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In our previous interview with San Francisco-based photographer Danny Dong, he told us about how he made word of mouth referrals one of his strongest marketing strategies. And evidently, that’s something many successful wedding photographers have in common because ShootDotEdit customer Stephanie Heymann Photography, the focus of this featured photographer interview, runs her business on the same principals. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Stephanie, who has been in the wedding photography business for over a decade, admits to owing a lot of her early success to social media, saying, “I strategically work with clients who I really love and get along with and I know that they’re going to refer me to more great clients.” She knows her target market – how to identify them and how to get more of them.

In our conversation, Stephanie also gave us a glimpse into how things work at Stephanie Heymann Photography, how outsourcing helps her manage her business, and how she overcame significant obstacles to establish and sustain a six-figure photography business.

The Origin Story Of Stephanie Heymann Photography 

ShootDotEdit: Tell us about how you got started? What is Stephanie Heymann Photography’s origin story?

Stephanie: I remember falling in love with my dad’s 35mm Canon camera that he had. I was probably somewhere between four and six years old, and he had just gotten it, and I don’t think he necessarily knew how to use it! He showed me how to load the film, and then I remember him taking me out into the garden of the first house I grew up in to take some photos. He was by no means an artist or a photographer though he was a fantastic writer. And I remember him making me hold a flower next to my face and taking a photo of me. I still have that photo. I wish I still had the camera. But I remember falling in love with the weight of it, and the sound of the click, and just that whole audible and tangible thing that went along with the camera – I loved it.

After that, I was always really into photography. I spent a lot of time in our high school’s dark room, which is kind of like a joke amongst my friends. It was just always like this simmering love. And finally, about 17 years ago, I just decided to jump into photography with both feet. At the time, I was doing other things – I had a teaching degree and worked at a magazine where I seemed to always be on the photo shoot. So photography was just always bubbling and simmering. So finally, I just jumped in and never looked back, and it really took off right away. There was a lot of work involved in that, but I had lived in this community in Scottsdale for quite a long time and knew a bunch of people. And so I just felt like it was the right place and the right time. 

ShootDotEdit: And was it always wedding photography?

Stephanie: I do all sorts of photography now. It’s changed over the years for sure. I shot some weddings very, very early on. But I don’t know if I want to look back at those photos now (I’m sorry to anybody’s wedding I shot 15 years ago). But it’s changed over the years. I was doing a lot of families in the beginning and also a lot of headshots and a lot of babies. I quickly learned that, although I felt like I was good at it, I didn’t have this deep love of photographing babies, although I appreciate it and I did enjoy it, and I am a mom, and I love babies. I think there are other people out there who do it so much better and could put so much more time into honing that skill because it’s a totally different animal. 

I’m Jewish, so I also fell into the Bar and Bat Mitzvah cycle, which has been great over the years. Then, I naturally moved into weddings. I do more weddings now than anything else. But I’m still doing all of my families and a lot of senior photos this year just because I’ve got high school kids. So yeah, I do a lot of everything, but I would say a majority of my time now is dedicated to weddings.

ShootDotEdit: So when you are doing families or senior portraits, are you still tapping into your wedding clients for Stephanie Heymann Photography and co-marketing with that in mind, like, “Hey, I did your wedding now call me when it’s time for families” or do you just rely on your already existing network? 

Stephanie: I think it’s word of mouth based on my personality and my style and the reputation I have built. Word just gets out and people find me. But that really started with me knowing my style and my target market.

a close up of a groom kissing the bride on the cheek
Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer

ShootDotEdit: So tell us more about that – how would you describe the brand Stephanie Heymann Photography’s style right now?

Stephanie: Well, my photography style is a little light and airy, but it’s really important for me to show true color. So color-wise, my blacks are black, my whites are white. But yet it has sort of like a light, airy, golden-y tone. As a person, my style in any shoot is to be your friend. I want to be your friend. That’s why my email signature says “photographer, artist, friend”. It’s really important for me to get to know the people that I photograph, whether it’s just their family or if it’s their wedding. I kind of joke with my brides that I become like the 8th bridesmaid or the other maid of honor. And I love it. That’s pretty much why I do what I do; it’s because I’m a social person, and I like being around people, and I like having fun, and I like making art. So that’s me, and that’s who I am as a photographer. I go into it with the mentality that I am going to “hang out” with my clients, and we are going to have fun, and we’re definitely going to laugh – a lot. 

