The Art and Business of Photography with Felix Rust

With a mother in France and brothers in Singapore and California, Boston-based Felix Rust faced a challenge when his son Dash was born in 1999. How could he share his son growing up with a family spread across the world? Having taken photography in high school and having always had a natural tendency toward creativity, Felix began documenting Dash’s life, a photograph a day.

“It turned into a project of trying to keep it interesting. When you’re taking a picture of the same subject every day and sending it to the same audience, it forces you to try new angles and techniques to make it exciting,” Felix, owner of Felix Rust Photographers, told me.

“When Dash was 3, my daughter was born and we moved into a new community. A person there told me that I had to do this professionally, which I sort of shook off and ignored until Dash went to kindergarten and his teacher, who’d fallen in love with the Daily Dash, now the Daily Dash Dex, wanted me to shoot her wedding and things started falling into place.”

At first, he thought his photography (which makes use of a lot of black and white settings and doesn’t position the subject in the center of the frame, necessarily) really wasn’t suited for weddings which he saw as needing more stiff and formal pictures for keepsakes. “But I did her wedding my way and it turned out great. Soon enough there was a second wedding to shoot which paid about $9K and I figured, I finally found a way to do something creative and get paid.”

Growing a Photography Business

If you take a quick look at Felix Rust Photographers website, it doesn’t take long to deduce why the husband and wife pair has been so successful. The copy on their site is so personal it’ll make the best copy-writers swoon and they leave the visitor wanting to get to know them more. “At this point,” Felix told me, “99-100% of our business comes through our website. Most clients book without needing to even talk to us on the phone, but just by reading our website and Yelp! reviews feel comfortable booking a session.”

Felix also teaches 3 classes out of Boston University around photography and knows the incompatibility between your inner-artist and your inner-business person well. “The problem, and I’ve said this a lot, is being a creative artist is completely separate from being a small business person. You can be the greatest artist in the world but with no marketing be completely broke. Or you can be the worst artist in the world with the best marketing out there and be really wealthy.

“Charles Lewis, whose photography I don’t like very much but who is great at marketing so I listen to him, says that a photographer is ‘a marketer and seller of photographic services.’ And I tell this to my students a lot. 90% of my day is spent doing something on the business side of things and only 10% is usually spent behind the camera.”

The internet definitely changed the game for photographers. “I did not do photography before the internet,” Felix told me, “but it is the business, now.” And with 100% of his clients coming through the website, you better believe the couple understands its power. “My work probably appeals to 10% of the people looking at it, and those that get it are willing to pay for it. But it’s having a good website that speaks to that 10% that drives business for photographers.”

Focusing on Boudoir Photography

“Once our kids were old enough, Sara came on as my assistant to help me with shoots. For the past 5 years, we primarily focused on weddings, but we have a lot more fun and have a better return by the hour if we do in-studio shoots,” Felix said. So over the past few months they have been making a big switch to start having Boudoir photography as their primary focus.

I asked Felix how you take people who may be camera shy when they’re fully clothed and make them comfortable in a Boudoir shoot. “Sara helps out a lot with the shoot,” he told me, “which is fantastic. We always say ‘Our first job is to make you comfortable with us. Then our job is to make you comfortable with yourself.’

“When a new person comes in there’s always the elephant in the room that in about 10 minutes, she will be practically naked. And even though Sara and I are really fun, super relaxed, and joking all the time, no one walks in for the shoot and is 100% comfortable and saying ‘Oh yeah, I got this.’

“For most, it’s their first time doing anything like this, so the minute I have a good picture, I turn the camera around and show it to them. At that moment, their whole body relaxes and they know they’re in good hands.” He says that many of the subjects are surprised to see how good they look with the right posing and seeing the proof in the capture makes them a lot more comfortable.

A Photographer’s Opinion on Photoshop

One of my favorite quotes from Felix Rust Photographers website comes from their FAQs about use of Photoshop: “We always strive to photograph in the best possible light and from the most flattering angles, where possible, and we will hide pimples and other transitory afflictions but scars, wrinkles, skin, hair... these are who you are.”

When I asked Felix about use of photo editing to refine a picture to perfection, he told me this: “There are two types of photo editing. The first is, with the advent of digital, it’s gotten really easy to just you take 1,000 pictures without worrying about film cost. Now the photographers job is to knock that 1000 down to 20. In this respect, most photographers don’t edit enough, and I fully believe in this type of editing.

“The second type, the Photoshop type…well, I come away from every shoot realizing that everyone is beautiful. By the end of the session, I’ll say to Sara ‘God, that was great and they were just gorgeous.’ To me, I know what I look like; a good picture let’s me see who I am. By photoshopping away the wrinkles or laugh lines we are robbing people of a face they have really earned and the story that goes along with it.”

Because of this philosophy, the couple rarely use Photoshop on their images. And by always keeping their subjects laughing and with proper posing, there’s not much of a need for Photoshop.

Photographers Using Online Scheduling

As mentioned above, around 99-100% of their business comes through their website. As such, Felix says “Online scheduling is fantastic for our business. We started out using TimeTap because we were running a Groupon sale. I imagined selling 100s of these and spending 14 hours on the phone comparing calendars, was like, ‘wooahh, no way,’ and immediately looked for a solution.”

TimeTap worked flawlessly for Felix Rust Photographers for that initial Groupon run and they’ve been users ever since. People sign themselves up and it avoids Felix from ever having to tell someone no. “I have a problem saying no to people,” Felix admits. “I want to make people happy and so it used to be people would call and ask if I can do a shoot one evening and, even if Sara and I have dinner plans, I’d say yes regardless because I hated my first interaction with a customer being a ‘no’.”

With online booking, however, clients can go to his website and immediately see what his availability is instead of having to toss dates back and forth for Felix to potentially say no to. “Booking online is all positive,” Felix said. “It’s also great to save time from phone conversations and plan my week out the way I want it to look.”

Felix Rust Photographers have been TimeTap users since October 2011.

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