While most professional photographers are fighting the Perfect Storm, the digital revolution and a falling economy, Alma, West Virginia photographer, Lora Yeater, is doing fantastic in her less than two year old studio business. Lora seems like a true anachronism. Lora has no official training in photography. She is completely self-taught. For five years, she ran a preschool and created little scrapbooks for her students. This led to a natural progression into photography. She opened her studio in the basement of her home. The ceiling is only 7 feet high and her total camera room area is only 10 x 10 feet which is interrupted with support posts. Before opening, she studied everything she could get her hands on about photography.
A Bright Light Amist the Storm
Alma has less than 500 people and no stop lights. The nearest “larger towns” are Clarksburg and Parkersburg, about 40 minutes away. Lora doesn’t advertise other than with a one line listing in the phone book. She depends entirely on word of mouth. By all normal standards, Lora should not be successful especially at a time when so many established studios are suffering.
So, what is Lora’s secret? It’s simple. It’s the same secret that plays a role in any business. Lora provides her clients with something special that they love and cannot do on their own. Her customers drive in from hours away just to have their family and children photographed by Lora. Her almost instant success is amazing everyone.
A big new studio for Lora is going up on her 2 ½ acre estate. She just purchased a Canon DS Mark 3 to use with her Canon 5D. Although Lora started out with just a single white, a single black and a single blue background, she quickly realized that backgrounds were very important and she needed a lot more of them. The problem was that she was stuck with her tight space. She did a little market research into backgrounds and decided that the Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system was the best way to go. It very quickly became a key component of her studio. Customers love the extensive variety she is able to produce without leaving the studio. Her first year she photographed only two high school seniors with her Scene Machine and produced proof books for both of them showing the extensive variety. Those two seniors showed their proof books around so much that even though the school has a contract photographer who has had a long established studio, Lora has seniors seeking her out to be their photographer. “Just by showing off those proof books, I did half the seniors this year because of the variety of backgrounds and my overall style.
For Lora Yeater the scenario is “if you build it, they will come.” Of course that old saying only works if you have the right product and service. Lora is creating products that her rapidly growing customer base really likes.
Lora’s success is not limited to creating images for her customers. This year, Lora decided to get a feel for professional competition. She entered the West Virginia PP print competition and was awarded the coveted Photographer of the Year state award along with several other awards including the James H. Hall award for the highest scoring print in competition. It was the first time a newbie got the award. She also entered prints in the Mid America convention in Ohio and scored in the top 10 photographers out of 210 entries and received the coveted Fuji Masterpiece Award.
How can this be? What’s happening? What’s going on in our profession? That’s exactly what many mid-western photographers are starting to think about this rapidly rising star who they might be inclined to refer to as a “soccer mom photographer.” How could a newbie rise so fast when so many others are suffering declines?
Good questions. Perhaps the best way to respond is to use Lora’s own words
Quoting Lora, “The Scene Machine has really helped me a lot. That is what is drawing the majority of my business because of the flexibility which comes from all the backgrounds I have. I have no regrets at all about getting my Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system. Very early, I realized that if I was going to make it in photography, I needed to invest and with the small space I had to work in, I had to get a Virtual Backgrounds system. It has been wonderful ever since.”
“When I talk to my clients, so many of them tell me that they are disappointed with other photographers because they are not changing anything. They just keep doing the same old things over and over. My customers tell me that they want new looks and that is what I am working so hard to give them. It’s working!”
“I don’t consider myself to be technical. I am more artistic. I can draw. I do a lot of charcoal which is just shadows and highlights. Initially, I pretty much taught myself photography, but now I am participating in the Professional Photographers of West Virginia association, the Professional Photographers of America and attending classes.
Lora’s husband, Kevin, helps out in the studio as much as he can. They have two children, Kylee, 14 and Brock, 10. The Yeaters are anxiously anticipating moving into her new studio which will have a 30 x 60 foot camera room and a 10 x 40 area for sales presentation and storage. Construction should be move into their new studio this summer.
Lora’s success is a terrific lesson for all portrait photographers. The Perfect Storm is real but it does not have to be devastating to everyone. It is possible, even for a brand new photographer, to rise above the storm and prosper. Failure is just not an option for Lora Yeater. Her path to success is providing clients a variety of new looks and exemplary service. Whereas the public may be rejecting traditional professional photography, they are anxious to purchase highly creative work they cannot get elsewhere. It is also important to note that Lora is working hard to follow the established rules for creating quality portraits. She is definitely not a snap shooter doing photojournalism, and she is definitely not clinging to old traditions.
We at Virtual Backgrounds are proud of the fact that Lora Yeater has made our Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system a key component in her studio operation. The Perfect Storm is no match for Lora! Keep up the great work!
Lora’s web site is www.memoriesbylora.comClick here to see many more of Lora Yeater's images.