Find your niche and stick to it. We’ve all heard this, but Chris Smith takes this saying and flips it on its head. From photography techniques, to teaching how outsourcing saves you time and expands your business, to explaining how to keep yourself from getting stuck in a rut, Chris expounds on all of this and more in this month’s interview!
Full Interview Audio:
Some Moto Photo Adventures pics:
Links to websites and resources mentioned:
Chris and Cami’s photography website – https://chrisandcami.com/
Moto Photo Adventures – https://motophotoadventures.com/
Instagram – @ChrisAndCami and @MotoPhoto_Adventures
Zenfolio – https://zenfolio.com/
Zookbinders – https://www.zookbinders.com/
RetouchUp – https://www.retouchup.com/index.php
Trevor: We are very excited that we get to speak with Chris Smith today! Chris graduated from the New York Institute of Photography and has been very integrated in the photography industry ever since. From Sales Manager for Click Camera, to photographer and Field Service Consultant for Coppinger & Affiliates, to Photographer & Studio Manager for Olan Mills Portrait Studios, and Store Manager for Ritz Camera, there’s not much that Chris hasn’t seen! Chris and his wife, Cami, own and operate Chris and Cami Photography which has won many awards, including WeddingWire’s Couple’s Choice Award 6 years in a row! Another project Chris is passionate about is Moto Photo Adventures in which Chris travels with two friends, Steve and Jason, on their motorcycles while filming and photographing wherever their travels take them! Chris, it’s so awesome to have you here, welcome!
Chris: Thanks Trevor. It’s great to be here, man. You make me sound like some celebrity when I’m really just a regular guy.
Trevor: Man, I’ll tell you what though. Going through some of those YouTube videos you have on Moto Photo, I think you are turning into a celebrity. They’re pretty awesome. And that’s actually where I would love to start is Moto Photo Adventures. Like where did this idea come from? Cause I found it impressive and cool that on top of running a business, you’re also helping to produce these fun and informative videos, so how did this all come together?
Chris: Well it, you know, I’m one of the lucky few who has sort of discovered their passions in life fairly early on. And, you know, I know a lot of folks struggle trying to figure out their career and their path in life, but, back in geez, 10th grade, even when I was growing up in Africa, my parents were working in the Congo and I just fell in love with photography. I fell in love with travel and I fell in love with motorcycles. So those have been my passions and, you know, I just kind of rode for fun and so on. But during the pandemic, we really had a, had a back, you know, the photography businesses sort of, sort of slowed down, a lot of weddings and events got postponed. And, so we found some time on our hands and we said, well, why don’t we kick off this YouTube channel and, you know, really do some, some really cool videos and big hat off to, my buddy, Jason, who does all the editing and rides with me on these adventures and Steve who is also a fellow photographer and a fellow RetouchUp.com user.
Trevor: No way! That’s awesome. So whose idea was it?
Chris: Well, I’ve had the channel for a little while. You know, for a couple of years now and did a couple of solo trips and we have, it’s called Moto Photo Adventures because it combines my three passions, you know? And so there are some tutorials on photography. So if people who are listening to this really don’t care about motorcycles, they may find some interesting tutorials and videos on how to, you know, light an event, for example, with off camera flash, or how to do a simple headshot and things like that. But the emphasis on motorcycles really sort of ramped up during the pandemic when we found we had more time on our hands, and we decided to tackle this humongous trail called the trans America trail, which is basically a kind of a patchwork of dirt roads and, and farm roads and back country roads that goes from coast to coast, from the Pacific, from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. So we crossed the entire country in 29 days on these back dirt roads, and it took us three days to get back in the truck on the highway.
Trevor: Oh my gosh, that is so awesome. Wow. What an adventure. Cause like I was also blown away by some of the photos I think on this latest episode, was it, it was somewhere in Arizona I think it was, right? Yeah. And then just some of the drone shots and everything, I was just like, oh my gosh, this is gorgeous. Made me want to get on a motorcycle and go!
