Every February, the U.S. and other parts of the world celebrate Black History Month to honor the contributions of African-Americans and their culture. Hit by slavery in the past and racism to date, this community has had a journey worth knowing and respecting. This year’s Black History Month is more significant with grown awareness and the development of the Black Lives Matter movement all over the world. We, at ShootDotEdit, stand in solidarity and celebrate this month with a feature story on the very talented wedding photographer and ShootDotEdit customer Flavio DeBarros.
Who is Flavio DeBarros?
With roots in Cape Verde and Senegal, Flavio is a Boston based photographer specializing in photojournalistic fine art wedding photography. He runs his business under the Flavio D Photography brand name. He has been featured in The Knot, Huffington Post Weddings, Rhode Island Monthly, and Martha Stewart Weddings. He won the WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Award in 2017 and was the Boston A-List CityVoter Finalist in 2016 and 2017.
Even after several years of being a professional he still wants to keep honing his craft and be the best high-end wedding brand in his area. But more than that, he wants to promote a business of inclusion whose through line is, quite simply, love. Flavio’s “About Me” on his website says it better than we can — “Love itself is classic and resolute, flourishing in unexpected places, regardless of religion, racial makeup, or sexual orientation. Love is the reason I have developed such a deep passion for wedding photography.”
From Self-Taught Engineer to Wedding Photographer
As a child, Flavio loved the camera and photography. But, as we do with many things from childhood, he let photography fall to the wayside and instead became a self-taught engineer working with a mobile phone company. Flavio stayed in the mobile phone technology field for over seven years until, one day, as a family favor, he photographed his cousin’s children. After he uploaded the images on Facebook, to his surprise, someone saw the photos and asked him to photograph their family. This is how his career as a photographer began – chance and happenstance.
Flavio quickly realized that his love for photography was still there and, in order to pursue it, he knew that he needed a structured classroom environment. Flavio enrolled in a two-year part-time program in photography at the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts and says, “after I did that, I feel like that’s where my career really blossomed.”
Being a Black Man in the Wedding Industry
We asked Flavio about his experience being a black man in the wedding industry in today’s climate and what his thoughts were on how things have changed, or if they have. Flavio shared with us that in a way, COVID has helped bring inequality more to the forefront of public thought, thus, also making the Black History Month this year more significant. He says, “I feel, because of COVID, people are home and hyper-focused on the news and what’s happening. That’s probably the best thing that could have happened for the Black Lives Matter movement and equality. It has helped me and other people of color get a little bit more exposure and that definitely helps overall.” He also used to notice that only one or two people of color were attending photography-related networking events in his community but now that is also changing for the better.
When we asked Flavio what piece of advice he would give to another person of color starting in the wedding industry, he said— “Do the best, most professional work you possibly can because I feel that some people just expect less from people of color and some people expect less from black-owned businesses.” He then added “That’s the perception but it isn’t true. So your job is to be just amazing, blow everyone out of the water and be the best you possibly can. Period.”
He also advises, “Shoot for the stars. Just aim to work in the best market you can because that’s going to make you your living. Try to think outside the box. Don’t listen to people who try to show you or tell you what you should be photographing. Try to be creative and excel.”
The overall feeling Flavio exuded during his interview was hopeful, but with the understanding that there’s still much work to be done, especially when it comes to being a black man or woman in the world of professional wedding photography. With Flavio leading the way, we have confidence things will change for the better.
Best Business Practices
Like any other entrepreneur, building a business didn’t come easy for Flavio. But a passionate heart and some amazing business practices helped him establish his brand. Let’s take a look at his best business practices:
1. A Well-Crafted Workflow
Flavio says, “workflow is important. I learned this the hard way. In my early days, I often couldn’t keep a track of things. When you shoot something and it needs to be delivered [you need to have a workflow]. The busier you get, the more [it’s required]. You have a million projects going on simultaneously and you need to make sure you’re delivering them on time.”
2. Networking Within His Community
Being a part of the Cape Verdean and Black communities in Boston has helped his business exponentially grow. About 80% of his clients are black and come from this community. Flavio makes sure he stays connected with them. He says this has helped him get clients more than any other modern marketing tactic. He says, “word-of-mouth for me has been huge within my community, the Cape Verdean community which is huge in Boston and New England. This gives me a lot of work. [I have tried] Facebook marketing and other [marketing tactics] but nothing works like word-of-mouth.”
3. Keeping High-End Wedding Photography as His Client-Facing Brand
Flavio definitely keeps his eye on his goals. He decided that he wanted to be a high-end wedding photographer in Boston. And even though he began by photographing family portraits and other photography genres, it always comes down to being true to what he knows he wants. So his wedding photography is the only brand he shows. He says, “weddings are the client-facing brand that I choose to show people because that’s what I want to do. I do family portraits. I do business headshots. I do business videos. I’ve done travel photography. I’ve done a lot of different things. When clients contact me, I say, Hey! This is my client-facing brand. I can show you my website for my wedding stuff. When it comes to the other stuff, I could show you one or two, but you have to trust me if you want to go with it. If I’m running around trying to have 20 different websites, I’ll drive myself crazy trying to maintain the backend of all that.”
4. Directly Communicating With Clients
Client communication is key for Flavio when it comes to best business practices. Flavio says, “I am huge into talking to the client [personally]. I am not into sending texts, I’m not into just sending emails because, in our business, I feel, especially for me, it’s just so many things can be lost because of incomplete communication and translation. So it’s better to just get someone on the phone, troubleshoot anything they need you to, clarify things, and make sure everything is 100%.”
