Kelly Miranda Photography: “There’s Enough Room for Everybody”

A forgotten camera from a high school photography class set Kelly MacNiven on the path to owning her own business, Kelly Miranda Photography. Her husband, Casey, had enjoyed the class he’d taken years before and he’d kept the camera. It stayed underneath the bed collecting dust until MacNiven found it before they left on their honeymoon to Mexico. “We brought the camera with us,” said MacNiven. “I was documenting my husband and the landscape and anything I could see. I enjoyed it and had a knack for it.”

Born and raised in Durango, Colo., MacNiven met Casey at Fort Lewis College, where she was studying biology. They formed a band while in college, with Casey on guitar, and MacNiven singing and playing piano and guitar. When their drummer graduated and moved to Denver, Casey and MacNiven were ready for a change. After checking out Denver, they heard about Austin. “We wanted to get out of the snow,” explained MacNiven, who moved to Texas with Casey in 2008. “We ended up loving the place. It was a really cool city and a fun place to be in your early twenties. It provided the change we were looking for.”

With the move, MacNiven, while waiting tables, decided to invest in a camera at the local Best Buy. She paid it off within a year and decided to go back to school for photography. She found a program in Austin. “I was more of fine arts photographer when I started, doing obsrtact images,” shared MacNiven. “If I wanted to make money, I would have to do portraits and weddings, which was fine, because I enjoyed that, too. It was an interesting journey. I didn’t know I was going to make a business out of it until I started going to school and realized I didn’t want to wait tables anymore.”

The program focused on the technical aspects of photography, with a strong business aspect. MacNiven took classes on accounting and photography studio management, which included units about getting insurance, creating a business plan, and how to set prices. “I felt like I was pretty prepared by the time I graduated to not only be a photographer, but what my prices were,” shared MacNiven. “I still made my mistakes. I at least had that knowledge beforehand and knew, going into it, that there were going to be certain obstacles.”

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She learned the practical aspects of doing business, including how to weigh costs against profit and how to plan accordingly. She explained that many people think that if the business makes $100,000, then the photographer makes $100,000, which isn’t how business works. Costs have to be included to the intended salary, and the salary has to be set. “If I want to make $40,000, then that’s $40,000 on top of what my expenses are,” explained MacNiven. “It was nice that my teachers taught me to value what I’m worth and to value my art. In the end, you’re spending all this time to make this art for people and you need to know what your time is worth.”

MacNiven encourages anyone trying to start a business to do the research and know the numbers necessary to cover necessary costs and earn a decent salary. There are calculators online that help determine costs and the equivalent income needed. “Know how much you want to make and charge that from the beginning,” MacNiven suggested. “I didn’t really plan for how much time each thing was going to take me and how much it was going to cost me to run my business. That’s my biggest piece of advice – nailing your numbers.”

After graduation, MacNiven and Casey had their son, Carter, and decided to move back to Durango in 2013 to be closer to her family. She had already started her photography business in Austin, and the move meant that she had to start over. “And I started over again and again,” added MacNiven. “I feel like I’ve started over so many times. It’s constantly in a state of growth for me.”

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MacNiven had chosen an ideal client base with related branding, but tax season brought a rude awakening. “I realized I’d made maybe 10 dollars an hour doing what I’ve done,” said MacNiven. “I’d worked so hard. I realized I just couldn’t do it for that wage anymore. I wasn’t going to able to support my family on that. I had to rebrand myself and work with a whole different type of client.”

She realized she wanted to add prints, and then she decided to add a studio space. “It is an important part of my artistic process to see the photos all the way to the finished print product,” explained MacNiven. “I wanted a more hands-on approach to the customer experience.”

Three years later, MacNiven is seeing the results of her work as she focuses on family portraits and wedding sessions, with additional projects such as headshots and buildings. “It’s been great, and every year I’m growing a little bit more,” she said. “I’m seeing my numbers double and it’s promising that I’m actually able to make a living this way and be able to support my family. I think I’ve settled on how I’m going to do things. I don’t think I’m going to have to rebrand or start over anymore because it seems to be doing really well.”

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She’s also found support in the small business community in Durango. She attends the local Chamber events for networking opportunities, and has developed a good rapport with other local photographers. “We can all help each other out and there’s enough room for everybody,” said MacNiven. “There’s enough business to go around. We don’t need to be competitive. It works and we all help each other out and it’s a great community of artists and business owners making sure there’s enough room for all of us, doing what we love to do.”

