January 24, 2022
When I first started my photography business, I was terrified. I mean, what if no one liked my photos? Could they tell that I was feeling super awkward behind the camera? And I wasn’t exactly sure what pose or set up we were gonna do next. What if people could smell my fear and like stop hiring me completely.
These thoughts would fill up my head and it was like a never-ending cycle. So what is imposter syndrome anyway? And when does it finally go away for photographers? When do you feel like you’ve made it and how do you overcome those fears when you’re starting out in the photography industry? This is exactly what I’m chatting about on today’s episode with Lisa Digeso of Milk and Honey Photography and The Milky Way.
Tavia: Okay, Lisa, welcome to From Better Half to Boss, I am really excited to chat with you about all things like business, as well as even touching on imposter syndrome, cause I know that that’s something that is really relevant for photographers, honestly, no matter what phase you’re in in your journey. So welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
Lisa: Thank you for having me.
Tavia: Yes. Okay. So I would love to know, and like I was telling you before we started recording you and I have only known each other for a couple of months, so I don’t know a ton about your journey, which is actually really fun because I would love to experience what you’re gonna say with my audience. So I would love to know how you got into photography and what that journey has looked like for you?
Lisa: Awesome. Well, I picked up my first camera in February of 2010. I’m an IVF mama. We got married when I was 24 and I didn’t have my son until I was 31. So we had six years of trying to have a baby and more than anything, I just wanted to take pictures of my sweet little baby boy. And at the time there wasn’t really anybody in the industry really doing much in the way of newborn photography. It was kind of like everything still kind of looked a little like serious portraits. And nobody had any clue on posing, on safety, on editing, on lighting – all the whole shebang.
So I really wanted to get newborn photos done at the time. And my husband was like, “Uhh, hell no, we can’t afford this. You’re not working. Um, no.” I’m a bootstrap kind of girl, so I was like, “Well, then I will do it myself.” And I quickly realized my point and shoot camera that I had was definitely not up to the standards of what I was seeing at, you know, in 2010 of what professional photography kind of looked like. So I started saving up all my mommy money and it was like, anything I could scrounge like money I would take off the top of the groceries. Like anything I could just like keep for myself just to kind of save up to get that camera.
February of 2010, so this is about four months of saving. I finally was like about $500 away from getting my dream camera, which happened to be a Nikon D90 at the time, total entry level camera, and my husband’s like, “Okay, well you really wanna do this, so I’m gonna get your camera for Valentine’s day.” So we went out and we got it, which was really sweet. And then the guy turns to me and he goes, “So what do you think you’re gonna be a photographer now?” And I was like, “Oh, hadn’t thought about that, but game on.”
I was like combing the internet for anything I could learn about photography, about lighting, and any baby I could get my hands on. I was shooting like at least 40 sessions a month. It was insane, on top of having my son who was like six months old at the time, he’d just come in sessions. My mother-in-law, my mom, anybody could get to come help me would help. And then I started posting pictures on Facebook and within four months I freaking blew up.
And then I literally doubled my prices, doubled my prices, doubled my prices, like four times within six months. Obviously, I was like charging 50 bucks at the time just something to like cover the cost. But yeah, for years I just was booked out for so, so long, which was a blessing and a little bit of a curse because I felt that I was really able to improve my skills, but as far as the business side, that was where I really struggled because I was so busy in that shoot-edit-rinse-repeat-book more clients – it was just this hamster wheel that I couldn’t get off of.
But what I found is when I finally started to raise my prices, I was kind of able to slow down and start working on building on my business. Because when we start, when we get into this industry, like there’s no handbook that says this is how you can be a birth photographer, a newborn photographer. I know you and I are both trying to change that. So there is a handbook, so it’s easier and people can stand on our shoulders. Um, but yeah, getting, getting into it, it was like the wild west back in those days in 2010. I don’t know when you started, but posting on Facebook, you were like swarmed.
