Pivot to photo pro
Laid off in pandemic, Tupper Lake woman starts dream business
TUPPER LAKE — When the coronavirus pandemic put Emily Martin out of a job this spring, she took the opportunity to develop her photography — her photography business, that is.
Martin had been working as a manager and bartender at P-2’s Irish Pub up until then, but she had long hoped to turn her wedding photography “side gig” into a full-time career.
In June she was hired to photograph Tupper Lake High School’s unconventional outdoor graduation ceremony, and since then she has had a shoot nearly every day, capturing families, elopements, pets and kids in Halloween costumes.
She said it has been “amazing” to find this many clients, especially in an uncertain time.
Her husband Jay, however, was not amazed.
“You put your boots to the ground really hard in order to do that,” Jay told her. “It wasn’t so much amazing as it was you doing your due diligence in booking gigs and advertising and putting together a business plan. That made it happen really fast.”
He said he admires how hard she worked to make her dream a reality. Emily said she always thought she would transition to a photography career when she and Jay had kids, but the coronavirus kicked it off this year just the same.
Leaving a steady job
The day bars around the state, including P-2’s, closed due to the virus, Martin said she woke up to messages from friends and family asking her, “What are you going to do?”
She didn’t know and was frustrated at first, she said. She had put a lot of work into the pub’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party, work that was going to waste. But eventually her focus turned inward.
“I really had a lot of time to put into myself,” Emily said. “I had more time to focus on my hobbies and my skills.”
When bars and restaurants began their reopening process, Emily said she did not find the reopening requirements of masks and spaced-out outdoor dining appealing.
“This was the moment where I realized I was going to try and make this work,” Emily said. “It’s scary. I was just really afraid to leave a full-time paying job to do your own thing.
“Now I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?”
She said this summer she has sometimes done two shoots a day and did a fall “miniseries” at the Tupper Lake Golf Club in which she captured 16 families in two days.
Work in the woods
Emily said shooting portraits and family pictures has been easy despite the pandemic. This is because she already was taking her photos outside.
“We live in such a beautiful area that I really like to capture the beauty and the nature around us with the families,” Emily said. “It’s very easy to socially distance out in nature. I have all the right lenses.”
Back in high school, she liked to take her cheap camera out in the woods and take pictures for fun. At 17 years old, her friend Faith McClelland said she loved Emily’s photos and asked her to shoot her wedding. That was her first paid gig, and she was hooked.
“I really love shooting weddings,” Emily said. “I’m a total hopeless romantic.”
While most of her wedding jobs were canceled this year since the virus limiting gatherings, “I found myself shooting more elopements.”
While taking senior photos at Bog River Falls this summer, she bumped into a couple scouting out a wedding location. The next day she was right back at the falls, shooting their elopement photography.
Emily said it’s encouraging to see people finding a way to “make it work.”
Jay said the reason Emily has been so busy this summer is largely because she was going out and pounding the pavement for work, walking into businesses in Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, making a name for herself and posting her work on Facebook. She said this is where she has found most clients.
“I started posting on Facebook just the Christmas props and backdrops I’ve been buying, and people are like, ‘I can’t resist,'” Emily said.
She is now looking to branch out through the Tri-Lakes area, and she also has been contracted for different types of jobs, like Airbnb rental photos and advertisements.
Focusing her craft
Emily said with all the work she’s done in the last few months, her photography skills have improved. She said she learns new techniques for shooting, lighting and editing every day, as well as working on the less tangible aspects of portrait photography, such as capturing genuine moments within families.
“Even just taking photos of kids,” Emily said. “I feel like a year ago I didn’t even know how to talk to kids, you know? Kids freak me out. In the last year I’ve really learned how to work with kids.”
She said giving them props is the best thing to do.
Emily likes being crafty and has been building props to enhance her photos: a pumpkin stand for kids to stand at, a newborn cradle made from wood in her yard and crochet blankets to swaddle them in.
She’s now a member of the Professional Photographers of America trade association.
Family, friends help photos
Emily said she cannot take credit for her business because she is surrounded by a support group of friends and family who make it possible.
She said she isn’t a starving artist. She has been able to make her photography passion a profitable career.
“I wouldn’t let her starve,” Jay added.
Jay is an accountant at his father’s firm in town.
“Not only is my husband my best friend and my teammate; he’s also my bookkeeper, accountant, financial advisor,” Emily said.
“She’s got the cleanest books of any photographer in the Tri-Lakes,” Jay said with a laugh.
He said her business model looks good.
“To get a baseline during COVID that’s successful is a testament to what it could be,” Jay said.
Emily said she is already booking weddings for 2022. She also said she hopes to cover many events in that year, if the coronavirus is then a thing of the past.
“I hope that will be a big year of celebrations and events,” Emily said.