As her business continues to grow, she’s also found ways to give back and support her community. She recently concluded a fundraising drive for Project Merry Christmas. For a session fee of $175, which included Christmas cards and an ornament, MacNiven offered portraits. She raised $1,000, which will help two to three families with food, clothing and presents for the holiday season. “I try to do something every year to support a local family,” she said. “I think it’s really important we all try to give back. I’ve been in the position where I’ve needed help with health insurance. There are lot of people out there struggling to make it. It’s important to help each other and build each other up. For people who can’t get their basic needs met, it’s huge we help out with that, so if I can, I’m going to do it. I like that I can use my art and photography talent to give back in some way. For me to be able to use that in a way that helps people is really important. I feel like we should all be doing that in some way or another as small business owners.”

MacNiven has found, despite the challenges and struggles she’s had, that it’s worth it owning her business and pursuing her craft. “One of the biggest things that holds people back from making a living at their art is that fear factor,” admitted MacNiven. “It’s scary. It’s pretty huge. For me, the risk is not going to outweigh the benefit. It’s so incredible when you get that feeling that you’re finally there and you’re finally supporting yourself from your art. You don’t need that other job. It’s such a good feeling. I can buy groceries and pay rent. When I was in school, photographers came in and talked to classes. They really inspired me, hearing their stories. They can do it, and if they can do it, so can I.”

See more photos on Kelly’s website, follow her on Facebook, find some inspiration from her pins on Pinterest, and catch her on Instagram as @kellymirandaphotography or Twitter as @kellymphotos.

This is the second in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.

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Glamour and Glitz: Perks of the Senior Model Program with Allison Ragsdale Photography

Senora Robinson has seen her friends enter the Senior Model Program with Allison Ragsdale Photography for the past five years. “I always thought her photos were amazing,” Senora shared. “I was pretty well integrated in the modeling arena, so I wanted to make sure I had a great photographer for my senior photos. I was recommended my junior year by one of my senior friends. She has great photos.”

As a child, Senora started modeling when she received encouragement and guidance from a photographer after a family shoot. Since then, she has moved more towards the business side of the fashion industry, but modeling has remained a personal goal.

Senora is headed to fashion school next fall, after graduating this spring. “I would love to keep modeling,” revealed Senora. “I would love to be a Victoria’s Secret Pink Model. That’s my life goal.”

Senora, now an intern with Allison, works with Allison and her husband, Matt, every week, assisting Matt with marketing, sending out marketing materials or helping organize contests, and going on location with Allison to shoots. She completes projects such as Snapchat stories, which Allison posts on Instagram, and helps with flash adjustments, poses and wardrobe. “I help bring revenue, excitement and a different perspective,” Senora explained. “We’re trying now to look at the point of view of the senior and the person who’s already gone through the Senior Program so we can make it better for the up and coming seniors.”

She’s also seen how clients transform from feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable to confident and relaxed. “Allison just makes everything so easy and doesn’t have you do anything you’re uncomfortable with,” Senora said. “She lets you take charge of your shoot which is really awesome. She makes it really fun and comfortable.”

Allison allows the session to be customized, which includes listening to music, or incorporating outfit changes. “It’s super personalized to you,” Senora explained. “She’s lighthearted, really fun and really easy to talk to and be around and it makes it really fun for people doing family, wedding, and senior photos. Everyone loves Allison. It’s really great.”

Senora had been asked by several other photographers in town to join their senior program, but she wanted to work with Allison. “I chose Allison, hands-down, no question, because I knew the program and the way she runs it,” said Senora. “It will be even better with the 2017 Program, especially with the adjustments we’re making.”

Valuing her input as a senior who has completed the program, Allison and Matt asked for suggestions on how enhance the experience. While Senora has noticed that potential clients are nervous about the cost, she has experienced herself that participation in the program is worth much more than the money value. Included are multiple shoots, which can include headshots, couture session, family session, senior session, and custom sessions, depending on the model level a senior chooses. Hair and make-up are also included. “It’s really worth all of it,” Senora said, “and it’s documented the end of junior year to the end of senior year and you change a lot, so it’s cool to document the entire time instead of just senior photos.”

Then there are the relationships with Allison and Matt. “You get to know her and Matt very well, which is cool because they’re such great people,” shared Senora. “It’s an overall really fun experience. I would absolutely go back and do it again.”

Originally published in the February 2016 issue of Durango Neighbors Magazine.