Tavia: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Lisa: It was so easy. And so now, from a new photographer just getting in, it’s a very different landscape. And I think like just being so mindful when we are giving the business advice, it was so much easier because it was so new and there wasn’t a lot of people doing it. But I think that it also teaches us that we have to find ways that we can stand out.
Tavia: Absolutely. And I think it’s a really good point of like, it’s so easy for me to wanna start talking about marketing. That’s where I wanna go. But whenever you’re saying there weren’t a lot of newborn photographers back then, and it’s so much easier to stand out when you’re doing something. Yes, Facebook was much different than it is now and you could post something and instantly be full. But also you’re shooting, you’re photographing a genre that not a lot of people are photographing. And so it’s like, “Oh wait, what is she doing? What is this newborn photography?”
Lisa: It is ground-level stuff.
Tavia: Okay. So interesting. It sounds like we had a really similar beginning, because that’s very similar to how I started as well. So what happened in your business then? Like you said, you doubled your prices to where you can actually slow down a little bit, focus on less clients, and start building your business. So where does The Milky Way fall into that? I want you to tell the story of starting The Milky Way.
Lisa: So this is a hilarious story because my business partner, Erin, and I have been together running The Milky Way for over 10 years now. And she is like the love of my life, she’s my soul sister, I adore her so much. We have never even had a business or a life argument. Like we just are still on the same page. So when I first met her, she was actually a client of mine. She was expecting her daughter at the time. You know, when you meet someone, it’s like a first date and you’re just twitterpated with each other. We just really were like, we are to do something. She was a photographer coming out of the photography industry deciding to just switch gears. I was new and coming in. So she’s like, “come on little butterfly, come under here and I will teach you all the things I’ve done wrong.”
And so you won’t do them. Of course I didn’t listen and I went and did all the things wrong. She and I talked about starting something for probably a good year before we did, maybe a year or two. And because I was getting so many questions, I really blew up on Facebook at the time with photographers. And I went from like a thousand followers to over 30,000 followers, I think within a year period.
And I was like, “Well, ’cause I don’t have any skills on doing that.” And she’s like, “Oh, little butterfly. I do.” And I was like, “Well, I’m only doing it if we’re 50-50 business partners.” And so we were like, “Yeah, a hundred percent!”
Now the reason it is called The Milky Way is my photography business is called Milk & Honey Photography. And she’s like, “You know, it’d be hilarious if you called it The Milky Way ’cause it’s your way.” And we thought we were so funny and then we got stuck with the name. So we are still The Milky Way. We’ve talked about changing it for years and now we’re just like, well I guess we’re the Milky way girls!
Tavia: So funny. I didn’t know that, that’s so great!
Lisa: We even trademarked The Milky Way and just got approved in Canada.
Tavia: That I feel like would be a big challenge. That means a lot of different things. So good for you guys!
Lisa: Yeah. So we’ve been doing that for 10 years now. And so I originally started doing online classes. My first class was called Illuminate. It was on studio lighting for newborns, all the things maternity, family – all that kind of lighting stuff. Then we did one on editing, one on posing newborns, a business one, a holiday master class – all the things that I’d get excited about. I’m like, “Oh, I wanna share this. Let’s create a class on this.” So we did that for a number of years.
Do you remember like in 2015, summit started happening? The online summit started happening. And what I hated about them was that it felt like a bait and switch. It felt like you would sign up for it, it was free, but then everyone was trying to sell you something at the end. And it always just felt like I maybe just wasted my time a little bit and it just felt so salesy. And then we were talking, Erin and I were like, “What if we created something that was the opposite of that? Where people were like, ‘I’m here to pay and gain valuable knowledge from a variety of different experienced instructors with an overarching theme, but I’m not feeling pitched to. I’m not feeling like I have to go away and buy more things after,’ I feel like this was a really valuable experience.
So at the time we were sharing this idea with our coach and he’s like, “Yeah, girls just run with it, see what happens.” And so we’re coming up on our, we’ve had 15 or 16 online retreats that we’ve produced over the past six years and we’ve had thousands and thousands and thousands of students.
