Featuring Jorge Santiago Photography
We have all heard someone say to us once – “just be yourself!” But it’s not always easy! Who is it you want to be? What does “be yourself” mean to you? Many of us try to emulate our elders and some tried to be like that one cool classmate — the classmate who received all the attention and had a big group of friends. Many of us would understand the struggle of trying to be like that person — AKA just trying to fit in. But that isn’t really being yourself.
Jorge Santiago experienced this when he migrated from Mexico to the US. But this was no small classroom affair. It was a totally different country, a different culture, and a different language. What made it more difficult for Jorge was the fact that he wasn’t even fluent in English. He tried hard to fit in, to blend in the crowd and find work as a photographer. His success came only when he finally embraced being himself.
Jorge’s Journey From Mexico to the US
Jorge grew up in a small town outside of Oaxaca City in the south of Mexico, the birthplace of Benito Juarez. He developed an interest in photography at the age of fifteen through a program in the country that brought photography to rural communities. It was this time when Jorge got his start in film photography.
“My town was super small when I was growing up. There were around 300 people,” says Jorge. “I was very fortunate because a photographer from the city came to my town when I was fifteen years old. She wanted to bring photography to indigenous communities.”
Jorge used to spend all his afternoons in a dark room, developing and enlarging photos, and it played a major role in his photography education.
“The program lasted four years. It was a long time, but I had to leave my town when I was 19,” says Jorge. He was on his way to the city to pursue business management in college.
After getting his business degree, Jorge did not join a business firm. Instead, he went straight to work as a photographer for a newspaper for two years.
Deep inside, Jorge knew photography was his calling. That was who he was – that was what it meant to him to “be yourself”. So after working at the newspaper, he took a job as a photography museum darkroom manager for two years.
After a one-year stint living in China, Jorge and his wife moved back to Oaxaca. But it wasn’t long before opportunity would move them back to the U.S. when Jorge’s wife had an opportunity to complete her master’s degree at Pittsburgh University. Little did Jorge know, he was about to build a strong wedding photography business there as well.
“I had been doing photography for a while, but I had only photographed a few weddings in Mexico. And when I moved to Pittsburgh I tried to find a job,” says Jorge, but there weren’t many good ones he could find. “My English was very basic when I moved to the U.S. So with the portfolio I had from the three weddings, I jumped right in. The first year I was in Pittsburgh, I booked 10 weddings. From there on, it became my full-time job.”
…But Something was Missing
In his early years as a wedding photographer, Jorge felt like he was “trying to fit in” by doing what everyone else was doing. He was struggling to feel like he belonged. And then something extraordinary happened. He had an opportunity to capture a few Indian and Egyptian weddings in the U.S. “It was funny because when I started being myself it took me naturally to this community. It kind of resonated with where I came from. My culture — the colorful places I’ve lived in or I’ve been to.” But things really started taking off when Jorge began to be himself. “I started putting photos from trips to Mexico on my Instagram. Or when I had to speak Spanish, I started to be myself. It was this when I started to fit in.”
He realized that this kind of photography — this cultural celebration — was exactly what he wanted to do and perfect for his personality. He understood how to be in this space AND he realized that people loved him for what, and who, he was rather than what he was trying to be. He knew, then and there that he wanted to do ALL weddings, but the colorful, cultural ones had his heart.
This phase of Jorge’s life solved two of his problems. First that he learned to embrace his uniqueness and be himself. And second, he got clarity on his choice to become a wedding photographer full-time.
Be Yourself: How Jorge Thrived in his Wedding Photography Business
After his first big stint in wedding photography in 2010, there was no looking back for Jorge. He started his wedding photography business in Pittsburgh full time in 2011. Jorge has been working hard to grow and improve his business since then — and he has been very successful!
Though Jorge books all kinds of weddings, nearly one-third of his weddings are Indian. He loves how colorful these weddings are. Jorge says he loves their culture and how the whole family helps organize the wedding. He likes the way they plan their weddings faster because of the family involvement in the process. And this is why Jorge has managed to do well even in the times of COVID-19. He was able to add some last-minute Indian wedding bookings to his schedule.
Jorge books other South Asian, and Egyptian weddings too. He also books at least two weddings in Mexico every year. The clients range from native Mexican and Hispanic to others just looking for a destination wedding. He especially loves going back to Mexico to photograph because then he can also spend time with family still living there!
Jorge says the key to building a successful business is to know what you love and go with it. To just be yourself.
