Interview with Season Dixon - Photographer from Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Interview by: Morgan Macias
Season Dixon is a nationally and internationally featured Senior photographer from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Since her start in 2005, she’s found enormous success in focusing on high school seniors. This year alone, Season’s senior work has been featured on more than 12 different accounts/resources for senior photographers, and she’s been selected as one of the Top 200 Senior Photographers world-wide by Senior Year Magazine.
Morgan: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your amazing work, your business, and photography! First of all, you’ve been selected to be featured among the Top 200 Senior Photographers world-wide in the first ever print edition of “Senior Year Magazine”! You also had 5 or more photos included in the magazine, earning you a “Gold Elite” status. How does it feel to have so much of your work recognized in this magazine?
Season: I am completely self-taught, competing against some of the best senior photographers in the industry, so this award is absolutely shocking to me! I am truly honored and baffled to be recognized as a "Gold Elite" photographer. To be published as one of the "Top 200 SeniorPhotographers" by Senior Year Magazine was an incredible achievement for me. I literally had tears of joy over this personal accomplishment.
Morgan: Wow, being self-taught is hard work, but so amazing that you’re putting in so much work and getting this far all on your own! What's one thing you wish you'd known sooner starting your business?
Season: There are so many things I wish I had known when I decided to start a business, it's hard to pick just one. I started my photography business in 2005. I was taking pictures of everything from newborns to weddings and was barely editing. I was a shoot and burn photographer for several years, making very little money. After a few years, I found a passion for photographing High School Seniors and developed a professional editing style. I had no idea editing would be so incredibly time consuming - not only the time invested learning the programs, but the editing itself.
After I started being more selective, I was able to enjoy building my business and able to focus on a smaller market. When I started, it seemed like a simple, carefree hobby of shoot and burn, until I actually wanted to make money doing something I loved. I learned that photography is extremely time consuming and is a very expensive profession. It can also be a very successful full-time career if you pour your heart into it.
Morgan: It seems like focusing on what you’re passionate about has helped you grow tremendously! You mentioned barely editing your photos when you first started and then working your way into finding your style. I love your classic, natural, editing style. How did you go about finding your style and really get a consistent look with your images?
Season: In the beginning, I was experimenting with all kinds of styles - from trendy to matte, to airy, to classic etc. It was really hard to choose just one style, but I wanted my clients to know what to expect. I created my own personal preset to keep a consistent look and to simplify my work flow. I liked the timeless look. I want my clients to go back ten, twenty years from now and still love their images. I want them to still be rich in color, bold and have gorgeous tones for years to come. It just seemed to fit my personal taste and personality. Now I edit every image exactly the same, my clients can see what they are going to get.
Morgan: That’s awesome! Consistency is so important in the photography business because like you said, you want your clients to know what they’re in for when they’re booking with you. So now that you're focusing on Seniors, do you think it's more effective to market to the Seniors or their Parents? Why?
Season: Great question! For the last few years I have been primarily marketing to Seniors for a few reasons. Who exactly is your target market? The Seniors! They are the ones that are on social media. They are the ones that will do what their friends do. Teens talk more to each other than parents do. I have also found that if your child finds a senior photographer they love, they will beg their parents to book them. Parents shop around. Teens know what they want and will ask for it. So, I personally think it is more effective to market directly to the teen. I have been more than booked every year since my marketing strategy has shifted towards the senior market!
Morgan: It must feel so rewarding and incredible to be booked solid for years! Speaking of the parent's price shopping, how do you feel about the "price shopping" phenomenon going on the photography industry? Do you think people make their photographer decisions based on prices instead of the quality and value they're getting?
Season: I came to the conclusion that people who make a decision based on cost do not value the product. People who make a decision based on quality, do not mind the cost. I used to be the less-expensive, shoot and burn photographer. I was very busy, but I was over-booked and over-worked. I wasn't feeling like my work was truly valued. My customers were concerned with price. I was advertising deals, specials and focused on winning the price war. In turn, I was getting the clients that were only concerned about cost. I was offering quality images, but that was just a perk to them for being in their budget. I couldn't maintain my personal life and keep up with my work load. Recently, I went from advertising prices and deals, to strictly advertising the quality of service. Once you shift gears and focus on your value, your clientele changes with you. Your customers focus more on the quality of images/products and less on cost. It is two completely different customers and I have had both.
