The Story Of The Most Successful Photographer You’ve Never Heard Of
In under five years, Andy Frame went from being a photography nobody to running one of the most successful photography operations that I’m aware of. I had a chance to catch up with him and hear all of his absolutely inspirational story so that I can share it with our readers, and so that I can motivate my own self to do better on a regular basis.
I want to take a minute and talk about one of my biggest inspirations, a photographer based in West Palm Beach, Florida. His name is Andy Frame – sound familiar? Probably not, because Andy Frame hasn’t really sought the limelight. Not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with aspiring to being well-known as a photographer, as it can certainly – in many cases – be a mark of respect and experience.
But you haven’t heard about Andy because he doesn’t care about whether or not you have heard of him. He cares about whether his clients – who regularly fly him around the US and abroad – have heard about him. He doesn’t waste time on twitter and instagram, because he instead spends his time wisely marketing to potential clients, providing for a family of four, and shooting the homes of countless celebrities.
Let’s talk about what Andy does and how he got there. Andy admits that throughout his entire life he’s been creative . His brother owned a wedding photography business when Andy was in his teens, and Andy regularly assisted. He has been a life-long musician, playing drums, as a session musician and member of some local bands. But by no means was this enough to pay the bills, and his creative endeavors were relegated to weekend-warrior status.
In his early 20s, Andy, now in his 40s, landed a run-of-the-mill corporate job filled with TPS reports and cubicles. He continued to climb the ladder, as you’re told to do, for around 20 years. When the recent recession hit in 2008, Andy was eventually laid off with no real explanation or chance of getting hired at competing companies due to industry-wide downsizing. Like many hard-working people, Andy found himself faced with a growing family, a heavy mortgage payment, and a bleak outlook for employment.
Realizing that he had become increasingly disillusioned with the corporate ‘Office-Space’ lifestyle, Andy took a good hard look at what he wanted to do with his life and creative energy, and instead of sending out hundreds of resumes to potential employers and going through the hellish and dehumanizing corporate interview process again, Andy decided with the blessing of his wife (who must be very understanding and adventurous herself!) that he was going to attempt a career in photography, using skills he’d learned as a teen shooting weddings.
Knowing that the landscape of photography has changed drastically in the last ten years, Andy started doing some research and soon learned that shooting pictures of flowers and birds definitely wasn’t going to cut it. He investigated wedding photography, which can be quite lucrative, and soon realized that weddings could be booked a year in advance, but he had a mortgage payment due in three weeks. It was during one of these late-night panic-induced soul searching sessions that Andy stumbled across the images of Scott Hargis and M James Northen, both successful photographers shooting images of high-end real estate and architecture. Liking the look of these images and the craftsmanship involved, Andy realized that not only could this be an artistic way to make money but also a great recurring stream of income in his area which was densely packed with multi-million dollar homes and apartments. So he exchanged some emails with Scott and MJ, and sunk some of his last precious dollars into the gear that he’d need: a camera, a wide-angle lens, two Alien Bees strobes and three Nikon speed lights.
Admitting that he had no prospective clients, no experience, and no idea how to use his new gear in an architectural setting, Andy realized that desperation is a great motivator. Pulling all nighters working on test shots in Photoshop, shooting his own home, relatives’ homes, and friends’ homes, Andy cobbled together an admittedly mediocre-at-best portfolio in record time. He created flyers, dipping into those precious funds, and hit the road whenever he could to visit open houses, agent offices, and made connections with personal introductions. He sat up late at night emailing individual agents, telling them, in so many words, that their pictures were not that great and he could do a much better job.
Weeks pass with nothing but cricket chirps and ignored emails. Not that this is supposed to be easy, but I am sure that everyone involved was starting to get a little panicky with impending bills and the need to put food on the table.
And finally, a call comes through with an agent looking to have a condo shot. What Andy assumed would be a boring Florida condo (and trust me, there are millions) turns out to be a million-dollar-plus designer furnished penthouse with views for miles. Andy managed to cobble together images that were good enough to please the client, and was instantly hired to shoot 4 or 5 other properties that the client had. In the span of a month, the portfolio grew from a half-baked collection of his friend’s and in-laws’ homes, to a portfolio full of gorgeous Florida properties that would make a House Beautiful editor drool. Andy rolled with his new portfolio, updated his marketing material, and kept sending emails. Word got out about the new guy who was producing stellar images, and his client base grew exponentially in the span of a year.
