Small Business: Mini themed photoshoots keep business humming for family photographers

Adam and Kirsten Ferris, owners of Auckland-based photography business WonderFerris, talk running a business alongside raising their young daughters, switching focus amid the Covid-19 pandemic and what the future has in store for growth.

What does your business do?

Adam: WonderFerris is a photography business that shoots photos for weddings, families and commercial clients. Sometimes we shoot some video as well.

Kirsten: Family photography and mini sessions make up the main portion of our business these days, followed by weddings; we do about 10 to 15 weddings per year and lifestyle branding, such as modern versions of head shots for businesses.

We started the business in December 2014, we were already doing photography individually and decided to do it together, to use each others’ skills to make the business go further.

What was the motivation for starting it?

Adam: We were looking for a way to make money and live a certain lifestyle, we wanted a lifestyle that way. I had shot a couple of weddings for friends – how a lot of people get into photography; shooting their friends first, and then we got more and more wedding jobs that way. We started off doing that and since then the business has morphed over the years to become a lot more family orientated.

Prior to this I’ve done a number of jobs, like working at a bank, until I decided to try photography. Everyone tells you there is no money in it but I was always reasonably talented and into creative things so I decided to follow my passion to see if I could make a living out of it.

Kirsten:We’ve always had a love to create and capture emotion, and seeing people’s responses to them being photographed – seeing the joy it gives someone when they see themselves the way we see them. The business motivations have been inspired by our own family in the last few years, knowing that kids change so quickly and wanting to capture all of those different stages, especially in that first newborn stage. It is really motivated now that we do seasonal minis, which are short photoshoot sessions, and being able to do that for other families too.

We had been casually shooting family and lifestyle photos but these really took off after the first lockdown. There were no bookings for weddings coming in, they were either being cancelled or postponed, and we really needed to do something else to make the business sustainable. At that time our daughter Ayla was 1 so it was time to make a shift, and there was a gap [in the market] because people had been stuck in lockdown and missed out on so many things like their newborn photos or seeing their families, so there was more of a demand for family photos but not necessarily being able to afford it, which is where the mini sessions came about.

How big is your team?

It’s just us, and then we get assistance for the mini-shoot days, which is usually my sister or cousin. My sister is a big part in helping us plan and style the minis.

How do you divide up the business responsibilities?

I do the editing of photos and administration side of things, I do social media and come up with the next ideas, and Adam does the shooting and he is our people person. For weddings, he meets up with clients in person and does planning sessions. He is like the face of the business and I’m the one behind it.

Adam: I’m the arms and the legs and she is the head.

What are you focused on right now?

Kirsten: Trying to keep up with what is new. Our biggest focus at the moment is trying to stay present on social media, creating content such as Reels (short videos) and creating content for our socials that is educational for our clients as well as be entertaining and hoping that it generates more work in all three areas. We’re trying to find ways to do new things out of home and make family sessions more accessible for everyone as not everyone has a home they can get photos shot at.

We’re going to try and do some more personal branding mini-shoot days, we’re also looking forward to doing our first Autumn mini. The goal is to try and do one seasonal mini every four to six weeks and then a studio mini once a term. We want them to be as often as possible so people have opportunities to get photos around kids’ first birthdays and occasions to capture all those different stages.

What are your long-term plans?

The dream would be to eventually have our own studio, and to have our seasonal minis fully established that offer unique and quirky experiences that aren’t out there in the market yet.

Adam: My ideal would be to have a bigger team that would be able to craft an experience that is unique and tailored for the individual. I love originality, authenticity and something valuable/memorable so I want to be able to always ensure I incorporate those principles in everything I shoot.

Kirsten: We’re not looking to take on anyone in the short term because of the uncertainties around Covid and how things are going to track.

How is the business different today compared to pre-lockdowns and pandemic?

Adam: Our mini sessions have definitely taken off – they have been the thing that have grown the most after Covid. We were thinking about them but didn’t really offer them until Covid hit. We did a Christmas shoot at a Christmas tree farm for one day last year and then this year we did three full days plus a few private shoots there. Because of Covid there seems to be more of a push towards capturing moments and memories with their families, people seem to value their time and loved ones more so than ever.

Kirsten: Business has been mixed over the past couple of years, there’s been moments where there was a big long gap of no Covid lockdowns which gave us a spike in business-related photography as people started to re-fire their businesses, and then it slowing down again when restrictions come into place as people held back on spending due to the uncertainty. At the same time it has also motivated a lot more businesses to get commercial work done because they need to push and do new things to get their clients back.

What’s it like owning your own business?

Having a family definitely makes things a little bit harder, but generally it’s really good. We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves, and about each other as a couple. We’re lucky that we work really well together and it is nice to be able to chase the same dreams together, while pushing, helping to grow and challenge each other. Trying to balance working from home together while still having kids around and choosing what sacrifices are worth making and what aren’t can be challenging too, but overall it has been a good learning curve.

How important is social media for what you do as photographers?

Social media is huge for us. We’ve seen the biggest shift in Instagram and it has now become the main place where we get business from – that’s where 80 per cent of our business comes from, and that includes referrals as well as people find us through their friends as well. We find that we get more traction and it is easier for people to find us as Instagram is a photo and video platform. Before we would of had to be in the Yellow Pages or something similar. The next generation, we are more sentimental, photos are so much more important when we are on social media now so it’s also more motivating to get photos of your family and also for your social media life.

What advice would you give to others wanting to start their own business?

Adam: Stick with what you are passionate about and what you’re exposed to. If you do something you’re passionate about and it’s what you’re interested in then if the business turns out to be a mistake you still have those same skills and you can pivot and apply it to something else that is related to what you have invested time in to already.

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