Today, Jorge is an established wedding photographer in Pittsburgh. with 9 years of experience behind him. He offers engagement and wedding photography under his brand— Jorge Santiago Photography. His documentary work has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar and The New York Times’ Lens. ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” PDN’s Photo of the Day, and Deadspin have also showcased his work. Jorge’s photographs were featured in the Cuarto Oscuro, and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung too. Not only that, but Jorge has worked on several television documentaries for Viceland in Mexico and the U.S.
Jorge’s Best Business Practices
Just like Rome, Jorge’s wedding photography business wasn’t built in a day. It took honest hard work, good business practices, and an overall commitment to being himself. Here are four of Jorge’s best business practices.
“I was lucky because, when I moved to Pittsburgh, few people were advertising on Facebook. And advertising on Facebook was cheap at the time. I was able to get a lot of jobs and a lot of leads from Facebook. After a while, it just became word of mouth. But I still do social media advertising.”
2. Using Wedding Directory Sites
Jorge told us that he uses wedding directory sites to showcase his work. These sites showcase your photographs and give you all the credit. They help you reach your ideal client straight away. But most of all, they put you on par with other wedding photographers. Couples have the liberty to look at the work of 10 photographers on one site and pick one.
3. Outsourcing Photo Editing to ShootDotEdit
“I was doing all the work for the company myself. At some point I became overwhelmed by all the chores. I was editing at night after spending all day at work. Shooting, responding to emails, creating quotes, contracts, and all of that. I felt I would not be able to keep delivering photos to my clients on time. So at some point, I felt I should give this work away. And I liked what I received back. I liked what you guys did at ShootDotEdit. For the first time, I didn’t have to do a lot of work to deliver albums to my clients.”
Jorge says outsourcing photo editing to ShootDotEdit has been incredible for his business. “Honestly, I don’t know if I would have been able to do it without you guys. Especially after you guys started Style Match. After that, it was life-changing. It was incredible. I can almost rely on ShootDotEdit for 80% of my editing. And that’s been amazing.”
4. Be Yourself. Always.
Even though Jorge knows the importance of understanding the business side of things, he still considers himself an artist first. That is his truth — and he shares it willingly!
Jorge’s Advice to Beginners: Be Yourself
To learn from those already doing what you do profitably can be a huge boon to your business. They have been there and done that. The mistakes you might make at the start of your career, they might have already experienced. So take their advice! Here is some amazing advice by Jorge in his own words:
1. Yes, Be Yourself
“When I started I was kind of lost. I did not know what to do. One of my first instincts was trying to act in a way or try to create a world to fit in the US. After a while, I realized that I had to be myself. I have to truly be myself to enjoy what I am photographing, to thrive in this environment. And also be able to do what I love without getting burned out.”
2. Set Your Own Trends
When you photograph weddings, Jorge says, “Don’t fall for the trends. Set your own trends. Complete your own challenges.”
3. Seek Help From the Start
“For me, my contract has always been a work in progress. Every day you learn something new and there’s always something unexpected. I wish I had asked a professional to help me with it early on. The same with my accounting!” So don’t be afraid to ask for help — it may save you time down the road!
Jorge’s go-to Vendors Besides ShootDotEdit
Interesting Facts About Jorge
- Go-To Gear: Jorge’s go-to gear is the Canon 1DX Mark ii and his 85mm lens.
- Passion Projects: He loves to shoot film but reserves it for personal projects, like when he is travelling. He says there’s a sense of freedom in it and he doesn’t feel tied to seeing what he’s getting.
- Inspiration: Jorge’s biggest inspiration for photography was his teacher who came to his town for a community program. Jorge fortunately got to sit down with her as an adult shortly before she passed away.
- Podcast of Choice: Marina Hinojosa’s podcast called Latino USA.
- His Retirement Plan: Jorge is a great fan of Jazz. As a retirement plan, he wants to open a cafe and play jazz there.
- Humble Beginnings: Jorge went to agricultural high school and wanted to become a farmer. He has a garden and loves to tend to his plants.
- He truly inspires the meaning of Be Yourself
Learn More From Jorge
Jorge proves that nothing can hold you back if you are determined to fly. He is an inspiration to many. No barrier was too big to stop him from building a successful business. He proved that if one has the will, there is always a way.
To see and learn more from Jorge, you can check out his Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. To book him, click here!Jorge — thank you so much for sitting down with us here at ShootDotEdit. We’re proud to call you a ShootDotEdit customer and can’t wait to see more of your work to come!