Chris: Yeah, it’s really neat because we get to see, you know, the, the parts of America that a lot of people don’t get to see. You know, so many people live in the big cities and when they travel, they stay on the highways. This was as far from that as you can get. I mean, we’re, you know, camping out and staying in covered wagons. There’s this camp that you, the latest episode you were talking about, there’s a ranch that has literally converted old, covered wagons into a place where you, you can lay your head for the night. I mean, like, it’s just really cool and you’re out with the crickets and the coyotes. One of my photographic endeavors is always when I teach my workshops and things like that, I’m always letting people know, hey, it’s very important for you as an artist, to always foster your creative spirit, your creative mind. We often as creative people get into a rut, and you do that and you just get burnt out and find yourself going, oh man, I just, you know, don’t really love this anymore. Then you’re in trouble because your greatest asset is at risk, your creative, your, your creativity. So I’m always encouraging people to find new ways to keep that creative juice alive. And so one of the things that I discovered a little while back was how to convert an old digital point shoot camera into an infrared camera. Have you ever seen that kind of thing done?
Trevor: I don’t think I have. Yeah, what is that?
Chris: Well, there, there’s a way, you know, all our, all the little, all the digital cameras have a filter over the front to block infrared light. And, you know, as humans see a, a, what they call the visible spectrum of light, but the wavelengths that are just outside of that, like ultraviolet and infrared, are not, those are blocked from our cameras because of course the manufacturers are designing these cameras to see the world around us, similar to the way our eyes would see it. So we only see the, the visible light. But back in the day, you know, Kodak used to make this great film called infrared film. And I used to, you know, I’m dating myself, but, you know, I’m kind of old I used to shoot film, and it was neat to play with infrared film, but it was a real pain in the butt because it was super sensitive. And, you have to load it in camera in the dark and things like that. But there’s a company called Kolari Vision. K O L A R I V I S I O N. And they, you can send in an old digital camera that you’re not using. It can be a DSLR, it can be a point and shoot, and they will actually remove that filter that protects the infrared light from hitting your sensor. And then your camera can suddenly see those infrared wavelengths of light. And it’s just, it creates some beautiful, surreal types of images that you wouldn’t normally expect. And, so I, I brought that camera with me and that might’ve been some of the pictures you were commenting on where those black and white photos, that are super contrasty and just have that ethereal glow to them, those were done with that infrared camera, which is super fun.
Trevor: That is really neat. No, yeah, I had no idea you could even do that to cameras. So thanks for that. That’s super neat. And you actually touched on something a little bit about the being creative and like, kind of, you know, if you’re kind of running out of those creative juices, you know, you need to kind of get into something else to get that flow going once more. And I, I wonder if that might be part of the answer to one of the questions I want to ask you, because when I was going from your social media page to your website, I mean, you name it, wildlife, wedding, sports, pets, architecture, you’re doing it all and doing extremely well. And, what’s your secret behind doing that? Because I feel like I usually hear, you know, find your niche and then stick to that, but you’ve really turned that on its head.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. And you’re right. I have heard that a ton as well. And I have plenty of, of really great friends of mine who are specialists, you know, they only shoot weddings or, you know, they only do newborns or they only do, you know, whatever genre they, speaks to their heart. Which is, which is fantastic if that sustains you and you can, you know, do that day in and day out. That’s great. My beautiful wife, Cami, I give a big shout out to her, she’s my backbone and runs our company. I do most of the photography, she does the behind the scenes stuff, but she’s always fond of telling friends, well, Chris gets bored really easy. So I think that’s what happened was I found that my inquisitive mind, and I think some of this may have to do with having grown up overseas with, you know, experiencing different cultures and travel and things like that, I just am always inquisitive