A collage of two infographics, one stating a quote from Nikki Closser and the other featuring Sue Bryce Education logo
Raw. Real. Relatable. Besides helping photographers excel, Sue Bryce Education is all about these three principles. For our new Vendor Spotlight interview, we spoke to Nikki Closser, host of The Portrait System podcast, powered by Sue Bryce Education. Nikki knows the ins and outs of all things Sue Bryce and, as a photographer herself, has been working with Sue since 2012. Our first question for Nikki? Tell us EVERYthing! Why Sue Bryce Education? What are the components that make it stand out as an educational platform? Just a heads up for readers, you might have to focus extra hard to keep up with all that Sue and her team offer to help photographers grow their craft and their business. There are online courses and modules, there’s The Portrait Masters conference, and there’s the Portrait System Podcast. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Each element is created and designed to serve photographers as creatives and in their business. 

As a photographer, you never stop learning – whether you are on the job, taking a course, or watching a YouTube video. And the photographers who become members of the Sue Bryce Education system are a clear example of what investing in education can do for you. Sue Bryce and her team really want to educate photographers – mainly in the portrait space – on how to do everything – from lighting and posing to branding and marketing a wedding photography business. “Sue wants her students to be better than her,” Nikki shared with us. If, right about now, you are wondering why you, a wedding photographer, should keep reading about an educational platform for portrait photographers – well, all we can say is just keep reading.  

As a wedding photographer, you essentially stitch together portrait sessions throughout the day of the wedding – from the family photos and the couples photos to food photography and event photos. You even touch on macro photography as well when you capture all those amazing close-up ring shots! And because you don’t always know what the available lighting will look like, or what the weather will bring on the wedding day, honing your lighting skills is part of being prepared for any scenario. And posing! Whenever you’re working with people, in any setting, understanding the poses that will help your clients feel confident and photo-ready is critical. So, lighting, posing, and people. It turns out portrait and wedding photography have a lot in common! So if you need or want help in any of those areas, we encourage you to discover Sue Bryce Education. But if that’s still not enough to convince you to jump in, then perhaps you could think of it as the door to another business opportunity. You might want to add portraits to your services or even completely shift towards portraits (like Nikki did!). You also don’t want to lose out on the opportunity for maternity or newborn shoots with brides who come back to you, right? And when you get right down to it, light is light, and posing is posing, so who better to learn from than a master like Sue? 

Why Sue Bryce Education Could Be The Right Choice For You

  1. Unlimited learning: Whether it’s posing and lighting or marketing and sales – Sue Bryce Education has something for everyone and for likely every photographer.
  2. A community of cheerleaders: Well, not literally. But, yes, in this education platform, everyone is each other’s cheerleader. You could share something you are proud of or something you are struggling with, and you will find support and solutions in the community.
  3. Become a portrait master yourself: Even if your focus is on weddings and engagements right now, getting out of your comfort zone and, in the process, learning a new art and boosting your business sounds like a win-win to us.
Nikki Closser headshot
Nikki Closser, host of The Portrait System podcast, powered by Sue Bryce Education.

ShootDotEdit: Nikki, thank you SO much for being here today! Can you tell us about Sue Bryce Education? What is it? What are all the components that it includes? So basically, the what, the how, and where did it start?

Nikki: Sue Bryce Education and The Portrait Masters started several years ago. Around 2015- 2016. However, I started working with Sue back in 2012, when it was just a dream that she had to create an education platform that encompassed everything – posing, lighting, editing, just everything. Basically, Sue Bryce Education is a one-stop education platform that she started with the team, and it grew from there. We have over a thousand videos on the website, many showcasing Sue at different photo shoots. But there are also videos with featured instructors, so it’s not just Sue. 

Posing is one of the backbones of the platform. Sue teaches you to be confident with anyone you are photographing and make them look confident and amazing, whether it’s groups or just a single person or couples. There are styling videos on there as well. Sue also has something called the Sales Intensive and the Marketing Intensive. And she goes through every personality type, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, and how to market and sell and how to network. We always joke that whenever there’s a question, I am always like, “There’s a video for that.” And there’s always a video. There’s the Men’s Intensive. There’s the Confidence Workshop. I could go on and on. It truly is such an inclusive, amazing platform.

A person presenting something in a conference on the stage

But more than the essential photography skills, Sue also addresses Self-Value. Her Self-Value piece is huge. She talks about knowing your worth and learning how to get through money blocks and how to charge what you’re worth so that you don’t burn out as a photographer. There are pricing and product modules where she teaches people how to raise prices. 

