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Meet Kelley Hudson of Studio Sequoia in Golden Hill

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelley Hudson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kelley. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
When I was going to school at UCSD I began taking photos of student art works because I was an art history major and that was going to be a part of my job. But then my friends started getting engaged or asking for graduation photos and I just kept snapping. When I graduated I still had so much photo work that I quit my job as UCSD’s art coordinator for University Centers and opened my studio. It wasn’t easy! Even with all the photo jobs I left school with, making a living taking photos was fickle and frustrating. I remember working 60+ hour weeks for the first two years just trying to get myself out there. Photo was a passion but the passion part was only a small percentage of the job and I learned that early on. I never quit though. I just kept plugging away at it! Watched hundreds of You Tube tutorials, became that person on Instagram that just posts all the time… There wasn’t anything I wasn’t willing to try.

Then one day, about 4 years ago, I started to get jobs through my vendor friends and my former clients and now I just get jobs. If you put in that work, you’ll get those clients! That’s the only trick I can offer you because that’s what happened to me! My 60+ hour weeks turned into regular work and now I have a company. It’ll come, you must be patient and persistent and not at all afraid to work until you can’t work anymore. Never give up, there’s always someone with $500 and a Costco membership willing to take over. You can’t let that distract you from who you are and what you want to do.

Has it been a smooth road?
I got lucky in that I did sort of stumble onto the photography and events game. I’ve worked very VERY hard for my current position but if you had asked me what my plans were in my adulthood, being a photographer was not on that list. I was good at it from the beginning but mostly because I offered killer customer service.

I was pretty sure I was done catering to people, playing the role of customer service all the time. I worked for Starbucks throughout the beginning of my educational career, it wasn’t the best job but it taught me what I like and don’t like about customer service and how insanely important it is to your photography career.

If you’re an events photographer wondering how “this amateur gets all these gigs” it’s because they’re nice and fun and most clients want that more than they want “your art.” I spend hours just talking to people, buttering them up for the business card exchange. Only about 10% of my job is actual photo taking, the rest is done in my studio on the phone or email that was the biggest eye opener I’ve had in my career. If your clients don’t like YOU, it doesn’t matter how good your photos are! That was the biggest struggle for me going forward, learning that my art was secondary to my customer service and my attitude.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Studio Sequoia is a life events photography company that specializes in complete event story telling. All of our albums are fully offered, contain all the photos we edit and are a reflection of your event from start to finish. We are not sticklers on time, we are not annoyed by your altered schedule or plans, we are here for you from start to finish. We support, encourage and enjoy our clients. The job just isn’t worth it if it isn’t a lot of fun to do, I promise.

I am most proud of our reputation. It took a long time to build a solid reputation in the industry, especially since we refuse to pay for advertising, but we have an excellent one that brings us a lot of word-of-mouth business. We work hard to make sure both the clients and the vendors happy and we give the vendors and the event guests their images free of charge or watermark. I ignored a lot of the sporadic internet advice that watermarking is key and that you need to maintain your image copyrights and all that. It never brought me anything but positive results being the only studio that gives the rights back to the clients. That sets us apart from everyone else, that our clients and their needs come first. The art is second. We will always be artists, but can we also be great people as well? That’s the mission statement.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
This is a hard one… because the cream layer at the top of this question is “heck yes! San Diego is an awesome place to make art!” BUT having said that, I do not make the most money here and I do not work solely in San Diego. I did start here, of course. BUT I was also born here, so I knew a pretty large group of people already when I started.

The main problem with being in the events industry here is that there is a HUGE “free market.” In other words, too many people are “starting out,” doing it for free and taking just enough jobs from the professionals to make it hard to excel past a certain threshold. You’ll have to go outside San Diego, outside Southern California, to get the big gigs eventually.

So, yes, it’s a great place to start because everyone loves free work here! But it won’t be easy for you to get a start without doing some gigs for free or hustling those $50 gigs without a portfolio. And by contributing to the “free market” you are inadvertently taking gigs away from yourself in the future. If you want to do what I do, work harder and do not contribute to the “free market” no matter how tempting. OR start trying to get out of state gigs now and work at maintaining the destination events moniker.

What can our city do? That’s hard too because it’s not San Diego in itself that causes this problem. It’s a lot of people that are unemployed, stay-at-home or are returning to the workforce but don’t want to go right away. They think “If I can make x-dollars on these kinds of gigs this many times a month, I won’t have to get a job!” Most drop out within the first 2 years, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t take 2 years of gigs from the already established professionals. You’ll have to come to terms with that and not contribute to it if possible.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Studio Sequoia

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