meet shannon sewell
I met Shannon years ago at a creative retreat for women photographers. Her free-spirited vibe is awesome. I love the way she’s followed what she really loves to do and totally made it work for her. She stays passionate about what she does and just decided it didn’t matter what the industry was saying about how to be a photographer.
Her story and work are inspiring!
A giveaway: A mentoring session with one of the photographers at EastCoastWestCoast workshop, a workshop Shannon is part of, AND a Kelly Moore Bag of your choice! Just share your questions and thoughts with Shannon in the comments (she will answer the first 10 questions that are asked).
giveaway is closed–winner: Caitlyn Barkalow, commenter #85.
how long have you been in business and how did you get your start?
I started in 2004/2005. I have the typical mom with a camera story… it all began with taking lots of pictures of my kids. I spent a ton of time styling them and trying to make them look like professional shots. I printed photos and hung them in my house. I met a mom that was a photographer through a playdate and she saw something in my work that inspired her to take me under her wing. I started by photographing friends and families kids and it just kind of took off from there!
*quick tip: if you’re just starting out, find another photographer who is in the same place you are and become friends
what has inspired your style? What are three steps you suggest for other photographers to find their style?
I have always been very inspired by editorial shoots. I love the whole stylized, themed execution. When I first started my business, I didn’t really think of my hired work in that way. I shot portraits as portraits and had no influence on how the families arrived. My personal work always had that influence though and the passion behind that starting winning out when I began getting bored with treating photography only as a “job”.
I think the first step in finding my style was recognizing the difference in how I felt approaching shoots for me versus for work.
The second step was deciding that I wanted my job to encompass the shoots that I loved doing.
The third step was putting that out there as me and my brand. It’s a scary thing to go against what you see working for other people or what people are asking you to do. Having a sit down with yourself though and really figuring out what it is that ignites you is a game changer.
*quick tip: do Shannon’s three steps, get started on step one today!
you work with several children’s look books. how did that come about?
did you start out getting those booked right out of the gate? how did you break into that industry?
It actually all came from my personal work. Since I had been shooting for myself and doing the whole editorial/styled/theme feel, I had a good portfolio of that type imagery. I also had been sharing it on my blog. A local children’s clothing line saw my work and felt it was a good fit for their company. From there I was referred to another line and another.. it was a gradual process that actually took a couple of years to fully transition from portrait to commercial work.
*quick tip: ask yourself: “what personal work would you really love to be doing?’ start on it today.
what were you doing before you began photographing look books/magazines?
how did you realize that this was what your really wanted to be doing in photography?
I was shooting typical portraiture- families, newborns, seniors.. I even did a couple of weddings! I just didn’t wake up on shoot days with the same excitement for those shoots as I did with my other work. As my commercial work picked up, I just knew I had to let go of the other work for the most part so I could give all my attention to what I loved.
*quick tip: notice how you feel on the mornings of your paid photo shoots and your personal work, are they the same? why or why not?
i read that when you were first starting out, you were very unsure of your style and that you tried to do what everyone else was doing?
What did you learn from that experience? What three tips do you have for others who may be in the same boat at the moment?
I think my uncertainty came from not knowing how to make it all a profitable and good business. I saw other people being successful and I just assumed it had to be done the same way to be successful as well.
I spent most of my time in the same forums and groups and so it didn’t lend itself to seeing other avenues to create what I wanted. It really took me just getting completely frustrated and not caring as much as about the “success” and deciding I was going to focus on the fun for me to finally get it.
So, my first tip would be to find like minded mentors and peers.
My second tip would be to share what you love so that you gain a following of potential clients that fit within that.
And my final tip is hustle… it takes so much work behind the scenes to create what looks so easy online. If you find something you are passionate about, go all in.
*quick tip: decide which of these tips you need most TODAY, spend 30 minutes working on that tip
you spent a bit of time, when breaking into the editorial kids look book and magazine industry, shooting for free. how long did that last?
how did you approach people about having them let you photograph their look books? How did that evolve into becoming a paid gig eventually?
I’ve always done personal work (aka: free work). I still do. For me, I need the outlet to create just to create and it allows me to continue to be excited about what I do. I don’t shoot look books for free.. but it is the creativity of my personal shoots that sells me to the brands that hire me to shoot their look books.
*quick tip: share your personal work online and on your blog, etc.
when you were first starting out, did you do all of the styling and designing yourself?
Did you have all of that come out of your own pocket during that time? How did you make ends meet, financially, while you were in this stage of growth in your business?
I did! I still do quite a bit (mostly for personal work). Luckily I have had an income from photography since the very beginning. I started charging with my first portrait session so there was always “photography money” that I could use within my business. That said, most of my sessions don’t cost a ton to do. There is a lot more time investment than monetary.
*quick tip: start a small account to begin funding your personal work and set aside some time each week for it
what did you do to build and cultivate relationships with these companies?
how did you choose who you’re going to be growing a relationship with when you’re working with a company?
I think that being genuinely excited and invested in what I do for them is a huge part of building our relationship. If I am as excited about what they are doing as they are, it makes it a really fun project to work on and lends itself to wanting future collaborations.