Also, I really like to capture true emotion. I think that there’s beauty in between the poses. I try not to pose anyone, but the beauty is really sort of in those in between those moments. So I really try to get in there for those. I think it’s just important to show people as they truly are – if they are laughing, if they’re crying, if they’re giggling – I just really want to show people in their best light. I want to really show what’s going on. And I want someone to be able to look at that photo and say, “That. I remember that moment. That was a very cool moment or real moment.”

ShootDotEdit: So it sounds like being a friend to your clients is part of what has built you this stellar word of mouth reputation! That makes us curious about how you position yourself as the photographer who is “a friend”? How do you hone those client relationship skills?

Stephanie: I think the only way I could answer that is just to say that I am unapologetically me. We’re probably going to laugh, or I’ll say something dumb or stupid or self-deprecating or funny from the jump. If we get each other and we vibe, it’s going to stay that way. So I guess I would say that I give my clients the space to fall into that rhythm the same way I would when I’m meeting a new friend. Like we’re either going to be friends, or we’re not. I like to keep things light and fun, but at the same time, I feel like I do come across as someone who knows what they’re doing and is sophisticated enough to be a great match for them on a big day, like a wedding. So it’s that balance. I don’t know if I do any of it purposely, it’s just me. 

Making Word-Of-Mouth Marketing Work

ShootDotEdit: So, you definitely rely on word of mouth, but do you do any advertising at all?

Stephanie: I don’t! I don’t think I ever have – maybe once like a long, long time ago. I haven’t ever felt the need to market really because, again, I’ve lived in this community for so long. Phoenix is like a small, big city. My social circle is nicely large, and I feel like that contributes to my referrals coming via word of mouth

I’m now shooting all of these seniors who I shot as babies, which is crazy. Then, this summer, I’m shooting my first wedding of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah that I did years ago. So that’s kind of crazy. It’s just been like this life cycle. And I remained active in terms of both social presence and just within the community, so it kept me relevant.

Suggested Read: Photography Marketing Tips: The Wedding Photographer’s Guide

ShootDotEdit: That sounds great! Would you say that it’s the same for weddings too? You don’t advertise? No bridal expos?

Stephanie: I’ve been able to work at, in my opinion, some of the best venues and with some of the best planners, and just doing a good job for them and doing a good job for their clients has landed me on a couple of preferred vendors lists, which is awesome. Because when you’re on those lists, you get to go back to the places that you love, and you know that those venues are going to attract your kind of bride. It’s the same thing with the planners – I strategically work with ones who I really love and get along with, and I know that they’re going to refer me to great clients. So I don’t do expos, although I think that they’re a great marketing tool. It’s just that I didn’t really feel like expos were where I could find my client. 

Suggested Read: How To Find Your Ideal Client

a couple embracing each other in front modern designed wall
Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer

ShootDotEdit: So, talk to us about touch points with your clients – how do you keep in touch with them from the time they book you all the way through to the event? Do you do an engagement session for every wedding? We are curious about how they get to know you first.

Stephanie: So I do an engagement shoot for my couples. It’s sort of my gift to them. It’s a way for me to get to know them; it’s a way for them to get to know my style. I always think it’s really funny when I do an engagement shoot and, then, a year later, we’re at the wedding, and I’m shooting the groom, and he remembers something I told him.

Obviously, Zoom video calls have become the thing. So we do that throughout the year. Especially when it comes to putting together the timeline. I also invite my couples out – we’ve met for cocktails, we’ve met for dinner before and after the wedding. I’ve got a couple coming up that invited me to their tasting, which doesn’t happen all the time. But overall, I try to stay in contact with them throughout the year. And I always tell them, “When you pick out your dress, send me a picture. I want to see it” or “when you pick out your bridesmaids dresses, send me a picture” or “if you find photos that you absolutely love from another photographer or someone else’s wedding, put them on a Pinterest board so I can see what you love, let’s talk about it”. If they don’t love Pinterest, I just tell them to text me. And so, I’m connecting with them throughout the year. I recognize that they are putting a lot of trust in me – they’re spending a lot of money – and I want them to know that I am here for them.

