Our weekly “She’s A Boss” series is all about women in leadership positions. We feel that women are not celebrated enough for their amazing and one-of-a-kind accomplishments so we’re using our website to do just that.
This week we were able to catch up with Mississippi photographer and female boss, Jonette Shamburger (better known as Sham), in time for our Mississippi Month observance. Check out what she had to say about being a woman in a male dominated industry below.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a professional photographer?
Jonette Shamburger: I first realized that I wanted to become a professional photographer when I was still in high school. I did a bit of research but felt like liking to take pictures and making a profession out of it was not going to be a wise decision. I changed my major several times while at Jackson State because I was unsure of what was a “safe” choice. I purchased a Canon PowerShot shortly before graduation from undergrad. I loved that camera! I took it everywhere and Facebook gave me a venue to post my pictures. I was at every game, wedding, birthday party or event with my little point and shoot. I loved how people responded to my pictures but felt like I needed a better camera to shoot more quality images. When I purchased my next camera, a Canon Rebel T1i, I was in heaven! I took pictures for a friend and he liked them and put me in touch with a mutual friend who was looking for a photographer to shoot for JacksonNCrowd.com. I felt like I could pursue two dreams by shooting freelance and well, it worked!
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: How did you turn photography from a hobby into a business?
JS: Anyone who does photography as hobby knows that it is a very expensive leisure activity. I was more of a hobbyist when I started but even as a hobbyist I had to purchase more equipment to get the look of the pictures I wanted. I had the foresight to ask photographers about business but at the time had no real desire to turn my down time activities into a business. I was asked all the time who I was and who I was shooting for because I literally popped up overnight. After a conversation with a friend, I came up with a business name and applied for a tax id number so that I could be paid for the freelance work I was doing for Jackson-N-Crowd. My business was growing mostly on its own but I didn’t want to be like every photography business I was familiar with at the time – Olan Mills, Sears, Wal-Mart, JCPenny’s. It was important to me that I captured real life and candid moments so i.Am.Sham.Photography was named and created with that in mind.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: What services do you offer?
JS: I provide all types of photography but in my opinion, I specialize in event photography. Event photography is so much fun. I always try to make sure that I take pictures that make my clients and others relive the event even if they weren’t there. Another area of photography that I offer services in is boudoir. I love boudoir photography because it involves intimacy. These are the pictures that women, men or couples take for a loved one or themselves, partially nude or dressed in lingerie. I feel like a woman’s touch is much needed in the Jackson Metro area. I also offer makeup as part of my photography services. Lately, I have been doing maternity shoots and family photo sessions. I haven’t really found an area of photography that I do not like.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: I don’t normally see many women doing the type of photography that I’ve seen you do, why did you choose to cover local events independently?
JS: I too noticed that there are not many women doing event photography, at least in this area. Event photography is hard for both men and women because of the adjustments that have to be made on the fly and the fact that you don’t necessarily get a do-over if you miss a shot. Many photographers that I’ve spoken to over the past 5 years have to like that “live in the moment” thrill associated with events. I’ve met plenty of female photographers at events that work for themselves but that’s normally at certain occasions that are radio affiliated like concerts. Most of them have children too, which I’m sure limits their ability but more likely their desire to shoot at some of these locations and late night events. I guess my lack of a personal life meshes well with this type of photography.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: When I’ve seen you at events around the city, you have this aura of confidence and authority. Are you naturally this way or is this a quality that you’ve developed over the years as your brand has grown?
JS: First, thank you for saying that I exude confidence and authority. I have always prided myself on my outspokenness but sometimes lacked the confidence needed to really be heard. As I experienced more, I grew. At my height, I don’t really blend in well so I couldn’t go into an event space or a gig with a camera and be too shy to ask people if they wanted to be photographed. I developed a formula about how I would approach people long before I was a photographer. I kill with GENIUNE kindness. I am absolutely sincere when I compliment a person or speak to someone for the first time. Everyone I meet is a potential client or a potential referral. Word of mouth works! If I seemed intimidated or afraid people would not let me take their picture. If I seem intimidating and audacious people would not let me take their picture. I like to think that I’m finding a happy medium.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: What challenges have you faced as a female business owner that men would probably not understand?
JS: As a female business owner in a predominately male dominated field such as photography I have experienced my share of sexism. I could be wrong but I don’t think a majority of male photographers are keenly aware of their appearance for a given job. It has been my experience that they dress for comfort and function and that, in no way reflects on their perceived abilities. If I dressed similarly for the majority of my jobs, I know I would not be well received. I also seriously doubt that male photographers have to deal with whether or not their attire is too sexy, short, or tight. It isn’t just about appearance though. Just like in any other area men are more highly regarded as being in control and aren’t questioned about their abilities. Since I‘ve started my business I have literally seen the shock register on faces of clients or people whom I’ve photographed, when they see for themselves that the shot was great. I don’t ever think I’ve experienced a male photographer stop a shot to tell his female subject, you need to reapply your lip gloss. In wedding and portrait photography this may happen quite often but in event, where I spend the majority of my time, I have not seen this scenario.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: Have you had to develop any qualities to help your business become more successful?
JS: Yes; one of those being my intuitiveness. Sometimes clients don’t really know what they want which is why they are seeking photography services in the first place. We live in a digital/technology driven age where every device we use has crystal clear image resolution and professional looking images without professional equipment. In these instances, I have developed the ability to accurately gauge the clients’ desires often reading between the lines. My creativity has become a staple of my business in that I can now better incorporate my ideas and see them come to fruition. I don’t know where I’d be without having improved my organization skills. I started teaching myself how to do everything so my confidence has grown tremendously a result. My people skills have always been decent but as a business owner in an area of service you don’t really have the option to limit your interactions with others. I do work better alone but I’ve had to learn to ask for help along the way. To that end, I can say that I was truly blessed to have Derrick and Carlyn Hicks of Carlyn Photography. They really helped me from shoot arounds, job referrals, and even how to use my camera better. I have also become much more humble.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: What is the best part about owning your own business?
JS: Hands down, the best part of owning my own business is I’m the BOSS! I love that if I want to be a control freak, perfectionist I can be and no one is there to fault me for it. I’m always in a rush but knowing that it’s me that is doing the pushing feels so much better. I won’t let me down nor will I unduly burden myself to my own detriment. I love that what I do for profit makes others feel better or great about themselves. I’m not some conglomerate, if the customer isn’t satisfied I can fix it right then or do my best to try without having to be told or having the attitude that their patronage isn’t worth the effort to resolve their concern. I can literally do unto others as I would have them do on to me, meaning I’m providing the great customer service experience I would always like to have. That is so important to me.
JESSICASIMIEN.COM: What advice do you have for women who aspire to break into the photography business?
JS: I’d say know your style. Identify your niche but don’t be so closed-mind that you can’t accept advice, constructive criticism, or rejection. It comes with the territory. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You should always be curious about why something works for another photographer while you continue to have difficulty especially if you want to try your hand in that type of photography. I’m not saying give away your business one interaction at a time but rather continue to learn. Let growth happen, it won’t come together overnight. You can have a great eye for this but lack the business sense to sustain yourself so see what works and do your best to not have to re-invent yourself all the time. You will be held to a different standard because you’re a woman, just don’t let that discourage you from offering the best service you can and try to hide your amusement when you trounce people’s misconceptions of you, for that very reason.
To connect with Sham, visit her website by clicking here.