I’ve been keeping this adorable session under wraps for so long that it was still warm out when we met at the Queen Creek Olive Mill for their family photos! I had so much fun with these kiddos, Mom has a GREAT attitude about photos and was willing to let their little personalities show. Sit still and smile just isn’t practical for some kids, and that’s ok! Embrace the silly, the playful and the giggles, because that is the best way to get those real genuine smiles to shine through. And sometimes, just sometimes, someone even ends up upside down!
If you’ve never had a chance to stop by the Queen Creek Olive Mill, you are missing out on an amazing hidden gem here in the East Valley! The grounds are beautiful, lots of big weepy trees, grass and benches to enjoy the outdoors when the weather is amazing. The cafe serves up some of the most delicious looking food – I will definitely be making a point to grab some during my next trip. And where else can you get freshly pressed olive oil, straight from farm to bottle to your kitchen? Because I always love to support small business when I can, this year I stocked up on a variety of yummy olive oil flavors to bring to our families in California for Christmas. You can even take a tour and learn how olive oil is made, what a fun afternoon!
Now that Christmas is only 7 days away – YIKES! – I can share some of the gorgeous family photo sessions from this crazy Fall season! Since I finally feel like I’m getting my footing here in Arizona and ready to explore beyond my favorite Target and Starbucks, I was able to add some amazing new locations to my bag of tricks. First up, the lush, green orchards at the Farm at Agritopia! The orchards are only open to families twice a year for a limited number of sessions, and I was super lucky to nab a perfect sunset spot. I packed 7 awesome families into a couple of hours at the orchard and we made some holiday magic!
The orchards will be open again in the spring and I’ve heard that there are some beautiful blossoms on the trees that time of year! If you didn’t make it in this time around, keep your eyes peeled for my next date there. Or, if you can’t wait for Spring, I just may have another option up my sleeve for fruit trees. Drop me a message and let’s chat!
I think I’ve mentioned maaaaybe once or twice (or fifteen times!) how much I just adore sunrise for photo sessions. It is so peaceful and quiet, and cool! When you are 30+ weeks pregnant, cool is the key word here! Clients often think they can’t get up that early, or their kids will never do it, or they won’t look amazing that early in the morning, but I am telling you I have never ONCE had someone tell me they regret choosing sunrise! This particular location really shines at sunrise. The light behind the little waterfall just slays me every time – I cannot get enough of it!! Stay tuned for a peek at this stunning Mama’s little guy (yes, I am so far behind on blogging that baby is already here!)
Last Fall, this beautiful extended family chose McCormick-Stillman Railroad park as the backdrop for their family photos, and I was so excited to go check it out! Tucked back in a little city park in the middle of the bustling city of Scottsdale sits an amazing little historical gem! The McCormick-Stillman Railroad park opened in 1975 as a result of a donation of land from the McCormick family and the donation of a railroad from the Stillman family. Within the park you can find several historic buildings, a private railroad car once used by 4 past Presidents, a beautiful vintage carousel, and of course, the railroad! The 15 gauge ridable miniature railway cruises through tunnels, past water tanks and even has a working turntable. If you have a little (or big!) train fan in your house, this park is the place to be!
The park is an awesome backdrop for families looking for something a little different for their family photos. The area has a very Fall look and feel, and the train cars and carousel make a unique and playful setting, perfect for Christmas! Grandma did an amazing job at making sure that everyone coordinated, and the colors they chose fit the location perfectly. This is definitely one of my favorite spots to shoot at the holidays!
This one is for my fellow photographers out there. Not the most exciting topic for clients, so you may want to skip right on past this one and get back to drooling over the beautiful images over there on my blog!
