Written by Rachel L. Ritter
You created Creative Silence Photo + Design in Apex, North Carolina in 2008. Were you nervous about starting out on your own, with all that comes along w/starting a new business?
Firstly, let me say thank you for taking the time to interview me. It’s always a pleasure to share some insight w/like-minded people! Was I nervous? Actually, I wasn’t nervous at all. Back in 2009, I had already been slowly building a photography portfolio when my employer at the time went through a huge cutback period, which caused layoffs across the board. I was on the chopping block and I saw that as an opportunity to try my hand at running a business. Lack of steady income will definitely do that, lol. The rest just involved the process of developing my craft and finding people willing to pay me to do it.
What knowledge do you have that helps to promote your services w/o any prior business experience? Or do you have some?
Fortunately, I was a bit savvy when it came to technology and social media, so I used those to my advantage by strategically posting my work on various networks, as well as building personal relationships w/people I worked w/in the past. Those two combined, help spread the word about my business. I also knew that I wanted to build my brand around the things that I like. In doing that, it helped me find like-minded people who appreciated art and design, while slowly introducing them to my work. I specifically used tumblr for that.
What made you realize graphic design & photography was what you wanted to do w/your life?
It wasn’t until 2008 when I realized design and photography might be things I wanted to make careers out of. Although I painted and found a love for photography as a child, I put those things aside to pursue a more “normal” career path. After serving in the military for over 10 years, then working in corporate IT immediately after that, it seemed odd to make such an extreme career change at first, but art is something that has always been in my blood, so I took a leap of faith.
I took my camera everywhere and was always fascinated by how brands presented themselves to their audience. I think that is important when pursuing design. You have to know who you’re selling to, as well as what appeals to them aesthetically. Eventually the lightbulb went off and I said to myself “Hey, give it a shot!”, so I started adding graphic elements to my photography. What also helped was having a clear vision of what I wanted my work to look like. I studied the masters and fine tuned the way I created. I also knew that I needed some type of training, specifically in graphic design, hence my degree from The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham.
What’s a regular work day look like for you?
For the most part, my days are spent between shooting a client, editing, designing, and communicating. I multi-task often out of necessity. I don’t spend too much time on social media as it can quickly suck you in and next thing you know, you’ve lost 3 hours looking at Facebook updates, but I I try maintain enough of a presence so people know I’m still putting out fresh work. I also work 3 days a week for a company in Durham doing marketing and graphic design. Those are typically my later nights since I leave there at 6 pm, my other job as business owner begins again.
If you had to choose only one, which program do you enjoy most when designing?
I’d say Photoshop (CS5 and 6) is my favorite design tool. While I enjoy Illustrator and InDesign, Photoshop is still the most flexible tool that can serve multiple purposes for me. Since I bounce between editing photos and graphic design, it’s also an easier transition to do both while maintaining some type of workflow. I can design a brochure, do a website mockup, and do detailed portrait retouching all in the same application. You can’t beat that.
What’s one thing you have to force yourself to do when it comes to design?
To sketch when designing. Often, I’ll get an idea and go straight to the computer before thinking through the project on paper the old fashioned way. I wasn’t a big fan of making a hundred thumbnails and sketches while in school because I thought it was too time consuming, but I see the value in it. I encourage people to not be like me and skip that step, lol. I love the process of development but am sometimes impatient and want to get straight to the point.
What organizations are you a part of that you attend regularly or network in? How do these groups help you out personally?
I’m a member of the Professional Photographer’s Association, as well as a member of AIGA. I’ve found PPA to be a good tool for creative and business resources. They also have great deals for things like business insurance and accounting. I can honestly say that I haven’t been very active in my local AIGA, but that will change in the near future.
What advice do you have for designers that are just starting out? What can you say to help them understand their worth when it comes to deciding fees & services for clients?
Learn how to do more with less. I say this because I see so many young designers bombarding graphics with way too much content, ultimately losing the message of the content itself. Keep things simple then add as needed. I’m a bit partial to clean, minimal design anyway so I tend to lean towards that look in most cases.
I’d also say evaluate how much time certain projects actually take. Discipline yourself to use a timer to track your time when designing (there are even online tools available to help with this). This will be valuable when coming up with proposals and estimates for projects. Designers (and photographers) are notorious for underbidding for projects out of fear that they won’t get the gig, but we need to stop that. Design is a discipline that is valuable. It’s all around us and every business needs it in some form or fashion, which makes us assets to the community. Take that thought process and apply it to your bidding and you’ll be on the right track.
One more piece of advice is be flexible. Understand the different types of design applications, from print, to web, to UX and learn as much as possible. In this day and age, designers are expected to know some web design, as well as print, animation, and even video, so be multi-disciplined to help raise your stock.
To connect with Chris, follow him on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to learn some more about him, visit his Portfolio & LinkedIn. His website has tons of beautiful wedding/engagement photography and some collections too. Thank you for being a guest on our blog!