This week’s Questions with a Pro features Adam Coppola.
Adam is a Connecticut based commercial photographer specializing in lifestyle, sports, tourism, and portrait photography. Coppola Photography excels in selling a product, idea, or experience through great photography. Adam does his work at a variety of locations, but here he describes the barn studio he just renovated in Connecticut as one location option. He also describes what it took to grow his business, where he finds inspiration for his work, and finally, some advice about when it is right to say no.
We asked: Please describe some of the steps you took to grow your business to where it is today.
Adam said: I’d say the biggest step, or “leap of faith” was the jump from part-time photographer to full-time photographer in 2013.
I think making that leap was exactly what I needed to make a career in photography a reality. Without taking that risk, without my wife’s support and recommendation, I wouldn’t be a photographer today. I’m not going to lie, it was hard. The responsibility of being a father and needing to provide for my family was intimidating, but so rewarding.
When I first started out, since I wasn’t shooting all the time, I would pick up as many assisting jobs as I could find. I loved assisting. It was paid training in my mind. I was not only learning about the obvious image creation side of photography, but I was also learning about the intricacies of client interactions and set collaboration. It was also through assisting that I learned of ASMP.
The next step was joining a community of professional photographers. I found this through our CT Chapter of ASMP. I believe that by surrounding myself with other professional photographers, I was able to learn best business practices at an accelerated pace. I no longer felt like I was on my own, navigating the profession in the dark. I had a community to bounce ideas, estimates, branding, contracts, and marketing questions off of. I saw myself growing with other photographers and I was learning from successful veterans in the field. I found both mentors and friends. Learning to view other photographers as a community of motivators, resources of knowledge, and even referral sources rather than a group of competitors was an important piece of that step. Sure, I have definitely lost jobs to other photographers in this group, but I can honestly say that I’ve received more jobs from their referrals than lost to bid competing.
The fourth major step in business growth was having the ability for Coppola Photography to hire my wife, Christy, as a Studio Manager. For me, being a creative didn’t translate into being a confidant business owner. I love being a big thinker, but without having a supportive partner (in business and in life) to break down those ideas into day-to-day steps, I’d never be able to stay on course. She is the dot-connector to my vision, goals, and dreams and together we’ve found a way to make our business successful.
We asked: Where do you find inspiration for your personal work? How does this work impact your business as a whole?
Adam said: I would say my inspirations are people, other photographers, and my own passions and experiences.
I’ve always been amazed by people. I love finding an aspect of a person that makes them unique and coming up with ways to highlight that aspect through photography. It could be athletic talent, personality traits, physical characteristics, or even just the ability to present an emotion or character strength.
I constantly look at other photographer’s work and what they are creating. I love trying to pick apart an image and try to figure out what lighting was used. What was the production involved in creating that image? How was the image retouched? What draws me to this image? I have a bookmarks tab of photographers that are constantly inspiring me and I try to check-in and add to this list often.
I also find that having passions and interests outside of photography help to make me a better creative. As a result of being an athlete and a father of two girls, I decided to do a project that celebrated female athletes. I wanted to create a body of work that would serve as inspiration for my girls to be bold, strong, and powerful. I linked up with the non-profit Little Bellas, to create a calendar that celebrated the top female mountain bikers in the world.
Showcasing this project and other similar work on my website has helped me to connect with the clients who want this type of photography.
We asked: You just recently invested in the renovation of a barn studio in Connecticut. What led to this business decision?
Adam said: Building a studio has been a dream of mine for a very long time. So long that, during our search for a new house, my wife and I would only look at houses that had the potential for a studio. We found our dream house with a historic barn on the property. It has been a dream of mine to create a space that would not only serve as a studio for my photography business but also serve as a space for creatives to gather, learn, inspire, and create. Christy and I have branded the space: The Connecticut Photography Studio (CTPS). We plan to offer studio rental, photography education, and photography community events. It’s all very new and exciting so we can’t wait to see what CTPS becomes.
We asked: Is there a particular facet of your business that you like the most? Why?
Adam said: I’ll answer two things here. One photography related and the other, nothing to do with photography.
Photography related, I’ve always loved interpreting a vision into lighting. Translating a vision, experience, or emotion into an image by manipulating lighting is what makes all of this so much fun. I’ve spent my whole life avoiding writing, but expressing myself and my passions through imagery and lighting is what gets me up early and keeps me up past midnight.
And the other piece is building the studio! Renovating the barn has been a labor of love project. I’ve had the opportunity to learn a little electric, plumbing, and carpentry. Some of it is a bear and some of it is a blast. It’s a way that I can step away from photography and continue to learn, create, and be productive. I’ve also spent more time with my father working on the barn than I have since I was a kid. Together we have failed, learned, and succeeded many times. I think small carpentry projects will continue to be a passion of mine that will give me the opportunity to step away from photography and prevent burn-out.
We asked: What recommendations do you have for emerging photographers about saying no? When was the last time you had to say no to a project?
Adam said: My recommendation would be to say “no” to yourself when you want to be in control of all aspects of your business and image creation. I’ve found that collaborating with others and dividing up tasks enables you to create more and create better! Production is a huge part of photography and knowing how to divide and conquer is something I still struggle with. Christy is a huge part of the puzzle in having a successfully planned and produced shoot. I’m so thankful to be able to say “no” to a large portion of the production details and allow her skills in communication to shine.
Regarding saying “no” to a project…We never say “no” or “not possible” to a client at Coppola Photography. We just explain that “In order for us to produce the shoot you are describing, we would need to raise the budget.”
Find more of Adam’s work on his website.