From elementary school teacher, to starting her photography business and career, to teaching multi and single day photography workshops, Alison Carlino has nearly two decades of industry experience and isn’t slowing down! We’re excited to bring you this month’s interview with Alison!
Full Interview Audio:
Links to websites and resources mentioned:
Alison’s photography website – www.carlinosphotography.com
ShootProof, a resource to help run the backend of your business – https://www.shootproof.com/
QuickBooks, accounting software for your business – https://quickbooks.intuit.com/
For all your retouching needs – RetouchUp
Trevor: We are very excited that we have the chance to speak with Alison Carlino today. Alison is from Louisiana originally, but has lived 40 minutes Southwest of Houston for 17 years in Sugarland, Texas. Alison photographs and educates around the world. As a former master degreed elementary teacher, she is able to relate to students both technically and personally. In her 17th year of business, she hosts multi and single day workshops on the topics of off camera lighting, modern posing, volume sports/seniors, and astro photography at her Richmond, Texas studio and beyond. She is a member of and both teaches and judges for WPPI, PPA’s Imaging USA, SWPP London, PPGH, Texas School of Professional Photography, Texas PPA, and SYNC Sports. In early 2020, Alison Faith Fine Art Photography was created to celebrate Alison’s landscape and astro photography. Alison is sponsored by and a member of the speaker team for Miller’s Professional Imaging. Alison, welcome and thanks so much for joining me today!
Alison: Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Trevor: Absolutely. And so I got to ask with all the teaching, judging, and speaking that you do, and I know you just finished up three incredibly busy weeks. When do you find time to breathe? I mean, you must be incredibly organized, like what’s your secret?
Alison: Organization and prayer. That would be the two things. Yeah, I think that organization is key to any business, but it really has to be when you know that you have, two months of intense firing coming at you, it really, you’re supported by a great team and you organize it. That’s the best you can do.
Trevor: Absolutely. What, can you tell us a little bit, what those two months kind of look like for you?
Alison: Sure. March and April and October and November are the four busiest months of the year for us here Southwest of Houston. We can shoot year round, we just don’t do a lot of it in July and August because of the heat and the humidity. But March and April, typically high school seniors, spring sports, for my volume and team and individual that we do, as well as spring weddings and teaching organizations that fall during that time. So spring is hopping. We tend to do a lot of family portraits in the fall for Christmas in October and November. We also have weddings during that time and some workshops, not a lot. But I also, at that point, we’re, we’re just trying to, all of our marketing is in place. We don’t do anything new during those two months. That’s what we use our other months to prepare for as they roll into those busy months. This past year we even did a Santa event at my studio where it was coded safe and much better than going to the mall. So we’re slightly expanding our offerings based on the public needs. But it’s busy for sure.
Trevor: Sounds incredibly busy – seniors and weddings. Yeah, those are busy times of year. And just kind of as a little bit of a background, what kind of got you started down the photography trail? You know, like, was it just kind of something that always interested you or where did you get your start?
Alison: I’ve always loved the arts, always. I played flute since the fourth grade. It paid for me to go to college. I toured with the wind ensemble. I was drum major in high school and in college. So I’ve always loved the arts. When I finished my elementary education masters, I stayed in the teaching realm for a couple of years and then had a child and stayed home and I never went back to the official classroom. And of course, when you have a child that makes you pick up whatever camera you have. And I realized how, I mean, I had an eye for things, but I had no technical understanding whatsoever. I mean, everybody looks back at their first images and go, oh my gosh, that’s horrible. But I teach with mine. That’s how bad they are. So if you can start where I am and end up where I am, it’s, it’s possible for anyone that’s willing to learn. But I always, you know, I picked up the camera with the kids and that’s how I started realizing how bad I was. And I got all the education that I could right off. I joined organizations like WPPI and PPA. I partnered with a mentor that walked me through some divisions that I wanted to be in, but others said he just wanted to expose me and that way I understood what was out there. So if you don’t have a ready mentor, I’d go to a photo lab or professional printing place and start asking there. And that’s, that’s a good place to start off for someone that might want to mentor you.