Lisa: And I know that you’re one of our amazing teachers coming for the 2022 Online Newborn Retreat that we’re super excited about, but it’s just been like, I had no idea we were gonna do this. And actually before I was a photographer, I used to be an event planner. So that was sort of my wheelhouse of creating in-person events, managing multiple people. So it is just like sort of my wheelhouse. So everything sort of like mixed up together in this beautiful mix that is so valuable and so transformative to our students and just so fun. I am living my best life, creating these retreats and it’s so great. That’s my story.
Tavia: I love it. That’s so cool. And I love how you saw a need for something, whether or not your business partner kind of like gave you a little nudge into it. There was a need for something cause people were messaging you and it’s like so much more valuable to compile all of your knowledge in a streamlined way than to be trying to like individually message them like to just be like, “Hey, here’s everything that you’ve been asking for.”
And then to see that evolve into what the retreats have become, which is just honestly, such a incredible value. If you were to work with each of these instructors on their own, I can only imagine like mentoring with each of them would be thousands of dollars times 20 plus. So it’s just incredible to have so much knowledge available and they have lifetime access to the videos, right? And so you can come back and watch them multiple times. You can engage with the instructors in the Facebook group, such an incredible value. So I love that. I love The Milky Way and I love what you’ve created. Congrats! This is great.
And I hope that you guys listening are inspired by this.
Like if people are asking you for Christmas minis, maybe it’s time to do some Christmas minis. You know? Little things like that. I always talk about thinking like a marketer instead of a consumer. And so you’re thinking about like, ‘Okay, how can I get those emails?’ And instead of just being like, “‘No, not this year,’ wait, I just heard that six times. What if I just put something together?” You know, something simple like that. So I just wanted to try to make it applicable for people listening to that lesson. Thanks for sharing all that.
Tavia: I wanna go back to like 2010 Lisa and she’s starting her business and people are like banging down her door to photograph their newborns, but she probably feels a little bit of imposter syndrome because even though there weren’t a ton of newborn photographers, you probably had an idea of what you wanted your photos to look like. And chances are, if you’re anything like me, they weren’t quite looking like that. So how did you persevere and overcome that feeling of imposter syndrome when you’re trying to grow your business and maybe you’re doing session after session after session and you’re just like, this is just not quite clicking. Did you experience that?
Lisa: I think that my drive to perfect it was stronger than my fear. More than anything. I had some really tough sessions. I like drank a lot of wine, I got really sad and cried and felt sorry for myself. And I had pity parties, but the thing it was is I still had newborns come in the door. So I was like, I can only pity and feel bad for myself for so long, and then I had to start looking okay.
So as I’m trying to perfect, say for example, the taco pose, why is it not working? What about this pose? How am I placing the baby? Is it the bean bag? Is it the things underneath, the posing beans – what is going on that’s not working? And then finally just working through each individual pose until I mastered each one.
It’s like training for a marathon. You can’t just get up one day and just run a marathon. And it was wonderful if you can. That’s amazing. I’m just not that person ’cause I like Oreos. But if I were to get up every morning at 6 AM and start running, I’m gonna get shin splints, it’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna be really painful. But one day I’m gonna be like, “Okay, well I’m setting up for a marathon and I’m gonna nail it.” And I do. So you just gotta keep going. You gotta just work through that painful process of feeling like a fraud because one day you’re gonna realize that you’re not anymore. You don’t feel like that anymore. And you’re gonna feel confident in your sessions.
Tavia: So good. So let me ask you this, during that time, were you charging full price? I know that the pricing thing starts to come up of like, I know I need to charge sustainable prices, but I don’t feel like my work is quite there yet. So what are your thoughts on if somebody listening to this is like, “Okay, I am booking sessions, but after every single session, I just feel like it’s not quite what I was picturing, but I wanna charge full price. I’m not quite charging full price. What should I charge in that phase?” What are your thoughts on that?
