Carol Schiraldi on starting out as a professional photographer

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New York born Carol Schiraldi is an artist and photographer currently living outside of Austin, Texas.

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I make money from multiple revenue streams. I sell original, limited edition framed pieces in galleries and shows. I sometimes do portraits and event photography. I have licensed my work to be used in various places. I have self-published several books which also sold through the galleries that carried my work (and through other means. I have done book signings, for example.) I have done workshops and training for other photographers and I have a popular blog which I have used for sponsorship in the past. I would have to say my ideal client is somebody like an architect or interior designer but I have also bartered for services. More recently, I have started to sell prints on some of the more popular print on demand websites.

I have been a very reluctant photographer actually. I started out wanting to be a musician, writer, or architect as a child. I ended up going to engineering school and working as a computer programmer for a long time. It’s a great career path but I wanted to get outside more and not be stuck behind a desk so much. I also wanted more creativity and more control over my work. As a programmer, you work a lot of hours to grow somebody else’s business and vision. I wanted to have a vision of my own and to really satisfy that creative itch. I like the idea that, as a photographer, I’m basically making something with my own hands-something that wasn’t there before I started the process. Working in a creative field is very rewarding in that regard.

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Photography is a wonderful excuse to learn. You get to go out and experience the world and then relive it again as you make prints or publish your results. When I was younger, I looked more to my schooling for my education. That was great, college and university are great learning opportunities, I’m a firm believer in getting a good education but I consider myself a lifelong learner. I’m interested in architecture and so I’ve had opportunity both to study something like material science in university setting but then also to travel to Greece and experience firsthand the architecture for myself. There is nothing quite like seeing something up close and personal. To touch it, to feel it, to experience it for yourself, and then to be able to photograph that; it’s mind boggling for me. I have been fortunate as a photographer to shoot things like icebergs in Iceland, the architecture in Greece, and Eric Clapton performing with BB King in concert. You can’t read about blues music in a book, To experience architecture first hand or stand in a place where an ancient civilization once flourished, it’s really quite an education. I have learned a lot over the years and I want to keep learning, keep practicing the craft of photography so that I can continue to explore the world. I try to learn something every day and never stop. It’s a big part of what motivates me.

I’ve been very lucky in that I almost never seem to suffer from what some may call a “writer’s block” of sorts. I always seem to have more ideas than time to implement them so, for me, it’s always a question of prioritization. If I have an idea or a concept I have to balance it with the other things I’m working on at the time. Sometimes, for projects and things I have deadlines and that’s a strong motivator but I also want to make sure my personal work gets addressed, since I often feel just as passionate about that. If I’m working with a client, I try to take what information they give me and ask a lot of questions to get at what they really want. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Things like “how will this be used?” but sometimes clients want to hire you for one thing and then sort of “recycle” the images for something else. You can hear that in the speaking. They will say things like, “Oh, we can also use this for our website…” or some such thing. I try to be very attune to that sort of talk and give them both what they really want and what they might think they also want. Make sure I cover everything they are looking for and give them options.

As far as in camera itself, I tend to pervisualize how images will look, sometimes even drawing them out on paper first, before I even pickup the camera. I’m not immune though to accepting what happens when reality strikes. I have learned over the years to take what the camera gives me and trust the creative process as it always seems to work out in the end.

My equipment has changed over the years and will probably change again as technology grants us new gifts. Since I started in the era of film (I started exhibiting my work in 1992) I have always been a sort of “get it right in camera” type of shooter. I think I will always be that way. Old habits die hard, as they say. I have recently moved to working with LED lights and absolutely love them since they do not get as hot as the old fashioned hot lights. (I used to heat my home with those things. They were so hot.) I work with a Canon 5DS system. It’s a full frame 50 megapixel setup. For night photography I tend to shoot with a 50mm lens. I have a 50mm 1.4 that I like very much. It’s sort of a “nifty fifty” as they say but it’s very nice at night because it’s light and bright. I have a bunch of lenses but I tend to fall back on several of the same ones. I have a mid zoom that I like very much. I call that my “walkabout” lens. It’s a 25-105mm lens so good for travel and such. I also use a 100mm macro a lot. It’s heavy but I like it. It’s sharp and works very well wide open too.

On the presentation end, I used to get very frustrated trying to get acceptable prints of my images. I almost went all black and white at one point, just so I could get better prints. Then, with the digital revolution, I can now use Epson printers and I can control the printing aspect of things. Since I sell my work in galleries I demand a high quality print. I’m fussy about the papers I use and spend a lot of time crafting the image for print.

I’m really setup to be a print photographer in this regard. If I’m in the field and I see a shot but my gut reaction is “man, that would be a great shot but I could never get an acceptable print of it!” I don’t push the shutter on it. When I look at a shot, I am always thinking, in the back of my mind, “how would this look printed to 16×20, matted, framed, and hung on the wall of my living room?” If the answer is something like, “not too good!” I don’t take the shot. I move or do something to fix it until I can work it to a yes. Now, I don’t always print every image I take, no, but that little voice is always in the back of my head. I will probably never be able to shake that. It’s just how I am as a photographer. I’m really setup for print, even in this digital age.

I’ve always wanted to work out of my home but I have a dedicated area setup for my photography. I live in a four bedroom home on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. It’s a little bit rural near me. I have a room setup with lighting where I can leave the lighting setup and do still life images or portraits. I have another room setup that I use as an office with my computer, printers, and the like. I have my matting and framing equipment setup and I mail order a lot of supplies so that I can print, matte, and frame an image very quickly. I’m setup with a local shipping place so I can ship anywhere in the world once I get an order for an image. My day to day routine can vary a lot but these basics are pretty consistent. I tend to work alone although I have a cadre of a few trusted photographer friends I can share with, bounce ideas, and such.

There are a lot of photographers in Austin and I’ve seen a mixed bag, everything from absolute beginners to those more experienced that I am. My advice would be along the lines of encouraging photographers to be as creative about marketing as they are about getting their shots. In the early days, you could just go to a gallery and they would handle the marketing, sales, etc. aspects of the business. Heck, sometimes galleries would even come to you. These days, let’s say you are a landscape photographer, for example. The galleries that specialize in this are being pressured out of business by online retailers and are being squeezed. Many of them have closed. Now, I could name three or four that are still around and still looking for work, but they are going to represent artists who are capable of marketing themselves. They only want already successful artists in the stable. To be successful, you are going to have to think outside of the box. For example, maybe if you do great landscapes, find a company that makes hiking boots or a store nearby that sells mountain climbing gear, that sort of a thing. Go out and take shots of their products and put on Instagram, Tweet about it, etc. and try to get them to be your sponsor. This is what modern success looks like nowadays from where I sit.

Along those lines, my biggest advice would be that there are no fairies but there are gremlins. What I mean by that is that, if you want your work curated, you will have to do it yourself. There are people out there who shoot a lot and wish that they could hire somebody to post process all of their images, or curate their images, or market for them. Maybe they are waiting to be discovered by an agent of sorts. It’s like they are waiting for some kind of Lightroom fairy or curating fairy or marketing fairy to come along, wave a magic wand and get it done. There are no such fairies. But there is a flash memory gremlin and he resides at my house. I swear he eats all of mine. There’s also an “I spend too much time on social media” gremlin and the like. Fairies no but the gremlins are real.

I just want to keep growing, keep exploring, and keep learning. This year, I am hoping to travel to rural China, I have a few shows in the works, and I’m exploring additional sponsorships for my blog.

Learn more about Carol on her website.

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