Thursday, March 7, 2013

Aaron Spicer - A Photographer's Life Interview Series

A Photographer's Life Interview Series features photographers who have been working as a professional photographer for five or more years.  We are so grateful that these photographers are willing to share an intimate and candid look at their life behind the camera. ===========  

Let me introduce: Aaron Spicer Photography - - Fredericksburg, Virginia Wedding & Portrait Photographer since 2006.

Aaron Spicer - Fredericksburg Virginia Wedding & Portrait Photographer 

Here's a sneak peek of his current website:

Fredericksburg Virginia Wedding & Portrait Photographer

Can you share 3 of your recent favorite images?
Fredericksburg Wedding Photographer Aaron Spicer

Fredericksburg Portrait Photographer Aaron Spicer

How did you learn the craft of photography? 
Clumsily. I credit my parents for always having a camera in hand. Monkey see, monkey do. My first camera was a Fisher-Price toy in preschool. I kept at it, and learned the true craft of photography the same way I still learn it. Out of necessity. I always have ideas that are just beyond my technical expertise. So I sit down with my ideas, and then figure out how to make them happen.

How did you learn the business of photography? Also clumsily. My wife was in marketing at one point, so she really gave me a head start. From there, I studied various business models, and went to a few of the smaller photo conventions. My current business model isn’t really anything to be admired, unless your goal is quality of life and a home life/work balance that is skewed heavily in favor of home life.

Do you work from home, a studio, or something else?  I work from home. I’ve got a nice little three-room suite. One for my office, one as a meeting space, and a small shooting space that I can shoot headshots in. My office is a giant mess of hard drives and random bits of paper. My meeting space is pretty nice. I had a table made by a local carpenter. It’s standing height, so it also doubles as my packaging/work space. My studio is bare bones. Just enough room for a ¾ length portrait.

Do you have regular employees, associates, or other people who help you in your business? Aside from the occasional second shooter or assistant, I’m pretty much a one-man show.

What do you outsource, and who do you outsource it to?  I’m working on a new website, but it’s a template, so that’s pretty much like outsourcing, right? I print through Miller’s and host through Zenfolio. Everything else is done in house.

How many weekly hours would you say is spent working in your photography business?
Depends on the week. I usually work from 7 a.m until about 1p.m. through the week. By noon or one I start to get stir crazy and have to go do something else. Run errands, go cycling, grab lunch, do some gardening. I’m also a volunteer track coach at a local high school. So on certain days I start coaching around 3. Sometimes I’ll come back to do some work at night, but not usually. If I’ve got a Saturday wedding, I make sure to take a full day off during the week.

What percentage of your working time is spent shooting vs. working behind the scenes? Probably 25% shooting, 75% behind the scenes.

How did your last five clients find you and what did they hire you for? My last five clients were all referral based. Three of them were for family portraits, and two of them were event-gigs.

What do you consider to be your most effective marketing efforts for your business? This past summer I decided that in lieu of portrait sitting fees, I was going to ask my clients to make a small donation to local charities. My clients seem to really love it, and it’s gotten people talking about the portrait side of my business.

What other careers or jobs did you have before (or while) you started your photography business? I started my photography business while I was a high school English teacher. It worked out pretty well, because I had summers off.

How do you spend your time when you aren't working?  Biking. I’m a bit obsessed with cycling. In the formative years of my business I ruined my health. I’ve been trying (mostly successfully) to reclaim that for the past two years. If I’m not on the road, I’m probably fishing, touring wineries with my wife, or gardening.

What hobbies or interests outside of photography are fulfilling for you?
I’m a self-proclaimed home chef. Cooking is definitely my passion outside of photography.

Do you feel like you have a good balance between your personal and working life?  Yes, for now. What I’ve got is working pretty well for where I am in life. But I also know that in the long run, it’s not sustainable, financially speaking.  

What do you do to make sure you achieve that balance regularly? A couple years back I stepped off the photography merry-go-round and just decided to find my own way. I really cut out a lot of noise, and whittled my network down to people I value as friends and associates. You know, people I can be honest with, and who are honest with me. We don’t pretend that our lives are one big Airplanes and Blazers party. I guess what I decided is that while photography is my passion, it isn’t my life.

Who else is in your household with you? My wife Lisa, my stepson Hunter, and our three dogs; Zoe, Ike and Coco.

What percentage of your household income is derived from your photography business?  Roughly 50%. My wife works full time as an educator.

What have been the most challenging personal aspects of being a creative small business owner? Forcing myself to work through the slow times. February was a slow month for me. I specifically set it aside to redo my aging website. Somehow…it didn’t happen.

What do you love about being a creative small business?
Only having to wear clothes one day a week. And getting to do my grocery shopping in the middle of the day with the octogenarians and desperate housewives.

If you could share any advice with a photographer getting ready to start their business today, what would it be?
  Shoot anything and everything that comes your way, but show what you love, and nothing else.  I think the thing that I would have wanted to know right off the bat is that there really isn't a right way to do things, and that can really be applied to questions about gear, questions about shooting, or questions about business. When I went to my first photography convention, I was with a group of photographers who got extremely frustrated by the fact that all the presenters were giving conflicting business and shooting advice. But for me, that was the most valuable lesson I learned. It was pretty freeing for me to realize that I didn't have to follow anyone else's path. I still have to remind myself of that from time to time. Just recently two of my favorite photographers, Zack Arias and Greg Heisler, published videos about being inspired and their work ethics. I got a good chuckle out of it, because Zack mentioned having an "inspiration wall" where he posts tear sheets, storyboards and sketches. And then I watched Greg's video and he said that the last thing he ever wants to do is to think about someone else's work when he's making a picture. At the end of the day, they both produce gorgeous work, so who cares how they got there? Let's face it, most of us in this industry are self-taught, both in photography and business. There's a lot of insecurity that comes along with that. I've spent way too many seconds of my life debating whether the clone stamp or the healing brush is the "proper" tool to use, or whether I should shoot zooms or primes, or if I should watermark my images or not watermark my images, etc, etc. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating reinventing the wheel. Just soak up everything you learn from other photographers and business people, and then use what works for you, with your art and your business.   - Aaron Spicer

If you have any additional questions for Aaron, or just want to leave a note of thanks - please leave a comment so he can continue to share his wisdom with you!  Want to keep up with Aaron on social media?
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Want to nominate your favorite photographer?  Let us know in the comments or by email!


  1. This was a great read Aaron!!! I'm still giggling at the Airplanes and Blazers comment, it's so true! :)

    Your advice is spot on as well, do what you love and make it work for you. There isn't one way to do things, especially in this business.

  2. Can I nominate a Canadian Photographer? Brian & Ivy of BH Photography?


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