Lisa: I think, when it comes down to our numbers, we actually have to take what we feel like we’re worth out of the entire equation. We need to look at what’s gonna be sustainable and remembering that we need to pay ourselves. It’s not about going and buying more props. It’s not about just covering costs. If you want to do this as a business, you have to be paying yourself a living wage for it. Full stop. If you wanna do a hobby, just be honest that it’s a hobby job and that is totally fine too. But when it comes to your pricing, I really feel like you have to look at the numbers and actually take your identity and how much, you know, like we always say, charge what you’re worth. Well, you’re priceless. As a human on the planet, you’re completely priceless. So that doesn’t really make any sense.
And if your clients are booking you, and you know you’re allowed to have a raise, you’re allowed to make more money. It’s not dirty to make more money. It’s not dirty to do sales. That’s the reason that we are in business. So I think my advice for someone starting out that’s really struggling with their pricing is just take yourself out of it, just start looking at the numbers. What do I need to make? What are my expenses? What are the expenses maybe I’m not seeing, maybe it’s like paying for a babysitter that we forget to put in there, or maybe you want to hire a bookkeeper so you don’t have to do those books so you can have another session. So start looking at those costs and just really analyzing where you’re currently at, what you’re currently doing, and where you wanna go and the number of sessions that you need to do and how much do you wanna make. And I think that will sort of sort itself out.
Tavia: Yeah. So looking at, ‘if I need to make $1,000 a month and I’m gonna do five sessions a month, you know, $200 a session. And then as my skills improve and I feel like my value exceeds the price, right, then I can start to raise my prices. Honestly, I had somebody ask me the other day, at what point I feel like I made it?
Lisa: Do you ever feel like you made it?
Tavia: No, I don’t know yet. You know what I mean?
Lisa: I don’t feel like I made it.
Tavia: Right! And so I think that we have this idea in our mind maybe of what we’re gonna feel like at a certain point. And honestly, as an artist and as a business person, and you can tell me if this is true for you, you’re always growing and improving. And so you’re maybe imposter syndrome might never go away. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. What do you think about that?
Lisa: I think that imposter syndrome will never go away, but it’s finding ways to deal with it. For me, imposter syndrome really shows up when I start overthinking and when I stop myself from doing things. When I like stop making TikToks or just stop doing the things that actually bring me joy and give me energy.
So when we get into that mindset of like, “Oh, I’m worried about what everyone’s thinking or I’m an imposter and I’m a fraud and they’re gonna find out,” well, no, one’s actually really looking at you that way anyway. If they are looking at you, they just wanna see you win. They’re your fans.
So when you start having that mindset of like, “Oh, okay, well,” and if I do care, if someone’s gonna be like a hater and be like, “no, no, no, no, no,” why do you even care what they think? It’s not a big deal, right? It’s not a big deal what they think. If they’re on your Facebook page or your TikTok or your Instagram, you can block them. You don’t have to have them in there.
Tavia: I love this conversation because I think if we boil it down to what are we afraid of? Unless you’re actually ripping people off and your intention is to do harm. You’re not actually an imposter.
Lisa: There is a market for everybody. Just because you can’t afford you doesn’t mean you’re your target market at all. I maybe can’t afford me. Cool. That’s great. But maybe the doctors and the lawyers down the road can, and that’s my market. That’s who I wanna serve. And there is a market and there’s room for everybody. It’s so funny when you hear the things about, ‘I’m worried about my competition’ or the photography down the block and I’m like, well, okay, number one, how’s your marketing? Like, what are you doing to focus on you? What attention are you paying to you?
But the fact of the matter is, is literally how many clients can you actually have? I only wanna have maybe 8 clients a month and that is like way too much for me. And in my tiny little city, like maybe 80,000 people, there’s probably at least 14, 15 photographers I refer to people at the time. I know for a fact there’s over 150 babies born each month. I only want eight of that. So don’t worry about what everyone’s doing. There is a market for every single person. If you wanna be a $50 photographer and that works for you and you’ve got no overhead, cool. Do you boo, no problem! But if you wanna be like making, you know, thousands and thousands and that’s the business structure doing IPS, cool! You do you! There’s a market for you too. But let’s just stop worrying about what everyone’s doing, because nobody’s really paying attention to what any of us are doing anyway.