Trevor: That’s very interesting with the mentor. So did you, um, how, how did you meet your mentor and like, did you just go up and ask them like, hey, could you teach me or what, what was that like?
Alison: That was 17 years ago so let’s see. I probably, I I’m a very social creature, so I probably would have just asked where can I get more training? Is there anyone teaching or would let me shadow them? I wasn’t doing wedding my first two years. I was terrified. So it’s very important to me that I’ve watched people do weddings, help pack their gear, and, before I ever picked up a camera to do a wedding, so. And I have people that contact me to this day to do that. And they’re, they’re not paid. It’s just one of those things where they want to see what it’s like as a worker bee behind the scenes. So you just have to be brave and then bold enough to ask, where can I get some training? Will you let me shadow you?
Trevor: That’s awesome. And, cause you also mentioned another resource, like PPA, WPPI, what would be some of your favorite resources, like between like a mentor or like online courses? Do you have a preference between some of these courses that teach photography?
Alison: Well, specifically I teach off-camera flash and modern posing, and that is not something that I’m, I suppose not willing to do virtually because you just, you need to be face-to-face and you need to be hands-on to learn flash. It is really important that I’m there with you when you learn how to turn it on, how to power it, position level height, the modifiers. And I know this now because I was asked to teach it twice over 2020 virtually, and it, it was not a success. It’s just not the kind of information that works well virtually. So I think that’s by the type of skill that you’re learning, whether online would work or not.
Trevor: Gotcha. That’s super interesting. Good, very great feedback. So, 17 years ago, you, you kind of got this mentor, you started going down the path of photography. And then what, what kind of clicked for you in which you realized or thought, I want to turn this into a business! I want to, I think I could see myself, you know, being doing this full-time like, where did you kind of go in that direction?
Alison: I think I built my portfolio for almost 18 months before I got brave enough to say, I can make a business out of this. For me, I was fortunate that my husband still had a full-time job in corporate America. So therefore I could stay home and be with the children as well as working on the weekends with photography. And when I found out that that partnership was going to be firm and set, and he was set in corporate America, that kind of gave me the freedom to say, okay, it’s time to go. That was the money side of it. The artistic side of it took a while. I would say I spent, like I said, 18 months building that portfolio. And I bet it was two years before I decided that this is something people would actually value. That they saw a need in it. And they saw the skill, they saw the passion, they saw I wanted to work. So that did not come overnight. That took time to build that confidence.
Trevor: Yeah. That’s yeah, two years. That’s a, that’s definitely a good chunk of time. That’s awesome that you stuck with it though. Holy cow. And so, I mean, now you have this incredible 17 years of experience and now you’re teaching and being able to go all over and, and help people. So I guess, you know, in a sense you could say, you know, hey, you’ve made it, you have this successful business, it’s taken care of you. So what, what do you do now to challenge yourself and push yourself to, to greater heights?
Alison: Well, first of all, I continue to stay connected to the industry. It’s very important that you go and you see the current products that are out there to decide if they’re part of your target market. It’s very important that you go and hear other speakers, whether they’re new in the industry and they’ve got something fresh, they can inspire you. Or if they’ve been around for 25 years, and they’re people that I stand on the shoulders of. Both of those people will teach you something. So whether it’s new skills or a new way of approaching a subject and a composition, they’ve got something to share. It’s very important that fresh blood continues to come in to those organizations. I appreciate what both of them are doing, trying to make them more diverse as well. There’s been a big effort to get more, more women on stage, more African-Americans, more minorities, and I’m appreciative they’re getting that section of the portrait population, the wedding population, noticed and up on stage. Repeat the question again?
Trevor: Yeah. Just kind of, you know, in a sense you’ve made it, your business has taken care of you. So how do you continue to push yourself, challenge yourself to, to improve, so you don’t, you know, necessarily just become stagnant?
Alison: Going to places that I’ve not gone before, whether that’s for landscape, whether that’s for visiting an art museum that has sculptures in it. Perhaps a sculpture will inspire me for a new pose on a high school senior girl session. So staying fresh with art that’s out there, trickles back down, it sits in your subconscious for a while and then all of a sudden it comes out on a session.
