Interview with photographer Ashlie René – let go of your ego and listen to your client
We take a lot of pride in the wonderful community that we get to serve through Pixieset products. Our users have always been a great source of inspiration and empowerment to approach our work through innovation and continuous improvement. Whether that's our products, our online presence, or our overall vision for the industry, there's no doubt we place photographers at the forefront of our efforts.
The best thing about being part of a community is meeting new creatives and learning from each other's experiences. We're kicking off a series of inspiring interviews with photographers from the Pixieset community to hone this ability. We'll dive deeper into how they navigate today's challenging reality or how they make their voice heard in a way that resonates with who they are as artists.
We're thrilled to begin this journey with an engaging and honest conversation with Ashlie René, an outdoor & wildlife photographer from Oregon. Ashlie shares what it means to go the extra mile for the client or how competing with big talent pushes her to learn new skills and achieve more.
How would you present yourself to the world out there?
I’m a creative-professional based in Oregon. Travel, exploration, and wildlife feed my mind and ambitions - I can’t get enough, and I’m building my career and future around these values. My home base, where I’m surrounded by family, friends, my cat, and some of my retaining clients is a grounding and comforting place to always return to. I’m seeking to experience life and our unique planet as fully as I can, utilizing the technological fruits of advancement built by the creativity of humans that came before us. I’m humbled to admit - none of what I do today could be possible without it.
What's one thing that sets you apart?
There are a few things that I’m confident set me apart from others. I take pride in being an artist without a bulging ego. Ultimately, my job is to accomplish what my client is aiming to achieve and set realistic expectations for both of us based on a true understanding of my own capabilities.
I’m a strong communicator, I can pivot when unforeseen circumstances occur and when possible, I am happy to reply to my client’s and partners after-hours emails, texts and calls. Beyond this, I am versatile in range and always updating/upgrading my mental and physical software to provide quality and relevancy. I understand that there is always more to learn and grow in.
You have an exciting mix of creative skills. Which do you rely on most in your work?
I rely mostly on an open mind, where new ideas are invited to flow freely. In the work I do, I think you’ve got to learn to be strong in all areas to pull off a polished end product. And take notice of your weaker spots to plan accordingly and make improvements. When you’re a strong shooter and a strong post-production colorist/editor, the creative world is open to you, and it feels like you can do anything. I rely on my ability to observe and improve in all areas.
Do you have a creative process that you follow thoroughly on each project?
I follow a process of inquiry (whether it is a brand/business reaching out to me or myself reaching out to them), establishing/understanding the goals and scope of the project to a well-designed proposal/estimate customized and refined to fit this unique prospective client. Depending on the scope and style of the project, pre-production planning and coordinating may be a collaborative and time-consuming first stage or a simple plan that leads quickly to production.
I often invite my clients and other project members to join me for a couple of stages in post-production: licensed music selection and post-process/color-treatment style. I always deliver with an invitation for my client to request changes and ask questions. This openness and creative professionalism have paid off every time. My clients are always elated with our end product and send me thank-you emails that keep me creating with much pride and gratitude.
How would you define your style as a photographer & videographer?
I’m certainly drawn to particular textures, light, shadows, softness, distinct moments and details in time that connect to the human senses and invite you to really feel a present moment. You can never fully keep a piece of time without the scent or air, but you can remind people of it powerfully, with just an image or moving frames. My style is adaptive and evolving with the world around me. In my opinion, art and ideas should be developing along the timescale of human existence in concert with us.
What are your main challenges in today's business landscape?
No one likes this answer, but the main challenges in today’s photography/videography business landscape are competing with lower bids or bigger talent. Lower bids are something you get used to and make personal financial decisions on - whether you’re willing to bid competitively or stand by your rate. Especially as budgets are squeezed during a time of recession. I think competing with great talent is a good thing, it’s certainly pushed me to exponential growth over the past couple of years.
As photography and videography continue to become more sought-after career paths and more easily accessible, the creative industry is shifting. On top of this, social media has altered things so that, in some instances, the quality of the content doesn’t actually matter. The attention is what holds the highest monetary value. I’m curious to see how we will all navigate this and somewhat optimistic that creative arts are a major part of the future of work.