Related Read: Nail The Client Experience: Featuring Orlando Oliveira
Advice to Every Beginner in the Wedding Industry
1. Be Original
Flavio says taking a look at Pinterest or similar online platforms can sometimes kill your creativity and you might lose the chance of using your own viewpoint when you shoot at a venue. He adds, “I love it when I shoot at a new venue. The challenge. I love to not look at their website. People say all the time that you [should] ‘go to that spot and shoot your couple over there’ because they saw it that way online. I’m like, I don’t even want to hear that. I don’t want to shoot what everyone else is shooting in the same way. That’s not my goal.”
2. It’s ok to be Nervous
One important piece of advice that Flavio wants to give every beginner in the wedding photography industry is that they should be confident about whatever they do. But he also says that sometimes it’s ok to be nervous. He says being nervous is normal even for experienced and successful photographers so newcomers shouldn’t consider it as a sign of weakness.
“I try to approach every wedding as art. It’s a high-stress environment. I’m sweating, my heart’s pounding, but I’m in the game.”
3. Blog Your Work
“If I know that I’m the first person shooting at a venue or [the venue] doesn’t have too many weddings [to show], you can guarantee that I’m going to blog about that as soon as possible”, says Flavio. He adds that blogging about unique or less-explored venues gets him ranked high on search engines and sends clients his way every single time. Also, a lot of his clients love the possibility of their photos being published. So beginners can try the same and draw clients to their business.
Related Read: How To Start A Photography Blog
4. Establish Relationships in the Industry
For Flavio, establishing relationships in the wedding industry is a must for any beginner to get clients as well as learn.
“Building a relationship with the wedding planner or the venue planning coordinator helps me a lot. Just build a network of editors, public art directors, and other people in the industry that you may bump into at events. Also, there are a million different ways to establish your network. Knowing these people personally, I can submit a wedding to an editor just via email and that’s big. Go to the websites, go to their Instagram and follow anybody related to these publications that you’re aware of. Blog and hashtag them in your posts and someday, the right person will stumble across it.”
5. Have Insurance
Flavio emphasizes the need for liability insurance for newcomers. He says it’s important to keep your brand and business protected, and sometimes venues have a mandatory policy demanding the same.
“When I’m talking to clients, I always bring that up. I understand [there are] new photographers coming into the game [who might not know better], but there’s as a minimum [expectation]. You have to have liability insurance.”
6. Rent Before You Buy
Flavio says beginners often get stuck on the ‘to buy or not’ question. When you are just starting out as a wedding photographer, you might want to, or think you have to, spend a lot of money all at once, even when equipment is not always affordable for beginners. So, even though he himself loves new gear, Flavio suggests that new photographers consider renting as a good alternative. This allows photographers to have that breadth of experience and tools in their kit without having to pay that premium price for them. Flavio added, even today, he still often rents lenses instead of purchasing them.
7. Price Yourself Right
Flavio says “The importance of pricing yourself – that’s hard for anybody. I struggled for years underpricing my work and just working way too hard. I didn’t want to shoot just to make a buck. But if you want to make a living doing it, you kind of have to at some point. [And there will come a time when you realize that not] everybody is your client. That’s a good thing.”. He adds beginners should research the market to have an idea of what others are charging and create their packages accordingly.
Related Read: How To Price Your Wedding Photography Packages
8. Outsource to Succeed
A believer of ‘working on the business and not in it’, Flavio outsources a lot of his business stuff and advises beginners to consider the same if they want to succeed. He says outsourcing helps photographers focus on their skills rather than stressing over business needs that experts in those fields can take care of. “I use Fotoskribe [for blogging], and for me, it works for sure. [As soon as a blog goes up on my website about and mentions a certain venue], I immediately get a call from someone getting married [there]”, says Flavio. Though Flavio has developed some of his own presets over the years, he also uses ShootDotEdit for his post-production photo editing work. “I use ShootDotEdit. I call it color correction [and it serves as my baseline] and then I give my clients the option of what color treatment they’d like, [if any, after the fact].”
9. Stay True to Your Brand
Flavio couldn’t put it better than when he told us, “Make sure your brand is cohesive and that you show what you want to shoot. If [you] have a goal of being a high-end wedding photographer, show only high-end wedding images. Don’t mix it up with a baby shower. Keep your eye on the prize and just make sure your brand represents what you want to shoot”.
Flavio’s Go-to Vendors
- ShootDotEdit for editing wedding images.
- Fotoskribe for blogging.
- ShootQ for client and business management.
- Two Bright Lights to get work published.
- Vision Art for albums.
- Shoot Proof for online proofing galleries.
- Borrow Lenses to rent gear.
Interesting Facts About Flavio
- Flavio uses a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 5D Mark IV.
- He loves Prime lenses and uses an 85mm 1.2, as well as a 50mm almost exclusively at weddings. He says “Shoot prime. It’s super sharp. You can zoom with your feet.”
- Throughout the shooting, lighting, and editing process Flavio makes sure to keep the look of his subjects natural. If he isn’t using natural light, he’s using lighting that looks like natural light.
- The micro wedding concept has helped Flavio stay busy during COVID. He says the expense for weddings has gone down due to fewer guests, thus, giving couples a chance to afford better professional wedding photographers.
- Flavio idolizes Barack Obama.
- He calls himself a social person and loves to meet people from different walks of life and parts of the world.
Flavio’s Message to all Readers
“If you genuinely love people and genuinely just treat everyone the same, regardless of race, regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of where they are from, then you’ll have an easy job being successful in this business. You’re going to meet people from all walks of life and that’s something amazing”, Flavio says in his final thoughts for readers and fellow photographers. We love this insight!
We’d like to thank Flavio for taking out time from his busy schedule to share his journey and celebrate Black History Month with us. We are proud of him and feel honored to have him as our customer. There is so much aspiring wedding photographers can learn from him and be inspired by. To learn more about Flavio, check out his Facebook page, Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter account.