Trevor: That’s really neat. So you, you actually like, will go to museums and like, do you just like, write anything down or do you just kind of take some mental pictures? Like what’s, what’s your strategy there?
Alison: Mental pictures. Mental pictures. Yeah. It seems to sink into my subconscious that way. Now when I’m at conventions though, I’m a big teacher by heart, as you know, so I’m writing even to this day, 17 years later, I still write notes when I go to classes. I may type them in later on to make digital, permanent copies, but writing to me something over and over, especially when I’m about ready to teach it, the more you can write it, the more you can speak it, the better, you know it.
Trevor: I love that. That’s super awesome. 17 years later, still writing everything down. That’s awesome. No, that’s phenomenal. Cause I mean, yeah, you were a teacher beforehand and everything, so I’m sure a lot of this, yeah, is kind of ingrained into you a little bit, would you say?
Alison: Absolutely. Because I’ve sat through classes before where the teacher, man, they, they can make an image that can win an award, but they can’t teach it. And that frustrates the mess out of me. Like they, they need to be able to have a lesson plan with, with valid points and objectives and then samples and then hands-on to back it up. Cause it’s, it’s nothing without the hands-on. People learn hands-on,
Trevor: That’s very interesting. No, thanks for sharing that. And you know, kind of something a little bit more relevant to the present, you know, with COVID having just really rocked our world with in the past year. What, what’s been one of the biggest challenges that your business has faced in the last year and, you know, how did you work to overcome that? And do you feel you’re experiencing some of those same challenges now or, kind of a lot of questions there. So maybe first we just kind of, what, what was the biggest challenge for the last, in this last year for you and what did, what did you do to kind of combat that?
Alison: When things shut down a year ago, we lost 42 bookings in six weeks.
Trevor: Oh my word.
Alison: And that was all my spring schools and my spring sports. And then I had a summer with no weddings. So I had six months of no work and I’m just stroking the violin here cause this is, most people had job loss and this is not nothing new. It’s just, it was amazingly heavy for us for six months with no work. My biggest worry every night that I stayed on my knees praying about was keeping my six staff employed. That was the hardest part. And we applied for the PPP. We got that. We had, obviously we had some savings. We, you know, we went through that. But even when August came up, you know, people were still a little bit shy about scheduling things and sports teams weren’t fully back. And then they had so many virtual kids that couldn’t figure out how to get one team together. Even though I’m doing digital extraction and white screen shooting one at a time, they still had so many times when virtual kids couldn’t be there during the school day. So I had to make the choice of do I want to set up at 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM just to accompany the virtual kids. It blows my whole day. So it, it’s been a struggle for everybody, from teachers to coaches, to people like me, that service those organizations just to get back on our feet. We are incredibly busy right now and I know that Texas has been more forefront about getting things back opened again. I mean, two weeks ago I had 14 sessions in one week. I have 10 this week. So we’re back up to pre COVID for whatever that means. I’m still having to break my sessions up with, with coming in early for virtuals or staying late for virtuals, but I’m willing to do what it takes to work. So therefore, if I’m working, the girls are working because I’m the direct relation on what they have. They’re all, I have no full-timers, they’re all, you know, by the, by the job they work. So there’s nobody with guaranteed hours. And we don’t have a PPP loan anymore, of course that’s already been used. So, so we’re back to work. And, the biggest challenge I’m facing this year right now is the girls that are calling me for fresh weddings, for new weddings, they’re having to compete with all those 2020 girls, or 2020 anything, that have pushed back in spring in the summer. And I, this morning, I even turned down one for June because I just don’t have the openings now. So I’m losing openings because of what happened last year cause those girls had to push to this year. So that tends to be the challenge is booking at this point.
Trevor: That’s very interesting. I mean, fantastic that, that you guys were able to weather the storm and then bounce back, but that’s yeah. So busy now, cause now you’re having to catch up from last year to point you’re having to say no to others if I’m understanding that. Right. That’s wow. That’s unbelievable. Well, appreciate you sharing that. What a, what a great, I mean kind of inspiration to just hang in there. Love everything that you were, you were sharing. I appreciate your honesty on that. And you know, for, for people, you know, photographers looking to expand their business, kind of bounce back from, or continue to bounce back from everything that’s been experienced in the last year, could you share maybe some of, maybe some of the most helpful resources that help you and your business, you know, maybe things you use on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, things that could potentially help others, you know, kind of maybe streamline or just help their business?
