September has arrived! For some of us that means we’re dreaming of boots, sweaters, and warm cozy nights with a crackling fire in our future while others are looking forward to green grass, gentle rains, flowers, and flip flops that come with the beginning of spring. Here at CM, that means we’re thrilled to introduce the newest CMpro of the Month, Tiffany Bender of Munchkins and Mohawks! We had the privilege of meeting Tiffany at Imaging USA this past January and she is just as wonderful, friendly, and kind in person as she is online. Plus, as you all know, she’s a rockin’ photographer!
september cmpro of the month | tiffany bender
You’re relatively new to photography. Tell us when and how you got started.
I am. I guess this crazy little ride started about 4 years ago while I was on bedrest with my middle daughter. I have always loved taking pictures of beautiful things so the marriage of the two came quite naturally. Like so many of us in the industry, once I had my brand new baby things really took off. I had this perfect little being that I needed to capture. She was so pure and beautiful I just wanted to remember every minute of this. While shooting my own children is where my fire was ignited but they quickly got bored with me. Luckily I live in a neighborhood flooded with little ones. Their mom’s were happy to volunteer them to me. And so it began. I would say the first 2 years I shot something or someone everyday. I was, and still am, kind of obsessed.
How have you chosen to educate yourself allowing such amazing growth in a short period of time?
There is such a wealth of resources available right at our finger tips. The internet and photography forums like Clickin Moms have been invaluable. I think the bulk of my growth has been from gaining critique from other photographers. When you put your work out there to a subjective audience they are able to guide you in areas that you may not see because of an emotional attachment. I, of course, have poured over many books. Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography book was one I went through and did each example. This is when my husband thought I went off the deep end. Now instead of watching TV with him late at night, I was shooting soda cans at different apertures to understand depth of field.
At what point in your journey did you decide to go into business?
This is were the line gets blurry. I am an “all or nothing” kind of gal. So when I decided to do this, I was ready to go! I got a free blog up as soon as I could – complete with a homemade logo. I wanted to share this new-found gift with all that would look. It was so rewarding. Finally I had found something that was uniquely “me”. The progression into business was pretty natural. I went to school for entrepreneurial studies and had owned another business. I love creating and making a business run. With my two passions combined I was in heaven.
Munchkins and Mohawks, what inspired this name for your business?
Ahh, this was something I noodled around with for a long time. I wanted something that spoke to who I was, a name that would be hard to forget and relevant for my brand. It hit me while driving in the car. I actually remember the exact moment. My daughter was premature and tiny, so she was the “Munchkin”. My son was known for his spiky “faux hawk”, so he became the “Mohawk”. And the name was born.
Are you happy with all of your business decisions along the way or is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
So far so good. I have been blessed to say the least. Something that I do now but wish I had done sooner would be to say “no”. Now, I turn away jobs or projects that don’t fit my brand which has created a lot more happiness and fulfillment in my work. It has also created more time with my kids. If it doesn’t make my heart sing or fill my pocket then I just say “no”.
Running a business takes a lot of time. Would you mind sharing with us approximately how much time you spend with each client from the initial email inquiry to delivering their prints?
Each clients gets about 20 hours of our time. That is from designing a concept, finding the right clothing and props for the styling to the actual shoot. Then from editing, creating wall galleries, in person ordering and placing the order. Phew, that makes me tired just writing it!
You have a lot of mainstream portraiture in your portfolio but there’s a good mix of conceptual photo shoots too. Where do you come up with your conceptual ideas? Is there anything in particular that you go to when seeking inspiration for them?
Every client gets a theme. Now how “proppy” that theme is depends on the client’s personality. So even when you see images that may look like straightforward portraiture they all have a story line behind them. The inspiration always comes from talking with my clients. I want their images to be an artistic representation of their family.
Are your conceptual shoots strictly for yourself or also for clients? How do you get your clients to agree to a conceptual shoot?
Everyone gets a concept. That is why people come to me. I design each set with their family’s personality in mind. Take the maternity session I just did titled “life is like a bowl of cherries”. That was the spark around the whole concept. You can see how I was inspired by the colors of the cherries with the beautiful jewel tones I used. See this family is at a really great mark in their lives. They are pregnant with another sweet baby, they are building an absolutely gorgeous new home, and the husband’s business is flourishing. What could be better that using this metaphor? As you can see this shoot wasn’t exactly what you would call a “concept” shoot, but you can tell how all my shoots are driven with a story line.
You recently went to do a photo session at a pool and had to make some last minute changes to the location. You could have very easily gotten baffled, flounder around, and flop but you maintained your composure, reassessed, and walked away with some incredible images. Do you have any tips for us on staying focused and not getting frazzled?
Oh man, yes this was a challenge. I always prepare the location beforehand. I check with the proper people to ensure that we have permission and are welcomed wherever we shoot. We have so many moving parts that this all needs to be figured out ahead of time. When we showed up at a location that I had already confirmed permission for, we were shocked when we were turned away. This required quick thinking as rescheduling was not an option. I hopped on the phone to secure another pool. This is when it comes in handy to work well under pressure! I had in mind the light. I needed a spot that you could see some beautiful backlighting coming in. Using my iPhone and the maps tool I was able to do that. We located a pool that had sufficient light and headed there. It took me a moment to walk around and find some sweet spots, but I think it all worked in the end. Plus we had a great memory for the family, they had a blast and the kids loved the adventure! When you come across a stumbling block at a session get out of your head and allow yourself to think of the possibilities. Try not to be married to any one idea. You have a few basic principals that you need to look for, but once you find that the possibilities are endless. I often find that the best shots were unplanned ones.
You have a very distinct editing style. How did you find your style and what editing paths have you taken to get to where you are today?
Most of my editing style is actually achieved in camera. It is the way I use light that helps create my “look”. I use Lightroom almost exclusively to enhance my images. Learning to edit has been through trial and error. I also love YouTube for a quick search on a topic that I may want to dig into further.
What are your favorite Lightroom and/or Photoshop tools?
Hands down the adjustment brush in the new Lightroom4!
Other than editing, what else do you feel plays into your style and makes your images so recognizable?
Light, composition, and styling are kind of my thing. All is right in the world when I see a beautiful “golden spiral” and a girl framed by tree limbs!
You have quite a following in the photography industry. What advice would you offer to someone wanting to strengthen their brand and marketing skills?
Figure out who you are and stick with it. If people can recognize your images then you have been successful with your brand recognition. For marketing I do two things. The first is creating a product that people love and need. And the second is to get on facebook, not just posting images but to engage with your followers!
You’re working on a breakout session for CM. Go ahead and tease us, what amazing things will you be sharing with us?
Oh, I have so many pearls for you; looking for extraordinary in the everyday, finding “the light”, and how to dream big.
Tiffany, thank you so much for sharing your work and your words with us! We are looking forward to your breakout session which will no doubt be terrific.