Suggested Read: How To Price Your Wedding Photography Packages

Then you have The Portrait Masters. That’s where you have different instructors like Felix Kunze and Richard Wood, who are teaching other things like creative portraits or fashion photography or retouching. There are just so many different courses that you can purchase additionally through The Portrait Masters. 

Then we also have The Portrait Masters Awards and Accreditation. So we wanted to build a platform for accreditation for a couple of different reasons. One, it helps people to get street cred with their clients. So you can become an Associate Masters or Fellow Photographer through the program. There is a competition portion as well and we showcase the photos that we get in our top 20 galleries each year and they are mind-blowing. They are just unbelievable. There’s also a ‘find a photographer’ feature on our website, so anyone in the world can find an accredited photographer in their area, whether they are looking for a photographer in Michigan or Poland. So that’s kind of cool too. 

For the certification, you used to have to be a member, but we opened it up this past year for people who were non-members. It is $20 to enter a photo for members and $40 for non-members. It’s a point system. So you enter your photo, and you can either earn Professional Standard, which is a bronze. You can earn a bronze with distinction, or silver or gold. And for each one of those, you get points. And so once you earn a certain amount of points, then you get Associate Masters and then Fellow. 

As we grow this program, I’m sure we will do tweaks and changes. And your portfolio has to be reviewed to make sure that yes, you are at a master level and you didn’t just squeak by. So there’s definitely a review part of it. And the points don’t expire. There’s no time frame. We understand everyone has different life circumstances, and some people can do it quicker than others. 

We also have The Portrait Masters conference that we do every year. In 2020, we ended up doing it online. For this year, we were struggling a little bit with the regulations and everything, so we decided to do two different shootouts, so people can come and build their portfolio, learn from the mentors, and Sue and I will also be there. We have Sue Bryce Education mentors who have been photographers and learned from the education platform for a really long time and have grown successful businesses. They will be there as well. And people can just build their portfolios, and Sue has created beautiful sets, and we have models and styling and all of that. So that’s what we’re doing this year. Hopefully, we’ll be back on track with our regular Portrait Masters conference next year.

One more thing I wanted to mention that we have on Sue Bryce Education is the 90-Day Challenge. It’s like a startup challenge. It’s 12 weeks long, and we have a different module for each week. It starts with confidence and networking and goes on to encompass sales, marketing, posing, lighting, digital products, all of that. Participants go through it together as a group. We offer this challenge periodically and have our own separate Facebook group for it. 

The thing that I think ties it all together, though, is the community. If you ever want a supportive community as an entrepreneur or as a photographer, this is where it’s at. Everyone’s a cheerleader. You can share something you are proud of, or something you’re struggling with. It is really remarkable, and it speaks so much to the type of community that Sue has created. She never wants anyone to feel like they are left out or they can’t do it. It’s not like a competitive community, although we do push each other, of course, and I know it sounds crazy, but it’s like unicorns and rainbows. We have about 8000+ members at this point. Some of the people I’ve met in that group have become lifelong friends. And it’s the same with The Portrait Masters conference. What Sue has created is just really remarkable for sure.

A women siting in front of a mirror while being recorded with lights positioned towards her

ShootDotEdit: So there’s the Sue Bryce Education program, The Portrait Masters, the conference, and the additional online courses that one can purchase based on what they want to get educated about. Clearly, there’s a lot going on over at Sue Bryce Education. But let’s circle back to you, Nikki – tell us about how you got connected with Sue. 

Nikki: I was a school social worker for 12 years. It was non-profit work, family therapy sort of thing. And I got really burned out, decided I was going to be a photographer, and did the shoot and burn thing and realized that there’s no way I’m going to quit my job while charging a couple of hundred bucks for a session or even $500 for a session. I knew it just wasn’t going to work out. Then I came across Sue. I was watching one of her courses, and it ended up being the same weekend that I had Jill, a friend of mine, visiting. Jill had breast cancer, and she flew to visit me, and I was like, “We’re going to do photos of you.”

I loved the photos I took of her, but I felt like I wasn’t doing her justice. She was a young, beautiful woman with breast cancer. She really wanted to tell her story. So I called some of my girlfriends, and I was like, “What if we pitch in and ask this photographer named Sue Bryce to photograph Jill?” So I emailed Sue and said, “Hey, this is my friend, Jill. My friends and I want to pitch in and book a shoot.” Sue wrote me back right away. And the next thing I knew, she was inviting Jill and me to Paris, and besides a photo shoot, she ended up doing a documentary on Jill with Hailey Bartholomew called The Light That Shines.

