This post, written by Hailey Nelson, is part of an Act Locally Waco blog series called “Entrepreneurs of Waco.” The series, featuring McLennan SBDC entrepreneurs, is a collaboration between the McLennan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the Professional Writing program at Baylor University, and Act Locally Waco. See the original post here.
by Hailey Nelson for Act Locally Waco
“Photography is an art form, and everyone has their own unique touch,” says Aaron Jetelina, or AJ, the proprietor of WTX Media. This is the main reason AJ works alone. Photographers have their own fingerprints on the photos, especially when it comes to editing, and the difference can usually be seen in the final product.
For AJ, it all started in high school when his photography teacher left suddenly, and AJ began taking over all of his teacher’s photographing responsibilities. He started out photographing football games and sports events, but that slowly morphed into taking over the rest of the school’s events. Today, AJ’s photography hobby has grown into a well-known business. Beyond finding something you’re good at, he says, “You have to find your niche, because it’s so important to be unique in this business and have focus. There are many new photographers out there, but if you find something interesting, like pet photography or newborn photography, you’re sure to receive more business.”
AJ found his “niche” while taking pictures for a few local dance studios. He realized the typical process that has been used for decades in school and sports photography, does not work with dance photography. When photographing a dance studio one must account for the multiple outfits dancers have, and you need to be able to accommodate a variety of poses. Parents want to see their child’s portraits before making purchasing decisions. AJ developed a new system in order to meet his customer’s needs. Instead of parents pre-paying for pictures without seeing their images Aaron uses multiple computers as viewing stations. After the dancer finishes his or her photography session, the images are viewable on the computers to help in making purchasing decisions. Along with his professionalism and experience, this innovative way of making sales has enabled AJ to grow his client base to over 20 dance studio across Texas. Last year he photographed over 1000 dancers – which equates to 3000 outfits and 20,000 poses/images – all in the span of 10 weeks.
AJ is now using his knowledge of dance photography to develop a training program to help other photographers across the country learn how to be successful in this very specific photography niche. “I figure I can’t work in more than one state at a time,” he says. With the training program, other photographers can use AJ’s process to expand their businesses.
AJ’s interest in developing efficient business processes goes back to college where he earned a business degree. Since AJ started his photography business in junior high, he already had quite a bit of knowledge about photography by the time he entered college. He decided that earning a degree in business would be beneficial in continuing his career.
AJ’s business degree and his expertise in photography programs have both been integral to his success. For instance, he uses editing programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom to fix minor cosmetic issues such as teeth whitening, and to do major editing such as full background changes, postermaking and more. He spent over seven years mastering these two editing systems, and has been able to use this to his advantage when it comes down to setting himself apart. “Everyone wants the perfect Pinterest shot. They see photos of perfect sunset weddings and immediately assume that’s how it’ll work. When in reality, it takes a massive amount of editing to get those.” This is only part of the reason that photographers can be expensive. It takes two hours to edit every one hour of shooting. So a full eight-hour wedding, can take sixteen hours or more to complete all the basic edits.
Another reason for the cost is that photography is an art. It’s like selling a painting or a movie. It’s something that can never be recreated the same way, and the artist takes pride in his or her work. This is especially evident when the photographer gives away the printing rights to customers. Typically photographers will have a second meeting with their clients where they select the photos they’d like to keep, and they are only allowed to print through the photographer. For his clients, AJ creates a flat rate depending on what they want done; then he provides all of the edited pictures on a flash drive for the customers to use as they please. It’s another innovation, and it has drawn many customers. “The world is relying so much more on technology than it used to, and no one wants the photos printed anymore, they want to put them on Facebook or Instagram,” he says.
AJ’s photographs also appear on Google; he is the only Google photographer between Dallas and Austin. No, he isn’t the guy who rides around in the car. He takes panoramic business images that appear on Google. These help businesses advertise, and they help customers get sense of what a place looks like when they search online. AJ’s experience and his vast array of equipment, including a camera with panoramic capabilities and a swivel tripod that allows the camera to move in a complete circle, helped him land the Google job. AJ owns several cameras and a multitude of different lenses that enable him to capture images from a great distance or up-close and in detail. In other words, he’s prepared because he knows no two photo-shoots are ever the same.
One thing that is the same is Waco, or at least AJ in Waco. He graduated high school here and returned here after college to continue his business. “I grew up here, and the best part is I get to do what I love and capture moments in people’s lives that they can cherish for years to come.”
The entrepreneur…Aaron Jetelina started out his career in photography back in 2000 photographing portraits and events. He graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2007 with a bachelors in business administration and management.
The writer…Hailey Nelson is a secondary education major with a concentration in English. She is a semi-pro photographer and loves animals more than anything. She is a member of both Kappa Delta Pi honors society and Alpha Delta Pi sorority.