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Speaker profile: Carl and Michelle Amess - part 1 of 1

by Michelle Amess Published 01/11/2010

'We don't think it is enough to be able to sell images and then call yourself a professional photographer. You must demonstrate your commitment to your client each and every day.'

Brief personal backgrounds and years as professionals.

My husband Carl worked in IT since leaving college and I used to be a chef.

We have been professional photographers since we opened our first studio in April 2007.

First camera/ photo experience?

For Carl it was shooting on holiday with a 110 film camera - but being severely disappointed with the results. Blurred images, too dark, too light and too costly to develop.

The next 'proper' experience was at Art College as part of a BTEC National Diploma in 3D Design (essentially jewellery design) where I received recognition for a photograph that I had taken as part of the photography module. This was of a friend stood in between two mirrors, disappearing into infinity. When I developed the image in the darkroom it was underexposed but created an interesting composition which the tutor liked.

Why photography?

The photography business really started out as a hobby when Caed, our first child was born. We had some portraits taken when he was eight weeks old and we were both greatly disappointed by the results. So Carl started to buy more and more photographic equipment, including cameras; studio lights and backgrounds.

Following a comprehensive marketing seminar in Coventry three years ago we launched our High Street studio operation and completed a rebranding exercise from Exigent Photography to Saul Isaac Photography.

4: Film/digital (both?)

At this time we only shoot digitally but one day I would like to go back to film - just to experiment. Whether this will develop into a niche market remains to be seen.

Capture and output devices used?

We use Canon 5D MkII's and Canon 1Ds MkII's with MACs for editing and Epson printers for output. I have never concerned myself with the race between different vendors as I find that they are all equally capable. The only deciding factor when purchasing equipment is the item that is in pole position in the marketplace at the time you choose to buy.

Bit of detail about your own studio set-up/staffing.

Saul Isaac Photography is named after our 2 boys (Caed Isaac 8 years and Caleb Saul 6 years)

I am the studio manager and Carl is the senior photographer. Dan and Jon are the two photographers employed by the business.

Over the last few years we have rigidly controlled the style of photography but now we see the value that diversity has within our studio. We now tailor our photographic services to each client, right down to the style of photography preferred and the most appropriate photographer for that session. We are very family orientated and nothing is more important than the client experience - not even the images. We feel that nothing is worse than a poor experience.

The problem with professional photographers today is....

We think the only thing wrong with professional photographers today is that there are too many that call themselves 'professional' but they are nothing more than amateurs with mid or high-end digital cameras. I don't think it is enough to be able to sell images and then call yourself a professional photographer. You must demonstrate your commitment to your client each and every day.

The worst commercial error you have made to date:

I don't think it is possible to make a commercial error except for one that you do not learn from. We have made many mistakes, some big and small but ultimately as long as you learn from them all then they are not mistakes but opportunities to grow and learn.

If I had to pick one error it would be our start into school photography. This has both been the best thing that we did and also was nearly the worst. It was so popular we started to grow rapidly. We were under serious pressure to get things completed within a certain time frame. To fail at this would have seriously compromised the studio's name and reputation.


How you rectified it?

We both worked ludicrously long hours constantly for 3 months.

The lessons learnt.

We learnt that we had to plan things a little better to try and foresee issues. We also learnt that we can accomplish almost anything when put under pressure. It is also possible to fail with too much success almost as much as it is to fail by the lack of it.

Are you excited by the evolution of imaging?

I am very excited about the future of photography and the way technology is shaping it. I understand that things are evolving constantly and that the future of photography is going to be very different. For instance 3D is only around the corner and we are looking forward to those challenges.

Is it getting harder or easier to make a decent living?

We started the studio just before the recession. I wouldn't say it has been easy but as the recession set in we were getting better at marketing, selling and creating the right images - so we have not noticed the downturn that much.

How do you stay ahead of the game?

The main way we stay ahead is by attending key events like The Convention and by staying in touch with like-minded photographers. Continual training is also important at our studio.

How do organisations like The Societies help?

The key feature that The Societies provides is the forum where photographers can come together and share their experiences and offer each other training. Personally I would like to see a conference twice a year as it always seems too far apart.

Why is The Convention such a big deal for photographers?

The convention is such a big deal because it provides a lot of photographers with the opportunity to meet each other and to learn from each other's experiences. I think it is important to The Societies to have different speakers and especially for some of them to be newer than some of the iconic speakers that we have had in the past. Since we have only been going for a few years a lot of the things we have to say are still valid to any new photographers and that is what we hope to bring to The Convention.

Who today is leading the way in creative social photography for you and why?

Roy Sainsbury - for teaching us our first lessons in marketing and giving us the confidence to go further.

Damien Lovegrove - for his style of photography.

Catherine Connor - for her constant energy and invaluable advice.

Jerry Ghionis - for his style, energy and honesty.

If you could pick just FIVE seminars to attend at The Convention, which would they be?

I haven't seen the full list but I would probably go and see any of the speakers I listed in the earlier question.

I would also go and see any new speakers that have never spoken before.

What do you think will be the next big thing in the industry?

The possibilities of shooting in low-light situations with no flash.

3D Imaging.

Would you want your own children to take up the reins of your empire?

I would like to think that my two boys would like to go into photography but if they find something else that they are passionate about then that would also make Carl and I equally happy.

Your plans for the next five years?

We intend to grow our photography business by expanding our school portraits programme and to open two more studios.


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1st Published 01/11/2010
last update 14/02/2014 14:46:32

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