So that’s the first time I ever met Sue, and it was incredible. It brought Jill so much joy to have The Light That Shines. And it was just such a beautiful documentary. Unfortunately, she passed away a couple of years after that. It was just absolutely incredible what Sue did for her. It happened because Sue won Australia’s Photographer of the Year that year, and her prize was a trip to Paris. And she was like, “Well, I don’t really want to go by myself. I want to do a shoot while I’m there.” And then she got my email right around the same time and saw Jill and was like, “Oh my gosh, this is what I want to do with my Paris trip. I want to do this for Jill.” And so it was really cool. So then Sue ended up moving from Australia to Seattle, which is where I was living at the time. At that time, she needed an assistant, and so, she asked me if I wanted to start working with her as an assistant in Seattle. And that’s how it started.

ShootDotEdit: Talk about a serpentine way to get to where you are! That sounds so cool!

Nikki: It’s funny thinking back to those years of us sitting in Sue’s apartment and her just talking about this education platform. She’s one of these instructors who genuinely wants you to succeed. She wants you to be better than her. The cheering that she does for people is just so genuine. She does it because she loves people, too, especially the Self-Value piece. It’s just been really cool to be part of this whole journey and to see where it’s at today.

Then I switched and started using her business model that I learned, and I was able to quit my job in 2014. And since then had two babies and built my business, and it’s just been awesome. My husband got to stay at home and quit his job for a year with our son, all because of everything that I learned. I mainly do all portraits. I did weddings for a couple of years, but I decided for my family, and once I had my first son, I didn’t want to work weekends and summer. So I switched to full-time portraits. My last wedding was in 2016.

ShootDotEdit: Is photography still your full-time gig?

Nikki: Well, that, and I also host The Portrait System podcast. And I work for Sue Bryce Education and The Portrait Masters, but personal branding is what I moved into. That is my bread and butter. I love doing it. It’s my jam. I don’t have to work weekends. It’s so awesome to be able to help other entrepreneurs build their brands and ultimately earn more money. Because when you have professional photos for your marketing and your branding, you look more professional, you book more clients. So it’s a win-win. I love it.

ShootDotEdit: So you host The Portrait System, which is powered by Sue Bryce Education, you are a personal branding professional, a portrait photographer, and you are also a part of The Portrait Masters. Sounds busy.

Nikki: Yeah, yeah, it is. But over the last year, once I started doing The Portrait System, I decided to become a part-time photographer. I knew I had to cut something out. Now, I interview photographers from all around the world. And it’s so much fun. You get to hear their story, basically. How they started, how they became successful. They always give some sort of golden nugget for learning. So it’s learning, entertainment, and inspiration all in one from photographers around the world.

A collage of two images, one featuring a model posing as the camera person photographs her, and the other with the model posing
Processed with MOLDIV.

ShootDotEdit: Is there anything specific that you want to highlight? So, for example, a portrait photographer has just subscribed to Sue Bryce Education. What is the one thing that they need to start with?

Nikki: I think it depends on where everyone is at in their business. If you are like, “There is no way I can charge $900-$1200 in my area,” you definitely need to sign up for Sue Bryce Education. We hear it all – “my market is saturated”, “no one’s going to pay those prices in my town”. We hear all the reasons why people think they shouldn’t, but we can blast that out of the water. We have people in a small town in North Dakota with a $2,500 average sale, or you know, I built my business in Seattle. And then also I have two studios in Seattle and Michigan, two totally different markets, same pricing, same everything. So if you are out there and you’re struggling with raising your prices because you believe you can’t do it in your area, or for whatever reason, I’m telling you, we will shatter those beliefs. You will see thousands of people who are doing it, regardless of if there’s a photographer on every corner charging way less than you.

We teach you how to become the photographer that people want to book and how to raise those prices and how to work smarter and not harder. So I think that’s what it really comes down to. And you don’t have to be a studio photographer. I think people sometimes think that you have to shoot like Sue or the “glam style”. And that is not the case. We have newborn photographers, and high school senior photographers, and family photographers. I mean, we have the whole range and even apply some of this to wedding photography. If selling terrifies you, if marketing terrifies you, Sue just breaks it down, and there are systems for it that she teaches. It’s a really, really great platform.

