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Photo studio is marriage of creativity, business

By TROY L. SMITH - 3/15/2013

Last year, photographers Michael Hanlon and Teri Fiske worked together on 27 weddings. Their job duties went far beyond taking pictures.
 
"We've done everything from sewing buttons and taping dresses to performing minor first aid," Hanlon says. "Shooting a wedding is part photography, part wedding planning, part troubleshooting. The goal is to make sure there's the least amount of stress possible so it doesn't show up in the images."
 
Hanlon, 45, and Fiske, 42, co-own and operate Hanlon-Fiske Studios Inc., where weddings are 70 percent of their business. The chemistry between Hanlon and Fiske is so strong they themselves seem like an old married couple. But they are not.
 
"I think our clients end up loving the way we are together and the interaction between us," Fiske says. "We're not married, but there is certainly a dynamic there that has been good for business."
 
She met Hanlon in February 2009 at a photo shoot. They clicked immediately.
 
"It has been one of those friendships where you don't even remember getting to know the person," Hanlon says. "You just feel like you've always known them."
 
When they met, Fiske was working full time as an emergency room nurse. She practiced photography as a hobby on the side.
 
Meanwhile, Hanlon's wedding photography business was starting to grow and he was looking for a partner. He asked Fiske, who was hesitant at first.
 
"I bugged her for a while to do weddings with me, and she would say no," Hanlon recalls. "She had only shot one wedding at that point, and it wasn't a good experience."
 
Hanlon eventually convinced Fiske to shoot a wedding with him that summer. Her ability to stay calm in stressful situations, which she had developed as a nurse, proved to be the perfect match for Hanlon's frantic nature.
 
After the wedding, Fiske convinced Hanlon to move his photography business into her studio space on Elton Street in Rochester's Neighborhood of the Arts. The two consolidated every aspect of their photography businesses-Fiske's maternity shoots and Ciao Bella Boudoir photography, along with Hanlon's wedding photography and portraiture-under the Hanlon-Fiske Studios umbrella.
 
To promote their business, Fiske and Hanlon host a number of events in their studio throughout the year. One of the more popular events is a localized version of "The Icarus Sessions," a concept developed by national author and public speaker Seth Godin.
 
During the sessions, artists, photographers and other people give presentations about themselves and their businesses that are no longer than 140 seconds. The idea is to present art and creativity in a condensed but informative format much like social media website Twitter, where posts can be no more than 140 characters long.
 
Fiske says the sessions and other events have been very valuable for Hanlon-Fiske Studios.
 
"It raises awareness of your brand, your company and what you're doing," she says. "It brings people into the studio and encourages creativity and art in the community we're in."
 
The events seem to have paid off. So far this year, Hanlon-Fiske Studios has booked more than a dozen weddings. The focus of their work, however, remains on quality, not quantity, Hanlon says.
 
Hanlon-Fiske Studio currently offers a wedding package starting at $3,000 to $4,000. With that, the bride and groom get both Hanlon and Fiske at the wedding and rehearsal. They also get an online gallery, negatives and a DVD set. The studio also offers add-ons such as a photo booth at the reception and engagement photos.
 
"A lot of photographers underprice themselves, because they don't know what kind of work goes into it," Hanlon says. "We've raised our prices a bit, because we know the hard work it takes and the results we can produce. With weddings, if you're literally not exhausted by the end of the day, you're doing something wrong."

Small Business is a weekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at sjacob@rbj.net.