer than me. If you want like that spunk in the eye, that sassy face, that connection, that's what you're gonna pick me for, an then I'm gonna create something amazing to put on your wall. You know, a piece of art that happens to be your family.
And that is your tagline isn't it?
Where are you going with your style? Do you feel yourself experimenting or changing at all?
I'm always messin' around with my light. But I find, and I'm sure you're probably like this too, that the more you narrow, having that creative constraint allows you actually to be freer within a narrower niche. And so I'm always messing with light. And light might be by inches or modifiers, so I'm always kinda playing with that, or kinda doing something a little bit different this year, just kind of you know, thinking about that. But one thing I was gonna tell you that I keep thinking, as I've thought about this conversation and I think it might be helpful, and I was just reading this amazing book. It's called Different by Youngme Moon, and she's a marketing professor at Harvard. And the book came out like 2010, but I just re-read it, just re-listened to it on Audible. And she, it was like revelation, amazing, so great to re-read, she's like, don't compete with anybody else. Don't compare, that the more we compete and look around at what everybody else is doing, the more we become like other people rather than being who we already are. And so I think when you're talking about a style, is that, while you're looking around, we always have to look for influences, we do it, we practice it just like your formula that you're talking about. But always have time to be quiet and still inside, and say, do I really love that, does that really sing to my soul? And then double down on what you're good at. Rather than, oh she's using props, I should be using props. 'Cause I did that. Like I need a brokade background, I need a big choo-choo, I need a big bow in the hair. And it was horrible. So finally I'm like no, I need to quit doing couch in a field, go back to the studio, do the lighting the way that I want it. And then go for expression, double down on the things that I'm good at, rather than trying to spread myself too thin. And that's something that really changed the way I work completely.
That is such great advice. How do you shut up that voice in your head though, when you do wanna compare and put yourself down and you grasp at straws to try to, I think a lot of times when we do compare ourselves and wanna like, do what the competition is doing, it's because we're lost ourselves, and we don't really know where we're going. So we're trying new things, and then that fear of, oh my gosh, I've gotta do what they're doing, they look really successful, so I need to do that too. How do you break out of that shell and stop competing and stop comparing?
I really feel like for me, it has to, you have to have time to be in your own head and be quiet. And for some people that's meditation, for me it's just like, I go to the gym and I get there early and I have a notebook and I just sit in my car and I just think. Like what do I wanna do, what do I want this business to be? And I know that sounds really dumb, but I have to block off, there's just too much stimuli. Like you could be on Instagram your entire life, and never see anything, right? Everybody's life is so amazing and so perfect. And so it's this totally threatening like, oh my gosh, she just posted a bunch of Facebook ads that she's doing mini sessions, I should be doing mini sessions. It's like nope, I quit dong mini sessions. So some of my things have been really counter-intuitive. So when I see that a lot of people are doing something, I kinda tend to go, okay do I really wanna do that? 'Cause everybody else is doing that. How do I see it, you know? So it's really having that ability to be silent, and then also, I think one of the things that you said Julia yesterday is, look outside your industry. Don't be just looking at other photographers, look at interior design, look at dance, look at art, look at painting, you know, like the painter that you had yesterday. Look outside of PPA, WPPI, like look at what commercial photographers are doing, like if I had to pick my photographers, almost all of 'em are commercial photographers. So it's just, you have to, don't worry, it's so hard, it's so hard, but just don't worry about what anybody else is- It's like your mom always told you. Don't worry about what anybody else is doing. You just worry about you. (laughter)
I love that, I think we end on that, that was fantastic. Allison, is there anything else that I forgot to ask her that you want to add, as last minute advice, last minute thoughts, something that came through you that we didn't mention?
I think that this is such a good topic, And I think it's so needed, and I think everybody's gonna just love it and those of you who are watching this and thinking, "Yeah, I'm gonna download that thing, "but I'm not gonna do the work," do the work! (laughter) 'Cause something like this, forcing yourself to do what you're asking people to do, is actually going to leapfrog you forward. So what I would say is, turn off your Instagram feed. If you have to delete it from your phone for a week, turn off Facebook, turn off the blogs, turn off the forums, take your little downloadable form and go do it. (laughter)
I love you Allison you're awesome. So if people want to learn from you, 'cause I know you do some Learning for Photographers as well, where can they find you online?
