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Insights from Another World: Andrew Anderson

ASMP members talk about how their previous careers led them to a life behind the lens.

ASMP: Please describe your first career path. In what capacity did you work and for how long did you do this?

Andrew Anderson: Well, I’ve actually had a few career paths so far. I dropped out of college to get married and worked in an art studio for a couple years as a typesetter. I then got a job working as a customer service rep for a B.F. Goodrich Tire Company. It was during this second job that I my technical aptitude towards computers was recognized.

As a child I had a keen interest in computers and technology. I was written up in the local paper when I was in third grade because I had built a computer that could multiply and divide, made out of a cigar box, some resistors and a volt-ohm meter. This was before calculators existed.

Once B.F. Goodrich saw my skills they took me out of my role as a customer service rep and gave me a full-time position working with computers. The IBM Personal Computer was just coming onto the scene at this point and I was able to use it and other computers to solve business problems and cut costs. I saved the company a couple million dollars within the first year of them letting me ‘play’ with computers fulltime. After that my career really took off. Within a few years I was working as a consultant to many industries. I worked on a wide range of systems including: satellite communication systems, expert systems, manufacturing simulation systems. I excelled by demonstrating an ability to do extremely technical things and to communicate effectively with business executives. I ended that part of my career managing multi-million dollar projects and becoming Manager of Sales for a large consulting company.

All photographs in this article © Andrew Anderson

ASMP: For how long have you had an interest in photography? Did you study photography formally or are you self-taught?

AA: My mother was an artist and ballerina; my father was an engineer. Both of those mindsets intertwined in my life. As a child I had decided I was going to be a physicist. In high school I got a part-time job working in a photography store. I fell in love with photography and decided to go to college for it. The first photo course at college was a photo history course. I think they wanted to make sure you knew what you were about to get into. They warned all of the students about how hard it would be to make a living with a camera and how we would probably make our money shooting weddings, doing photojournalism, or commercial work. I knew I would starve. I wanted to be an artist. I quit taking photo courses, switched my major to Business, and put the camera down for twenty years. I did not pick the camera back up until 2000.

ASMP: What made you decide to take the leap, leave your first career and pursue photography as a business? Did you make any specific business arrangements to address the risk of going out on your own?

AA: I took the leap and left my successful consulting career for several reasons. My interest in technology and business had lessened. After 20 years it just wasn’t as fun as it used to be. I’d become disillusioned with the integrity of corporate America. Much of the industry was being outsourced to India, and my personal life was in turmoil. Going to work everyday wasn’t fun anymore. When I picked up the camera in 2000, I wondered why I had ever put it down. The passion I felt for it came alive again. I knew what I wanted to do and started make changes.

I moved to a cheaper place, a loft downtown closer to businesses and people. I cut expenses and learned to live more cheaply. I took money out of my retirement account and invested in equipment and advertising. I watched my cash flow closely. I decided on a couple narrow photographic markets that were not being serviced. I figured that the markets were small, but if I captured the majority of them I could sustain myself and not face immediate competition. I recognized the risk and accepted that I might fail, but I would always regret it if I didn’t find out.

ASMP: What would you say was your strongest attribute in your first career path? What is your strongest attribute as a photographer?

AA: Hmmm… There are a couple attributes that have always served me well.

  • Passion — I have to do something I love. I always want to follow my passion and do it to the best of my ability.
  • Persistence — Never give up.
  • Think — Think about what you are doing… constantly. Think about your market, about your work and how it fits, about your clients and what they need.
  • Creativity — Be creative in how you solve problems, how you light your subject, how you see the world. Being creative can get you out of tight spots.

ASMP: Are there particular skills or contacts from your first career that have been especially helpful or have set you apart in pursuing your photography business?

AA: I was able to leverage business and technology skills from my first career. Building my own website, automating my accounting, devising a formal workflow, understanding marketing were all transportable things from my first career.

ASMP: In your current photography business how much do you depend on the contacts cultivated through your first career? What methods have you used to cultivate new clientele?

