Meet Michael Schultz, who made the shift from selling insurance to becoming an amazing wedding photographer!

Michael Schultz Photographer

Favourite quote:

“You’re a creative. Don’t punch your clock, do something different, new, something out of your comfort zone and something you’re not sure will work. Stop obsessing about looking like you know what you’re doing. About looking professional at all times, about always knowing exactly what to do or where to stand or where to pose your clients, or how to set your camera to take the shot. Take the time to think, to see, to look. Even if you can feel your clients looking at you wondering what the hell you’re doing.  That’s how you extend yourself, how you create magic, be different.”

We had the great privileged of interviewing superstar wedding photographer Michael Schultz from Michael Schultz Photography this month. I loved reading his answers about transitioning from selling insurance to becoming a booked out wedding photographer with a style that would be described as modern with an analogue, intimate, warm, film feel.

Michael describes the hurdles he went through to get his business up and running to now being completely booked out! The interview is packed full with great advice, marketing ideas and just an awesome, real, down to earth story, so check it out below.

NINJA: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your photography business.

I live in Hawke’s Bay with my wife and two children, after quitting my day job working in Insurance for a number of years (which for most of the time I hated) to become a full time photographer, which of course I love.

I specialise mainly in weddings, but I have done a little bit of everything since becoming full time – events photography, corporate events, packaging photography, photojournalism, magazine commercial photography. I’ve got to say though, I’d probably draw the line at doing birth photography, haha!

NINJA: What is it about your business that separates you from your competitors?

I think what separates me from my competition is that I think I have found a unique hybrid of being quite documentary – just letting things happen and being ready and present and seeing, to creative photography where I very much direct the couples into the right spot, and might suggest posture and interaction changes.

I have also spent a lot of time making sure that couples speak to each other and bounce of their own chemistry, which tends to make my photos look natural and unrehearsed.

I also package what I do extremely simply as there are only two options.  All day coverage, and all day coverage with an album. I also only offer one type of album for my wedding album option.  I do this because I want to make choosing me easy and simple, and because I really enjoy time and space to create my images and not worrying about watching my clock, or my couples getting anxious that I have to leave before part of their day happens.  With me you know that when you choose me you get me for the day, and you get your images delivered to you at full resolution – no picking through complicated hourly coverage and image delivery options.

Michael Schultz Wedding Photographer 01

NINJA: How did you go from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it full time?

I started, like a lot of photographers, by shooting friends weddings or friends of friends weddings. My very first wedding was my friend Kimberley, and she only had a photographer for a few hours for her ceremony and the creative photos. I didn’t like that she didn’t have the photographer for the whole day, and to this day I don’t really offer short hours packages. I shot her getting ready photos, and her reception for her and I kinda liked what I produced for her, and she seemed over the moon with the photos. Of course looking back now the photos are a bit laughable and not laughable at the same time – I am proud of what I did as a first time photographer but they make me laugh because I did some dodgy things in post (selective colour anyone?).

From there I shot an Indian / Kiwi wedding which was over a few days – they had a professional photographer who had an assistant already but I was asked to shoot the guys and tag along to everything. It was all for free but because it was such a huge event I learnt a lot and gained a lot of confidence.  I am absolutely certain and I annoyed the shit out of that pro photographer but I didn’t care I was legit now, haha!  My first paid wedding was a work colleague who had seen my work who paid for me to go and shoot her wedding in Malaysia.

From there I just built up my business, fumbling around with websites and marketing and editing and late nights and working full time. I made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of things backwards, but I was learning all the time and eventually I moved what I was doing along.  The shift to being full time came with a lifestyle shift for me – I was getting quite busy but not really getting the time to develop and market myself as I would have liked – I needed to make the leap of faith which meant selling up everything in Auckland and quitting my job to make a go of it in a new market – Hawke’s Bay. There is nothing like HAVING to make it work to get you to make it work. I am lucky that I’ve been able to make it work but it has been hard work, and at times it’s been very stressful.

Beautiful wedding photography of a bride and her daughter

NINJA: Can you tell us one marketing strategy that is working really well for you at the moment?

Instagram seems to be working really well for me at the moment. People seem to be interested in my work on there and it’s a surprisingly local audience.  After not really understanding it for ages I started to realise its significance and importance because I saw how well a friend of mine, who makes beautiful organic cakes, was doing out of it.  My Instagram following surpassed my Facebook following a few weeks ago and seems to be still streaking ahead.

NINJA: Can you offer one piece of advice that has really helped you to grow your business?

Yes, make real life, in person, non digital connections. Don’t sit in your editing or social media cave and edit or social media up a storm without getting out there and meeting people as well. Shoot things for charity. Shoot things for cheap or free if you believe in what these people do. You’ll be surprised how your work gets noticed and how it leads to paid work. Go to workshops and meet really awesome creative people there. Email people in your area and meet up for a coffee. You’ll learn a lot and get a lot in return from real interactions as they’re, well, real.

NINJA: When did you last put your prices up and why?

About 9 months ago I put my prices up significantly, basically because people levelled with me and told me flat out that I was too cheap. One was another photographer whose opinion I respect who I second shot for, and the other was a make-up artist who had worked with me in the past.  I had made a mistake which was to adjust my prices too low when going from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay.  I quickly put them up by quite a significant amount.  Prices are tough because there are always frictions between placing yourself well in the market and not underselling yourself and having confidence in the strength of your work vs overselling yourself and having the portfolio to compete with others at the same price point.

NINJA: What would be one tip you could share for building better relationships with your clients?

Stop putting up barriers, trying to be business like and be more human with your clients. After you’ve photographed a few weddings you get a sense of what works, what makes a stress free wedding, and what makes a tiring, and stressful wedding. You have knowledge, experience and you can help people plan a great wedding in many small ways.

I think I am just starting to grasp the concept of being able to help people connect with great providers and creatives, and to help solve any problems and being a knowledge resource can be a value and a connection to your clients. Also I am a strong believer in engagement sessions, and that they should be free, because an engagement session can be a great way to learn how to work together and get to know your clients better.  Charging your client puts a barrier to the sessions there, and you want to remove the barriers not create them.

Michael Schultz Photography of a bridal party standing infront of the beach in New Zealand

NINJA: If you were to pack up and move to another country to start over, what would be your first move to getting your business up and running again as quickly as possible?

I’d start connecting with the local community there, in person, as soon as possible. Venues, providers, creatives, photographers. Go out and meet them. Chat to them. Learn from them. Let them know who you are. I’d also try and get involved in a wedding show or otherwise find out how to connect to brides in the area.

NINJA: What’s your plan for the future?

I am not a really long term planner, haha! However I have by far my busiest season ever coming up and am at full capacity so I am just going to get through the season with as little war wounds as possible, and then plan for the next season. I love what I do and I put a lot of myself into what I do, and it takes me a while to recover after the season ends. I also have a plan to start a Wet Plate Collodion Portrait business – something totally unique in Hawke’s Bay as far as I know. I think it’s a good fit because Hawke’s Bay is the Art Deco Capital of New Zealand, so the heritage, analogue nature of that kind of portraiture seems like a good fit. Plus I love the images the process creates. I’ve got a beautiful Ukrainian, 18x24cm film size, 1957 view camera already and have been on a course to learn how to do it.  I’ve just got to set up my dark room, get the chemicals, and start practicing getting the images right.

Thank you!

As always, thanks so much for reading! I hope you have found Michael’s interview as awesome and inspiring as I have.

If you would like to learn more about Michael, see more of his portfolio or simply get in touch, then make sure you check out – Michael Schultz Photography