It’s spotlight syndrome. Like we just have this spotlight on ourselves thinking everyone notices everything we say, do, and post. And the fact is they don’t, so stop taking yourself so darn seriously and just do what you want anyway.
Tavia: Yeah, so good. It is actually selfish, ’cause I’m totally guilty of it. Like being, “Oh, what people think and oh, they’re gonna blah, blah, blah…” And it’s like, that means I’m making it about me. And if you’re making it about yourself, are you really serving your people?
Lisa: And the fact is nobody’s really looking anyway. And if they’re looking at you, they’re like super rooting for you. How often do you have people come on your page or if you post a photo, they’re like, “Mmm-mmm.” No one ever posts that! They’re like, “Oh my God, this is amazing. What a touching moment. I love this so much.” Like people love you. So let them love you.
Tavia: Yeah. So good. I found it. A girl on Instagram and she posted, it was on my feed. She said, “I haven’t shared anything on Instagram in a month. Did you notice?” And I felt like that was so smart. ‘Cause immediately I was like, “Uhh, I had no idea.” And this is somebody that I know personally. And I was like, I had no idea that you didn’t post for a month. Nobody cares. Literally, nobody is paying attention. Now, if your leads are coming from Instagram and you’re not posting on Instagram and then you’re going like, “Tavia, Lisa, why am I not getting business?” Okay, that’s a different conversation. But if you’re looking at it of like, “I’ve got a post that they think a certain thing about me or look at me a certain way,” they’re really not paying that close attention like Lisa said.
Lisa: And you know what’s even more fascinating is if you look at social media and Instagram, like stories and that kinda stuff, look how normal people that are not business owners use social media. And it’s like very different than how we do. And I just think it’s so fascinating because we get so in our heads about like sell, sell, sell, connect, connect, connect, and it’s really not as hard as we make it out to be. I am so guilty about this. My team is like, “Lisa, can you just be on social media? Just talk,” I’m ridiculous. I will say what I feel and I’m authentic and honest. And I think that’s what I struggled the most with social media is that I felt like I had to be so polished and curated.
And I still really struggle with that. And I think that like everyone, you pull up your Instagram and you’re just like, “I don’t look like that. Do I fit in?” And the funny thing is we don’t wanna fit in. We wanna stand out, but we wanna fit in at the same time. So it’s so confusing to our human brains, what we’re supposed to do. And then we get in our head and then we don’t do anything.
Tavia: Yeah. It’s funny how this has like taken to turn to talking about social media. Cause I think that’s where probably a lot of the imposter syndrome comes from is that comparison and that’s what is bringing this on. And so one of the things that I tell my students and my audience all the time is like, if you’re following people who are like bringing that out in you, you’re feeling like an imposter when you start to look at stuff, unfollow them, you don’t have to follow that person. You know what I mean? Run your own race.
Lisa: Or even ask yourself,
Because you can use social media as both as an inspiration or as a weapon. For me, like 20 minutes on TikTok, I’m good. But like after 20 minutes I’m numbing out. So just be so mindful on how you’re using social media and how it is affecting you personally. And actually I have a friend, Tyler McCall, he recently did a digital detox, like a sabbatical for a number of months and he just put everything on autopilot and he’s like, “Lisa, my life changed.” He’s like, “I just like looked around and like, I wasn’t there, but I was there,” cause he set it up to be there. He’s like, “It was just bizarre.” Right?
Tavia: Interesting. Okay. So we’ve kind of talked about the fact that you probably like you will never feel like you’ve made it, so sorry. If you were coming to learn how do I know if I’ve made it, The answer is literally never. So I don’t know if that’s what y’all wanna hear or not, but that’s the truth.