Morgan: That's super insightful! Since you focus on the value of your work now, what's something you think you do differently/special that other photographers in your area aren't offering? Why is having you as the client's Senior photographer going to be "different" or"unique"?
Season: As far as doing something different I love that our area is full of unique photographers and we all do our own thing. It is nice to have the different options available. One thing that I do that the others don't, is offer is a model team and a model group shoot. I really search out models that would benefit my business. In the spring I try to make our group shoot fun and memorable. They love meeting new people and making new friends especially in such a large group. The parents come and we have a great time getting to know each other. This year I will actually bring some of my sample products for the parents to look at while we shoot. I will also have the parents involved in helping with the shoot, like holding reflectors and having fun with the girls as well. Another thing I offer is a very personalized session. We spend hours planning out their session and I do assist in their outfit selection when needed. We try to come up with locations and ideas that fit each individual personality and really make it memorable for the senior, not just locations I want to use but locations they feel would best fit them.
Morgan: I love that you let the parents be involved with their child’s senior session. It’s such a fun and special time for everyone! So, about your senior rep. team, what advice would you give to a photographer wanting to start their own team? How have you found the most success with your groups over the years?
Season:I started with a small team. I chose at least one girl from each of the surrounding schools. The first team was awesome and actually was happy to help select and suggest the following year models. It has been working great! Contracts and positive friendly attitudes are a MUST. Involve the parents. They love to be in on the conversations. Models get a little more personal attention and have a few more perks than my regular clients. I do applications but also my current team helps recruit. Usually they help me make my final decisions and give me their opinions on who would make the best models and why. Once you have selected your team, get them pumped up for a spring group shoot. I create a group chat on Instagram where we all share ideas and plans.
My team consists of 13 models this year. This is a manageable number in my opinion. I am able to monitor and follow them to see when they are sharing images etc. In the beginning I was offering discounts per referral, but I found that they do not like to work and recruit. They definitely don't want to do anything like pass out business cards etc. I do give them a few in case, but most are not handing them out. Now I find models that will benefit me through their looks, personality and outgoing positivity. All I ask my models to do it is to share one image per session. Since they are not really getting a discount I really don't make them do too much. It is in their contract that they share images. Since their images get much more publicity, I just ask that they tag me. Teens will not do anything for dollars off their session, so I stopped giving discounts. However, they will work if something is directly for them like earning free hair and makeup or gift cards to their favorite clothing store. Most of the parents pay for the sessions so making the senior work for a discount off the session does not work. They need direct motivation. Sometimes I will also refer to them if I have any questions about my business after their sessions such as new product lines or future models or other marketing tactics. They are always happy to help and share their opinion.
Morgan: That’s so humbling that you value their opinions and make it so fun for them! Also, great advice for photographers starting their own team this year. It seems like you’ve really figured out what works best for you. Now, moving on to some fun stuff, what has been your most creative/fun shoot you’ve done? Tell me about it and why you had fun with it/what was creative about it?
Season: My favorite shoot was probably the last year model spring group shoot. I loved the energy they all brought and the laughter. You could see they were having fun getting to know each other. We had an Americana theme, and everyone loved it! They could bring whatever they wanted that was red white or blue. It just seemed so natural and easy. They all worked so well together. I can only pray this year will be as fun!
Morgan: The laughter, ease, and friendships seem so fun! I know your girls really value your ideas and work, and have the best time working with you! My final question is this: Where do you see yourself in 5 years in your business? Do you have any plans or goals you’re working on?
Season: I would say my five-year goal would to perfect my in-person sales, marketing strategies and packaging. We all have personal goals, like to learn off camera flash. I would love to eventually have a personal studio with a style closet, I would say that's more of my ten-year goal!
Season was such a joy to talk to. Her advice and stories are so inspiring and helpful to other photographers out there. She’s obviously put in a ton of work, being self-taught since 2005.But, if nothing else, she’s proven that when you’re passionate about something, you can achieve anything!
Interview by: Morgan Macias
Morgan Macias Photography