Melanie Hall-Conroe, Texas

Business is Great!!!

While so many professional photographers are suffering the full brunt of the perfect storm, 24 year old Melanie Hall, CPP of Conroe, Texas, is sailing right along at Melonhead Photo. Melanie got into photography the right way and she continues to learn. Her studio images are not like what her clients can get anywhere else. Her customers come, they like what they see, and they buy!

Melanie’s interest in photography was first identified her freshman year by her high school journalism teacher. She always loved photography; it maintained her interest. In college she started out studying to be a civil engineer but then quickly changed directions and transferred to Sam Houston State University to earn a Bachelors of Science degree in photography. She freelanced for the local newspaper while doing her college work but shortly after graduation, as her photography business grew, she quit her then full time job in newspaper work and devoted her energy to her photography and building her own business. She also continued her education by attending Texas School every year since 2006, studying with Kalen Henderson, Fuzzy Dunkel, Tony Corbell, Bry Cox and JB & DeEtte Salle. Melanie comments, “I learned more at Texas School in a week than what I learned in a college semester!”

Even disasters can have silver linings. In 2008, Hurricane Ike and the economy caused a lot of damage in her area. Melanie was able to purchase a nice size home that was in foreclosure, located in an area where she could do professional photography. She remodeled the home, turning much of it into her studio and the rest into a living area. She displays primarily prints and gallery wraps that are at least 30 inches. While in college, she won her first studio flash unit at Texas School and then purchased additional lights. She very much wanted a Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system from the first time she saw it. Unfortunately, Melanie could not afford it, so she purchased regular backgrounds and props. She very quickly realized that these long standard methods of doing backgrounds was actually very expensive, it took up too much storage space, and it was clumsy to use and very limiting.

Melanie attended a TPPA fall workshop in San Antonio sponsored by Virtual Backgrounds, and her mother attended as well. Once her mother saw Cindy Cofer’s presentation and samples made with the Scene Machine, she knew the Scene Machine was to be Melanie’s dream tool. So in April 2009, Melanie purchased a Scene Machine Digital from another Texas photographer who was never able to learn how to use it. It was his loss and her gain.

Melanie explains, “The upfront cost of Virtual Backgrounds was daunting at first, but in the end, I found the Scene Machine to be a highly cost effective solution. It enabled me to offer a wide variety of custom backgrounds to my clients. My clients love it, and they love the variety that I am able to produce. They come into an air-conditioned studio and do not have to fight the Texas heat, mosquitoes, ants, and more. I can quickly change from one background to another so the whole session flows quickly. I still go outside because all my old marketing was outdoors. However, in many cases, I now get my clients to try something new. Now they mostly want studio sessions with my Scene Machine.”

Most of Melanie’s background slides are her own. She loves to do background safaris to find and capture backgrounds. She also occasionally buys royalty free stock images. She has developed her own Photoshop action to alter the color of her backgrounds to suit her taste. About 50% of her exposures with seniors are done with the Scene Machine. This year the percentage will be higher.

Melanie takes her Scene Machine on location for her sports shoots and uses it 80% of the time to offer custom backgrounds for the different teams. She also takes it on location for school photography so she can be different, get contracts, and sell more. Using Virtual Backgrounds for sports and schools provides her with a decided advantage over her numerous competitors.

When asked about her sales, Melanie is quite satisfied: “Photographers have to adapt to the market.” She credits her boyfriend with being a powerful force for her. He keeps pushing her to try this and that. Melanie’s 2009 sales were significantly better than the previous year. Her records show that her number of sittings is down somewhat but her average sale is up, in part because of the greater variety she is able to deliver. Her weddings are also holding their own, and a typical wedding brings in about $3,000 or more after add on sales. There are a lot of new photographers showing up around her, but Melanie isn’t worried as long as she can do what they can’t do.

When it comes to the Scene Machine, Melanie says, “I love the creative possibilities that the machine offers! I can change backgrounds in seconds and can provide clients with more variety in an allotted session time. I have live viewing and total control over the background. I can only do this because of my Scene Machine. It helps to make me successful!”

Melanie uses only a minimal amount of Photoshop, spending three minutes or less on each file as she prepares to send it to the lab. She likes to get it on the file and not have to deal with much fix up after the fact.

Melanie clearly represents what is still possible in professional studio photography today. While so many photographers bemoan their loss of business and in many cases their livelihood, Melanie combines her training, talent, and can-do attitude along with special tools like the Scene Machine that expands her opportunities. Melanie is getting it done. She isn’t afraid of the future because she feels she can adapt and deliver the kinds of products her clients really want that they cannot do on their own and many other photographers cannot compete with her either. This is Melanie’s ticket to a successful future in professional photography.

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