Design Aglow's Senior Week 2015: Meet Curtis Wiklund

As we continue with Senior Week, we're delighted to chat with Curtis Wiklund about his business, shooting tips and style~

You exude so much pride and appreciation for your wife, who also happens to be your business partner. We love that! Do you have any tips or pointers for couples who are looking to begin a photography business together?

Jordin is my best friend. I do whatever I can to protect the gift of getting to work together every day. We are married first, business partners second. For anyone looking to start a business with their spouse or significant other, our advice is this:

Don’t force it. Not everyone is meant to work together. Somehow after 8 years, this working relationship has unintentionally just worked for us. We have plenty of married friends who are crazy about each other and say, “Oh my gosh, but I could never work with him/her!”. I was so apprehensive at the beginning about working together, and I should have stopped thinking so much. If it works, great. If it causes stress in your relationship, just kill it! Seriously.

You might have said “til death do us part” in your relationship, but you never said that going into business. My primary piece of advice: If working together is hard, kill the business partnership. Save your relationship.

We’ve had to go through seasons where we had to kill our “business partnership” at the expense of missing deadlines, writing uncomfortable emails to fix a mistake, or even missing out on potential clients, for the sake of protecting our marriage. We give each other incredibly large amounts of grace in our jobs. I have “let her down” more times than I can count in business, and she has “let me down” in business too, but our job performance is not a “let down” in our relationship at all.

For example, in the past, if I spent all day working on something that I thought would take only an hour, Jordin would time and time again make a decision to give me crazy amounts of grace, knowing that we both care dearly about our business, but we care more about each other. If Jordin missed an email that I thought was important, I would have to make a decision to be okay with that. If either of us couldn’t be okay with the way the other person was working, then we would have to figure out how to hire someone who compliments our strengths in that way. We decided it is not our job to change each other or make the other person do better work. We consider our only “job” to love each other and go on dates.

When “performance” in the job is going to be crucial to the working relationship, my advice would be to hire someone else. Jordin and I do everything we can to keep our working relationship fun, focusing our time together on the things we enjoy doing. For us, that’s shooting and curating our work. Jordin and I are strangely similar. In contrast to the maybe more common dynamic married duo, where one person is the dreamer and the other is the doer, Jordin and I are both dreamers. We come up with endless ideas, and we love creating and experiencing. Keeping track of paperwork at the office goes against both our grains, so rather than attempting to change the other person or beat each other up about it, we give each other unlimited amounts of grace and make note of what types of things we need to hire for. In the past we have hired seasonal assistants and interns, and are now in a longer term process of filling a more inclusive studio manager role that will grow as our family grows. Those are the types of work relationships where we consider job performance important, and “performance reviews” are a regular part of business.

How do you juggle being parents and business owners?

We are new to this. We have a 2 year old and a 6 month old. Jordin is completely natural in her role as a ’boy mom’. She’s focusing her work time primarily on shooting and curating our work with me, while I’m running more of the day-to-day business tasks. As far as juggling parenthood with being business owners, I have very little advice compared to those who have adult kids and did this as they grew up. Ask my dad. Until then, I’m hoping to continue our incredibly creative business, while being fully invested in the time I am working, and even more fully invested in my time with my family.

You really capture the individual personalities and passions of each senior you photograph. This can be challenging especially with self conscious or awkward teens! What is your process when you meet with potential clients? (We would love some tips!) Do you have a questionnaire? How do you warm them up at their session to get the shots you know they’ll love?

Our process and dialogue with every one of our senior clients is very organic. From the first time we meet them, we make it clear that it’s our job to make them look good in the photos, not theirs. We want our clients to focus on hanging out, relaxing, and having a good time. If we need anything specific from them during a shoot, we will verbalize it. However, it’s our goal to wrap up a shoot and have our client feel like they didn’t do anything at all! This takes a ton of pressure off of them.

Here are some tips, tricks, and information about how we work with our Senior clients:

1.) As far as our initial contact goes, we always ask in the first email if they have any ideas or things they’d like to do in their shoot. However, more often than not they don’t have ideas - and that’s okay! If need be, we will wander around with them and identify a “feel” as we go based on the senior’s personality and clothes.

Sometimes clients show up to meetings and we know immediately: field pictures at sunset! Or: artsy urban pictures! If it doesn’t pop out at us, we can also help their vision by combing through their passions. In those cases, it’s on us to steer them away from posing with props and make sure to get them in their element. For example, if you skateboard, we want to photograph you while you’re riding! Not simply standing with a skateboard in your hand.

