Photographers Who Inspire – Allison Parker

by Liz LaBianca
In the next entry in our ongoing series, Photographers Who Inspire, Liz interviews Allison Parker, a Houston area photographer who creates classic and timeless portraits with a stylish flair.

 

 

Who was your original inspiration when you started your business? Who inspires you now?
These two inspired me from the beginning . . . they continue to inspire me (and possibly frustrate me) every day!

A lot of people (not all photographers) inspire how my business runs and how I look at art/design now. My best advice is only follow photographers who absolutely inspire you . . . I follow design blogs & designers of all kinds because I feel like I get more true inspiration instead of the “aww man – I wish I’d thought of that” blues. I think pinterest can help you take a look at what you like & why and really organize your thoughts. I can be all over the place – so it helps me rope my ideas in and do something with them. It can be overwhelming too.

What was the hardest part of starting your own business? What do you wish you would have known?
I don’t think starting my business was hard. When just starting out, it was all exciting and new & shiny. The hard part came once I really got to a point where it was “successful” and I was able to replace my “old” income with the business I was choosing. Setting limits and hours & having family respect the time invested because that time is just as worthy if not more than the old 9-5. Just because most of that time is “at home” does not mean I “stay at home.” I’m working just as hard – really harder than I would at a “job.” The hours are random and all encompassing hours – but it also allows for more time being where you love and flexibility. It can quickly take over your life though & I’ve really spent a lot of this year backing up & getting control of our life again. Working around the clock is not ok. You have to set limits and boundaries. You have to say ‘no’ and you should be paid well for your time – all of your time. It’s time away from your family & that is priceless. That’s how I constantly evaluate the value of my time. And, that is the hard part to this day – being confident enough to stand by it.

Tell us about your favorite lens and why it is #1 in your camera bag over your other lenses
Canon 85mm 1.2L . . . Because mine is reliable, it captures light in a special smooth & buttery way that no other lens I’ve ever owned has been able to do. It along with pretty light make people look pretty! I guess that is why it is called a portrait lens!




Photoshop or Lightrooom – or both. How long does it take for you to get your proofs to your clients?

Mostly lightroom these days. LR saves me tons of time. Tons. If you are drowning in editing – learn lightroom! It’s worth the time. I only take adults & newborns over to photoshop for skin. I could easily get pictures to clients in 2 days . . . but it does take me 2 weeks because of how I stagger sessions, design work and time to run “the biz”. good times ;o)

With the demand for digital images on the rise – Do you sell your Jpegs?
YES! Absolutely. Full resolution too! I always have. It’s just common sense to me & for my business. Why would I ever work so hard to capture all the little pieces of a family’s life artistically, edit them & then make them choose just a select number when I worked hard on all of them?! My clients always know they will be getting all of their images & I do too. If I want to throw in a few extra pictures – there’s no stress over that. I don’t have to worry about them ripping them off facebook or their slideshow. They already have purchased them from the beginning. I only have digital collections (with artwork too) & I sell the cheapest full digital collections for $1250 and honestly, I don’t feel like that is nearly enough sometimes for what you are walking away with. (For what it’s worth, I’ve only had 1 person ever in 5 years not buy their digital files). But, there is a tolerable going rate & unfortunately I do have to compete with that. My clients are really good about printing their own canvases & they also get lay flat art books from me (they don’t have a choice!). I’m always blown away at how well they do with printing their own images. I do live in area that is fairly design savvy though. That helps!

How many photos do you typically take in a full session? How manydo you edit and do you ever show your un-edits to clients?
I can take anywhere from 150 (newborn session) to 300-600 (lifestyle family session). I try to edit around 30-50. I’m really trying to hold myself accountable to a smaller number. I just feel so guilty sometimes because I truly feel like I’m cutting/erasing memories & I get all wrapped up in wanting “mom” to have all her memories even if it’s just for nostalgia down the road. I know I would want all of mine. I need to shoot less & edit less. I’m constantly getting better with this.

