Tell us a little about yourself
I grew up in Stevens Point, met my hubby in Jr. High School, traveled throughout Western Europe in College and landed in Chicago for a few years where I became a certified French Pastry Chef before heading back to good ole Central Wisconsin.
After realising that starting a bakery with a newborn was hard, I returned back to my original passion of photography. I have loved documenting my own little family for the past eight years, and have been lucky enough to photograph other fun- loving families for three years. Meeting the most adorable kids and witnessing the insane love that their parents have for them through my work is a real privilege.
You can follow Sarah’s work on her website at www.sarahwimmersteffen.com or on Instagram @sarahwimmersteffen
Tell us a little about how you got started in photography and how you found your way to documentary family photography?
Well, I’m probably one of the few that have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in photography. What’s funny though is that I learned NOTHING in those courses. I was on Auto my entire college career, not learning about the exposure triangle, figure to ground, graphic shots or even studio lighting! Like what were we learning? I’ve always had a love for the dark room, but once college was over, I didn’t have the ability to develop my own film and I was VERY strong willed in not learning how to use a digital camera because “that wasn’t traditional.” I was dumb. Fast forward 20+ years and I’m married with 2 young boys. After several circumstances that threw me into being a stay-at-home-mom, I finally got a Canon Mark IV and started taking endless classes on how to use the damn thing. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t forgetting my kids’ childhoods. I started posting here and there on FB and Instagram and people started asking if I could take their family photos. “Sure! I can do posing and specific lighting and make sure everyone is looking at the camera!”……Nope. Not my jam at all. I love those photos, but those aren’t for me. I did some searching and came across Kirsten Lewis, then Made for Documentary….and it’s all been sunshine and daisies ever since!
What do you enjoy most about being a documentary family photographer?
I absolutely love watching the interaction between parents and their kids. I don’t mind the wrestling matches or cookie making, but the small touches between hands, or a mom pushing hair out of her daughter’s eyes or a dad kissing an owie, those are the moments I love to capture. I also truly enjoy getting to know my families and how they live and love. Every family is so different and yet so extremely similar at the core, it’s truly an honour to watch and be a part of.
What one piece of advice would you give someone launching a doc fam business?
I would 1000000% say that you must take the Business of Documentary course. This is not even a plug for the course, it was a life changer for me. I had zero clue on how to get started, how to market, how to price, how to do ANYTHING. The course pointed me in all of the right directions so I could have a sustainable and successful business.
How did you get your name out there in your local area? What marketing activities did you find worked well for you when you launched your business?
I just launched in June of this year, so I’m still a rookie at being in business. I have a lot of work to do! However, I am lucky that I live in a very art-driven community and word of mouth is key. I initially took photos of some fellow photographers and their families to help with some content. They shared those images on their own FB pages which helped to get my name out there a little.
Before I was ready to launch, I built up interest on my business page leading up to my launch date. I gave little tidbits about documentary photography and why everyone should do it. I’ve also created leaflets, business cards and postcards that I have located in several businesses around town where I believe my ideal clients frequent.
What is the biggest “aha” moment in your photography journey so far?
I’m lucky enough to have taken the Business of Documentary course and now I’m currently enrolled on the creative Turning Chaos into Art course. I feel like having been in both of those courses, I have “aha” moments weekly, if not daily.
I see things a bit differently now. I look for the opportunities for framing, figure to ground, getting close, geometric designs, etc. Before these courses, I was just taking images that I thought people might like. Now I’m taking images that I know I like! There’s obviously still emotion and movement, but they seem more artful and less like snapshots, there’s more intention and purpose.
It’s the same on the business side as well. My husband and I had tried opening a bakery many years ago and it failed for many reasons. We didn’t know our ideal client, we offered EVERYTHING and we didn’t know our numbers. Numbers don’t lie, the Business of Documentary course really drilled that in and I’m so appreciative! This time, when I launched my photography business I was so excited as I had all of the answers for all of the questions that my clients were asking me, just like I had prepared during the course!
What do you find hardest about juggling the creative and business side of your work?
I’m a people pleaser at heart and you need to set boundaries for yourself and for your business. It’s easy to get wrapped up in one and push the other to the side. I really need to be in the right mindset for doing the business stuff. During the course I learned that you need to block out specific time in your week to do batches of certain tasks. So, if you write blog posts, set aside 5 hours on the 3rd Tuesday of the month to write out 4 blogs for the following month. Every Monday, go through your numbers, every Tuesday, set up your FB posts for the week, etc. The hardest part is forcing yourself to be in that mindset. No one else is going to do it for you. We, as small business owners, quit our 9-5 jobs for more freedom. It is freeing, but if you aren’t careful it’s also overwhelming … however, when you get the balance right and you love what you do, it’s totally worth it!
What are your plans for the future of your business?
Oh I have a lot of plans! Plan number one: Keep going and keep growing. I live in Central Wisconsin and when I last checked, there was 1 … maybe 2 people within 90 mins of me that offer this genre, so there is lots of opportunity.
There’s always room for more knowledge, both on my end and my clients’. I need to educate my community on what family documentary photography is. I’m quite obsessed with showing people how good and interesting and wonderful their lives are on a regular day….they just need to see it!
I also want to work on some personal projects. My views and style keep changing so I want to see where it takes me and my business!
About Alumni Spotlight
Alumni Spotlight is an interview series showcasing documentary family photographers who have completed a mentoring programme with Made for Documentary. Our students talk about what makes them tick, showcase their favourite images and share advice for those wanting to dive into the world of documentary family photography.
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