How do you choose your clients, and how do you align in terms of expectations?
I seek clients that understand the marketing value of quality photography and videography, as well as working with a creative professional that knows how to deliver every time. You can tell they see the difference, and when they do, you can leap miles into what you’re being paid for projects. Expectations for deliverables, the scope of work and turnaround are clearly defined in a document from the start, and there should never be a lapse in communication.
My standard practice is to plan to over-deliver (in a strict, quality manner). This way I’m never falling short and consistently exciting clients with more than they expected. I’ve noticed this builds stronger relationships and creates retaining/returning clients.
What are the main benefits of covering a very specific niche?
The main benefit of covering a niche is that you should be able to work that niche on autopilot and in your sleep. Your portfolio in this area is rock solid, and you’re attracting a familiar client base that trusts your ability to execute their project.
I do think showing strength across a broad scope of work can be equally impressive and open a variety of opportunities to you as well. Training your brain to be versatile in this way can increase your ability to learn new things faster and perhaps lead you into thrilling territory you didn’t previously know you’d have an interest in.
What role does the website play in your business scheme? How does it support it?
Having a website that well-represents my level of professionalism as well as the feelings my personal brand needs to convey is massively important. Prospective clients need a platform to view the depth of my portfolio and to understand the core messages necessary in obtaining my target brands, agencies and businesses. This can be overwhelming and cost tens of thousands of dollars upfront when there aren’t platforms built for creators such as Pixieset.
My website drives home the message of reputability and demand for the work that I’m doing. It also gives me the opportunity to show off who I have worked with and how much they value the assets and relationships obtained from the partnership.
You use our entire suite of products. Are there any that you enjoy in particular?
I love the way Pixieset continues to build on what they already have and make it better. Especially when it comes to the website capabilities. Being able to easily work on, update and improve my website myself is financially freeing and fun. Doing so has built an interest in furthering my capabilities in design and branding. It continues to inspire.
How do you think working with Pixieset impacts the experience you offer to your clients?
Working with the platform Pixieset provides is such a relief for an independent creative-business-owner in my industry. It gives my clients a reputable platform to store and access their content at any time. It’s developed so that when my clients visit my website and galleries, they are engaging with something that looks and feels like the unique personal brand I work to represent. The fact that Pixieset continues to build-on and adapt its platform to changing technology and trends is why I’m still with them after 7+ years.
What did you learn and unlearn by doing outdoor and wildlife photography over the years?
Wildlife and underwater photography are continually teaching me high respect for other beings, patience, attention and gratitude. Outdoor and adventure-based photography builds resilience and creative grit. I’m so grateful for the lessons in challenging myself to get things done under unpredictable circumstances. Most of all, I’ve learned that if you don’t budge from your “comfort zone,” you really can’t expect to move at all. Growth comes from confidence built in those experiences.
Is there anything in particular that keeps your wheels spinning?
The creativity of others, the current cultural and societal trends and most of all - the natural world around me keep me invested in expanding the work that I do. Deep conversations, especially those that represent opposing worldviews and intellectual diversity always fuel me creatively. Mindfulness and meditative practice is another great source of inspiration and often lead me to leap from my seat to my notepad. These instances have guided me to my greatest opportunities yet, simply by having the courage to send off an email pitch.
What advice would you give to someone tempted to go on a similar path?
My advice to others is to learn to do the work, learn to plan, communicate fully and most of all - deliver. Take opportunities and jobs because they pay and build your portfolio, experience and character. Take lower-paying jobs until there’s a good reason for someone to pay you more. Don’t carry an ego about your art and deliver what your client is asking for - even if you hate it. Once you graduate from this kind of work - you’ll learn to weed out clients that don’t align with your artistic preferences.
Continue to experiment in all aspects of your business and pay attention to what pays off or gets you the “yes” you were looking for. Never stop building on what you already have and continue to operate knowing you have something new to learn.
In a world constantly questioning its intrinsic value and uniqueness, measuring success by the number of likes and followers we get online, Ashlie René's approach sure feels liberating. Being genuine and passionate about outdoor and wildlife photography and constantly trying to learn new skills makes her a source of inspiration for everyone out there.
More inspiring stories from our community members are coming, so make sure you don't miss them.