By the wedding day, they’re 100% all-in and tell me, “You’re the expert, you tell us what to do.” I hear that all the time, and I think that my couples feel really comfortable knowing that I’ve got them. I am going to make sure that this day runs so smoothly. I work super closely with their planner, and the videographer and I recognize that we’re a team – whether we’ve worked together before or not. And our goal is to make that couple have the best day ever at whatever cost. Let them feel no pain, because things go wrong all the time. So it’s our job to make sure that everything goes so smoothly and we stick to the timeline. We get everything done, and we deliver a beautiful product.

Suggested Read: Tips To Maintain Wedding Photography Client Relationships

a pair of bridal shoes
Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer

ShootDotEdit: When you were first getting started with Stephanie Heymann Photography, how did you tap into your social circle? How can someone who is just starting out use word-of-mouth marketing?

Stephanie: That’s a really good question. I feel like I had confidence – whether it was deserved or not. I was confident in my art. So I definitely wanted to earn money based on the time that I was taking to do what I did. I knew I was going to do it well, so there’s that, but then I also definitely tapped into charity events and people who I knew who were chairing certain events, and I’d give them a gift certificate for their auction. I also photographed a few families early on at no charge. 

I remember this one pivotal event for me – and this really wasn’t a marketing ploy – that impacted me. There was a specific family whose son was really sick, and he was in my son’s class. This child was five and very ill, and I wanted to document what was going on. And I did. And I shared it everywhere. At that point, it really was not marketing. I felt really strongly about doing it. I wanted to do it for them. But a lot of people saw that. And I do think that people took a lot of interest, or they were like, “Oh, Max’s mom is a photographer.” I think that’s kind of how things happen. You do one thing that gets noticed, for whatever reason, and if your work is good, word starts to spread.  

ShootDotEdit: That’s awesome – and makes sense since you’re really all about strong relationships and friendships with your clients, which clearly starts with having your heart in the right place! You must also have some favorite wedding stories, right?

Stephanie: There are so many. First of all, I cry at almost every mother and son dance hysterically. I could cry just talking about it now. It just gets me. I have a recent story from a couple weeks ago – and I haven’t stopped talking about it since! The bride’s family is from Japan. The groom was originally from Korea. He lived in a very small, very poor fishing town in Korea. He was adopted by this older couple, who already had two older daughters. They brought him to the US. This man has since become a doctor, and he’s really made this incredible life for himself. He stood up at his wedding and was thanking his parents for rescuing him. And I was so moved by this. Everybody was crying. Behind the camera, I had tears running down my face. It was so beautiful. It was so real and so raw. I feel so honored to be able to watch those kinds of moments. I will never forget it.

a groom picking up the bride in a hayfield
Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer

The Business Of Wedding Photography

ShootDotEdit: Wow, that sounds like it was impactful! Thank you for sharing that!! Ok now switching gears a little, tell us about the business side of Stephanie Heymann Photography. What was the hardest part about running the business when you started? And if you could go back 15 years, what’s something you would do differently or sooner in terms of your business?

Stephanie: I am super happy with the way things have gone in my career as a photographer overall, and I am happy with the path that I took to get here. I wasn’t always good at all the invoicing and the business side, but I am better now – and I am probably better at it than I give myself credit for! But I do owe a lot of that to my husband, who is in finance and is a numbers guy. He’s been super, super helpful getting me to focus on the business side of what we do. 

In terms of advice for other photographers, I do think that artists forget that if they are going to try to do photography to make a living, there is a whole business side behind it. It’s not just about going out there and finding the clients and taking the photos and editing. So if there was one thing I would tell another photographer starting out, it’s to take some sort of business course so you can learn early on how to do a lot of the business stuff on your own. I feel like, as artists, sometimes we don’t really pay a lot of attention to that. I was very lucky that I have someone in my life who did that for a living and could guide me. 

Suggested Read: Understanding The Basics Of Bookkeeping For A Wedding Photography Business

ShootDotEdit: Would you say that there’s something in the course of your business that you learned the hard way?

Stephanie: So early on I had a partner, and we worked together. We were really, really good friends. It’s not the most fun story and it’s a little bit painful. But I realized quickly that we were not aligned business-wise. We were great friends, and we had a great time together and he was talented. But we just were not aligned in our business ethics, and who we wanted to be in this world of photography. 