Making a House a Home: Family Portraits with Allison Ragsdale

The last time Pauline Ellis participated in a family photo, she was two years old. After getting married, having a daughter of her own and moving to Durango, Ellis first saw Allison Ragsdale’s work at the Durango Recreational Center. “I thought, if I ever wanted a family portrait, I would look Allison up,” Ellis shared.

Ellis’s work for the United States Forest Service brought her to Durango. With a degree in civil engineering, Ellis is now the partnership coordinator for the San Juan National Forest, which relies on many partners to help care for the forest.

Ellis married her husband, Fred, in 1996, who also works for the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and fuels technician. They met through mutual friends while Fred was living in Georgia and Ellis was in Arizona. The night before they were going on a backpacking trip with friends through the Smoky Mountains, a hurricane ripped through the area. “We weren’t sure we’d be able to make the trip, but we were able to hike through downed trees,” remembered Ellis, who has been with the Forest Service for 35 years. “It was fun.”

Ellis and Fred’s daughter, Brooke, graduated from high school earlier this year. She wanted her senior portraits taken by Allison, which came with a complimentary family session. “We were so pleased with those pictures,” Ellis said of the senior portraits. “It was wonderful. My daughter tends to be pretty shy, and Allison, in a nice, unassuming way, was able to get these fabulous pictures of her. I was afraid she’d look the same in every picture and not smile, but she was able to get these wonderful poses of her.”

They took advantage of the family portrait opportunity when her father, who lives in southern California, visited during Christmas last year. Ellis’ mother had passed away, and with her father getting older, Ellis wanted to capture their family memories. “Like many other families for years, we’ve talked about doing a family portrait,” Ellis admitted. “Other than a free portrait for our church directory, we haven’t done pictures.”

Ellis found that Allison was able to work magic with her stoic father and two small dogs. “She was able to get my dad to smile,” marveled Ellis. “She’s amazing with animals, she was amazing with my senior father, she was great with my daughter and with my camera-shy husband. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

Matt and Allison’s assistance didn’t end after the photo sessions. “We have so little experience with professional photography,” Ellis explained, “This is where we appreciated both Matt and Allison. Matt spent so much time with us in the studio, selecting the photos and the displays. They came out to our house and helped us find the right place in our home, and hung the photos for us. There was never any hard sell whatsoever. They just followed up the photo shoot with a session to show us the pictures, the different products available and let us select what suited our family the most.”

Ellis saw not only Matt’s expertise in selecting the perfect portraits, but how those portraits personalized their recently remodeled home. “I’m not good at designing or decorating,” Ellis demurred. “Most things that hang on the wall are pieces of my life. Having those photos there just captures everything we wanted about making our house a home.”

Now, Brooke has moved to Washington State for college, and her parents are facing an empty nest, albeit a wonderfully decorated one. “I think my husband is going to spend a lot of time staring at her pictures and pining for her,” Ellis explained, “It will help ease the transition of empty nesting.”

Originally published in the November 2015 issue of Durango Neighbors Magazine.

Senior Model Program Offers Life-Long Friendships and Cherished Moments

Lisa and Peter Marshall first met Matt, the husband half of Allison Ragsdale Photography, when he was teaching math at the Durango High School. As a freshman, their oldest daughter, Colin, was shy. Lisa knew she was a good student, but had concerns about her socially. “I remember going to my first conference and sitting down with Matt,” Lisa shared. “I asked how she was doing, socially, and he just looked at me like I was crazy.”

She found out that Colin talked nonstop in class. “It made me feel good that she felt that comfort level with him to have those interactions and come out of her shell,” shared Lisa, who has three daughters and one son. “Matt had great relationships with the kids, even if he didn’t have them all in class.”

Two years later, Colin applied for the Allison Ragsdale Photography Senior Model Program. Through the program, during their senior year, students are the face of Allison Ragsdale Photography online and in their community while they model for new location shoots, portfolio building and collaborative projects and are featured on prints and canvases locally and nationally. In addition to the business cards they can hand out with their images printed on them, they receive various other perks, such as points that can be applied to prints or other products.

Colin’s participation in the Senior Model Program began a life-long friendship. “I don’t consider them photographers who work for me. I really consider them our friends,” shared Lisa. “The photos are so beautiful, but what’s more important to me is that they bring out a very natural beauty in my children. The pictures I love aren’t standard pictures of them for their senior photos. They’re looking down. They’re looking away. That’s what I love. They’re the moments we’re going to cherish forever.”

Originally published in the August 2015 edition of Durango Neighbors Magazine.