Designing A Motivational Workspace with Alicia Wiley
Alicia Wiley is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Baltimore, Maryland. She also runs a branding and design business for small business owners and entrepreneurs. On this episode, we got into the nitty gritty on how Alicia organizes her images, camera bag, and workspace. We also talk about how to create an inspirational and motivational workspace, and how networking contributed to Alicia's business growth.
Thank you so much for being on the podcast! Give yourself a little introduction.
I am Alicia Wiley, a wedding and portrait photographer here in Baltimore, MD. I've been doing photography for almost seven years now. In addition to that, I run a little website design and branding business for other small businesses and entrepreneurs.
I'm glad that you mentioned the branding business because that's definitely something I want to get into today. But to get us started, I know that you were in the corporate world for a long time and then transitioned into a full time photo business, so can you tell us a little more about that?
Yeah! I used to be a project manager at an environmental construction company. In college I studied environmental science and I'm still completely into making our environment a better place. I really just wanted to have more flexibility with my schedule, and I ultimately decided that running my own business and switching over to photography full time allowed me to have more time with my family.
What were those steps like, to get from part time to full time photography?
It wasn't graceful. I wrote a couple blogs on it - one was The Leap To Full Time Photography. I had a lot of realizations about what it's like working for someone else and then what it's like working for yourself. I feel that all the years you work for someone else gives you some discipline, so when you work for yourself you're able to have some structure.
One thing I really admire about you is that your branding is so strong. It's a thread through all of your work, pages, and feed. I love your branding so much, but I also am just amazed at the consistency and the recognize-ability that this is Alicia Wiley when you see your colors. Can you tell me about how you developed that branding for yourself, and maybe how to implement that for others?
It actually started with some sweaters. I am super into wearing all black clothing, but I was looking at the other colors I had in my closet - it's not many. Rust, orange, olive green, a deep mustard yellow. I was like, "these are the only other colors I gravitate to." Then I started looking around our house and I was really just into warm, earthy tones if it's not black and white monochromatic. It just grew from there. I wasn't trying to force myself into a brand or branding colors, I just kind of already had it. Everyone has it whether they realize it or not. There are just styles and aesthetics that you gravitate to naturally, and sometimes it just takes piecing it together or having someone else point it out before you realize it's already here and you don't need to work so hard on it.
I love that - just looking around, figuring out what you already like, and infusing that into your brand is a solid and simple piece of advice. I want to also chat about creating organization in your business and your workspace. Like we just talked about, you have this really amazing aesthetic and that's also true in your workspace. We wanted to talk about how to make your space a motivational place as well, so where do you want to start with that?
I guess I'll start with the organizational side of it. Organization isn't always pretty. Personally, I've always been very into keeping everything tidy and neat, I like to know where everything is. I am very focused on being efficient with my time, and I feel like there's no efficiency with time if you're searching for something that you didn't put back where it's supposed to go. I keep my home like that, super organized. I focus on the organization first, and then I try to make it pretty. And that goes for my business as well, my overall online presence, too. I focus on the structure and organization of it and then make it pretty.
Do you have any advice or a tangible tip to give people on how to keep the inside of their business organized?
I would start with every day tasks. As a photographer, most of my job is on a computer. It comes with keeping track of seven years worth of photos, keeping everything organized on multiple hard drives, and dividing everything into folders. A tip would be to break things down a little bit more. Say you had a generic folder that said "Portfolio." Break it down further than that. Divide that Portfolio up into Weddings, Events, Engagements, Family Portraits, Couple's Portraits. Go a little further than that and break it up by year. I feel like once you get to that level of organization, it's so much easier to navigate and you save a lot of time.
I did that maybe a year ago. I started labeling all my footage differently, much more specialized than general. That has truly helped me a lot. It's so much easier to keep track of stuff. How do you feel like keeping things organized contributes to your work flow?
It's just time. Being efficient with time. I feel like I don't have to - every day - put in the amount of time it takes to organize. You can take a solid day or a solid week and just set everything up with a good process and workflow, and moving forward tweak it if you need to, but you can easily navigate and flow through working without having to think too much. It's the ease of flow.
In addition to keeping things organized, I know you've talked about keeping yourself motivated. Can you tell us a little bit about how you do that in your workspace?
For me, I like to surround myself with things that are inspiring. Inspiration equals motivation. Just little things that bring me joy. Anything from a really good color palette to a little knick knack that reminds me of a really great moment in my life. Also photos, of course. I'm a photographer, so I'm big into having happy photos in my workspace. Right above my desk, I only have photos of my daughters. That's a huge motivation. That's part of my "why." When I look up and see them, I'm just like, "I gotta get this work done." Everything I do is for them.
Would you mind sharing the way you organize your projects, whether they're weddings or portraits sessions, and then how you organize your galleries?
This might be long-winded. Let's say I've just gotten home from taking wedding pictures and portrait pictures in one day - which is rare, but hypothetically. The first thing I like to do is upload those memory cards to my desktop computer. On that computer, I have one external hard drive, and then I have my NAS system - the Network Attached System - that lives in my living room. That's like the cloud that bounces between my laptop and desktop. So already, I have three locations with people's RAW images. I feel better that I'll never lose them.
In addition to that, I have a cloud service that is constantly updating every single one of my hard drives that I ever plug into my computers, as well as everything that's on any of my computers, including the one at my studio. Everything is in a cloud that I can access online. That's four locations I have people's images in.
