I have long-admired the photography work of my friend Signe Clayton. A dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, Signe is a remarkably talented and authentic human being; she is so generous with her craft that I often find her documenting get-togethers with girlfriends or sharing tips on photography and videography with amateurs like me. I was pleased to have Signe document my family for a Storytelling Session last weekend and I am delighted to introduce her on the blog today!
You focus your business on newborn and family storytelling photography. What specifically drew you to these two genres?
I love a good family portrait as much as the next gal, but when I made the decision to move photography from a hobby to a business, I knew right away that for this to succeed, I had to stay true to what drew me to it in the first place which was a desire to document the life of our family in a meaningful and authentic way. Although I have loved photography for as long as I can remember, it wasn’t until our first child was born that I got more serious about learning how to capture all those little details that are so easy to forget: how tightly your child holds on to that special blanket, the light from the hallway that spills into the nursery as you rock your baby to sleep, the look of concentration and determination on your preschooler’s face as he learns to write his name. These are the moments I want to preserve for my own family, and these are the moments I want to capture for my clients.
Family storytelling sessions and hospital newborn sessions allow me to authentically document life for my clients. I don’t really do posed portraits, but instead strive to capture genuine moments as they naturally unfold. I truly believe that when you look back on your pictures 5 or 10 or even 20 years from now, you are going to feel a much stronger emotional connection to images of what your real life looked like rather than a portrait of your family smiling in a field at sunset (unless, of course, that is where your family tends to hang out on a regular basis!). This is not to say that there is anything wrong with posed family portraits, it’s just not where my heart is.
On the heels on what has been an incredibly difficult summer for our little town of Charlottesville, I also think there may be an even larger goal in trying to showcase real life. If our photos only reveal how we look, it is easy to focus on the differences between us, but if I can help create images that uncover who people really are, we might begin to realize we have more in common than we think. And I believe the world needs more of that.
What’s the biggest lesson you’re learning in running your own business?
Being a business that provides a service rather than a product, and one with a pretty significant price tag at that, means that even when someone loves what you do they might not become a client. And that goes for friends too, which has been somewhat of a hard-learned lesson for me. Some friends may become clients, which is wonderful, but others are going to be your cheerleaders from the sideline, not the ones who hire you. And that is okay even if the feeling of rejection stings a little in the moment.
What tool, object, or habit could you not live without in your work day?
Besides my camera (the obvious answer for a photographer) a tool I find most helpful is Quickbooks, my bookkeeping software. I know bookkeeping isn’t exactly something most people get excited about, but it helps me stay organized and keep track of the financial side of my business which is absolutely vital for it to succeed.
In regards to a habit I couldn’t live without, I am a firm believer in continuing personal projects along with client work. Right now I’m working on a video project I call “Just a Second” where I put together 1-second video snippets from every day of the year, and I’m wrapping up my 100 Days of Summer project which is one photo a day from Memorial Day to Labor Day. These projects not only ensure that I keep photographing my own family regularly, but they also help keep me grounded and focused on why I got into this business.
What does success mean to you?
Success to me is connecting with clients who believe in what I am trying to do with my work, who are willing to let their guard down and welcome me into their home to document their family as it truly is, or let me visit at the hospital within hours of giving birth to meet their newest family member. As a family and newborn photographer, I market primarily to women, and there is just so much pressure especially on moms to have this perfect life to show off to the rest of the world on social media. I really want to help other mothers see that all those everyday moments—the toddler tantrums, the spilled breakfast, the messy playroom, are meaningful and beautiful and worth capturing.
Who keeps you company in your business?
I have been incredibly fortunate to learn—and continue learning—from amazingly talented documentary family photographers through the online Click Photo School. I absolutely adore Jessica Thomason, Felicia Chang Photography, and Francesca Russell Photography and Films. Each of them is genuinely committed to the idea of documenting real life and does so in such a beautiful way. Having just begun to dabble in videography, I love Francesca’s family films and dream of having her do one for our family some day. Plus, each of these women has been an encouragement and inspiration to me and continue to generously share of their knowledge, both as artists and business owners.