We had a definite unfortunate split. It was not fun. I lost a friend, but that’s okay. But I needed to do it for myself. It didn’t feel good, but he wasn’t the right partner. It just wasn’t aligning for me. And so we made a split. I went off totally on my own and never looked back. 

I am sad that I lost a friend, but I think you have to stay true to who you are – both in business and in your personal life. At the end of the day, it was the best decision I ever made. So have I learned from it? Absolutely. I learned that I probably don’t ever need another partner. But most importantly, I learned who I wanted to be in this community, who I wanted to be as a photographer, who I wanted to be as a businessperson and how I wanted people to regard me and my business. And had I continued down that path with that partner, I would not be in the same place today.

a bride posing sitting on an elegant bathtub
Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer

ShootDotEdit: That’s a hard lesson, but sounds like it was the right decision. So now, do you have a team? Are you a solo shooter? Do you have a second shooter that you rely on, or assistant or all of the above?

Stephanie: All of the above. I’ve got a couple second shooters that I’ve been working with forever. I met my closest second shooter on Instagram; when suddenly, everyone was doing these Instagram pods where somebody would match you up in a group of photographers. And we would comment on each other’s posts, get to know each other’s feeds, refer business, all that. 

She somehow got put in my pod, and I was like, “Hey, it looks like you’re in Phoenix” because she was posting stuff from locations that I recognized. So we just started chatting, and she was younger and newer to the business, although extremely talented. And I was like, “Hey, do you want to meet for coffee?” So we did and I asked her if she wanted to second shoot for me, and it just grew from there. And truthfully, she’s one of my best friends now. 

I’ve also got a couple of other second shooters that I’ve met throughout the years in some classes that I’ve taken. I probably, truthfully, could use a whole huge team, but I just don’t know if I really want to be in charge of a whole team. I could use them, but I don’t know if I, at this point, want to run a crew. I think I’m really happy in the place that I am. 

ShootDotEdit: How many weddings are you shooting right now on average, non-pandemic years?

Stephanie: I knew you were going to ask me that question! Remember when I said my husband probably wishes that I did some of the business side better? A really, really, really astute businesswoman would actually know the number and it would roll off their tongue.

But I do know that I’m shooting an event every single weekend and shooting something almost every day. I would say probably two to three weeks out of the month I have weddings. I also have a handful of events like a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, which, while I’m not taking a ton of anymore, have been on my books for a while, or they’re past clients where I’m photographing their third and fourth child.

a bride standing on a grassy field looking at the camera
Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer

ShootDotEdit: Have you ever had to say, “No, I don’t think this is a good fit”? Maybe the engagement shoot or even before?   

Stephanie: Yes, I have. I have figured out that if I don’t feel like I vibe with my clients, then I won’t take them on. It’s a feeling, but it’s also an important one to pay attention to. So, yes, I’ve definitely had to turn things down because I just knew it wasn’t a great fit. And usually, it’s based on things that they will say in our initial phone call. If they call me and they ask for dark and moody, or all film, no digital, then we are not a fit because I’m not going to change my style to get the job. There’s somebody out there who can do what they want and do it really well. So I’ve definitely had to say, “I’m sorry, I just don’t think you’re a good fit, but here are some suggestions of places you can look for someone who might be” or “here’s someone I know who shoots your style”. I know it’s hard to turn down making money. But I also know that if I feel like I’m not going to love my time with these people then I’m not going to love my job. I believe that, at the end of the day, the money that you make from something that was such a struggle or something that you didn’t enjoy is not worth it.

ShootDotEdit: Tell us about the pandemic. Were there any lessons learned business-wise during the pandemic that you would want to share?

Stephanie: I think we all sort of took on the word ‘pivot’. I was a little lucky in that. Did my business drop during the pandemic? Of course. Everybody’s did. I was lucky that I do some branding work and headshots and things like that with companies. So that actually kept me afloat and busy, which was great. 

Flexibility is something I think that we all learned. There were times it was painful. There were weddings that were postponed 2.5-3 years. I have one next weekend that got moved from so long ago. But I wish sometimes that clients had a little bit more flexibility with us because I think that that was hard. It’s their day, so they take a lot of ownership over that time and forget that it was really difficult for us too – to reschedule and move deposits and find venues and figure out if we had to refund. It was a lot, and we’re still going through it. I do think a lot of clients forget that too. We’re still finishing up pandemic weddings. So I think flexibility is what I learned for sure. Just learning that anything can happen at any time to your business, so you just have to figure it out. 