Why I Dumped My Studio Management Software, And How I Got More Organized in the Process
A couple of weeks ago I had an epiphany. For months I have been battling with my studio management software, trying to make it be what I needed and do what I wanted. And then one day I realized, I was trying to make it do the part of my job that is most important to me, building relationships with my clients. I was taking the personal service that I pride myself on, and handing it over to a website which, quite frankly, was not doing the best job. I was trying to automate everything to the point that I was not taking the time to interact with my clients prior to their sessions and I felt like I was arriving more unprepared than in the past. Little details that I should have asked about or picked up on during the onboarding process were missing, and as a result I was not giving my clients the best experience possible. #fail
I was also falling into the trap of trying to funnel everyone into one place to contact me and get information, by filing out a form. No Facebook messages, no emails, no phone calls, please. But when I really thought about it, as a potential client, maybe I don’t want to fill out a form just to ask a question. Maybe I want to pick up the phone and *gasp* TALK to my potential photographer, get to know about them and decide if they are a good fit for my family, and not just a price for a service. And this is really what I want my clients to do! I want to them to hire me for ME, not because I am the lowest price (I am not) or because I came up first in a Google search ( don’t I WISH!)
So I started doing some digging. Hours of reading through blogs, and Facebook groups and examining different organizational products. I brought my onboarding process to a screeching halt and went back to… wait for it… phone calls and written notes. Like on paper. By hand! I made lists and sticky notes and dove headfirst down the rabbit hole of examining what exactly I wanted my process to look like, and how best to achieve it, while still actually communicating with potential clients. After getting back to the basics, I developed a list of what I really needed to help me stay organized, and what I really didn’t need.
Things I determined I didn’t need included the studio management software that had been driving me batty for months. I have used some version of it (ShootQ, Pixifi, and most recently Dubsado) for several years. There is such a push to automate, streamline, and automate some more. Auto emails, workflows, auto contracts, auto invoices, and none of really working right 100% of the time. Sometimes it even made me look DISorganized, rather than like I had it all together. I also came to the realization that the very process of inputting client information into a planner or spreadsheet or Google contacts MYSELF, was part of the process of preparing for their session and getting to know them. When a client simply fills out a form and the software sends them back a contract and they send the contract back, I am not INVOLVED enough. I am not getting personally invested in their session.
After spending some time looking at how I wanted to serve my clients and how to give them the best experience while still keeping some semblance of organization (I do love a good spreadsheet!) I removed the auto messages on Facebook and my website instructing potential clients to fill out a form or go here or there and instead welcomed contact any way that was convenient for them. I whittled everything down to the basics. I needed a way for clients to schedule and pay for their session. I needed a way to organize my clients’ contact information and session details, and I needed a way to track the progress of tasks and due dates so nothing slipped through the cracks. And so, my new process includes Google contacts for, duh, contacts (free!), Asana for task management (also free!), and Acuity for scheduling and booking (not free, but super affordable). Here’s why I chose what I did…
Acuity Acuity is the bomb for busy photographers! With Acuity you can set a regular schedule, a special one-off availability, open up based on appointment type, and more. I have dates open for regular client sessions, dates for mini-session events, and the ability to add any custom date and event I want as needed. It syncs with my Google Calendar, utilizes Square for secure payments (Square is the BEST payment processor I have ever used!!), and then zaps the session info over to Asana, my Google Calendar, AND sends their session info to Google contacts, to the contact I have already created for them.
Asana is best described as a digital sticky note board. In Asana, I store a “task” for each session I book, and then within that task I have subtasks for things like follow-up, reminders, payments due, editing due dates, and more. I have a column for Interested, Booked, In Editing and Complete and I drag my little stickies right across the screen to the next status as I finish them. I can also pull up a task view by due date, color code my sessions by category, and so much more! I don’t know how I lived without Asana, I am such a visual person and this lays it all out for me to see.
I should probably also explain all of the Zapping that is happening. I also use a site called Zapier. With Zapier, you can set up Zaps to perform functions connecting various websites that you use. I have a Zap which brings session info from Acuity into Google contacts, a Zap which sends payment info from Acuity to Quickbooks, a Zap which brings session info over from Acuity to a new Asana task, and a Zap which takes the client info from Google Contacts and adds it to a Google Sheet for safekeeping. And the best part, Zapier is free. So Zap away, friends!
Now, of course there is no one right or wrong way to do all of this running a business stuff, so this wont necessarily work for you or fit your business model at all. But if you are looking for a way to connect with your clients, get back to basics, and feel more involved with your work and less like an IT guy with all of that tweaking your studio management software needs, feel free to follow my lead and dump yours too!
This post includes affiliate links to products that I use and LOVE. I would never recommend it unless I use it myself ❤️