Yes, I show pics on the back of the camera all the time -this especially helps mom if they are feeling awkward – then they know what to change. Kids love it. If it doesn’t look good enough to be seen on the back of your camera . . . hmmm. I kindly question that. :o)

How do you handle Family and close friends who want to hire you? Do you offer any discounts?
I let family and VERY close friends do my “repeat” clients’ mini session rates (as time allows). For my VERY best friends – I do their newborn sessions for free because I really love newborns & I would be sad if I had to see their newborn pictures all over facebook & not have them be up to par. So, being the control freak I am – they know that they have no choice in the matter! (my VERY best friends accounts of like 4-5 people ever – don’t worry)




How do you break the ice in the beginning of the session and get families to loosen up?

So easy . . . I let them see what a dork I truly am. Such a dork.

Do you have any tricks or tips that you want to share with us?
I generally make a fool of myself & they feel so awkward & then crack up as a result & those “in-betweens” are generally my favorite. If it’s a really awkward or stiff session, I get them moving – like “who can jump the highest” “who can run to me & back the fastest” “who can . . .” There is something about burning off that nervous energy that loosens them up a bit (kids or adults). I love a zoom lens & a little tickle monster too (only with kids – duh).

Can you share a story of a difficult shoot and how you handled it?
Man, I don’t know. I really do have awesome clients. I have some very high maintenance ones though. They know exactly who they are & we just know they will be that way. It’s things like them insisting on seeing a font 10 different ways and then choosing the way I had it originally.

Recently, after several lengthy book cover change requests a favorite client of mine finally settled on my original design. I asked her, “ok, now will you just trust me in the future! This is how we always end up!” She’s a realtor, and wisely replied, “Allison, sometimes you just have to take your clients through that process so they can see it with you. It’s part of the sale. I have to do it too.” And, she was so right.

They need a little control and a hand in the creation of the book/card/announcement too sometimes. So, I started doing all design work in person with mirrored screens. I just turn their screen off while I’m tweaking. It has improved the final result a ton with us being able to brainstorm together. Then there aren’t 10 emails back and forth about changes that don’t work well. I can show them in person exactly why certain things will or won’t work. I love it & they love it! You do have to be organized with your stuff though!

If you weren’t a photographer – What would be your dream profession?
An indie folk singer/song-writer or if I could just get paid to sing in my car . . . that’d probably be my dream job. What?

Who helps you out behind the scenes? Do you have an assistant or a special family member?
My HUSBAND gets all the credit here. ALL of it. He whines & moans & totally doesn’t want to help sometimes (sorry honey – just don’t want any other wives out there to compare their husbands to my really awesome one & feel bad or anything). BUT, he does save the day all the time. Many Saturday’s & Sunday’s and evenings, when I’m running behind and need to get some editing time in. He takes the kids – makes them extremely happy – and gives me time. He’s also recently decided he likes to cook. um LOVE IT. He tries to help with laundry . . . no, not so much. He really is the best though. I would not be doing this without him. My kids are in school a little bit & I have babysitters that help me. I don’t work with kids under my feet. It’s too hard for them & for me.



 

You just won the jackpot ..what is in your dream camera bag?
I’m pretty content right now. I just upgraded to the 1d miv (exactly 1 week before they announced the new one!) & I have my 4 favorite lenses – all L glass. I would like to have the new mark III of course – but sure don’t need it. I’d also like one of the new 50mm  1.2’s when/if they come out.  I guess I’d also take an Epiphanie (Lyric is my fav) in every color to match my mood! I have blue & turquoise right now. Really great bag.

Have you ever taken a Workshop? Which one and was it worth it?
The Secret Workshop – Cheryl Muhr – Austin. TOTALLY worth every penny. Totally changed the way I structured my business.

Name one person who you would love to photograph.
My great grandmother painting. She passed away so it’s not possible. But, that would be my 1 if it were possible.