AA: Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to leverage many of the contacts. The largest source of new business was the web. I have been able to use advertising on the web on sites heavily visited by my target audience as my largest source of revenue.

Early on I photographed artwork for artists. I approached that market by giving free informative lectures to local art groups about how they should market their work, how they should define their market, recognize where to advertise, etcetera. At the end of the lecture I would give a brief talk about how I could photograph their art, create limited edition giclée prints and other services I provided to help them. I made sure the lecture was focused on helping them and giving them good marketing tips. I promoted my services briefly and almost as an after thought to the lecture. They were successful and generated a many new clients for me. Groups were always interested in having me come and lecture since I gave good information for free and was a very soft sell on my services. Word-of-mouth advertising was vital in a narrow market like that.

ASMP: Did your first career prepare you for negotiating contracts or image licensing? If so, are there particular strategies you learned then that have been helpful in your current business?

AA: My first career gave me the savy to negotiate, ideas about how to determine value, and the smarts to know when to walk away.

ASMP: What was the most significant investment you made in setting up your photography business? In hindsight, would you do anything differently in establishing yourself if you had it to do over again?

AA: The largest single item I initially had to purchase was an Epson 9600 printer which I used to create prints on canvas for artists. That and the cost of a large Yellow Page age were my largest initial expenses. The printer was a wise investment, the Yellow Page ad was a mistake. My lectures to artists, word-of-mouth, and brochures left in art stores were the best ways of advertising to that market.

I also shoot artistic nudes. The web seems to be the best way to target that market.

I’m moving towards fashion and editorial work and I’m just starting to figure out how to market to that audience.

ASMP: Were you aware of any particular support services or specialized training from your first career that you have availed yourself of in establishing your photography business?

AA: No.

ASMP: Have you taken advantage of real world opportunities for education, mentoring or assisting (distinct from opportunities through academic institutions) in jumpstarting your career? If so please name them.

AA: I formed a friendship early in 2000 with Martin Cooper, a key player in the fashion industry and a successful fine art nude photographer. That friendship and his willingness to gently mentor me has been invaluable.

Epson had a cheap one- or two-day workshop. I didn’t expect much but it was actually very good.

I have also found a lot of value in the local ASMP chapter. Every other month we have a “Pints and Pixels” where we bring our photos, show them off and get feedback. I always leave with new ideas from photographers shooting completely different subjects. I learned a great technique from a photographer who was shooting the front grill of an automobile. I took the technique and applied it to my nudes.

The local ASMP chapter has also had guest speakers that have just been awesome, and I’m attending my first ASMP Photoshop workshop this week.

ASMP: What has been the biggest challenge in making the transition from your first career?

AA: Understanding the market.

ASMP: Is there any one thing you find to be most difficult about running a photography business?

AA: At this point I’m trying to figure out how to shift from nudes to fashion and transition from my local market to a national market. That isn’t easy at the moment.

ASMP: Can you identify specific lessons learned from your first career that members who have spent their entire careers as independent photographers might not be aware of or lack?

AA: Use technology and the web to your advantage. Be smart and don’t invest more than your budget or your mind can embrace, but don’t be afraid. Push yourself to learn and understand what is available and use the tools creatively, to solve business problems and to capture better images.

People still buy from people. They trust their gut and go with people that make them feel comfortable. Use your personality to maximum advantage and make sure you give each client a personal touch.

ASMP: Looking at the photography marketplace through the filter of your experience from the other side of the table, are there any particular skills or behaviors that you feel are most lacking from other independent photographers?

AA: They stay too narrow. They don’t push themselves to be better business people and they don’t push their creative limits. It is possible to be a business person and an artist.

ASMP: What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish as a photographer? Where do you see your career in three years time?

AA: I want to show people a different perspective. I want them to see beauty. I want them to be inspired. I hope in three years I’m known on a national level.

ASMP: Is there anything about your transition to photography from a past career not addressed in the previous questions that you’d like to point out?

AA: No.