Our fourth studio spotlight is Narrow Road Productions from Soldotna, Alaska area. Started in 2008 by owner Shawna Shields, the business attracts clientele through images that inspire and empower women and showcase them in their many roles: maternity sessions, family portraiture, senior images, or through her brand of boudoir sessions she calls her “Intima” line. With the recent addition of her sister Casey, Narrow Road Productions is truly a family business. Outside of their studio work, the pair also volunteer with “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” an organization of photographers who provide beautiful heirloom portraits to families facing the untimely death of an infant. They also provide no charge mini sessions to families who are adopting, going through surrogacy, and to military families who have loved ones away on deployment.
Shawna, how did you and your camera first meet?
Photography actually runs in our blood! Ha! Our mother was a amazing professional photographer back in the 70s and 80s. By the time I was in middle school, she had 5 kids and over time, set the camera down and that’s when I picked it up. I would practice on my siblings and friends and she would critique my images. She was the best mentor! It was just always a fun hobby, and while I was going to college for psychology, friends started talking and referring their friends to me, and the next thing I knew I was running to keep up with a growing business! Casey was working at a bank and I would beg her to come work with me but she didn’t want to give up her safe and comfortable job. I knew that she could sell the socks off of anything and she had an amazing artistic eye. About three years ago she took a leap of faith and came to NRP to be our Sales Rep and Office Manager, and our sales soared! Then about year after she came, all the other photographers left the studio for one reason or another and so I suggested to Casey that I should just train her to shoot! She was terrified at first but I knew she would pick it up quickly…after all, it was in our blood! And she did! And she’s produced some phenomenal images these last two years! We make the perfect team and our mother couldn’t be more proud!
What do you love about shooting in your area?
Well, we live in Alaska…what more can we say?! Ha! Everywhere we turn we have a gorgeous backdrop option!
What is something your business tried and you learned from (either by it succeeding or failure)?
We give our clients way more images in their gallery, compared to other photographers in our area. But that helps with designing their albums! And that helps us up-sell our clients package to a Custom Photo Album , because they love their images so much, they want to be able to look at all of their images in a beautifully designed and bound album that they can hold in their hands and not just view on a screen. So selling professional photo album to graduating seniors and our milestone clients is pretty easy. Another session we sell a ton of albums to is our boudoir line, Intima. Compared to other photographers, we don’t advertise our Intima images. We don’t put these images on Facebook or our website. We believe that this is something special between a woman and her significant other. This last year, I started a private FB group just for our Intima line. But my purpose of starting it was just to support women, and not necessarily advertise Intima. So most of the posts on the group page are inspiration quotes, encouraging blog links, workout and health tips and every so often, we will post a few modest images from a recent Initma session and showcase that woman’s beauty. Because of that, I get several inquiries a week just from that page! Women see other women of every size and age doing these sessions and they look stunning! So they realize that they don’t have to be a certain age or be at their ideal weight to feel beautiful. Some of the feedback we have received from women doing an Intima session is that they have never felt more confident or beautiful…they are seeing themselves in a new light…and it affects their marriage and personal relationships. It’s easier to love someone who loves themselves. One gal recently told me that after she gave her husband her album, he said to her, “See! This is how I see you all the time, you are THIS beautiful to me all the time.” That’s my heart! In our culture, women are bombarded with expectations to be and look like anything but themselves. But if we can help them see that who they are now is something to be treasured, then we haven’t just taken a pretty picture, we’ve made a difference.
How do you find your customers? (expos, online advertising, print ads, referrals, high school advocates/models, etc.)
We live in an amazing, smaller community, so all our clients have become great friends and our business has been built 100% on referrals. I’ve never spent a dime on traditional advertising but just from word of mouth, we are running to keep up with our volume. Because of our work, we’ve been featured in local Bridal Magazines, and that’s always fun! But every single client who calls our studio starts with, “I saw my friend’s pictures and I loved them.” And my theory is that if we are always getting new clients who are friends with my friends, then we will love working with them! And for the most part that is true!
Do you prefer to shoot by yourself or with an assistant and why?
Casey and I LOVE to shoot together. Some sessions, like newborns, Casey is the master baby whisperer. But even if one of us is the primary photographer at a session, we still try to do the session together because we just have so much fun! And when our artistic brains come together, magic happens!