What was your original gear and when did you start upgrading your equipment?
Canon 40d . . . 5dmii . . . 1dmiv (currently). I started upgrading when my equipment couldn’t do everything I wanted/needed it to do. I’m not huge on having to have the newest camera body, etc. for the sake of it. BUT, I do expect a lot from my equipment. I pay good money for it! I wasn’t happy with the results I was getting until I got to “L” series lenses. ahhhhh. butter. “L” glass cut my editing time in half, if not completely eliminated a lot of it (if you’re lighting your subjects well).

Seeing so many photographers burn out and quit their business – how do you avoid falling into that trap?
I am CONSTANTLY re-evaluating what is making me happy & what is robbing me (or my family) of my joy. I make lists & I try to figure out ways to cut the things that are making me unhappy so I can have more room for what does make me happy. I hate “photochopping” . . . so shooting it right the first time with the right equipment and the right light helps me. I will stop a session to do it right even if it’s not convenient for the parents or me. I also find I’m happier editing something if it was what I wanted to shoot in the first place. Which means saying “no” to a lot more. I’ve been turning down the kinds of sessions that don’t make me happy to shoot! Because I can:o) That is really awesome. Try it.

Clients are paying you to create images for them. Sometimes people need to be told what they want. They just do. I think knowing what you like to capture, what you are good at capturing and doing just that will save your business from burn out. I also think photoshop has ruined the reputation of photography. It’s great . . . but taking the time to educate families who say, “oh – don’t worry she can photoshop that out” – um no! Educating them on how we are using proper angles to flatter & proper light & proper portrait lenses. I can’t tell you how many clients have said to me, “thank you for photoshopping me to look so good” AND I DIDN’T DO A THING to them in Photoshop. It was just nice angles, attractive framing and complimentary light. Photoshopping til the wee hours of the morning is a great way to burn out if you are a photographer. Now if you’re a professional “editor” . . . well by all means.

Aside from this wonderful Inspire Me Baby Interview, What has been your proudest moment in your business?
Yes! Thank you for wanting to hear from me. I’m probably really boring now that you know me – huh? sorry. Probably this:

The cover of the May issue this year & the spread inside was a nice surprise! I won’t lie. I was a tad giddy.

What would we be surprised to find out about you?
Hmmm. lots I’m sure;o) I guess that I still can’t quite let go of my old “working world.” I have a Master’s degree in Speech Pathology & I worked for Texas Children’s Hospital for the past 7 years with children with special needs and babies with feeding disorders. Just last year I finally sorta let it go to focus on photography full time. I do still work for Texas Children’s in the NICU at our community hospital just down the road from me. I specialize in neonatal feeding disorders & they page me when they need me for that. It’s usually 3 hours a week give or take. It’s hard to juggle sometimes & it’s not worth the 3 hour paycheck, but it’s harder for me to let it go right now because I do really still love that part of my old job. I love helping those families still. And, I get to hold onto my license & some benefits:o)

What is on your Bucket list?
I would reeeaaally love to photograph 2 projects. I would love to be able to travel to different countries (lots of 3rd world & a variety of socioeconomic statuses) and photograph mom’s birthing & feeding babies. It fascinates me how the entire world can view one very primitive and natural thing so completely differently from one another. I’d love to document it. I would also really love to travel & photograph old country churches. So random, but I’ve just always wanted to. I’m fascinated by how different church buildings are designed (the old ones). I guess if my two girls in vintage tutu’s were dancing in front of them – it’d be that much better for me! I have no idea who would want those pictures but me though . . . so I’ll just keep dreaming about it in my head.

Name 2 Photographers that you would like Inspire Me Baby To Interview.
Lawrence Chan – Tofurious
Shannon Sewell

 

Allison Parker of Feather Nest Photography has enjoyed photographing newborns, babies, kids and their families for the past 5 years. She lives in The Woodlands, Tx just north of Houston with her husband and two adorable girls. She is a window light loving, sushi obsessed mac world girl who likes to shop online. Her favorite subjects are hands down newborns. She appreciates their fresh, innocent newness and strives to capture them and their families artfully. When it comes to kids and families she loves and has a knack for drawing out their personality. And, she’s really nice. And, awesome. And, not as boring as this bio.

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