You can try it out for a month. If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. I think that’s really what it comes down to. We have some people who have been photographers for 25 years and who have never been able to break through to charge what they should be charging. They joined Sue Bryce Education and a year later, two years later, they make $1500 or $2000 per session on average or more. We have brand new photographers, too, who jump in and say, “I’m going to be a photographer,” and they learn about our education platform, and they join and before you know it they’re charging $1,200 out the gate. That wasn’t me. I was too terrified. I had to build my way up, but some people just can do that. And it’s just cool seeing the gamut of members that we have who have done it.

Suggested Read: ​​5 Ways To Respond When Your Couple Says “Your Price Is Too High”

ShootDotEdit: That makes a lot of sense, especially in terms of pricing. So tell us, why Sue Bryce Education over any other similar product or platform? What sets you guys apart?

Nikki: I think you can learn something from any program or any education platform. When I think about photography conferences I’ve been to, I would sit and watch speakers, and even if everything they talked about didn’t resonate with me, I always took away some sort of golden nugget. I feel like you have to find your tribe and what works for you. And I think what sets us apart at Sue Bryce Education is how every single thing that you could possibly need is there.

A person standing in front of the camera and lights as the recording goes on

As far as Sue’s education goes, it’s so all-encompassing. And again, I know the Self-Value piece sounds like woo-woo or hokey, but it’s so important. Sue is a posing master, and I can whip through a million poses because I’ve learned them, and I’ve practiced them. You end up having a catalog in your brain of different poses that work well for all body types and everyone, and it just comes so easy and helps so much in shoots. So I think that is a big part of what Sue teaches. But it’s also our community. It truly is a remarkable community to be part of. And Sue is tough love. She’s going to tell you things that will really make you take a look at what you can do to change your business for the better and not be reliant upon everything that’s happening around you as the reason you either are or aren’t successful. And there’s something really amazingly empowering about you being the one who can control it and who can decide if you’re going to be successful or not. And she just has a great way of teaching that, along with the styling, lighting, and posing. People come for different reasons, but I think that’s why they stay.

ShootDotEdit: That’s amazing and yeah, it totally makes sense. So, at ShootDotEdit, we often talk about time-saving. And we’ve noticed that in these interviews, that’s one of the recurring themes too and that time-saving is also relevant to the amount of time you put into something to start with. Education is never considered time-saving on the front line, right? So tell us about the time investment. Why should photographers stick with education, no matter how long it takes?

Nikki: I wish there was a magic wand or a magic timeframe. Everyone is so different. When I first started – and granted, this was prior to having kids when I was still a full-time social worker – I spent every waking moment that I had (that wasn’t devoted to my day job) working on my business. So I probably got a little bit further ahead than someone who doesn’t have enough or as much spare time to do that. Evenings, weekends, lunch breaks – that’s all I did. Whereas it might take longer for someone who doesn’t have childcare and is taking care of four kids at home. But you do have to put in the work 100%. That doesn’t mean that you have to spend every waking moment like I did necessarily. It’s always putting one foot forward, even small little things, like designing your pricing PDF. Okay. Wait. That’s a huge thing. But perhaps something like posting on social media, making a post, or doing a portfolio-building shoot, all of these little steps add up. And I think people get overwhelmed by everything that there is to do, and they quit, which is a lot of the reason we started the 90-day Challenge. It breaks it down week by week. And we always tell people that everyone goes at their own pace. We all have different reasons that we can or can’t do whatever this week. But that’s why we kind of break it down into chunks. And we have checklists that we encourage people to do for each.

A model posing at an outdoor location for a photo shoot

I wish there was a good answer, but if you have a strong portfolio, if you are providing amazing service for your clients, if you value what you do, you’re going to do well. And it’s just a matter of putting in the work. You don’t have to watch all 1000 videos. You might already have a really strong portfolio, but you’re just struggling with the idea of doing in-person sales, and by in-person, it can be Zoom. That’s how I do it. Even before the pandemic, this is how I did it; it was on Zoom. And my sales average when I started doing it in-person went through the roof. Just the thought of in-person sales was so daunting to me. If you can just put the time in to learn what your deficit is, you don’t need to figure out the rest or watch everything. 

ShootDotEdit: Right. In the end, your ROI is still going to be based on the amount of time you invest. So tell us that one thing that the education platform offers that you wish people took more advantage of? 

Nikki: The PDF downloads, especially the posing ones. Sue has created all these super beautiful posing downloads for couples, men, and women and flow posing for teens. There are all these different downloads that you can just have on your phone. And if you need a minute to decide which pose you’re going to do next, it can be right there on your phone. Some people have them printed. They are absolutely amazing. And then again, the checklists and some of the other PDF downloads Sue has for marketing and selling are great too. And I think people forget about those PDFs. They can be so powerful. 