Andy never gave up the late nights, marketing, and pushing his work out around his area. Fast forward to now, and he routinely shoots the most expensive homes for the ultra-wealthy. Shooting a $15 million home is now ordinary and he may see a few in a single day. By Andy’s own admission, in any given week he will shoot anywhere from $50 to $80 million in real estate, sometimes more. And this might only be over the course of five shoots! Andy has shot Cakewalk, the largest privately-owned yacht in the United States, has flown internationally on assignment, and has worked on corporate campaigns that you see everywhere from Costco to Architectural Digest.
While that’s all impressive, it’s important for me to take a second here and mention that Andy shot all these campaigns and locations with some incredibly simple gear: he’s just got his trusty old Alien Bees, and hasn’t opted to splurge on the latest and greatest equipment to keep up with appearances. It really goes to show that it isn’t the medium that matters, it’s the message. If his techniques (more or less the same techniques that we cover in the Fstoppers ‘How To Photograph Real Estate and Architecture’ tutorial) are good enough for international corporate jobs, they’re good enough for damn near anything in my book. Andy’s never fallen into the gear trap, instead, he focuses on squeezing every last bit of capability out of what he has and using his brain to put it all together. Imagine flying across the country to shoot an architectural gig that would be printed in multiple magazines and on store billboards with only two small Pelican cases worth of gear. Andy did it – and I met him in LA while he was on a gig to talk shop, where he gladly shared most of his story with me.
Along with shooting that great real estate comes interacting with high profile celebrities and CEO-types. As a result of this, when his images get out to the world, there can often be a bit of a frenzy for new publications to get their hands on them. After five years of this, Andy’s no stranger to publications asking him for images, but recently he got the short end of a stick when a major news outlet published his images without licensing through the proper channels (or licensing them at all, for that matter). Working through legal proceedings and delicate contact, Andy just reached an undisclosed settlement for himself and the unauthorized use of his images (multiple international magazines infringed his work…you do the math on the settlement!). Andy’s had to grow up fast in this world – and readily admits the importance of proper licensing and management of your digital property. So it’s important to realize that once Andy snaps the photo – his work isn’t done. Managing his digital assets has become a large part of his business, and he often gets many secondary licensing opportunities from his great imagery.
I also want to take a moment to talk about Andy’s personal life. As a married guy with kids, he has to balance this all with his photographic life, which he admits has been tough at times. But that makes his story even more impressive to me. If you are really committed to making something happen, you’ll find the time. Once again, Andy is a great example of this. In addition to the madness of raising a family, over the decades that Andy spent in his cubicle job, he put on quite a bit of weight. Realizing that as a photographer this was hampering his progress and making his job much harder than it had to be, as well as having negative effects on his married life, Andy decided that enough was enough. In his own words “realizing that I was going to die before I was 45 was a bit of a wake up call. So on my 41st birthday in 2012 I decided it was time to make the change. So over the course of the next year I worked hard to eat right and start exercising to the point that I’ve lost 90lbs and just a few months ago completed my 1st half marathon”.
Now it may seem like I’m writing this just to brag about how awesome my friend is (even though it’s true). The fact is that I’m writing this piece more to motivate myself than anything; as a mid-20-something without a family or crushing mortgage, I could be doing a lot better to get out there every day and make it happen and find more and more clients that I want to shoot with. All of us can. Andy is just a shining example of just how incredibly possible it is to make an amazing career that you love from nothing, even if you choose something as notoriously fickle as photography. It all comes down to hard work. Every time you post on Facebook, every time you gossip on message boards and argue over gear on the internet you’re wasting your time. Every single one of those posts could have been an email to a potential client, agency, or collaborator. It’s really that easy to redirect your energy to make it happen. Andy not only did this, but kept his family thriving and kept his personal life happy and healthy.
So get up from the computer, quit whining, get out there and make it happen.
If you’re interested in learning more about real estate, architectural, or interiors photography, I urge you to check out the new Fstoppers tutorial ‘Where Art Meets Architecture: How to Photograph Real Estate, Architecture, and Interiors‘ which covers many of the same techniques that Andy and I use to create our images. You can also check out the Fstoppers Workshop that’s happening this spring in the Bahamas where I’ll be teaching on the topic.