Heather Swanner Photography
Q. Tell us a little about yourself in just two sentences.
I’m a completely blessed wife of 15 years and mother of two precious children (ages 6 1/2 and 7 1/2) who loves wildflowers, music, all things vintage, and sun-drenched summer nights. I’m a former high school math teacher who had a complete career (and brain!) turn-around when I got into photography.
Q. What do you shoot with and what is your favorite lens and why?
I shoot with a Nikon D700. My favorite lens is my Nikon 85 mm 1.4. I love it because of its sharpness & creamy bokeh. It lives on my camera about 90% of the time.
Q. When did you start shooting for fun and then move to shooting professionally?
I guess I’ve always shot a little for fun, but I really started shooting a lot while I was teaching high school. The photography teacher at the high school decided to offer a class for the teachers, and I instantly became hooked. Instead of using my “prep” time to grade papers, most of my time was spent in the darkroom developing film. For several years, I took pictures of my friends’ children and anything else that struck my fancy. I began shooting professionally about 6 years ago after I had my children.
Q. Are you formally taught or self taught?
I am a little bit of both. I took a few basic classes (both in the high school where I taught and at a local college), but the majority of what I implement in my business and personal style is self-taught. I’ve also participated in a few workshops where I learned from some of the best in the business. While I’ve definitely learned a lot from others, the majority of what I know has come through lots and lots of experimenting!
Q. What is your specialty and how did you decide to specialize in that area of photography?
My speciality is newborns, children, and families. Because my children were such an inspiration to me at the beginning of my business (and continue to be), I decided to focus on what I felt like I knew best. There is something so pure about a child…they are who they are, and that is so easy (and fulfilling) to photograph. I’ve always been a kid at heart and a lover of children, so it was only natural to make them my main concentration.
Q. How many sessions are you shooting a month?
It really varies by season, but on average, I shoot around 15-20 sessions each month. Fall can often be even busier, but then I get a break in January and February. Probably around 10-12 a month is closer to what I’d like to shoot…I just have issues saying “no”, but I’m working on that!
Q. On average how long to do you spend editing each session and do you listen to music while editing or just enjoy the quiet?
It depends on the session, but typically, I spend 2-3 hours on each session. For larger family sessions, it might take longer. I’d like to lie and say that I listen to Mozart while editing, but most often, I edit to The Real Housewives of Wherever. I know it’s trashy, but it gets me through!
Q. What is the best marketing tool that works for you or was a total waste of time? Do you advertise in print? Do you offer referral bonuses? If yes, please share a little.
The majority of my marketing has been through word-of-mouth. I know that I probably SHOULD do more, but word-of-mouth has been so successful for me that I hesitate to spend a lot of money on print advertising. Most definitely, Facebook has been an enormous marketing tool for me. I typically tag my clients in a few pictures from each session, and very often, I get referrals that way. I do offer a small gift print to clients who have sent me referrals. I also donate sessions to local charity auctions, and that has definitely been another way to get recognized.
Q. What do you do to “stand out” from surrounding photographers that you’re competing with?
Mainly, I just try to stay true to myself and try new things/places/ideas all of the time. I try to stay off of local photographers’ blogs so that I’m not influenced (or discouraged) by what they are doing. I actually have a great relationship with several really great local photographers, and we are all very supportive of each other! Most importantly, I think that keeping thing fresh and new is a great way to stand out.
Q.What was your biggest mistake and how did you fix it?
Oh, wow, I’ve made lots of them! ;) Probably the biggest mistake I’ve made is undervaluing my time and my work. What I didn’t realize when I got into this business is just how time consuming each session would be, and I didn’t charge accordingly. When I realized that I was probably only making minimum wage with all of the time I was spending prepping the session, doing the session, editing the session, and everything else that goes with the session, I realized that it was time to make some changes to my pricing structure. Each hour that I spend working is an hour less that I have with my family, and I’ve had to learn to charge accordingly. This is still an issue that I struggle with on occasion when I get too busy, but raising my rates was one of the best ways to remedy the situation. It’s allowed me to have the time to concentrate on the clients who truly value my work and style. If I could give my former self advice, I would say to slow down and work on getting an INCREDIBLE portfolio before I hung my shingle, and then start out at the rates I deserved. In this “shoot and burn” time that we are experiencing right now, I still think that it is so important to not undervalue your work and ESPECIALLY your time away from your family.
Q. Please share your favorite image and tell us what makes this your favorite?
This is such a tough question. My favorites vary from week to week (call me fickle!). Currently, I love this image because it reminds me of the stories I’ve heard my husband tell about raising over 100 goats when he was a child. I’m sure that I have other images that are more technically pleasing, but the boy in this image makes me think of my hubby as a child with his favorite goat, Nanny. :)
Q. Can you show us your shooting space? If you are shooting inside can you show a simple pull back shot or lots of images if you have a large studio. If you shoot on location please share an image of you favorite location.
Sadly, I don’t have any great pictures of the studio, but now I know that I need to take some! I do about 75% of my sessions on location, and this location is one of my favorites. It’s about an hour away from Birmingham near our lake house….it’s a great place to shoot when I can get people to make the drive. We have a lot of great memories there.
Q. Is there anything you would like to promote? Maybe a mentoring you offer or any side projects.
I have given some thought to mentoring on a very small scale in the future, but I’m still trying to decide whether I have time to fit it into my schedule.
Q. Please share an image of your Prop stash! This doesn’t have to be an organized space just an image showing off your addiction.
This is embarrassing and is certainly not anything compared to the prop stash I have at the studio (I’m working a little bit on a time-crunch here and couldn’t get over there to take pictures), but this is my moving prop closet. Yes, I barely have room for my kids in my car between March to November. This is what my car looks like after a session when I’m just ready to get home to my family. Occasionally, it’s a little more organized….but not too often! :)
More of Heather’s Beautiful Work:
Oh Heather … THANK YOU so much for not only putting this together within HOURS of me contacting you, but for sharing so much with us! Your images are just beautiful and classic with a vintage yet trendy touch. I LOVE that. I can truly say that I admire your work and I was already a fan of yours!
Thank You again!
PS … Please take a few minutes to visit Heather’s Fan Page and leave her some extra love for going above and beyond to make sure we had a Featured Photog this week! She totally stepped up to fill in for a no show photog. I think it couldn’t have worked out better though!