What You Can Learn from a Hack Photographer

A week and a half ago, CreativeLive’s guest instructor was Australian glamour photographer Sue Bryce. Sue is a self-described hack who uses only available light, doesn’t use a light meter, and “chimps” to get the image right. Yet she’s a “hack” so inspiring and successful in her business, that in one day her CreativeLive sales blew away CL’s all-time sales records. She was simply awesome.

Photo by Sue Bryce.

Here’s a woman with no high school diploma or business school education that was able to grow a photography business to the point of earning $20,000 a week. She speaks around the world now (e.g. Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle, etc.). She’s one of the most eloquent speakers I’ve seen on the program. Truly amazing how well versed she is in her business and how laser focused she is. If she’s a “hack,” then I want to be a hack too.

Sue specializes in making ordinary looking women look extraordinary. Part of her website features a “Before and After” section to show the incredible transformation. Her work is so compelling, a growing part of her business are OTHER photographers whom she meets at her various speaking engagements who all want to be photographed by her. (As a side note, it’s obvious Sue’s photography makes her subjects look sexy. I really appreciated how she gave specific instruction on how she would change-up her posing for a teen girl so as not to sexualize her. Way to go Sue!)

One of the things Sue talked about I alluded to last Thursday. She is surprised at how many photographers have blogs that seemed to be aimed at other photographers.

Why are you marketing to other photographers and not your clients!

Why are you making promo videos that say, “Ooooh, look how cool I am” instead of videos that connect with your client. (I would also like to point out that Sue totally gets the value of importance of video. So much so, she invested $7,000AUS in the one below and is going to make three more, one for each demographic she’s specifically marketing to).

Here are some other great learning points:

  • Go for a monthly job goal instead of a monthly income goal. For example, she doesn’t make her goal $20,000 a month. Her goal is 48 shoots a month. If she hits that, she knows she’ll get her income goal. To hit 48 shoots a month, she knows she needs to reach 480 people a month, which breaks down to 120/week.
  • Know the demographic you’re selling too. She’s identified about four women demographics she’s going after.
  • Know your brand and communicate it everywhere you go.
  • There are opportunities everywhere. Look for them. Find them. Take advantage of them.
  • She uses the warp tool in Photoshop vs. the Liquify tool because it’s faster.
  • Invest in a video, it will be one of the best investments you ever make (I really can’t argue with that. 😉
  • She gladly pays for exposure to local dress and make-up stores if it means getting her work in front of hundreds if not thousands of prospects.

Effective Promo Videos

As I mentioned before, Sue believes in the power of video and has invested in it. And she’s done it right. Below are two great examples (each made by a different company because she wanted to choose studios whose style matched the message she wanted to convey.)

In this promo, there is no audio of Sue talking or working with the client. The only audio is music. As a guy who makes these kinds of videos for a living (and I’ve made quite a few photographer videos), I usually don’t like these kind. You know, the kind where all you do is see the photographer shooting her clients with some cool music track. It just feels like a music video to me. But I loved this video. The reason why is because this video is not about Sue. It’s about the client. It’s all visuals depicting the hectic day of a real woman, and how she was made to look and feel beautiful because of Sue. The woman featured here is Sue’s regular make-up artist. I should also point out that this video made two of the CreativeLive attendees cry…including the guy! Can you figure out why?

This is the video I referenced above (the one in which she invested $7,0000AUS). This one is more in line with the kind I prefer, hearing the photographer talk about how she works while we see her working.

29 thoughts on “What You Can Learn from a Hack Photographer

  1. She is the Best, She was the Best One on CreativeLive…She spoke Volumes to Me and had me so jazzed like never before, I had chills the entire time listening to her. She is truly a GREAT inspiration. I will follow her to the ends of the Earth. Thank You for agreeing with me and solidafying everything I felt and LOVED!

    1. I asked the very same question Patrick. But funny enough, leave it to my wife to figure out that those lights were probably for the videographer. 🙂

  2. Wow Ron thats a very generous write up thank you. Yes the studio lights, totally for the videographer, not me. Although interestingly the general public like to see ‘Photographers lights’ he he a clever embellishment to make me look more like a REAL photog ; ).

    1. Thank YOU Sue for a wonderful presentation. You’ve already met my wife at ATL WPPI-U. I hope to meet you in-person some day too. Keep up the great work.

  3. We have been watching the workshop videos every night and have learned so much! After hearing her speak at WPPI this year, we immediately looked up her site and have already started to incorporate some of her lessons into our own studio. Thank you, Sue!

    1. That’s not 120 shoots per week, that’s getting your message in front of 120 people per week. With a 10% conversion rate, that comes to 12 shoots/week = 48/month.

