From now on everything is different – Creating steps toward your new direction

Brunch IMG_2504It was a sunny Fall morning in Montreal. Entering the equally sunny resto for our monthly brunch we greeted each other with friendly eyes and in typical Quebec fashion, the double cheek kiss. Today I want to hear about how Alex Tran went from being a biologist studying electric fish in Panama to photographing the range of human personalities with his portraits and wedding business. It’s what we all wonder, how to dive-in to photography full time.

The café lattés, the elegant eggs and fruits that graced our plates only enhanced the experience, the candid and real conversations that took place. Coming to the monthly brunches offers the chance to have a tête-a-tête, a one-on-one up close and personal with a person who is an example of how to create your own success. Many times many people say that in creative fields, and especially photography, today, it is difficult to earn a living. I would say that may be true if you are assuming the conditions exist as they did 20 years ago. Times have changed. From now on everything is different.

Each of us has our own creative journey.  Today you may still be working at that JOB while squeezing in your passions around your busy life, wondering when and how to shed the corporate shackles to do what you were meant to do.

It starts with one action, a one degree change today. You cannot change your destination overnight but you can change your direction overnight.  This one small degree of movement or action if harnessed and focused can lead to dreams realized.

Here are some of those small degrees of action that you can take today to move you toward your destination. As small as it may seem, each step you take changes your direction. Make it one that truly fulfills you.

Alex’s list for making a move:

1. Listen to Podcasts:

 I just love the medium of podcasts because I multi-task like crazy. I learned basic SEO, client interactions and customer service, basic business practices. Check out:

2. Find your system to Get Things Done:

All those ideas, administrative tasks, maintenance tasks, unfinished projects, new projects, marketing, networking, prospecting, producing work and so-on, it’s no wonder it feels like we can never get anything done. I progressed by having a clear direction and system. I like  the “Getting Things Done” philosophy.  What I found works for me is:

  • Get Things Done system starts from bottom up in organizing your tasks.
  • Keeping track of all client inquiries (date, type of assignment, etc.)
  • Getting to zero in my email inbox every day.

3. Start now – Things I wish I started Earlier:

  • Ask for client testimonials. It’s a win-win. If it’s a good testimonial, it’ll help in attracting more clients. If it’s neutral or if they refuse to write you one, this is your opportunity to ask why, which serves as important feedback for you to improve upon. Here’s a link that shows how you can ask for great testimonials.
  • My Blog. I did start it early, but I was running across different platforms and only settled with WordPress a few years ago. Between two otherwise equal websites, Google will rank you higher if you’ve been around longer, if you post frequently and just recently (April 2015) if your site is mobile friendly. So start now even if you feel you’re not good at it.
  • Keep in touch with past clients. After assignments, I’d mentally “check them off”, be happy it’s done and move on. Keep in touch! Ask them how they’re doing. Ask about their projects. You never know when they’ll be having a conversation with someone who mentions they need a photographer. If you maintain a friendly relationship with them after the shoot they’ll be much more likely to refer you to others. This leads me to my next point.
  • Thank everyone who referred you. This might sound obvious, but thank everyone who mentions that you’re a photographer to someone else, regardless of whether it leads to a job or not. Word-of-mouth referrals are super important in photography, and if you show real appreciation to those who made the effort of mentioning you to someone else, they will be more likely to do it in the future.
  • Ask people where they found you. Be specific about it, “I found you on Facebook” wouldn’t be enough for me. I’d want to know whether it was because I tagged a friend, or whether it was because they saw a specific blog post. Don’t just ask clients that book you, ask people who say no as well. You might find interesting patterns, like “People who contact me from my Instagram page are much less likely to book me than people who contact me after finding me on Google”.

4. Now it’s your turn:

Finally, I want to leave you with something actionable. I hate finishing a CreativeLive video, or reading a book, or reading a blog post, being super inspired, but not knowing what to do next.

Pick a date in your calendar right now in the next month or two. That’s the deadline that you have to replace your worst 5 photos in your portfolio. Do what you need to do to replace them with 5 better ones. Contact people/organizations you’ve been wanting to photograph, learn a new technique, read a book about posing. Write it in your calendar and stick to the date!

Thanks Alex for your inspiring ideas and actionable steps. It will set us on a new direction.

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Inside the worlds of Damian Siqueiros

Interview with Damian Siqueiros, photographer and visual artist

Les Grands Ballets - Transfigured Night

Les Grands Ballets – Transfigured Night     (May 15-24, 2014)


Making Montreal his home now, Mexico-born Damian Siqueiros splashed onto the scene not less than five years ago. Fine and decorative arts, photography, and painting figured prominently in his early training and informs and shapes his work as he continues to create new artworks. His artistic sensibility has also translated into his commercial work, the latest of which are the posters for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens displayed throughout Montreal billboards and metro system.

Winning several grants and prizes such as the Public’s choice Scotia Bank Prize 2010 in Montreal’s Art Souterrain he has exhibited his stunning images in museums and galleries in Mexico, Spain, Paris, New York (The Gabarron Foundation), Washington D.C. (Art Museum of the Americas), and Canada.

I had the occasion to sit down with this creative force and have a conversation about art, photography and the business of setting up his business in Montreal. It was a lovely sunny afternoon when I knocked on his door and he invited me up to his private studio.