2.) People often ask us what kind of clothes to wear. We always tell them to make sure they feel really good and super comfortable in their clothes. If they feel confident without having to constantly adjust what they are wearing, they will look fantastic.

3.) Not allowing anyone else to come to their shoot is huge. We don’t even let parents or friends come. It’s like a counseling session - our clients can say anything they want because they’re in a safe place. With us, they can do whatever they want, and really go for it, because we are the only ones capturing the moments. Jordin and I find that this helps awkwardness and nervousness fade away.

4.) Most importantly, we always emphasize that we want the photos to look like them. We aren’t there to create false memories or take a generic photo. In contrast, our job is to capture who these young adults really are. The beauty and personality that shines through our photographs is due to the organic nature of the settings. It truly makes a world of difference.

Every senior you photograph seems to be extremely relaxed. During your shoots, what is the dialogue between you and the senior? Do you have a posing style?

High School Seniors are at such a pivotal stage of life, figuring out who they are and who they are going to be after high school. And we get to document that bittersweet transition point. Spending two hours driving around and taking pictures together with them feels completely natural, because we think seniors are so fun. They’re all so different, and we just spend time getting to know them, whether they’re super quiet or super outgoing. We get to just hang out with them at the prettiest time of day, walking around the prettiest parts of our area, and take pictures of them along the way.

A photographer’s personality will totally reflect in their clients. Be very true to who you are during the shoot. Jordin and I are pretty relaxed and comfortable people, and I’d like to think our senior pictures look that way. We actually enjoy our time together, and there is no rush. I think that’s a big contributor to seniors looking relaxed in our photos. Don’t try to act different than who you are in order to get a different style of photographs. Our style is to catch them on the in-between moments, not on the pose. Most of our favorite photos happen when they weren’t trying to take a photo.

Another way I get our seniors to look relaxed in photos is by taking pictures when they are relaxed! It sounds simple, because in concept it is. It usually takes a while to get there. We use the first half hour or so to help get them relaxed, to do some more posed shots and to learn what lenses and lighting work well on them. Once they’re comfortable and we’ve identified a look that works well on them, we begin getting the good stuff!

We also always keep the conversation going during our sessions. This takes the senior’s mind off of the camera and allows them to feel more at ease. Then, if we see great light and need them to stand in a specific spot, we will weave our work dialogue into our conversations. Talking with them breaks the stiffness of posing and allows the senior to feel more comfortable. We are always looking for organic moments, like a laugh or specific movement. We watch closely during the whole shoot, waiting for those moments in the midst of doing more traditional poses. Those are the moments we love.

What are your best selling products? Do you have goals for your sales? How do you achieve them?

Every one of our packages includes a handful of standard small prints (wallets, 4x6, 5x7, etc). In addition, these are some of our best selling products:

- 16x20 framed canvases or gallery wraps are very common as they size well on walls in homes and look great with other prints.
- Wall Collages of multiple framed canvases or gallery wraps.
- 20x20 Collages in which 5 or 6 pictures are printed on one print with black or white space around the photos.
- Digital Files: These are discounted with print packages and often added as a means of long term archiving, or for the clients to make duplicate prints themselves in the future.

We do all in-person sales for high school seniors. This is helpful to keep it all moving efficiently for them. Seniors and their parents have a mile-high checklist of “senior year” things to do, and “senior pictures” is only one of them. By having them over to our studio to view and order their pictures, it makes the process simple and efficient. We help them through the process of narrowing down to their favorite photos and picking out print sizes, seeing samples of different options in our studio. When they leave, they are often relieved that they were forced to make their final decisions with us. Then they simply leave wait for their prints to arrive on their doorstep! Senior Pictures: check!

Our goal is for our clients to walk away from our photo viewing sessions feeling great about the products they’re about to receive. If they’re excited about decorating their home and giving their photos to their friends and family, we’ve done our job. Our greatest compliment is when seniors see photos of themselves and love them. We are our own worst critics, so it is very rewarding to gift seniors with pictures of themselves that they are proud of.

Curtis and Jordin Wiklund are a husband and wife photography team based in Southeast Michigan. They operate their personal and wedding work under the parent brand Curtis Wiklund Photography and are launching a new brand for Fall 2015, designed specifically for High School Seniors in Southeast Michigan, called Seniors Run The World.

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