  4. You are dead on Ron! We saw Sue at WPPI this year and watched all of her CreativeLive weekend (and bought it). She is a special, special personal with a great visual sense and equally impressive business mind. We have learned countless lessons from her and are grateful that we have.
    Nothing like getting a kick in the behind to keep you going, and thanks for continuing that “kick” with this post!
    Brian & Lindsay
    Team SchlickArt

  5. Great article. Sue’s CreativeLive was (imo) the best one yet. Truly Inspirational and worth more than every Penny. I bought the course about an hour into it. This was the first creativeLive I’ve purchased. I thought it was that good.

  6. I’m guessing they cried because it hit home so hard – the mother who gets everyone else up and ready and out the door before doing anything for herself. The target market is pretty obvious in that one! I agree that Sue has a great business mind without formal qualifications, she just understands who her customers are, what they want, and provides that. Simple but effective formula!

  7. The before after photos are freaking fantastic. However they are very misleading. Photoshopped beyond recognition. In most instances you’d never think it’s the same person.
    This borders on unethical.

    1. And who cares?? You clearly don’t understand women and the entire point of glamour photography. Realism belongs on passports and drivers licenses.
      Unethical?? To give your client what they want? I’ll bet that a couple of hours of pampering and and a beautiful photo and memory does more than hours of therapy.
      I say photoshop the heck out of me. Just once I’d like to see a gorgeous photo of me.
      Sue- come on over to Hawaii. We have beautiful women of all ages and curves that would love some time with you!!

      1. Sheila . . I completely agree with you . .. only I want her to come to Canada . .. . and if anyone watched the seminar at Creative Live you would see how little photoshopping is done . .. she sculpts the body with light and by the time you are finished with hair and makeup you feel beautiful inside and out and the camera picks that up. She is a genius in my opinion.

    2. I would suggest that you watch Sue’s CreativeLIVE class, you’ll see how very little she photoshops. Slimming, the makeup, the light is all done in camera. She says the most time she spends on an image is about 10 minutes maybe, but only 2 upfront for viewing and purchasing.

  8. Great blog post!
    Reminded me of some things that got lost among all other awesome stuff I learned that weekend. My mind was freaking out chewing on all that.
    Sue is amazing.
    Thank you for the post, Ron!

  9. I was one of those CreativeLIVE viewers and I was transfixed for all 21 hrs. Her transparency in both her technique and business advice is refreshing, and she in no way tried to mislead with her answers. I even tried to lure her to DC afterwards to shoot me and a few friends!

  10. This a great post to recap what I’ve learned during her CreativeLIVE presentation. One of the best from CreativeLIVE 🙂

  11. Holy Smokes! Sue is amazing! Would love to think great make up and photo shop would work this well for me.To the ones who complain over photoshop,whats the difference in this and putting down the wrong weight on your drivers license? Women want to look beautiful,we don’t want to see wrinkles,tired eyes and bulges.If our choice of pics is with wrinkles or make up and photo shop,guess which one wins? Right! Photoshop! Wrinkles and Worry lines do not sell photography,an awesome photographer does.

  12. Gosh Ron, now you make me want to buy the training – I didn’t watch live but man, such great responses means it was a hit.

    Actually, now I’m mad at you for not telling me about this at the time! 😉

  13. The funny part is, for $7000, aside too much shaking in his camera work so it stops being intentional, a videographer behind this video do not know the basics about shutter speed when filming. This is not saving private Ryan, that high shutter speed combined with fast camera pans can really hurt eyes…

  14. lol. I had to read this because I thought “who would actually call Sue Bryce a hack”??? Great article!

  15. I have purchased “28 Days with Sue Bryce” and I am not as thrilled as everyone else. Sue is a brilliant photographer but her ability to teach is a bit underwhelming.

    For example: She photographs with a 35mm lens on a full-frame DSLR without explaining that most photographers use a longer focal length, why they do it, why she doesn’t and what the benefits and pitfalls (think exaggerated noses) are.

    I watched 20 minutes of her holding up different dresses and exclaiming, “This one simply HAS to go against the backlight!” or “This one should go against the black backdrop” with barely a word explaining why. I might as well have watched a woman hang laundry for 20 minutes.

    There certainly is material of value in the course but you often have to dig and figure things out for yourself (I noticed that most of the dresses she picked for the backlight were relatively sheer so I assume that is why she picked them – she didn’t say so but I have deduced that).

    I really liked the video on posing curves and I am picking up some tips by osmosis – I watch what she does and try to figure out why she is doing it on my own.

    I also have a video by Bambi Cantrell and her teaching style is quite different. She explains WHY she is doing things in detail and constantly challenges her students to recall “the why” of everything they are doing. Sue provides some explanation of “the why” of what she is doing but if she provided more she would be a better teacher.

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