There is a lot of dialogue that happens before a session and it gives us a chance to know if we are on the same creative page. Being diligent on the front end makes sure that I am working with companies that I will be with for the long run.
*quick tip: identify 5 companies or people you would really love to work with because you love their product or service so much that you know it would be so fun to collaborate, start talking with at least one of them today
you’ve said that your marketing is pretty simple,
you share on FB and Instagram and you tag all of the people involved in the creative process. What else do you do to have people feel like you are so irresistible, that they MUST work with you?
I don’t know how irresistible I am- haha but what I put out there is genuinely “me”. Because I allot myself so much “me” shooting time, I think it is a good depiction of what I can do creatively. When people are looking for someone on the outside to help brand their line or collaborate with to create something unique to them, I think it gives them confidence in me.
*quick tip: finish reading this article and spend 20 minutes on your personal project, make a plan and/or make a phone call to get it rolling
do you have a portfolio that you send to potential clients? if so, how do you send it and what do you include? is it digital?
I primarily use my website (http://shannonsewell.com) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/shannonlsewell/). When I have an in person meeting, I do have a book that I bring that shows a variety of my commercial work. I do prefer having it hard copy… print just looks so much nicer.
*quick tip: print one book that highlights your work
what are your three tips for working with kids?
1) expect the unexpected. I always have a plan but if things aren’t going as planned, I am quick to switch things up.
2) keep it fun. Like I said, I go into my sessions with an exact idea of what I want but if things aren’t going my way, I never show frustration or let things get tense. We take breaks, we play… we let the kids be kids.
3) keep it quick. Kids have short attention spans so expecting hours of happy compliance isn’t always realistic. I have everything prepared, I work efficiently and I make sure to keep shoots on kid friendly schedules.
*quick tip: choose one of these tips to focus on for your next photoshoot with kids, if you try to remember all of them you may remember nothing so try practicing just one of these tips at a time
how do you come up with your concepts? what is an example of the way you go through your creative process from beginning to your realized vision?
I am literally inspired by everything. I can come up with a concept because of the season, the landscape, a color, lighting in a movie, words in a song… I am a very visual person so anything that evokes emotion in me usually gives me a visual interpretation to work off of.
My process usually begins with one idea or piece then I start a storyboard- I add location, hair & mu ideas, wardrobe, colors, the feel I want…
*quick tip: look around you, where you’re at now, what inspires you the most? is it a color? a texture, an object? how can that one thing become a photo shoot? begin practicing this game everywhere you go and see how your imagination expands
your work is both on location and in a studio. do you have your own studio? is it a natural light studio, if not, what do you use?
I have a couple of studios that I rent per use. They are natural light studios as that is what I primarily shoot. I do use lighting for conceptual shoots and the lighting varies depending on the concept (ie: typical strobes with softboxes, off camera flash, ringlights, etc)
*quick tip: if you’re thinking this type of shoot sounds fun, google “rent natural light studio” and try it out!
how do you get children to pose so naturally? what types of things do you say to them?
I usually pose them and just start talking.. ask them questions, sing a song, tell a story. It takes their attention off being “posed” and gives more natural reactions and expressions I think.
*quick tip: talk to your subjects and ask them things you really want to know, tell them silly jokes, ask them to tell a funny joke, get them doing things kids normally do, challenge them to see how high they can jump, how far they can run, etc.
you’ve said that your muses are your children. how have you kept them interested in having you photograph them as they’ve gotten older?
Hmm.. I don’t know that I have? haha I definitely pick my times carefully… I am not always in their face or asking for photos. Trips and special times of year are the only times I ask them and I keep the shoots quick- usually no more than ten minutes or so.
*quick tip: be selective when photographing your own kids so they don’t get sick of having a camera in their face
how do you stay inspired and keep creating so many great concepts?
I think the fact that I am very organized helps me a lot. If something inspires me, I catalog it. So, I have this huge arsenal of things that I can go to when I need inspiration or am in my creative process. I actually talk on inspiration a lot when I teach because I think it is something people struggle with putting into action. I don’t think I have more inspiration or ideas than anyone else, I just think I’ve come up with ways to self ignite and act on them continually.
*quick tip: start a catalog of inspiration on Pinterest or Evernote and store them in a way that excites you
what types of strategies or systems do you have in place to keep up with being both a mom and a business woman?
Be strict with your calendar! Seriously, that is the only thing that keeps me sane. I sit down a good month or two in advance of each month and designate certain days for certain things. I also leave a few extra days that can fit reschedules, last minute shoots and personal shoots. Don’t deviate and your life will be so much easier- I promise!
*quick tip: create a schedule today that you can live by each day, plan ahead so that you get to use your time the way you want to use it
see more of shannon here:
what is your favorite Kelly Moore Bag and why?
I love the Mimi (see the Ruston-pictured here). I am a minimalistic traveler… I like to carry the smallest amount I can get away with and the Mimi (see the Ruston–pictured here) is perfect for that. It is a nice, compact bag that still fits A LOT. I can fit a couple of camera bodies and a couple of lenses in the main compartment and then all my shoot necessities (everything from hand warmers to sync cords to suckers) fit in the outside zipper pockets (I also love that the pockets don’t add any “bulk” to the bag). It is barely bigger than a larger handbag but it fits everything I need!