You can email me at email@example.com. And atjphoto.com is my website.
Perfect, thank you my dear, you were so awesome and thank you for your wonderful personality and your amazing work. (applause) What did we take away from that? Well first of all, she's funny isn't she? I just love her, she just says it like it is. (laughs) It's so great, any takeaways from that one?
Some thing that really struck a chord with me was when she was saying, well I just don't do weddings. Where when I started I was second shooting for weddings. Sometimes I did, you know I did everything. And even while I was shooting a wedding, I felt myself at the dance floor taking pictures of the kids or doin' the bubbles, that's all I wanted to do. And I'd have to force myself to go do the other things. And so I luckily realized early on, you know what, I don't care about, I mean, I care about the bride and the groom, but what makes me joyful, what makes my heart sing was the kids and so, very early on, I at least was able to narrow that down, but I think it's really important to just say, what is it that I love? And maybe you do love all those and maybe it's a technique that you love or your style isn't about the subject matter but I think that was really cool.
That's one of those little tap on the shoulder moments. Where you're supposed to go in a direction, and then it's like, oh you wanna shoot that maybe you should go with it. What else?
Both Allison and Lindsey said, it was the discipline and do the work, and that was really just to do it. But also what I took was that, with the brand you may have this, but there may be that other part that you really like, but you don't have to show it. It can be part of your own personal, maybe you give it to your sister. Like that that they're maybe part of what you do that's not part of your brand, and that's okay. And that can be a personal part, something else that you have for your own personal enjoyment you know like the picture that she said she had to take down because her sister said no. Because it didn't match her brand but that didn't necessarily mean that she still didn't perhaps like that. Or even like it personally. I have things that I love personally in my own stuff, but not everybody wants to see Alaska brown bears on their walls. So and personally I could spend all summer with them, but not everybody can, that's something else that sells instead.
Or it's just a tiny facet of what you do, and not the major component of your style. I really took away from both of these women, the concept of editing and discipline. And I think you hit the nail on the head. We have to be vigilant when we're finding our style about editing our work and editing what we put out there and what we show and just being disciplined in general. Not only about the editing process, but disciplined in finding our style, and actually doing what it takes to do it. Anything else? Yeah?
What she had said about tuning out other photographers and not competing and not trying to copy them or have that style. I mean that's something that I have known, and I know this like deep down inside, don't do that. But I still catch myself, if I'm feeling like in a little bit of a rut with what my style is, or like how my website looks or how my Instagram looks, and I'll be looking at other photographers and I'm like, oh I like that maybe I should do that, and then I put myself in this spin of trying to do a style that's not really myself. And I constantly have to bring it back. So that is such an important point that I know but I keep forgetting.
It's so hard to do too. 'Cause you're so lured by that imposter syndrome on your shoulder, 'cause when you do start looking, it's like the spiral of death. You go down this hole, that you'll never get out of, because you do that, you look at other photographers website, oh their website's so pretty, I should do that. And then if you even take that step forward and try to emulate that, you are going down that dark rabbit hole that you'll never get out of. And it never fully feels like you. It may feel like you for a month, and then you'll be feeling, oh it's stale, it's not me. And you know it's funny because I have changed my, my website's so old it's not even funny. I think it' three years old, and I have not changed it 'cause it's still me, the design. The work is getting stale, I need to update that. But the actual design itself of the website, I don't need to change it, it's pretty much me. But I know exactly where you're at, because we all still do it, the same thing, she talks about mini sessions, and oh they're doing mini sessions (mumbles) to do that. She so doesn't do mini sessions, I mean you cannot get a mini session from Allison, it is full on, you're gonna be spending three or four thousand dollars when you go to Allison. And all her clients know that. So if she started jumping on that competition train, she would rape her business, and completely destroy what she's built, by trying to do mini sessions because she got scared. And so I think that's the biggest thing is not allowing that fear to take hold. And it's scary because when you say no to that, what you're saying is yes to yourself. And saying yes to yourself is sometimes harder because you have to own up to it. You have to own up to who you are. And if you make the mistake, if it is a mistake or a failure of some kind, you're responsible for it, not the other person subconsciously.