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How One Minnesota Photography Studio Shoots 895 Sessions a Year

by Topher Kelly
photo & video

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It takes an incredible work ethic and a finely tuned workflow to run a high volume photography studio. Last year, Matthew Kemmetmueller and his team at Kemmetmueller photography shot an incredible 895 sessions. That’s an impressive amount of sessions, especially considering his location – Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota. In addition to senior photography, Matthew shoots numerous boudoir sessions, weddings and even owns a booming photo booth business. So how does he keep of up with teen trends, sub-brand his business and make time to relax and enjoy it all? Matthew took a minute to enlighten us while prepping for his new course on CreativeLive.

What or who got you started in photography?

I actually got into photography in a backwards way. My father started a successful studio in 1972 and I showed absolutely zero interest in photography. In 2004, I was in school for law enforcement and was a reservist in the Army.

that same year, I got hit by a taxi cab and broke 23 bones. I wasn’t able to pass physicals so I needed a new career path!  I started working for my Dad as an awful receptionist/helper and also started dating my now wife.  She asked me what I was going to do for a living and I said “well I guess I’m going to be a photographer” and her response was “well you better get good at it!” That’s when I started practicing like crazy.

I started my degree in photography but also became really involved in other educational opportunities as well.  Minneapolis has a great local PPA group (it has over a 100 members a meeting) as well as WPPI (I have been to 8 in a row).

If you were able to sum up your portfolio in just one sentence, what would you write?

Fun, fast, relaxed and profitable.

When you are shooting high volume, you don’t have much time to get to know your client. How do you go about communicating with them so that you can  bring out their personality and make unique images in that short time? 

Just because you are shooting sessions quickly doesn’t mean that your are exempt from getting to know your client. He or she must be comfortable with the photographer. The trick is finding that one thing that you and the client can connect on in under 5 min.  Typically, I figure that out during the clothing selection process.  I’ll ask about school, if they have a job, are they involved with extra curricular things?  Are they a gamer?  If so what game are they playing?  The trick is just to find something that they are passionate about about and then just shut up!  I let them talk as much as possible and I just ask questions to dig deeper.

I also ask them if they have anything in mind for their session, if I photographed any of their friends or if they have any examples of pictures they like.  If they don’t (which is common), I try to use a background or location that will be more unique to them.  If I have done a session for one of their friends, I go in to the computer and look up the images to make sure their stuff does not over lap in poses or backgrounds.
Teens care about trends. How do you stay current and tailor your services to that look they searching for?
 
We keep a pretty steady pulse on what kids are popping on and what is falling off. I also have the luxury of looking young enough that they can still relate to me pretty easily.  I think that this questions is actually more about not remaining stagnant in any phase of your business and it doesn’t really relate to any one client. Instead, it’s about keeping up with pop culture and having interactions with high school kids. This forces you to stay current.
 
What’s the biggest mistake you see in other high volume businesses? 

The biggest issue photographers have with doing volume type jobs is simple time management and organization. Too many people forget that being a professional photographer means exactly that – you need to be professional. It’s no longer a hobby; you can’t afford to have a broken/disorganized workflow or just hop in Photoshop and “play around” with you photos. Having a vision of what your session is going to look like prior to shooting is vital and having the skills to execute that vision in the least amount of time is crucial.

You shoot boudoir and more – what’s the key to keeping yourself form being labeled as strictly a “high volume photographer”?
 
We never use the word “volume” in our studio.  Neither is it present in our branding, marketing or our interactions with our clients. Don’t get me wrong, we are very much a volume studio (we shot 895 sessions last year) but we do not bill ourselves that way. Labels like that would have a negative impact on us. Instead, we choose to focus on the fact that we are just another professional studio – just a little bit busier and have a few more employees than most other studios might have.
We also take a hard nosed approach about keeping the boudoir business completely sub-branded from our studio work so our portrait clients are completely unaware of the fact that we did 400 of those sessions last year!

What is your favorite photography accessory, other than your camera?

PHOTOSHOP! Haha, but if you want a specific photography tool I would say it has to be the vagabond mini/alien bee/ cyber sync combo!

We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the basis of your inspiration?

I am inspired by excellence. I have such an amazing group of friends (photographers and non-photographers) who are amazing at what they do and I am constantly inspired by them.

I firmly believe that if you are the highest achiever in your group of friends that you quickly need to expand your group!

If you had to give one piece of advice to a photographer that wants to quit their day job and go full time with their passion, what would it be?

Slow down and make sure that you have a firm understanding of what you are doing! Make sure that you are making decisions as a business and not on emotion.

What are 3 things you wish you had been told before beginning photography?

Taking sellable images is the easy part.
You will mess up…how you handle it will be a huge measure of the level of success you reach.
Poor editing can ruin even the best images so make sure you understand that side as well.

What are 3 items in your gear bag that really help achieve your style? Is there anything in your gear bag that we might not find in another pro’s bag?

My made in china super cheap radio slaves.
My Larson reflectors.
My QB armband chart for shooting sports.
My hair gel.
My great smile.

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Topher Kelly

Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.