“SHOOT WHAT YOU LOVE. Yes it’s true, some times we all have to shoot things that don’t make our heart sing because we need the money. But if you’ve gone a month without doing a photoshoot for YOU — you’ll burn out. I schedule approx. 2 shoots a month, sometimes as many as 4, where I shoot what I want to shoot. Because that is what helps a photographer’s soul. When you feel most inspired is also when you put out your best work. So sit yourself down and ask yourself — which models do I love, what landscaped mesmerize me, what do I never get booked for? And start making connections and shoots happen.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Rowe, founder of a fast growing creative agency, Social Sensei. She’s been taking photos for over 11 years and has always loved participating in the photography community and staying creative with fellow photographers. Looking to go a little bit more universal with her images, Emily wrapped her photography experience into a neat all-in-one online and social media package. Here is how she did it.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
So grateful to be able to speak with you. Ooooooooo okay, stories are kind of my favorite. So I started doing photography in a dark room and with a film camera. Some may say it was love, in the form of an obsessive hobby, at first sight. My photography teacher used to yell at me because, in a 12 student class, I would take up three enlargers and science experiment all class long. When I decided I wanted to take my photography to the next level, I needed to figure out what I loved. While I have so much respect for wedding and family photographers (a big money maker in the photography world!), I knew it wasn’t for me. I turned toward brands in need of images and also shot approximately 1,000 free lifestyle photo shoots to anyone who would say yes. To make this transition more affordable, I also went digital. To skip the boring part, as my experience grew, my equipment got better, my clients grew more serious, and now I own a creative agency and have some great photographers on my team!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
This is such a hard question to answer because photography, especially as I look back, has been rewarding and enriching the entire time I’ve participated in the journey — so it’s hard to single out an instance that really struck me as particularly interesting or remarkable. I guess I’ll share a story of a borderline failure I experienced and how that came out to be one of the most amazing crash courses in photography I’ve ever experienced. So I will leave the brand unnamed but we will call them Clothing Store. Clothing Store wanted me to take some photos of their fast fashion merchandise in order to launch their company into the ecommerce sphere, something we do often. I dealt predominantly with the wife and we decided on a price for a photo shoot. Little did I know that the husband would come in, day of the shoot, models present, clothes steamed, backdrop up, and demand a lower price — or else. I was floored. I really wanted to pack up everything on the spot, slowly and passive aggressively, hand everything back to him, and say “do me a favor and lose my contact information.” But the models were on set, second shooter on hand, all people who chose to be there on my behalf, and they deserved to be paid. Not only did he slash our budget, he slashed our shoot time. We shot 204 garments in 20 hours. It was brutally hard. As soon as I got home I edited everything as thoroughly and as quickly as I could. The entire time thinking, “when this is over, I’m going to fire this client immediately.” And so, nine days of editing later, seething, I took the flash drive of completed images to their store and handed it to them. He proceeded to yell at me about the time delay and I simply cut him off and said, “please find services elsewhere.” While it was stressful and in the end, a loss of money, it was an amazing crash course in shoot efficiency and how to handle understandably tired models. It was also so helpful in understanding that, when you are shooting 600+ images as a deliverable, cover blemishes, straighten your backdrop, and do it consistently. If not, you will be sorry when editing. I also learned that my time is worth a lot more than the level of respect I was receiving. I chose this story because it’s interesting to me how little a photographer can be appreciated. Photographers are all magicians with the ability to make your products sell — we prefer to be valued.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This takes me back to the very first pictures I shot. I had my film camera in hand and my very first photo assignment which was simply, fill your film roll. Easy enough! I fed the film into the camera and had everything set up. I spent the ENTIRE weekend, meticulously staging and taking my shots, knowing in my head I was really proud and excited to see a couple of the shots. I rolled the film back up, took it to class, developed it, and finally went to take a look. Solid black. Because I never took a single picture. Because my roll of film wasn’t threaded properly. Because I had no idea what I was going. #likeaboss
