Hi guys, today I have a very special episode on the Make Your Break Podcast for you. I didn’t have much in the way of education; all of my learning came from me going out there, rolling up my sleeves and gaining that all-important lived experience. I love teaching from that space. So on the podcast today, I wanted to invite on another wedding photographer and educator India Earl.
I really connect with India because I identify with her strong work ethic. She’s an industry leader, but she’s always out there, giving back to the community. I think she’s a great fit for the podcast and I can’t wait to chat with her. Different points of view and perspectives are hugely important in this game! Let’s dive in and see what insights wedding photographer India Earl can give us.
India Earl lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ve noticed that a lot of creative entrepreneurs and industry leaders come out of Utah; must be something in the water! India is 25 and first took up photography when she was 14. She used her Mum’s point-and-shoot at first then upgraded to a DSLR with an actual lens. She was into surrealism and self-portraits at first and edited them heavily. When she was 15, she started doing photography professionally, taking family photos and senior photos of her classmates.
India started shooting weddings at 16. She tried college, but felt she didn’t click with it; even though she did a photography course, she didn’t feel like she was learning anything. She dropped out for one semester, and focused on her business. She put all of her time and energy into it, shooting 70 weddings over six months for very little money. She once shot two weddings in a day, but always made sure she was up to date on edits. She learned so much over this one summer.
I think one of the hardest parts of building a sustainable photography career is balancing the craft side and the business side. Most people focus totally on the craft and forget the business.
When India was first starting out there was no such thing as photography workshops. The mindset was very much competitive as opposed to community. In fact, she distinctly remembers a time when she asked an established photographer for some basic beginner advice and the photographer flipped out on her, accusing India of trying to steal her business. She had to figure it out herself, which is why it took her 11 years to get her business to where it is now. These days, with access to workshops and online groups, she sees beginning photographers covering the same ground in three years or so.
India believes that because she’s only 25, people think she’s had a couple of easy leg-ups. In fact, her success is the result of 11 years of hard work. There’s room for some luck, and yes, some people do get lucky. But without that foundation of genuine hard work, you will never be truly successful. She actually feels she has never really gotten lucky in her career.
I was listening to a podcast recently on the same subject. They were talking about how people sometimes get lucky, but are unprepared for the opportunity and don’t know what to do with it. I do consider myself lucky, but luck is such a small part of my life and business. It took a lot of free weddings and uncertainty to get to where I am today; that’s the stuff that people don’t see.
The popularity of online courses and community-based learning in the photography industry has been amazing to witness in recent years. It’s also showing people that in trade and creative industries, college isn’t always necessary. There’s so much knowledge out there, a lot of which is available for free on the internet. People can work from home, at their own pace. In-person workshops can sometimes overpromise; the value is in the community you build, as opposed to what you’re learning from the Powerpoint presentation.
In 2017/18, massive conferences became popular, with hundreds of attendees and numerous speakers. I feel as if they’ve kind gone out of vogue in recent months (coronavirus hasn’t helped matters). India has spoken at a couple in her time but feels like you can’t really connect with an audience because there are so many people. While conferences helped India grow her education platform, she prefers one-on-one mentorship or intimate programs.
I love getting up on stage and teaching at big conferences, but I also find it hard to make a connection, both as a teacher and as an audience member. I prefer mentorship situations because you can learn specific and personal things which can instantly transform or improve your craft.
I think India’s creativity is one of her greatest strengths. I was wondering whether she feels it helps or hinders her business side. ‘Creative’ is actually one of the last things India would describe herself as. She can work a camera, market herself and make people feel comfortable; but when it came to being artistically creative, she never felt like she was. She felt she needed to redefine creativity; she now sees it more as freedom of expression. India feels she’s best at connecting with her clients; so she put that at the forefront of her business and made it a constant theme.
She found herself in situations where she was copying something ‘creative’ that someone else had done, but found the resulting work was just a lesser version of theirs. That’s when she started to reframe ‘creativity’, making it about connection. From that, she gave her business a unique identity and started creating meaningful work, which other people interpret as creativity. Play to your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses.
India used to turn up to a shoot and force creativity, but it found that it took her right out of the session. The less she tries to be ‘creative’, the better she does. She also feels that everyone struggles with burnout and comparison to other photographers; the two often go hand in hand. India reckons it’s okay to have burnouts; they’re inevitable. They play a role in forming and informing your business and lifestyle.
I agree that burnout is an important educator. As you get wiser around business, you find the less you do, the bigger an impact you can make. Put less on your plate and you’ll get more out of it in the long run. Don’t focus on what works for other people, focus on what works for you.
India tries to do this now and again to stop the repetition. She’s trying to branch out into new areas. She used to hate the idea of maternity shoots and shooting family sessions. But because of COVID, she’s had to shift her focus away from weddings because she can’t count on them. She’s tried to shoot more family stuff and being okay with doing stuff she hasn’t previously been comfortable with.
India’s also been on the other side of the camera a lot recently, which is also way outside her comfort zone. But it’s been useful for her, as it helps inform her work with her own subjects. I think as a photographer, making people feel comfortable in front of the camera is one of the most valuable skills you can have. Empathy is one of the best ways to achieve this.
For photographers looking to add income streams to their business, India suggests reaching out to past clients and offering your services in new ways. You have an established relationship and they trust you, so it makes sense to let them know you’re available. Market your prints and albums. You don’t have to aim this at new couples; they can make great anniversary gifts a few years later. Creating online print shops of some of your hobby photography can also provide great passive income that doesn’t require much extra work.
I often hear that people only get married once, so as a wedding photographer you’re constantly searching for new leads. That’s not strictly true; you have a huge contact list of past clients who already love your work. Yes, they might not be getting married again, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work with you on other commissions. They’re the easiest people to sell to.
India has her own online education platform for photographers of all kinds. It was initially just India, but she has brought on other teachers who she’s connected with and responding to. It’s a total online resource for photographers, featuring products, online courses and editing tools. India very kindly made a discount code for my listeners: enter in JAI10 at checkout to avail of 10% off your purchase.
I want to say a huge huge thank you to the wedding photographer India Earl for chatting with me and taking the time to talk through her early days, her process and her business.
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