While studying Illustrative Art and Advertising at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, one of my first assignments was to research and write a report on an artist that has influenced me. My favorite illustrative artist was Norman Rockwell and during my research, I learned that Rockwell’s portraits were originally taken and created by photographs that he used as reference photos. It was this realization that inspired me to buy my first camera and create photographs.
How did you get your start as a photographer?
I worked at a camera store in Mill Valley. A year later, while I was serving in the Army Reserve and taking time off to travel, an owner of a camera store in San Rafael contacted me and offered me a sales job based on the recommendations from his customers. The experience and the contacts I made helped me as I started my own business.
How did you leap from being a camera salesman to a professional photographer?
I opened my first photography studio, Robert Pierce Studios, in Santa Rosa in 1976 and marketed my professional services in radio, TV, and newspapers. The Sonoma County Fair had been the largest event in Sonoma County since the 1970s. I rented a booth, displayed portraits, and asked people to provide their contact information. These business leads resulted in new clients and referrals.
There have been dozens of photographers I have met who have dreamed of running a successful photography business. What do you think helped you achieve this goal?
Volunteering my time and helping people is at the core of who I am. I was a member of the Active 20-30 Club and the Chamber of Commerce in Santa Rosa. Referrals and saturation marketing have been the key to my success. The more you get your name and images out there, the more likely you’ll get referrals. Being active in the community, allowed me to make new contacts and talk about my work. I was the owner and main photographer at Robert Pierce Studios. Meeting people was important to my overall success as my clients wanted to feel comfortable having a photographer around their family.
How did you build momentum?
I had a few contracts with high schools to take senior photographs. When families arrived, I had portraits displayed and offered a free promotion to clients. My reputation photographing weddings and other large events began circulating to the point that I needed to hire additional employees.
You had been a photographer for decades when the technology changed to digital. What keeps you going?
Being able to capture people and make them feel something brings me tremendous satisfaction. When technology changed the landscape of photography, most photographers had to adjust. I continue to hone my craft by learning different software programs that combine technical elements to create photographic art.
What advice would you give someone starting in the business?
Photography is a business first and an art second. Volunteer, research your subjects, and join groups online. Someone may need an extra photographer or give you a referral. Attending the Academy of Arts University led me to a career as a photographer. And I believe having an education is invaluable.