Susan Shek is one of the leading wedding photographers in New York City. Adam Pascarella and I are also lucky enough to have her photograph our wedding this fall! Here’s the blog post from our engagement photos!
She is one of the most highly rated and highly sought out wedding photographers in all of New York City, having 100 five-star ratings on Wedding Wire and rated consistently with the Couple’s Choice Award, as well as The Knot’s Best of Wedding Award for the past seven years.
Aside from her stunning images, Susan’s six-figure self-made business comes from her impeccable brand and attention to detail. Tune in for this episode to hear more about:
Turning your creativity into a six-figure business.
Creating a customer experience that sets you apart- it’s not just about the photos!
Using attention to detail to make all the difference.
Video Interview with Susah Shek
Transcript of Episode
Leah Gervais: Hey everyone, welcome back to the Your Biggest Vision show. I’m your host, Leah, and I’m very excited and honored to have Susan Shek with us today. I’m sorry, Susan Shek Saxon, right?
Susan Shek: I can be Susan Shek.
Leah Gervais: Okay. I want to be disrespectful. But anyway, Susan is one of the most sought after and well known a wedding photographers here in New York. She’s also photographing my wedding in October and my fiance and I have already loved getting to know her and work with her and we were struck not only by her amazing photography skills but by her level of professionalism and the real experience she gave us. And, you know, I think that that principle really applies to any business owner, any entrepreneur. So I asked Susan to come share a little bit about how she built this very incredible business in a very competitive market. So thank you for being here, Susan.
Susan Shek: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
Leah Gervais: My pleasure. So I’m just gonna read a little bit about your background and then we will hear from you. So Susan is a native New Yorker who started her professional path in network administration, far from the creativity she now gets to enjoy. Susan started her photography in the New York Nightlife magazine, and from there, transitioned to weddings. She is now one of the most highly rated and highly sought out wedding photographers and all of New York City having 100 five star ratings on Weddingwire and rated consistently with a couple’s choice award as well as the Knots best of wedding award for the past seven years. Jeez. Aside from her stunning images, Susan’s six figures, self made business comes from her impeccable brand and attention to detail. And of course, anyone is listening to this, I will post my engagement pictures because I’m obsessed with them. So, you have amazing work. So Susan, my show is all about your vision and you have built such a life of creativity for yourself. But walk us a little bit through what it was like before you had this wedding photography business, before you had your own business. What were things like for you maybe in college or so?
Susan Shek: Yeah, so when I first started, I guess finding your clients and your couples to believe in you, was a little difficult because when you don’t have any work to show, you know, then it’s really hard to advertise. So, you know, I had to put myself out there on different places like the knot and Weddingwire to be able to, you know, showcase some of my work and you know, have some different couples that I would try out with. You know, some sessions that I would do an exchange for, you know, using their photos online.
Leah Gervais: When did the sort of seed get planted in your head that you could build this, that you could become one of them most reputable, wedding photographers in New York? Because I know you started out in nightlife photography. So even when you got the interest, did you really envision it would grow to what it is now?
Susan Shek: No, I never expected to get, you know, so busy. Especially last year I’m having shot so many weddings. I guess when you give people the level of service and quality, you know, everybody takes note and you know, then you’ll become in high demand. So it’s taken me a long time to get to this point and I’m really grateful for where I am now and I see myself continuing to grow more and you know, build more of my brand and always have room for improvement. But you know, it’s great to be, you know, where I am now.
Leah Gervais: Yeah. No, it’s amazing. So what would you stay when, when you think in sort of those beginning times when you were putting yourself out there and you didn’t have a, these testimonials and you didn’t have all the reviews you now have on these big wedding websites, what would you say kept you moving when it sort of felt like no one knew who you were, you know, how is this ever going to take off? What kept you motivated?
Susan Shek: Just being inspired and having different people tell me, compliment me, how great my work is and you know, I’m getting these like handwritten notes from my couples and you know, just having people show, you know, gratitude and, you know, believing in me. That’s what kept me going and you know, know that I had something going for, you know, this photography business.
Leah Gervais: Right. Yeah. So you focused on the wins even when it seems sometimes like, you know, things were moving slow or not as quickly as you want it to. I think that that’s something I’d advise people all the time because it can be really hard in the beginning to feel like you’re not growing fast enough or you’re not moving fast enough or no one cares. You kind of have to look at the things that are working. So when you decided to transition from night life to wedding, what was that like?
Susan Shek: It was, it was an easy process because I mean, I, I love the night life and I figured that was the best place for me to get started in photography because, you know, just the lighting challenges and being in complete darkness and fighting like the different strobe lights and knowing the right timing to take the right shots was, you know, already really challenging. So, you know, when one of my friends from high school approached me and told me that, you know, she, she wanted me to be her wedding photographer. I was, you know, I was a little scared and you know, I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t think that I was going to do a good job. But you know, everybody loved the photos. And you know, like after that was where it ignited my new passion for weddings. And I realize like there’s nothing else that makes me as happy as, you know, seeing people that are happy on such a momentous day, you know?
