Monday, June 4, 2012

One Photographer's Take on Running a Photo Business with Your Spouse

There's this face that people get when I tell them I work with my wife. It's usually one of concern and, dare I say, sympathy. I can't hold it against them, if you would have told me ten years ago I'd be earning a living taking pictures I would have had a pretty good laugh. If you followed it up with the idea that I'd be co-owners with my wife I would have looked at you kind of sideways too. Before I met my wife most of my projects and hair-brained business ideas were based on the premise that I would be leader, production, admin, and janitor. So, it surprised even me, when two years into our young marriage I blurted out "We should start a photography studio”. Given Anna's cautious nature, and uncanny ability to talk me out of any one of my schemes, I was even more surprised when she had said she thought it was a good idea. So that was it- we came up with a name based on a combination of a few of our champagne wishes and off we went.

Having no prior experience shooting as part of a team, I carried this thought that we were two photographers, just covering the same event. I would look at where Anna was shooting, and instead of trying to think about what she was thinking, I'd go somewhere else and try to do something different... or better. It was silly really, we'd take turns shooting or taking breaks; we'd swap positions and poses; sometimes we'd even high five or laugh. But, for the most part, it was a solo job that we happened to do together. I remember there was a point in our first season of shooting when I stopped caring who made the best image, or who was in the right place at the right time. It was like a light went on: we weren't two photographers working together, we were a team that apart from each other, could not function as well as the whole. It was then I realized that a business with your spouse can only function like a healthy marriage-  you have build each other up in your strengths, and you support each other in your weaknesses. In the end, the glory goes to the whole, and never to the parts.
I'll be the first to admit that, other than being a great photographer, Anna's true skill-set is in editing and color grading. I'd love to say that it was my creation that has mastered our "look," but it wouldn't be true. Anna edits all of our images, every one of them. Because of this, I learned one of the most import lessons of working with a partner: It is so important when you are working as a team to divide your tasks. It is easy to say, but in the midst of running a busy schedule and workflow, it's also easy to let certain things slip under the rug. One thing doesn't get done, another thing doesn't get done right, and before you know it, you're siting there wondering what went wrong. Early on we decided what lenses we'd shoot with, who would edit, who would cull, who would contact the clients, run the social media, and so on and so forth. As soon as you define your tasks it becomes that much easier to appreciate what the other one does. There's this part of me, when we post a blog or get featured somewhere, that turns off the photographer in me and just acts like a husband, a husband who is so proud of his wife, for what she has accomplished, and that part of the business is something I never expected.
I'd imagine there are a lot of people that would think that working with your spouse would be a nightmare. If you are one of those people, then I would not suggest starting a business with your husband or wife. For those of you who sit in an office apart from your other half and only wish for more time with them however, I would strongly encourage you to seek out a combination of your passions. The joy of shared success vs. solo success is something that can only be experienced, and not explained with words. In my experience, with the right mind-set and a lot of hard work, running a business with your spouse will only make you appreciate them more, and grow the two of you closer together. Being able to work alongside my best friend is one of the greatest blessings I could have asked for. As I've watched Tin Sparrow grow as a business, I've seen it grow into a celebration of our love for each and a passion we share, just as much as it is a celebration of the amazing weddings we are allowed to capture.
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Contributor Bio: Matthew Novak is a designer & photographer living outside of NYC with his wife and two daughters. Together Anna + Matt run Tin Sparrow Studio, a modern wedding and portrait photography company that focuses on story-telling through poignant images.