From there, I transfer them to what I call my working hard drive, which is a hard drive that travels with me. And by "travels" I mean it usually just travels to my bedroom so I can work on my laptop. But if I need to go out to a coffee shop or something - maybe next year - it'll come with me. Or when I travel for weddings or personal reasons. That's five locations I have these images on. The working hard drive is where I actually cull the images and get rid of outtakes, and that's what I edit off of. They all get saved to the same hard drives that I had the RAW files on. They are also uploaded to an online gallery so that my clients can have them. So that's about six locations that the images are in.
And then I divide them up how I mentioned earlier, separated out by the type of photography and the year, and then the family or couple's name.
That's so thorough! I know people are probably thrilled to know how secure their images are. That's definitely something that's scary, especially for photo and video people. How are we going to back footage up enough so that if something fails, we don't lose everything?
Even with everything on all those hard drives and in those spaces, technology fails us sometimes. I've had a power outage fry two of my hard drives. While it's not the biggest deal in the world, it just means more work for me. Like, culling those images again and editing again if I have to, or just re-downloading an entire gallery.
And I'll add for my video people, too - when I get home from a wedding, I dump everything into my kind of "travel hard drive" like you mentioned, and then into a bigger hard drive as well. And then when I pull it into my workspace, it's saved in Final Cut. But when I'm organizing that footage, I have a folder for each different camera I use at the wedding, for each recorder or microphone, and it makes so easy to just go in and know exactly where I'm going. The more precise and narrowed down your organization I think the better. It will so help you out in the long run.
So tell us about your camera bag. How do you carry all your equipment around?
I have two camera bags - one is a rolling camera bag that I primarily bring to weddings, and the other is a camera backpack that goes with me to everything else. I keep them both pretty packed. I try to keep at least one camera in each, just in case it's a crazy triple header weekend and I walk out the door with one bag. I usually keep with me two cameras, a camera strap, one flash just in case, two to three lenses (24-70, and a couple prime lenses), batteries, and a battery charger. I feel like I'm obsessive sometimes because I have four batteries fully charged, but I bring a charger just in case I magically go through all those batteries in a one hour session.
It just ties all in - we are constantly thinking of fail safes. What if...? We have to! It's part of the job.
It definitely is. A "near miss" happens, and it's like, "I got through that, but I never want to get that close to being that unprepared again." You learn and grow over the years.
Okay, so bag - I keep extra memory cards with me. Since my camera is dual slot, I have two different types of memory cards. I have something called a drop bag, where I just throw all my cards and batteries - and masks now. If I'm at a wedding, I have a timeline, an extra harness so I can wear two cameras a time, cool technique things like a prism, fairy lights, flashes. I'm big into creating off-camera flash setups at weddings for night shots. So I have multiple flashes and flash diffusers on me.
Tell me more about your "drop bag." Are you throwing dead batteries and used cards in there?
Yep. I've always done that with a drop bag. Say you're shooting and you've filled up a card, you can easily mix it up with the other cards you have that look identical. I come to wherever I'm shooting that day with it empty, and then anything I need quick access to goes in there. I pull everything out of there at the end of the night to charge. Cards, dead batteries, trash is in there sometimes.
I have two - one in my backpack and one in my main bag. I usually have a full styling kit, but since we've had micro-weddings I'll create a smaller little styling kit and put that in there. That way at the end of the night, I don't have to pull all my gear out. I literally just pull my drop bag out and start charging batteries and uploading memory cards.
When you send out to pictures or post pictures on Instagram or wherever, do you have a list of vendors you'll post alongside the photos?
Yeah! I've always been into tagging things. I send out a questionnaire to my clients before their wedding and have them fill in everything so that I have the photo timeline for the day and their family members' names. And then I ask them to put down their vendors. If they can put in their name, email address, and their website, that helps me a lot with blogging and sending out galleries and submissions, but I really just need their name. If I find out a vendor's name at a wedding without knowing it in advance, I'll just make a note in my phone so I can add it to my email draft.
The email draft is how I track vendors per year. I have the date of the wedding, and then I copy and paste the vendor categories that are on my questionnaire. Then I just type in or copy in the vendor name, and then I'll hyperlink to their website, and format their emails divided by commas so I can just throw them into an email if I need to.
In keeping all of your vendors organized and tagging them in everything, how are you continuing to network and putting those names to faces on a regular basis?
I am big into going to networking events in Baltimore. They were happening all the time. They're usually weekday things because they're in the industry too, so Thursday night were always popping. I get out to as many as possible, even when I don't really feel like it. I just feel like we all mostly work for ourselves and it's kind of like hanging out with co-workers.
I love the power of networking, and I'm always excited to talk about it. How do you feel like putting in that time and effort to meet people face to face has benefitted your business?
I've noticed my business has grown a lot from networking. Networking is sort of the backbone of how my business got started. I made it a point to put myself out there - I go to a lot of things alone. Even here in Baltimore, there's a wedding industry here and everyone has different styles and a different vibe, but you just learn to connect with people. You end up with some favorites that you love to work with, which makes a wedding even better.
For sure. I'm finally at a point where I get to work with people I know and recommend, and it's the coolest stepping stone. It feels like a win. And then you get to reassure your client that they have the best team.
At the end of each episode, I like to ask my guests why they're so passionate about something we talked about. Share your why with us.
I'm really passionate about organization because I feel like it is a way to create an inspirational and motivational workspace. It's a great way to be more efficient with your time, especially when you're a small business owner and you wear a lot of hats.
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