Leah Gervais: Yeah. So that’s great. So it kind of was a natural progression away from nightlife because your friend kind of took a chance on you. Yeah, yeah. Oh that’s awesome. And then you sort of stumbled into the passion of it. So when you, you know, think of, I guess if you could think of three, I’m going to ask like two categories, three sort of your top photography tips that you think make your images stand out. And then maybe three like experiences that you give your clients that you think have been really effective during this. Is there anything you can think of that would be helpful with those categories?
Susan Shek: I hear a lot of times from people that like, you know, my pictures are very timeless. So when we look back at the picture is 10 years from now you’re still gonna see the same image is not, you know, like over, you know, edited or you know, weird colors or anything like that. So, that’s one of the qualities I think. And maybe, just, you know, having like real moments rather than stage and like I don’t do any, you know, styled shoots or anything like that. I don’t really believe in those because I feel like, you know, people want to see the real weddings and the real moments that people have so they can kind of imagine what they would be going through too.
Leah Gervais: Right, right. Yeah. Especially with something so raw like a wedding.
Susan Shek: Yeah. And then also just kind of like, you know, communicating like what I see, like my vision, you know, it’s not really just so much about the photo, it’s more about, you know, how I kind of directed that moment or, you know, capture that moment that could have been gone with the blink of an eye.
Leah Gervais: Mm. Wow. Do you feel like you have an inherent gift for that or it’s something you’ve developed over the years?
Susan Shek: Yeah, I think that I definitely have a natural gift for that because you know, it’s, it’s hard to teach people that kind of gift. You know, I’ve been trying to teach my husband how to, you know, take a good picture and you know, how to frame the right shot. But you know, a lot of people don’t really understand it and you know, they, it’s hard for them to even, you know, like get to this point.
Leah Gervais: Yeah. Right. So is that like when you feel the most creatively fulfilled is when you can sort of use that gift that you naturally have to find timeless moments in any situation?
Susan Shek: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s it. You know, like I’m just paying attention to every, every single thing that’s in that frame. You know, like if there’s like a garbage can that’s in the way, you know, like I’ll make sure that I’m not, you know, capturing that side of the frame and, you know, just composing the shot right. Things like that. You have to think within, you know, a second, not like, you know, a few minutes.
Leah Gervais: Right. Right. And so you have very keen attention to detail, it sounds like in your photos. And then one of the things I read the most about you and I was when I was wanting you to be our wedding photographer and I’m so grateful you are, was everyone said that you have such attention to detail also just in the way that you sort of interact with people throughout the day and the whole wedding process. And so do you feel like you just aren’t naturally meticulous person and that that’s really helped you or what advice do you have for anyone trying to go a business that needs to sort of pay attention to the smaller stuff?
Susan Shek: Yeah. So, um, I took that Anagram test and I’m a two and think I’m just a natural like, you know, helper like my whole family, you know, my mom especially, she’s always like helping people even though they might not need it, you know, like that kind of thing is just something that’s been in like my family valuse. So, you know, like just being there for more, for like helping, you know, fix a zipper on the dress or you know, helping mom like, you know, put on a necklace properly and, you know, teaching them some of the cultures that they might not know what to do in, you know, like I feel like I’m an experienced expert in most of these fields because I’ve seen it all, you know, I don’t think there’s been one thing that I haven’t been able to do.
Leah Gervais: Oh my gosh you’re making me so excited for my wedding! Those are wonderful qualities. And it sounds like you really are part of people’s big day, not sort of just like capturing it. And I’m sure that, that’s cool, I love it so much. So do you have something that looking back, you feel like was a very big challenge in your wedding photography career or some moment that you’ve really learned from, whether it’s photography or just working for yourself related?
Susan Shek: There’s a lot of people now that are, you know, photographers. I mean, you can go out and buy a camera and call yourself a photographer now and there’s all these like different things on how to be a wedding photographer. But I feel like there’s so much more to it. You know, like people really need to like do their research and have, you know, like a lot of experience before they can even, you know, go through that. I think that’s the main challenges right now is how can I just swim through a sea of, you know, other photographers and my competition and, you know, really stand out.
Leah Gervais: Yeah. And so how do you do it?
Susan Shek: Um, I’m still working on that right now, so it’s a lot of different things. I think I’m rebranding right now. I’m trying to make my site more colorful and, you know, showcase more weddings and just being able to have everything out there so people can see, you know, what the difference between my work and, you know, other people’s work is.