about this beautiful planet that we live on and ways to capture it and photograph so much variety that I get a little bored when I’m, you know, having to do the same thing over and over and over again. And so along the lines of what we spoke about earlier, again, you know, when I’m speaking to photo clubs and things like that, then that’s one thing that I share is that me personally, I have found that it really helps me creatively if I can diversify my portfolio. So, you know, my week, for example, this week I had a wonderful beach session last night at one of the resorts in town, beautiful sunset photos with this amazing family. Earlier I had an architectural shoot. So I had, you know, an architect that I worked for and went out and photographed one of their amazing homes that they built. You know, before that I had headshots to do. So, you know, I just have a wide variety of things that I shoot, and that helps to keep me interested and constantly searching for that next gear in photography. Not gear as in cameras, but you know, that, that next level of, okay, you know, how can I improve this angle? How can I improve this lighting? How can I improve, um, my interaction with the clients? You know, there’s always, the amazing thing about photography, and I tell this to young photographers who are just getting into it, is I’ve been doing this for so long and I’m still finding things that I never knew, you know, I’m constantly learning. And so if you continue to always be learning something new and something interesting every day, then you’ll never get bored. And so that, that seems to work for me. I know it doesn’t work for everybody, but it seems to work for me.
Trevor: That’s awesome.
Chris: And I can expand on that just a little bit, Trevor, I hate to, you know, blab on.
Trevor: No, please, that’s why we’re here.
Chris: We just finished watching this amazing thing called the Olympics, right? I hope all of our viewers were glued to the screen like I was, but it’s just, I think, an amazing thing to see the world come together every [two] years, you know, granted this one was a year late, but just need to see the comradery and the competition and everything, but the TV always seems to focus on, you know, a handful of sports, you know, here in the US we focused on, you know, the swimming and the track and field and that’s about it. But, I was glad to see this year that they did put a little bit of airtime on the decathletes and the heptathletes. And to me, that has always been like the pinnacle of an athlete. I’m like, that’s great if, you know, Usain Bolt’s the fastest man in the world, that’s wonderful, but, you know, there’s about 50 Kenyans that can probably beat him in a longer distance run, right? So, you know, he’s limited on one side, he’s gifted on the other, but those, decathletes who have to be able to throw a javelin, have to be able to a long jump, have to be able to run long distance, they have to be able to do the a hundred meter dash. Those are amazing to me and photographically that seems to play into what I’m doing by diversifying my portfolio of subject matters. Um, when I can, uh, photograph sporting events, you know, Serena Williams out on the tennis court, that timing of being able to capture that shot with the ball on the racket, that hones my skills to where when I’m photographing a wedding, I can sort of, I can capture the bride, the, the maid of honor, for example, capturing the bouquet in the air. My work with families on the beach, photographing portraits on the beach, you know, creating that dynamic of the interaction within the parents and the kids and all that, that plays into at a wedding night. You know, I can run through family portraits very quickly cause I’m used to doing family portraits. My work as, you know, photographing editorial work or, you know, photographing corporate events, for example, has honed my skills as a photo journalistic type photographer. So I can capture photo journalistic type stuff at a wedding as well. So there are, there are all these aspects of photography that if you work at it, you can become more like a decathlete and really up your game in all aspects and not have to specialize.
Trevor: That’s awesome. Man, I’m just taking, taking notes here. This is great!
Chris: It works for me and, you know, hey man, I just go out and, and do what I love every day. And I’m, I’m so blessed to be able to be in this, this world of photography for so many years, so.
Trevor: Yeah, absolutely. And it interesting, I mean, after shooting Serena Williams, I’m sure everything seems like it’s slow motion. I mean, like how fast they have to move and, oh my gosh. That’s awesome. And so with your decades of experience and knowledge in this industry-
Chris: Oh now you’re making me sound old!