Lisa: Sorry to interject, but I think what’s so important is knowing what your definition of success is. Because I think it is so subjective. For someone it could be like making a million dollars is my benchmark of success or like not working weekends or having my husband stay home with the kids, that’s your benchmark.
So really sit down and say to yourself, “Okay, self, what does success look like for me? How do I know I’ve achieved it? What does it feel like in my body to have success? What am I experiencing for success to feel real to me?” And then you know what to work towards.
Tavia: Do you think that you can take that same attitude of like, what does success look like and apply it to your session? How will I know when my work is good enough? What are your thoughts on that? Like how will you know when your work is good enough?
Lisa: I think that if you have clients that are willing to pay you and love the work that you’re creating, your work is good enough. I think you have to be really mindful of remembering who you’re shooting for. Are you shooting for the photographers on social media or are you shooting for your clients? Because even if it feels like you’re doing the same thing over and over and over in your sessions, your clients don’t feel like that, it’s their first time, right?
Tavia: Hmm. I love that you said who are you shooting for other photographers or your clients. And I think that there’s so many things that we could talk about there. Like it could be a whole other podcast, but really just like knowing not what you like necessarily, but what your clients like and what they’re looking for in your sessions. Because I think a lot of us start out in photography as a hobby and it’s fun and it is about us. And then once we start to turn it into a business, it then becomes what do my clients want? And so I don’t know if you’ve experienced this Lisa, but I for sure have to where our clients always buy the same like three or four poses. And it’s like, I know it sells, it does get boring. It’s like, okay, we’re gonna do that pose. I know you’re gonna buy, but they love it. And that’s why I’m in business is to make my clients happy.
Lisa: A hundred percent. And a piece of advice: ’cause I was really struggling a few years. I was feeling so freaking bored in my sessions. I was not feeling inspired. New props weren’t doing it for me. And then someone said to me that like, “Well, what are you doing for yourself and your sessions? What are you shooting for you? You shoot what they want, but what are you doing to make your soul happy?”
And I was like, “Ooh. Ooh.” So every session now I plan on something that I wanna do just for me. And it just, it feels so good because then I’m bringing my creativity to the table. I’m bringing something that really feels good. My clients are still gonna get the same stuff that I serve up to them and they love it. But adding that little sparkle in there for me has made the biggest difference on making things not feel so hamster-wheely, because having a business can really feel mundane at times. And so you gotta find those ways, those personal projects. If you love photography for the art of it and the creativity for it, you have to find ways that are gonna feed your soul. Otherwise, the business side is gonna chew you up and spit you out and you’re gonna be so unhappy and like crying in the bathroom with a bottle of pinot grigio.
Tavia: Oh man. Okay. This is such a good episode. I know people are gonna get so much out of it. If you could tell people listening, like photographers, one thing about to take away from this episode when it comes to imposter syndrome, can you think of like a tip or an idea to share with them like parting?
Lisa: Don’t take yourself so darn seriously and have some fun. Are you having fun? Because that’s what really matters is the joy that we bring to the planet, the joy we bring to our sessions, the joy we bring to our family and what we’re creating in our own lives.
Tavia: Yeah. And your clients can feel that too, right? Like whenever you’re happy with what you’re doing, your clients suddenly are happier too. So good. Lisa, thank you so much for being on show. This was a fantastic episode I know people are gonna love already.
Lisa: Thank you so much for having me.
Man, so good!
You guys have been sharing about the podcast on Instagram, which makes me so happy. And I also have seen you guys taking notes, which makes my heart so happy to see that you’re not only listening, but you’re taking notes and implementing. And here’s the thing: Lisa has a lot of amazing experience as you just heard. And she shared a lot of great things in this episode that has taken her many, many years to learn. So please make sure that you take advantage of the wisdom that she shared in this episode and write down one or two of your biggest takeaways and also tag both of us on Instagram, so we can see what you learned.
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And hey my friend, remember if you have a passion, it’s not an accident. Not everyone loves the thing that you love. So whatever your passion is, I hope that you get out there and make it happen. Have a great week.