Leah Gervais: Yeah. I mean, I’m sure half of your job is scheduling photo shoots and everything that it is that you have to do here. I feel like, you know, half of your work is obviously taking pictures in booking, all of that, but then half of it is probably having to get your work out there and I’m sure that that’s becoming more and more demanding. I don’t know how you would keep up with that, but I also know that when I was looking, you know, for our photographer… nowadays we’re so spoiled because everyone has so much work out there, you can really search for forever. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse. Like at the photographers I look at, I would look at like 15 weddings they did just to get an idea of it and at some point you could drive yourself crazy doing that. But it’s nice to see it all. I don’t know, it’s kind of a catch 22.
Susan Shek: Definitely and I do everything myself, you know, there’s so much help and everything or outsource editing. I like to see everything myself because you know, you, you never know like what the differences between yours and you know, someone else editing for you. So I feel like it’s so important to just kind of keep everything, in my company and my small Boutique Company, you know?
Leah Gervais: Yeah. So do you think you want to keep it that way? You like not outsourcing these kinds of things?
Susan Shek: Yeah, I like to just, you know, do it myself because you know, no one’s ever going to do anything as good as yourself. There was no room for me to, you know, fix other people’s mistakes or anything like that. So, you know, that’s why I like to continue this legacy of me giving my attention from, you know, from the start of booking until even long past their wedding day. When you see my reviews, I’m still really good friends with a lot of my couples and you know, we still go out to dinner or we’ll spend, we’ll have brunch, my husband cooked brunch the other day for a couple that I photographed the last year. Stuff like that.
Leah Gervais: That’s so great. And that’s just, I mean, impeccable customer service. If you just know that you’re really going to be with them from beginning to end, you’re going to really make them feel very comfortable. And I’m sure that a lot of people really love that about you. And do you have a moment where you can kind of look back to your early days where you felt like, you know, I did it or I’m doing it or I’ve kind of made it, or a moment where you just sort of felt like things clicked?
Susan Shek: Um, I think maybe last year I kind of felt like this is, this is my life, this is what I lived and dreamed up and where I want to be. You know, I couldn’t imagine myself doing any other job than what I’m doing now because this is, you know, my happiness.
Leah Gervais: Yeah. That’s so great. So what’s next? I know you mentioned you’re going to rebrand a little bit, but is there anything people can get excited about or anything new you have coming for people?
Susan Shek: Um, I don’t think I have anything like new. I think I’m just always continuing to, you know, like educate myself with anything that’s new that comes out, you know, like we’re always updating our firm where on our cameras and all of that stuff. But I think like I’m going to continue the education and seeing what the latest trends are and everything. I mean, we don’t really follow the trends, but you know, like it’s good to keep everything timeless, but it’s also good to like be able to know like, what’s next for you know, this industry and you know, what’s the next thing that to add onto your packages you know those things.
Leah Gervais: Yeah. You want to know what people are like wanting. I remember one of the things you told me that was so striking is that you said so many wedding photographers use filters and just sort of put them across the board on a lot of their images because they want to give them that certain mood and you edit every single one, don’t you? You don’t use filters or presets.
Susan Shek: Yeah, I don’t really like the filters are the presets. I feel like, you know, that doesn’t really keep that timeless look. So you know, years from now you’re not going to want that filter or the preset on your pictures and you know, you’re not going to be able to contact your photographer and be like, Hey, can I get a re-edit of those? So I hope that nobody’s going to have to feel that way about any of my photos.
Leah Gervais: Um yeah, you know how I feel about your photos. Okay. My last question for you is kind of the fast question, but I ask everyone, if you have a motivational book or podcast you recommend, what would it be?
Susan Shek: Um, I really love Rich Roll’s podcast. He’s really great at being inspirational and he also teaches a lot about health and you know, like all the benefits of, you know, like these different health things that he’s learned right now. I guess one of them is celery juice, but he’s also vegan too. So it’s really good to like hear about like what his latest things are on that too.
Leah Gervais: Are you vegan?
Susan Shek: I’m vegetarian so I’m mostly vegan, but sometimes it’s hard to, you know, like cut out cheese and stuff like that.
Leah Gervais Yeah, I bet. Since you go to so many weddings every year, you eat, you probably eat pretty well during wedding season.
Susan Shek: Yeah, I have some of my best meals at all these weddings.
Leah Gervais: I can only imagine and all the cake and dessert. Oh my God. That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing this with us, Susan. I’m so impressed with what you’ve built. You know I love working with you and I love everything you shared about really the importance of, you know, holding up your own name and holding up your own sort of signature experience and product that you give to people. I think it’s really tempting for people to outsource, and that’s good if it works for you, if you want to grow. But there’s something to be said for making sure that it’s not at the cost of whatever you built your name on and just remembering that your name is the most important thing you have. It’s never going to be worth it if you mess it up because someone else does it. So, very great insights and I’m very excited to see you in October.
Susan Shek: Yeah, I’m really excited too. I can’t wait.
Leah Gervais: Yeah, me too. Thanks, Suzanne. Have a good one.
Susan Shek: Have a good night.
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