Trevor: Oh, no! All due respect. I mean, this is, I mean, we want to tap that knowledge bank, man. Like, that’s why we’re here. No, not at all. Cause I mean, putting together, running a business, I would love to know what, what you feel would be, you know, maybe the one or two top things other photographers should know when trying to run their business and make it successful.
Chris: Absolutely. I don’t know if you’ve heard this statistic or not Trevor, but I was told a couple of years ago, a study was done by I think it was the Professional Photographers of America, they said that photographers who turned their passion into a business eventually ended up photographing 11% of the time. So if you’re a guy or a girl looking to get into photography and you’re like, yeah, I’m going to make this my business and it’s going to be my life and blah, blah, blah, I’m going to take pictures for a living. Actually, there’s so much else that goes into running a business that you end up, photographing is like a small piece of the pie. So that’s something to bear in mind. So if your passion is actually taking pictures, then you need to very carefully evaluate how you structure your business. I’m super lucky again with Cami, she, you know, does the books and helps with answering email and things like that. So it does leave me a little bit more free to, you know, go out and be the photographer that’s in me, but there are many ways that we keep things very, very efficient. Workflow is, is super important. Otherwise you will eat up every minute of every day and end up working 12 hours a day. One of those ways is we just have decided, you know what, we don’t like sitting in front of a computer working in Photoshop. It’s just not our thing. And so we partner with folks like you, you know. RetouchUp.com has been a part of our workflow for years. And, and Gary, you know, is our representative. He’s fantastic. Customer service is amazing. I just got back three retouched photos today, headshots that I did, um, I guess I probably photographed the headshot maybe three days ago? I delivered the images and we, we go through using Lightroom in our workflow to quickly tone and do minor cropping and exposure adjustments and things like that. Just the overall global adjustments that you would do to a photograph to make sure that it’s spot on. Delivered that to the client using Zenfolio, which is another partner that we use. So we transfer the images to an online gallery, send our clients the gallery, hey, here’s the photos we did, look through them all. Out of the dozen or so people that I photograph their headshots, there’s probably, I don’t know, 15, 20 shots of each person, have each person pick out their favorite shots, send us the list and we’ll get it all retouched. We’ll get the frizzy hairs, you know, we live in Charleston, where in the summertime the humidity just makes everybody’s hair stick up. So all the little frizzy hairs that are out of place, all the fly away hairs, the puffiness under the eyes, softening the wrinkles, you know, not changing who the person is, but really making them look the best that they can, they can look. And we simply send that off to RetouchUp.com. Within 24 hours, man, I can’t believe the turnaround time you guys have, they’re back from the retouching lab and I send them to the client and the client’s like, oh my god, these are great! I had to do none of it. I mean, I upload a picture, it’s not a big deal. Takes you a second, you know, and then within 24 hours you download a picture and you’re done. So that to me is just so much easier than sitting in front of Photoshop for 15 or 20 minutes per photo.
Trevor: Oh yeah, for sure. So it sounds like then understanding when, you know, when you’re setting up your business, understanding where your time is really going to be allocated and then setting up proper workflows so that you’re not having to spend literally all day doing stuff, just trying to, you know, keep all the cogs and wheels running. Is that, is that right?
Chris: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.
Chris: And one thing, correct me if I’m wrong Trevor, but when I first connected with RetouchUp.com, it was at Imaging USA network of some sort, I can’t remember which year, but, you know, they had a booth at the PPA show and, I just, I just loved the story about the company. So there are a million different companies probably out there that could retouch photos for you, but the things that really drew me was the story behind the start of the company. And correct me if I’m wrong, but a lot of the employees that are doing the work are from Lima, Peru, correct?
Trevor: Yeah! Family run business. The owner’s wife is from Peru and yeah, a lot of, a lot of this originated with just family in Peru. You totally got it right, yep.