One of the first questions I asked was how he established himself in Montreal as a photographer. He tells me how he hit the pavement, approaching Ad agencies and showing his portfolio everywhere. Eventually he got his start doing political portraits. He also submitted artwork to Montreal’s Art Souterrain festival and received public recognition. He continuously works on his art. “The artistic work, that’s my calling. I like to create images that speak to people and in some way challenge their view of the world.” Having just returned from Los Angeles, he did just that with his exposition at the annual photography fair, Photo Independent

What was becoming apparent was the two worlds in which Damian Siqueiros is driving his career. Our conversation turned toward the different perspective that photography as art has versus photography for commercial clients. “You’d be surprised at how differently they work; in terms of  the perception of the work, how you get clients, what the clients need or want.” He summed it up like this, “If you’re working in commercial work, clients need versatility whereas, in artistic work people look for coherence and a recognizable look”.

The approach is different too. With art you can allow yourself to explore the subject as the work is an artistic expression. “Being an artist is exercise in patience.” he says. Artists make their mark later in life with their life experience, their exhibitions and body of work building in value. As with other industries in this internet age, there seems to be a shift in the way art is sold. Artists are able to connect directly with their clients in many ways. As such, “Artists need to be more proactive selling their work to clients.”

With commercial photography you earn money right away. Having budgets, commercial clients need assurance of what the final image will look like. As a photographer you must present a complete concept, with sketches and reference material that the client can approve, then you produce the expected results. Working as a commercial photographer is about offering a service to the client. At times you may work with difficult people and you have to find a way to work together professionally and get the job done. Some jobs may not be glamorous, therefore it’s up to you to make it interesting by approaching each job as a creative challenge.

Les Grands Ballets -Leonce and Lena  (Sept 18- 27, 2014)

Les Grands Ballets -Leonce and Lena (Sept 18- 27, 2014)

In getting new clients it helps to have an agent. Damian met his agent in a series of coincidences and the story confirms that somehow certain people come into our lives just when we need them. Nevertheless marketing still takes up a good part of each day whether connecting with new or existing clients.

As always, my final question is, ” What three most important things would you say to a new photographer starting their business?”

1) Don’t wait until your studies are finished to start to promote yourself. It’ll be a smoother transition by starting in some small way to get your name out there.

2) Select your best images for your portfolio, create a website, a photostream or somewhere where people can see your images. It’s important to have your promotional material (portfolio, website, business cards) ready so people can see your work.

3) Be true to yourself, maintain your integrity and act with kindness. Success is not a measure given by others or even what you think your life should look like. This ego driven idea of self is actually a constraint on your happiness. “Once you define yourself, you are putting yourself between your evolution and your goals and what you think you are. If you let go of that you have much more space to grow in different ways.”

His ongoing show is in Hollywood. Just a hop-skip-and-plane-ride away.


To find out more or connect with Damian Siqueiros

His Website 
His blog The Simpler side of Art
His facebook page Damian Siqueiros photographer

Isabella’s rebellion toward redefining beauty

Interview with Ella Photography

580150_10152677602665046_318687309_nMontreal has its share of photographers, but none like Isabella of Ella Photography. She believes that “no matter who you are and what you look like, you ARE beautiful”. She has been running her wedding and lifestyle photography business, Ella Photography, for a number of years now which she started after deciding that the fashion world contributed to a broken view of beauty. Fashion is fickle, and its images it promoted to young girls, such as her niece, gnawed on her conscience to the point where she realized she was part of the problem. “So I quit”, Ella recounted.

In a rebellious spirit, Isabella launched her photography business offering wedding packages and expanding into the growing market of boudoir photography. Boudoir photography is more elegant, sensual and quite intimate in comparison to weddings. Isabella believes that she captures what is already there. Her goal is to prove to her clients that “they are awesome just the way they are, right now”. By making her clients feel comfortable and “real” in front of the camera, the images could completely change their own perspective of “Beautiful”. Two years into her photography business, she was diagnosed with a thyroid condition that affected her eyes and challenged her personal view of beauty. The journey to her self rediscovery was challenging but made the belief in her cause even stronger. She understands the value of her company’s philosophy in making her clients look and FEEL beautiful.

For Isabella, photography was something she just did ever since she was a child. She hadn’t thought of photography as a career until one day, in her marketing job, she was given the opportunity to shoot fashion. Since then, she evolved and made it her mission to make the world a better place.

Her photographic style focuses on redefining the term “beautiful” to her clients and touches on emotions. “I like photographs that speak to the viewer, photos that evoke emotion”, she says. She makes her clients feel beautiful and she captures couples on their most beautiful day, their wedding day. With two lovable dogs and great clients, she says she wouldn’t change anything in her life right now.

Isabella says she landed in photography by fluke, but we all know effort and work was involved.  Coming from a marketing background she starts off with key advice, “Word of mouth is the best marketing strategy”.  With that said she also believes you must be genuine and provide great customer service so that people remember you and talk about you. Isabella doesn’t believe in competition amongst other photographers, because there is a client for every kind of photographer.

To keep the business side running smoothly, an accountant is the first thing you need to find. They can help you set up your systems, give you tips on managing money, and keep all the compliance work such as business filing, registrations, income tax filings up-to-date and orderly, helping you avoid penalties or fines for non-compliance.

Starting any business is challenging. She adds, “If you want something to happen, you will stop at nothing to make it work. Money should never be an issue. When starting out, everyone feels just as lost as you”. The best advice for that, she says is “Don’t give up!”.

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