Carrie Steffe Of EMA Photography On Taking Your Best Shot — In Photography And Life


How did you get your start in photography?

I have a degree in teaching, but I didn’t want to work full-time. I worked part-time in a pharmaceutical company, and was dabbling in photography on the side because I enjoyed it. I would take pictures of my kids and the neighbors’ kids. It got to the point that my photography started looking like portraits, so a neighbor suggested that I start my own business. So I walked into my job one day, which I hated, and told my boss I was quitting. And I never looked back. That day, I registered my business with the state. My neighbors started referring me, and by the second week, I already had a booked schedule for the holidays!

How did you come up with the name?

It’s the first letters of my three daughters’ names. When I realized that I needed a name for my business, I couldn’t think of a name for the life of me. Then, when I had my son, I realized I couldn’t add the “J” initial to the company name. I’m sure one day he’ll be in therapy. [laughs]

What would you say makes you stand out from the other photographers out there, because there’s a bazillion of them?

I think a bazillion and ten, the last time I checked! [laughs] It’s my relationship with my clients. There are a lot of good photographers out there, but you have to be able to run a business. You can have pretty subjects and be technically great, but if you can’t work with people, forget it. And if you’re not a people person, you’re going to run your business into the ground. I’m so blessed because I have clients who came to me 6 years ago who are still with me today — that’s through 20 price increases!

Do you enjoy the business side?

No. Honestly, it sucks the fun out of this career. From the outside, it looks like a fun, cool job. People see that I take pictures of really beautiful babies. I get to dress them up and put cute little hats on them. What they don’t see that I’m up until 1:00 am editing, or putting together orders, etc. I could shoot every day but the reality is that it’s such a small part of the business. Shooting is only 20% of the business.

Now, shooting can get repetitive. How do you keep it fresh?

Shopping! [laughs] When I’m feeling stale, I’ll go to the antiques store, to see if I can find a cute prop. I also draw inspiration from other photographers, too.

How would you describe a typical client?

Very laid back. My clients trust me, because I’m an easy person to get along with. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like I’m in the middle of a session. The parents and I feel like we’ve known each other for years. We definitely build a personal relationship, which adds to the experience.

What would you say to moms who are starting their own photography business and are afraid to charge what they think they’re worth?

I did the same thing myself when I started. I wasn’t confident in my skills and I didn’t have a client base. I based my prices on what the local Portrait People chain was charging. After awhile, I burned out, because I was exhausted from so much shooting. And when I calculated the costs, I wasn’t even making minimum wage. I realized that I was really busy and my prices were really low, so I raised my prices to get higher-paying clients. Now, I have a schedule that suits my life much better.

What would you say to other moms who want to launch their own photography business?

Practice, practice, practice. Don’t think that if you get a great camera, that’s all you need. Get a lower-model camera, and just work it until you know it. Practice on your kids until they’re sick of you. Don’t charge a dime until you know everything technically that you need to know. And remember to register your business with the state, and get a tax ID number. You owe it to your potential client. It’s not just your time but your clients, too.

How do you find your balance with four kids and a bustling business?

I’ll let you know that one when I figure it out! I don’t think I do. It’s a day-by-day thing. I try to be very structured. If you run a business, you can’t also have your kids home during the day. My 3 girls are in school, and my 2 year-old son goes to my babysitter. You have to treat it like a profession. I know that when I drop the kids off, it’s time to go to work. I don’t allow myself to get distracted or be unfocused.

I want to be that parent who picks my child up from the bus. I love that I can volunteer at my daughters’ school; I want to be involved in my kids’ lives. And if that means that I work from 7 PM until midnight every day, then that’s what I do, because I found a way to make a living doing something that I truly love.

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