Alison: Well, the first one that pops up there is the division that’s now 40 to 45% of our annual sales and that’s my sports and schools division my volume division. We weren’t even doing volume six years ago, so it’s, it’s really blown up for us. We went from a couple of teams to over 40. So it’s the major partner to getting this moving would be RetouchUp. Because I shoot with a white screen that means everyone has to be extracted. Some of my schools during COVID were even doing this for their class photos because we put, they get together in a class photo without wearing a mask. So we were even doing schools for extraction, which is definitely not something common. But yeah, I keep RetouchUp busy for sure. That partnership and the fast service that they return back the PNG files to us allows my girls to get busy on the graphics and Photoshop and get stuff back out to coaches. So if we had to extract inhouse, no, it just, there’s just no, I mean, there’s no way we would do that. So athletes is something that somebody else should be doing, that I don’t need to be spending time on. And the service is always there. The price is right. And if something is wrong, which occasionally it is with maybe a piece of hair that we didn’t like, cause I’m a perfectionist with that, or maybe there was a tennis racket and some of the strings weren’t extracted correctly, we’ll send it back and it’s fixed and sent back without a problem. So yeah, we’re very happy with RetouchUp. So if you’re in the volume world and you’re working with any kind of extraction and graphics and Photoshop then RetouchUp is where you need to go. That’s my number one resource with volumes, With portrait and weddings, gosh, what kind of resources would help people? I would say going straight for a type of software that can keep your clientele’s information organized. We use ShootProof for all of our sales and to have a running database on what our clients have cashed in on and what they haven’t. So ShootProof is our bloodline for the business as far as sales and database information.
Trevor: Right on. So ShootProof, RetouchUp – thank you for all the kind words on that and stuff. ShootProof yeah. I’ve, I’ve learned a little bit about ShootProof, they also kind of let you like set up like pictures for clients to be able to see is that, am I understanding that right? I don’t know too much about them.
Alison: Right, right. When you load your images up there, the client can add it to the cart and checkout with whatever products you set up in your menu.
Trevor: Oh, even check out and pay. That’s awesome. Awesome that it’s integrated.
Alison: Yeah. And it produces the right kind of invoices that we need for QuickBooks.
Trevor: Fantastic. That’s great. Well hey, know we’re kind of, don’t want to take too much of your time. So just kind of to wrap things up, couple of last questions for you, really thank you so much. You know, say I’m a photographer, maybe I’ve, I’ve been in the business just maybe a few years or so, wanting to expand, what advice would you give to someone like me, that’s trying to make my business succeed and expand and be profitable?
Alison: I would give you the advice that Jerry Ghionis, one of my other mentors, gave me many, many, many years ago, and that was be, you need to be a business person first that happens to be a photographer and not the other way around. So if you don’t have any business skills on how to market, how to forecast, how to file sell taxes, then hire someone that does. Cause your creativity and your passion can only get you so far. You’ve got to make money in this, or you will be a starving artist. So be a business person who happens to be a photographer.
Trevor: That’s phenomenal advice. And then just lastly, you know, if people are interested in connecting with you, Alison, what would be the best way for them to do so?
Alison: I would send them to my website directly. And that would be www.carlinosphotography.com, C A R L I N O S photography. And then from there you can find our social media channels.
Trevor: Fantastic. Hey, thank you so, so much, Alison, I love being able to have this opportunity to speak directly with you and others and learn so much. I’m taking notes along the way and get to go back and listen to this. So just want to give you a really big, thank you what great advice. And I hope that, you know, the, the people listening to this, photographer’s listening will be able to take you up on some of that advice and continue to push forward and, and succeed in what they’re doing. But seriously, thank you so much.
Alison: Of course, you’re very, very, very welcome. Hopefully I’ve inspired some people and reach out to me with questions if you have some.
Trevor: Absolutely. Thanks so much, Alison. Take care.
Alison: All right. Bye-bye.
Trevor: Thanks, bye-bye.