Outsourcing For Success

ShootDotEdit: And now, we have one last question for you… talk to us about outsourcing. Who do you outsource to, and how did you get to the point where you’re like, “I can’t do this myself anymore”?

Stephanie: It came after a ton of frustration related to time and deadlines and all of that. As far as the editing was concerned, it was a very hard thing to let go of. I’m definitely a control freak when it comes to my work. I went through a couple of personal editors before ShootDotEdit that were just not really working. I would say that you guys really got it. You nailed the color matching with me. And I know I should be using ShootDotEdit more because I do think that you guys are incredible for me. 

I also outsource album printing and album creation – I know I have to let someone else do that. I’ll do the layout, but there are a lot of helpers that help with that. But for album printing, I love Miller’s Lab. I think they are amazing. For design, I use Fundy Designer, which is fantastic for creation. I’ve also ordered a ton of albums from Kiss Books. They are wonderful. And then I definitely outsource the business side of everything to 17Hats. I love them. I use Planoly for laying out my Instagram grid and keeping all my hashtags and all that good social media stuff organized.

Related Read: Fundy Designer: Increased Productivity & Profitability For Photographers Through Album Design & Sales

a wedding ring on top of a bowl of pearls
Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer

Stephanie’s Go-To Gear

ShootDotEdit: That’s a great list. What about your go-to gear? 

Stephanie: Love love love Profoto. I think their light is beautiful. I’ve used all of their studio lighting setups. Fantastic. I’m a true Canon girl. Sorry, Nikon.

Related Read: Profoto: A Lighting Game-Changer For Pro Photographers

ShootDotEdit: And do you have any preferred lenses that you shoot with?

Stephanie: They’re all my girls. My best friend is my 85mm. I love her. She’s very, very heavy, but I love her. I have this new love affair with my 135mm. I only shoot prime lenses, and I always have. I’m just not a zoom lens girl. Instead of moving my lens, I can move my feet. No offense to anyone who uses zoom. The nifty 50mm also is great. I just use them all. There’s not a lens in my kit that I do not use.  

ShootDotEdit: And how do you carry all your gear?

Stephanie: I always used to carry two cameras in a double harness, like the Spider Holster. But because it’s so heavy, over the last couple years I have downsized to one holster. So I just shoot with one at a time now. Then, I also use the Spider Pro Hand Strap. It’s just a spider-like hand harness that holds your hand onto the camera, and you can slip it your hand easily in and out. I use this to take a little bit of the weight off of my shoulder and forearm area.

ShootDotEdit: Thanks for sharing all that!! Ok, so now, one final thing! At the end of our interviews, we usually ask our guests to share something fun or interesting or a fact that not many people know about them. So this is actually your last question.

Stephanie: I’m really funny when I drink tequila. If you know me, you know I love tequila. I also just love to smile. I love to be around good people. I love to be around my family. I am definitely a family person. I love to shop. And I like old-school rap a lot. I went to some real hardcore concerts when I was young.

Photography, Artistry, and Friendship At Stephanie Heymann Photography

a bride and a groom embracing each other on a rocky terrain
Image Credit: ShootDotEdit Customer

The wedding photography industry greatly relies on the relationships you make as you grow as an artist and a businessperson, which is why ShootDotEdit customers are big on offering incomparable customer service. And Stephanie certainly goes the extra mile to stay true to her email signature “photographer, artist, friend” while building trust in client relationships. Today, when photographers are trying to amplify and raise awareness about their businesses through all kinds of marketing channels, Stephanie is happy running her photography business by simply letting her work (and clients) do the talking for her. In her business – and many like hers – it’s safe to say that good client relationships are key to success. #WeLoveToSeeIt! Thank you, Stephanie, for taking the time to talk to us. Your energy is contagious, and it shows in your work and brand. To see more of Stephanie Heymann Photography magic, check out her website, Instagram, and Facebook.

Further Read: Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories

At ShootDotEdit, we bring you our customers’ stories to inspire and to also show you why outsourcing can free up your time so you can do more important things. If photo editing is taking up too many of your hours, turn it over to us. We are here to lessen your workload with our professional photo editing services. To learn more about how we can help your wedding photography business, check out our pricing plans.

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