Today's Cool Chick with a Cool Job is Candra, an uber talented professional photographer. I’ve known Candra since the days of us working our cute little tails off at the Hallmark in Bakersfield. I always thought she was so interesting, she’s had so many creative jobs, she’s constantly making her own gifts that look flawless, and that accent…come on? Over the years, I have watched her travel the world, live in Africa, battle illness, have a baby, and change her career into something that just makes her seem so fulfilled and happy. It’s been amazing to watch. I recently interviewed Candra about the long road to her awesome job...
V: What is your education/employment background?
C: I was a florist for 11 years, and did various other jobs along with it while in school. I have been a paid, professional scrapbooker since 2007. You can see my scrapbooking and photography work on QVC and HSN, as well as various other scrapbooking companies. I currently work solely as a photographer. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Consumer Science from the University of Houston (Go Cougars)
V: Is being a photographer something you’ve always wanted to do?
C: Though I’ve always loved taking photos, I never really considered it until my late 20’s. So many in my family are big documenters; it goes back a few generations even. I have a big family, especially on my mom’s side. My grandfather and his father always took photos, so we grew up in that mindset. It was just something we did. They always pushed us to be creative and it worked! In the photo below there are 3 of us (+1 who wasn’t born yet) that are professional photographers across the U.S. and several more that could be if they chose to make it more than a hobby.
It’s really great to be able to confide/collaborate on a professional level with people you know and love. We can see what’s working or not with each other or even just bounce ideas.
V: What made you decide to finally go for it and start your own business?
C: What made me go for it was twofold: lack of income and a creative outlet. We had been living in Houston, TX when Hurricane Katrina hit. Most of our family live all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and were devastated by the storm. Only a few were left with houses and without water. I have vivid memories of my mom’s house being covered in people and photos trying to dry out. My in-laws were only able to salvage a handful of photos, and only 2 from their wedding day. Many things are replaceable, but not those photographs. There was nothing tangible left to those memories. It was then when I started taking photography more seriously, instead of for granted.
When we moved back to California, I couldn’t find a job, even with my shiny new degree (in consumer science). The market was horrible. In between interviews I began teaching scrapbooking classes and taking pictures. They were a great until I found a “real” job with William-Sonoma. It wasn’t long before I was overwhelmed with working all three jobs. Life helped me choose which was most important when I was told I had cancer. At that point I realized that I had 3 photos of myself in 7 years, and while I was busy, I wasn’t happy. That realization may have been more devastating that the diagnosis. I realized that my family would have little to remember me by. I wasn’t leaving enough behind. I quit everything but photography and never regretted the decision. Also, this past May marks 4 years in remission, and I make myself take photos at least once a year (usually a lot more, lol).
V: What is your favorite part of your job?
C: This is a hard one to narrow down. Being practical, I like that I can somewhat make my own hours and schedule things around my son. Outside of that, I’d say that I love helping people remember the most memorable moments and people in their lives. Nothing makes my eyes well up faster than watching a baby taking its first breath. To be able to capture those precious, never to be seen again moments, it’s humbling. Secret? My birth clients are usually my favorites.
V: What’s the hardest part of your job?
C: Finding a time management balance between being a mom and a photographer....and I hate bookkeeping and paying taxes, because I suck at math.
V: What does a regular day for you look like?
C: Days are rarely regular, but I like that. Here’s what I WISH my day would look like... I wake up before my son, shower and dress in an outfit that I’ve laundered, ironed, and that’s straight out of Lucky mag. Dang, I’m having a good hair day! I get my inbox cleared and photos edited before he wakes and wants breakfast. After a gourmet breakfast we run errands/make phone calls/scout weather/lighting/locations for the afternoon sessions. I go to the gym to run a few miles, while my 1.5 year old sits quietly playing. Then there’s lunch and a 3 hour nap for him. I make client phone calls finish in enough time to take a short nap myself. The nanny arrives and I head out for client sessions until sunset. Once back at home, I prepare a dinner that would rival Martha herself. Afterwards, my husband gives my son a bath, while I relax and back-up today’s photo session. It’s perfection, of course! Then we all go to sleep by 8:30!
Here’s what my day usually looks like... I wake up with my son, shower, and put my hair up in a bun. I open my computer while putting Eggo waffles in the toaster (because that’s the only thing he will eat this week). Wesley watches Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while I answer emails and update my calendar. If I need a bit more time, I may or may not throw some cheerios on his tray to get me 10 more minutes. Afterwards I put a bra on under my work-out clothes that I don’t work out in, and go to the grocery store, post office, etc... We attempt a healthy lunch, and then play a while with letters and Legos until naptime. Once, he’s asleep, I dash like a mad woman to make client phone calls. Nothing is worse than a toddler crying when you’re attempting professionalism. In the afternoon I get an assistant/babysitter, and I’m off to client sessions for a few hours. Then I cook a dinner to rival Martha (I didn’t let that time at William Sonoma go to waste), family time, and then baths. After reading a book and snuggling him asleep, I attempt late night back-ups and editing and sometimes achieve perfection, until I fall asleep myself. During busy times, I usually hire an assistant/babysitter on a regular schedule. I’d like to say that I find time to run a few miles, but we all know I’d be lying.
V: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into your field?
C: Know that a camera is just a tool. If you don’t know how to use it, or have an eye for photography, you won’t be very successful. A good photographer can give a beautiful image with a disposable camera, iPhone camera, or high-end digital.
Don’t go overboard with camera equipment, props, and editing. LOTS of money can be spent, when the best thing is to get a simple camera and master it. You shouldn’t be relying on filters and props to make your images better.
Know your client. If you have a young girl who is curvy and self-conscious about it, study up on how to best pose her. Making her feel good about her photos, not only lifts her spirits, but also your sales. If you have a family session with all young boys, find out what they’re into prior to the meeting. If you get them talking about their favorite super heroes, chances are they will relax and you will get better pictures.
Back-up. Seriously, the rule around here is that the photos don’t exist unless they are in three different places. You equipment will fail, cards will get erased on accident, hurricanes might wash them away....back up.
Let your only competition be yourself. So many photographers, myself included, fall into the trap of “I wish my work looked like __any other photographer you’ve just discovered__.” While it’s great to have other professionals to look up to, you should only be trying to best your own work. Challenge yourself. Look at your best session and say “How can I make this better?” Don’t be afraid to try something outside your normal. You might be surprised at the results.