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I want to take the time to say, to this question, I couldn’t successfully run my business without a powerfully motivated and committed staff. For the first time in 19 months, I have a group of girls who truly care about our service and have taken Social Sensei to the next level. Shout out to Elizabeth, Lauren, Kayla, and Britney. I have always placed a huge emphasis on customer service and quality of work. So long as the customer is happy, when mistake arise, because they inevitably do, you’re met with compassion instead of hostility. Second most important is how you help clients’ use their imagery You can deliver the most beautiful pictures on the planet but if no one sees them, well heck, they aren’t doing too much good. So we decided to broaden how we help businesses. With our photography in particular, we want to do way more than put together a story board for you. We want to know your inventory levels, your demographic, which product are/are not moving, how you launch seasonally, and more. If you shoot for only part of a brand’s strategy, you can’t arrive to the end goal with them. Tackle photography with a broad view and grow with your brands, that’s a photography style underused and well liked.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
SHOOT WHAT YOU LOVE. Yes it’s true, some times we all have to shoot things that don’t make our heart sing because we need the money. But if you’ve gone a month without doing a photoshoot for YOU — you’ll burn out. I schedule approx. 2 shoots a month, sometimes as many as 4, where I shoot what I want to shoot. Because that is what helps a photographer’s soul. When you feel most inspired is also when you put out your best work. So sit yourself down and ask yourself — which models do I love, what landscaped mesmerize me, what do I never get booked for? And start making connections and shoots happen.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
This is definitely where I thank my dad. He’s not a photographer, in fact, he takes terrible photos when I ask him to help me grab a couple shots — no offense dad! But photography is not what I am grateful to him for. I would not be half as successful as I am today, without his note-worthy work ethic and ability to push me. I am self-motivated and extremely hard working because of the way I was raised and I thank the stars that I am able to push myself and not break. I grew up playing sports which helps me stay competitive and motivated to better myself but I was also a very serious student and even a top debater in the United States. I remember once we were on a tennis court, where we often were, and I went to go hit a ball (with minimal effort) and missed the shot. My Dad shouted over the net, “what was that honey?” And I replied, “I’m sorry, I tried my best.” No yelling and half laughing my dad replied, “Well your best isn’t good enough.” And you know what, he was right. My work days span from 7am to 10pm. I work every weekend, every holiday, and every vacation. I work this hard now because hard work pays off and to grow a business, you need to eat, drink, and breathe it. If you love what you do, and you pursue it with urgency and strategy, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I am working on a big project right now with 3 nationwide brands that are actually three of my biggest clients to date. I can’t release any names until the big projects are wrapped up but I’d definitely suggest peeping my Instagram if you want to see what’s up my sleeves.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m just starting to enter the part in my career where I am accumulating some clout and recognition. This is a question I can honestly say I haven’t tackled yet. We work with two non-profits a year and help them completely overhaul their marketing strategy and relaunch their business, typically $15k worth of services for free, but that’s really not a broad enough level of giving back. We are en route to do much more :).
Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please an example for each.
These aren’t in any particular order of importance!
1. Shoot more than one model in the frame. This might sound intuitive but this is something that can be very difficult to coordinate and, especially as you deal more with fashion, can be something you stray away from. I always get so excited for multiple-model shoots. Humans are great at conveying chemistry.
2. Find fun architecture and then try something weird. I am a HUGE fan of retro and I really love me so retro architecture. Random side note *I DO NOT EDIT WOMEN’S BODIES* you are all beautiful ladies and we all have little rolls when we do splits up walls. Life.
3. Come in for those weird crops. You don’t try you don’t know. I am the queen of getting up close and personal to my subjects, worse case scenario, you delete a couple of really weird close ups.
4. If you asked me to choose ONE thing I look for when I shoot, it’s texture. I bought an outfit, quite hideous in real life, because the texture knocked my socks off. Pair that with architecture, plants (which I am obsessed with), and a gorgeous model — you’ve got yourself a pretty great image!
5. Don’t be afraid to just drive around. Photographers compliment me all the time on my colors. My colors are so vibrant because I do what a lot of photogs would say is bad practice, I shoot in direct Florida sunshine. The only window I close off is noon to two in the summer because shadows on the face get too harsh. My favorite things to do? Pick a time, pretty much anytime, load the car, and drive. Some of my favorite shots are from shoots where we just drive and stop.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
How to live a healthy lifestyle. How to overcome mental illness (PTSD related to rape), what a healthy diet looks like, how to stay activate, and manage real life stress. If we all knew how each other worked, I think a lot of our difference would dissolve into a sea of understanding and positivity. I read all the time. I love meeting new people and hearing what they have to say. I don’t love every person I encounter, but I try my best to understand them. And I think general health and understanding makes us all just a tad nicer as people.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My personal Instagram is @emilycarolynrowe and my business instagram is @social.sensei. Both also have Facebook pages!