Suggested Read: Engagement Session Posing

ShootDotEdit: Is there a list of vendors that you guys can’t live without or that you would recommend photographers to use to make their lives/workflows easier?

Nikki: Retouching – whether it’s ShootDotEdit or another company or a person. I know that is one thing that I stand firm on, and Sue does too. Just to let go of that control and get some of your time back. I think that sometimes that’s where we can burn ourselves out. So that’s huge. Animoto is something that I use for every single client for slideshows. During my sales sessions, I bring in emotion with beautiful music. Sue loves Graphistudio. They are Italian, and they make really luxury boxes and albums and prints. LensProToGo is a lens rental company that has helped us so many times. They have amazing customer service. There’s Tenba bags. Sue has designed the most stylish camera bags that she loves. Spider Holster is another one I love. I actually introduced Sue to it. I cannot shoot without it. And so she’s been using one ever since. 

Suggested Read: Honeybook: A Client Management Software That Empowers Small Businesses To Own Their Independence With Passion & Purpose

A silhouette of two photographers pointing cameras at each other

ShootDotEdit: Coming back to how much you guys have going on at Sue Bryce Education and how you are constantly updating and adding courses, tell us, where do the team and Sue get the ideas from?

Nikki: Sue is a content creator. And she also teaches through learning. She’s been a photographer for about 30 years. This has been her life, and she’s had her ups and downs. So she teaches through what she learns from her experience as well as everything that she learns from others. She’s like a never-ending bottomless pit of content. Her brain just never stops with what she wants to teach. It’s really remarkable.

There’s member feedback too. We’re always paying attention to what people want and what people ask for. And if we don’t have it or if it isn’t in Sue’s wheelhouse, we think about who can we get to teach it. And so that’s why we have several instructors, not just through The Portrait Masters, but on Sue Bryce Education too. We have several instructors who are guest instructors as well.

ShootDotEdit: And why do you think people love Sue Bryce Education? What’s the thing that gets them to come and stay?

Nikki: I think part of it is that tough love and just that there’s such a genuine desire for everyone to succeed. Nothing makes her happier than when her students are succeeding. I think people can really feel that genuine energy. It’s not just about making money for her. It’s not just about having members. She just wants the people who are there to learn and to take action. And if you don’t take action, that’s on you. She’s a big proponent of that. And I think people really like that. So there’s no fluff with Sue. Everything is very raw and real, and relatable. 

Infographic stating we teach you how to become the photographer that people want to book, how to raise those prices, and how to work smarter and not harder

ShootDotEdit: Raw. Real. Relatable. That sounds good to us too. Is there anything else at all that you want people reading this to know about Sue Bryce Education or any other product?

Nikki: I think if you’re out there and you are a photographer who is kind of feeling burned out, and you’re doing too many sessions for not enough money, I would recommend just giving Sue Bryce Education a shot. I think there’s something to be said for shifting your thinking from doing 10 sessions for $500 or three sessions for $1500 or moving away from burning the candle at both ends, which takes time away from your family, or changing how you operate so you’re not worrying about what everyone else is charging. If you’re in a place where you’re feeling like you don’t know if you’re going to be able to sustain your business because you are just pulling your hair out, just give Sue Bryce Education a shot. It changed my life, and there are thousands of other photographers who can say the same. And listen to The Portrait System. We’ll give you some really good stories about different people and how they’ve done it. 

Further Read: Sprout Studio: The Photography Studio Management Suite That Does It All

No matter how many years of experience you’ve got, learning is something that will constantly be a part of your photography business, and where better to start than with masters like Sue Bryce and her team. They are consistently coming up with courses that help you be a better photographer and a business owner. We are SO glad that we got to speak to Nikki learn more about the power of Sue Bryce Education. Nikki, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. We hope you guys continue to inspire, motivate and educate photographers across the world. 

To learn more about Sue Bryce Education and The Portrait System podcast, you can visit the website or the Facebook page. You can also find the podcast here. For more information on The Portrait Masters, you can visit their website or their Facebook page. To get acquainted with Sue and her work, you can check out her website or Facebook page

To get to know more about Nikki, you can visit her website, Instagram, and Facebook.

At ShootDotEdit, we are passionate about helping you elevate your craft and wedding photography business. And to help give you more time to do that, we take editing off your plate with our professional photo editing services. To learn more about how we can help, check out our pricing plans.

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