Tell us a little about yourself & your business.
CB: I’ve been a full-time commercial photographer for eight years but I’ve had a camera in my hand most of my life. I picked up my grandmother’s Polaroid when I was six and my mother’s 35mm Canon not long after that. To say I became interested in photography is a bit of a misnomer. I’m fairly certain I was born with the desire in my DNA. I’m nearly all self-taught save for the occasional workshop.
I started in retail photography: families, seniors, weddings, etc. It’s all business-to-consumer in retail. Jobs are paid and done and aren’t any residuals from them. They tend to be lower cost (compared to commercial) and it’s a constant race to the bottom in terms of pricing. Somebody can always do it cheaper, but it’s less common for somebody cheaper to deliver a better product and experience. They either won’t stay in business long or will end up increasing their pricing. I did the latter….a lot.
My previous 20-year career in Information Technology put me in the corporate world daily. That gave me the ability to understand how large companies work, their needs and culture, their ability to shift over time, the political landscape, etc… It also saves me a lot of money when it comes to the technicals of managing my data and troubleshooting my equipment.
The switch to commercial was a no-brainer for me. I would shoot less but create a more intentional product. There would be more time to plan and more pressure but what I would charge for a job would allow me to “work” far less. As a commercial photographer, I’m focused primarily on advertising and branding photography for businesses and organizations. For me, that can range in size from a single entrepreneur to a Forbes Global 10 member.
Commercial photography is a different beast from retail photography and unfortunately, the category classification gets misused more often than not. Images are priced differently and shoots are planned differently, it’s a much different beast than retail photography. The only thing the two consistently have in common is the creation of imagery.
While all of that pays the bills, I have personal work that pays my soul. I tell stories that either aren’t being told or haven’t been told the way I think they should. It’s a labor of love and I get to meet so many amazing people along the way.
How would you describe yourself?
CB: I think my self-image is a bit different than what the world perceives. I care deeply, a lot of times too much. I’m intentional and focused but get distracted by squirrels far too often. When I’m listening and concentrating on what somebody is telling me, I can look angry or upset. My face betrays when I’m focused but gives the false impression I’m not happy.
I’m an introvert with extroverted tendencies and capabilities; I’m an ambivert. I have to exercise my extrovert more often than I’d like as a business owner, but it tends to pay off. I get to meet some great people and find new stories to tell as a result. I keep my circle pretty small though. I had to figure out that “switching on” the extroverted side doesn’t require me to be lifelong best friends with everybody.
I’ve owned three businesses and all of them required me to push off the wall and introduce myself to others or place myself in a situation where it was impossible not to know who I was or what I was doing. The introversion tendency is incredibly helpful when networking because it’s a listening-heavy character quality. People want to be seen and heard and if I can do that with authenticity and intentionality, the bond that forms becomes very strong.
As for a superpower, I’m a realist/pragmatist. That gets confused for me being a pessimist/naysayer far too often. I see problems with solutions, not problems by themselves. I am a diagnosed and recovering perfectionist. I’m learning to manage that character quality more and more every day. The perfectionism, when unmanaged, leaves me with little room for BS.
What has been your greatest business “win”?
CB: The biggest win to date is expanding to Tulsa…in the middle of a pandemic. I didn’t have a client base up here that was consistent enough to hang out a shingle on day one, but I jumped in with TYPROS, connected with a couple of contacts that I thought could give me some solid leads, and did my best to be seen. Here I am two and a half years later and the limitations of my future are unknown. I like that. The change in environment was critical to picking up new clients in my target demographic.
I still service the clients I had before I moved and in many instances that business has increased twofold or more since I left.
What do you consider an obstacle/setback that you have learned from?
Internally, I’ve always been my biggest obstacle. I get in my head too much. My perfectionism combined with my reach for excellence can be a dangerous combination. Having my eyes opened to the dangers of unbridled perfectionism significantly shifted my trajectory. I didn’t have to be a prisoner to it any longer. I could use it to my advantage. I wish everybody had access to quality counseling and therapy. Mental health is incredibly important.
Externally, the public’s lack of understanding of how commercial photography is structured and priced is a big obstacle. Whether it be licensing, time and usage terms, embargoes, or any number of curveballs that show up, it’s not as simple as taking the pictures and handing them over on a flash drive.
A lack of temperance used to get me in trouble a lot. I would say yes to shiny opportunities that ultimately didn’t have any substance. I’ve wasted immense amounts of time developing proposals for jobs that were ultimately never realized. Not because I didn’t win them, but because the potential client just couldn’t follow through on their end. I had a bad tendency to ignore red flags during the exploratory process or negotiating phase. Now I take a lot more time and listen even more intently during the process.