Chris: So I, I just was drawn to that story. I was like, that is so cool cause here I am in, in a blessed country, like the United States with all the opportunities that we have to make a great living and I can take a little piece of the pie that I’m making and, and be able to support, you know, a country and a people and, you know, a family in Peru. And I just, I, that makes me feel good. I just love being able to do that. And of course the price is fantastic and the turnaround time is fantastic. So those three things to me just make it a win-win-win. And so we’ve been using you guys forever and just love it.
Trevor: Wow, appreciate that. Awesome, awesome words. Thank you. And just to kind of, last couple of questions, just to kind of help wrap up things, would love to know what are some of your favorite resources that you would recommend to a group of photographers that would help them, you know, maybe run their workflow, get that going a little bit better, or just what, you know, what are some of your favorite resources that you use on a daily or weekly basis? Know you mentioned RetouchUp and Zenfolio, is there anything else?
Chris: Oh yeah, absolutely. I don’t know if, if any of our listeners are wedding photographers, for example. I learned a long time ago that creating album designs was not my thing either. So that’s another aspect that we outsourced. And we outsource a good bit from the retouching to the, Zenfolio of, you know, print delivery and, and things like that, all done on Zenfolio. And then the other partner that we love is Zookbinders. That’s Z O O K B I N D E R S. And they’re an American company out of Chicago area. Wonderful family run business up there. And a lot of their staff are actually photographers. So most of the designers, people who are going to be doing the design of the album are, you know, they’re out photographing their own weddings on the weekends. And so I get to send my pictures to somebody to design an album, and that person can go through my wedding photos and say, oh, this is, this is great. You know, he’s, he’s captured the, the beginning, he’s captured the middle, he’s captured, you know, the, the characters in the show. You know, if you pretend like it’s a movie, you know, you’ve got your intro, your establishing scene, you’ve got your character development, you’ve got your end. And they can, can see that in the photos and be able to create dynamic and interesting layouts and designs. And I don’t have to touch it. I don’t have to do anything. I just send them the pictures and say, hey, this bride would like her album. So we outsource all of that to Zookbinders and they’re, they’re fantastic. They do the design for us. We send that to the client. Client approves it, or makes changes, whatever they want, and then they print the, and bind the album and ship it direct to the client. It’s fantastic.
Trevor: Oh wow. That’s awesome. More outsourcing. I love it. And then just lastly, you know, if, if people want to connect with you, what would be the best way for them to do so, Chris?
Chris: Oh, good luck with that. I’m all over the place, just throw a dot, or a dart somewhere at the social media and you’ll probably find me, but, you know, so, you mentioned the Moto Photo Adventures. There’s always MotoPhotoAdventures.com, which is our website where all Moto Photo Adventures excitement happens. And of course the YouTube page, you can always catch us on YouTube, which is youtube.com/ChrisSmithMotoPhotoAdventures or I’m sorry, youtube.com/ChrisSmithMotoPhotoAdventures. Facebook, Instagram, all of that. You can find me @MotoPhoto_Adventures or @ChrisAndCami. It’s just C H R I S A N D C A M I. And same thing, ChrisAndCami.com is our website. And social media is @ChrisAndCami, I think I mentioned that already. But anyway, I’m all over the place. I don’t have a particular place that I really like. I’ll view a lot of stuff on Facebook for a while. And then I’ll switch over to Instagram for a while. Unfortunately, I am not very good at social media. I know a lot of people say you should have a targeted campaign, but I’m just having fun and sharing pictures and videos and stuff with the world and putting good karma out there and eventually it comes back, so.
Trevor: That’s awesome. Man, thank you again so much for your time today, Chris. We appreciate you and everything that you shared today. So excited to get this out to everyone, and hopefully everyone’s got a full page of notes by now, for sure.
Chris: Thanks, Trevor. I really appreciate it. It was an honor to be on with you and we love what you guys do for us. Thank you so much.
Trevor: Hey, thank you. Have a great rest of your day, Chris!
Chris: You bet. Take care bud.
Trevor: Thanks. Bye bye.
Chris: Bye bye.