Educate us! Tell us what a headshot is and why it’s important for everyone to have a good one.
CB: I’m sure I’m going to step on some toes with this one. The term headshot can be just as misused as “commercial photography”. A headshot is a portrait of an individual looking into the camera that runs from the bustline/above the elbow to around the top of the head. The bottom edge can be higher up but not above the clavicle. Hands aren’t shown. The background isn’t as important but is typically a solid or slightly textured flat surface. They can be taken in an environmental space to add a little more texture to them. It’s a shot of the head. That’s the whole point. It’s an identifier.
Personal branding portraits are far less restrictive. They can be half-body, 3/4-body, full-body, or larger. They can incorporate props and sometimes other people that aren’t identifiable in the shot.
Just like all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, all headshots are portraits but not all portraits are headshots.
Headshots are your digital first impression in today’s online world. There’s so little space in that tiny circle on LinkedIn or Facebook. Fill it with as much of your face as possible. A headshot can communicate so much in a tenth of a second. The expression, styling, and lighting are what make a great headshot. A great headshot photographer knows how to coach and sculpt all of those elements into a sweet spot that results in a great headshot.
I see so many users on LinkedIn that don’t have a photo, have a photo they took in a bathroom mirror, or cropped themselves out of a group shot. A poor headshot can communicate a lack of seriousness or drive. A great headshot grabs attention. It’s not the singular most important aspect of an individual’s professional existence, but can be a very important part.
What are your top three tips to consider when taking a headshot?
1. Know what you are trying to communicate. What do your clients and potential employers need to infer about your professionalism, drive, and intensity when they see the shot? Are you a shark in the courtroom, an incredibly approachable and trustworthy financial advisor, or a strong and confident upper-level manager? Say it, with your face.
2. Find a coaching photographer, not somebody from Sears portrait studio who expects you to know exactly how to pose and emote. We’re professionals for a reason. If you’re going to spend the money and time on something that can have an impact on your career, make sure you get what you’re paying for.
3. Rest, hydrate, plan your wardrobe selections, and don’t get a haircut within three days of the appointment. If you’re tired, no amount of PhotoShop will make you look as good as if you were well-rested and properly hydrated. Our skin tells a story as much as our expression does. Don’t rush around the night before selecting wardrobe options haphazardly. Unless everything in your closet is tailored, well-fitting, and designer-label amazingness, the chaotic approach won’t work well. Be intentional with choices but understand if you don’t bring it to a session, I can’t shoot it. Styling and grooming extend to not getting a fresh (within a day or two) haircut. They are always obvious. Unless you’re bald, don’t mess with the cut too close to the session.
What’s next for you?
CB: I am continuing to add to my personal portrait and fine art project focusing on Notable Oklahoma. I hope to have enough individuals in the library to create the first book volume by the end of the year. I’ll be hosting a gallery exhibition for the project prior to that. It’s a labor of love that allows me to meet so many amazing people. Receiving the privilege to tell their stories is an immense honor. I’m always open to suggestions or nominations of individuals that have a story that needs to be told. It doesn’t matter if somebody is famous or not. Stories have value and they all deserve to be shared and preserved.
Tell us about the project that’s on your heart to help the less fortunate in Tulsa:
CB: Lisa, who is my partner in all things love, life, and business, and I are forming a new non-profit organization this year that will help us spin up a few service and charitable initiatives that are on our hearts. One of those is the Tulsa iteration of Help-Portrait, which is a one-day event dedicated to bringing photographers together to create professional portraiture for individuals and families who can’t typically afford the luxury, all completely free of charge to them. The more we plan it, the bigger it gets. I’m excited to finally get that going in Tulsa at a level I know will make an impact. We are currently looking for volunteers and sponsors. If you’d like to learn more about this project or know someone who would like to help, please reach out!
Do you feel like you are fulfilling your “purpose” in life? If so, how?
I’m in the process of fulfilling it. I operate with the mindset that I will not draw my last breath until my ultimate purpose has been fulfilled or realized. I’m not exactly aware of every detail of what that looks like, but I know it involves visually telling stories. My personal work, whether that be one of my portrait series or a photography-based service initiative, is a big part of my purpose and my commercial work facilitates that.
Wrap-up! Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m home. I’m a born and raised Oklahoman, but Tulsa is home now. I love this city, its potential, its culture, and the future I hope for it. I can’t think of a better place to accomplish the goals and dreams we have and I’m so glad I’m here. I’ve met so many amazing people and can’t wait to meet even more and tell their stories.
If you’d like to connect with CHRISTOPHER BRYAN:
1545 E 2ND STREET, SUITE B, TULSA, OK 74120