Photography and the business of photography are the perfect combination of Sara France’s skill sets. With 14 years in the notoriously cutthroat wedding industry, France’s style is described as “passionate and alive,” and she’s also known as a savvy entrepreneur. France is a true people person and a real go-getter, essential traits for a successful businessperson. Her images are striking because of their emotion—a reflection of her relationship with her subjects. The most valuable thing for France’s business is her strong connection with clients, and it shows in her body of work.
In fact, while other studios operate on a model of constantly moving new customers through their doors, France and her studio focus on long-term relationships with her customers.
“My clients come back every year to do family photos,” she explains. “There are very few clients that I don’t see after their wedding, and that’s the only reason I do family photos actually. I only focus on seeing my clients again. I want to see their families grow and stay connected with them. I don’t consider myself a family photographer as a focus, but I definitely see it as part of my business because of the relationships that it continues to build and stay with me.”
France’s father worked in sales when she was young and went on to start his own copier business. While he was selling, renting and servicing copiers, France was watching and learning from his strong work ethic. This was a big influence on her becoming a freelance photographer, and his ethic is reflected in how she runs her business today. To France, what her father created seems to represent something bigger than work; it’s a lifestyle and a way of being.
“I liked the ability to have complete charge of my own life, and to create that for other people, too,” says France. “I really love the camaraderie I saw, and that my dad was the guy that people looked to in order to have a good life. Anytime I was around, it would be work parties, like Christmas parties, and I loved seeing that he was creating that good life for other people, too.”
A self-taught, self-proclaimed gear-head with the heart of an artist, France took charge of her own education, in both photography and business ownership. She had worked for years doing sales for technology companies, with photography as a part-time career, but then after a lot of work, the scales flipped toward full-time photography.
The passion she had for business drove her career forward and she quickly built a name for herself as a San Diego wedding photographer.
“I think that some of it is intuition, and the rest of it, you can go out and learn on your own without a formal education,” France says. “I would love to get my MBA. That would be so much fun to me because [business is] what I’m passionate about. I think that you can go any route that you want, and I just tried to take the quickest route that I could. I was raised by two entrepreneurs, and I feel like my dad’s influence on me really inspired me to want to have my own business.”
France shot her first wedding in 2001 and rapidly became a top name in the wedding industry. Not too long ago, she expanded operations to create France Photographers, an all-female boutique team of photographers. This was more than the necessity of outsourcing and delegation, but rather a conscious business decision that resulted in a beautiful blend of creative minds. France’s decision to expand has built a new kind of associate business. She has created a true team of supportive equals.
“I have two amazing girls who are completely different than I am in strengths, but still have that same core value and the same focus for our business,” says France. “We have so much shared knowledge in the business that it really helped us to grow.
“It’s super-incredible to see what women have done [in photography],” she notes. “Not only the photography side of things, but the entrepreneurial side of things I think is what surprises me the most. Seeing so many women who are so entrepreneurially driven and so smart when it comes to how to get their images out there and reach their clients, and teach and educate—that impresses me more than anything.”
France speaks at conferences such as WPPI (Wedding & Portrait Photographers International) to help educate other portrait and wedding photographers in the industry. She shares her expertise not only of the art of photography and keeping up with the latest technology, but she also shares her passion for the associate business model, where shooters work together as a cooperative.
“I definitely think it’s something that’s teachable to other photographers,” she says. “If you’re able to show the people that work with you that they’re valued and you make them part of your business as opposed to making them employees, it is, in my opinion, the only way to run a business like this.”
France’s attention to detail shines, not only in her imagery, but also in the thoughtfulness of handling client relationships. A successful photography business is more than just a photographer’s eye and the aesthetic of beautiful images. There’s definitely a mindset for success, and you find that in France’s business ethics.
“I feel like a lot of it is ingrained in your character and your personality, but we focus a lot on our customers and making sure that they feel like family,” says France. “We not only focus on our clients, but our vendors that we work with, because those relationships are reoccurring consistently. That focus really helps us continue to grow our business. We love what we do and love the people we work with—the coordinators and the florists—there are so many great people in the industry! We love being a part of connecting with all those people. Most of what we do is in relationship building. I try to focus a lot on how to make people feel valued and treasured by us, because they are. Most of that happens on the wedding day, it happens on the phone, it happens over email. It’s done on a one-on-one basis.”
And this is what gives France’s photography that personal touch, and also what keeps her at the top of her game as a businessperson.
With more than a decade in the photography industry, France has seen the evolution of the wedding industry, including the strong female role that has risen in the photography world over the past decade. We’ve come a long way from the dry posed photos that we see from the 1990s. Experiencing that revolution from inside the industry has been inspiring to France. Has this female energy changed the style of wedding photography over time?
“I noticed it as I was coming in [in 2001],” says France. “I felt the change because I was mentored by another female. I was just completely opened up to the possibilities.”
Photography is the perfect fit for women, who naturally carry multiple roles in life, which (not always, but often) includes balancing work and raising a family.
“Being an entrepreneur and having the flexibility tha
t it allows is perfect,” France notes, “and I’ve seen a softer touch when it comes to images feeling more romantic with a woman’s touch. There’s a lot more feeling, a lot more emotion. And that just naturally comes from the difference between men and women. Not to say that men can’t create that because they absolutely can. And, especially nowadays, I think they’re driven to and inspired by so many other photographers doing that, creating more emotional and more connected images, that now it’s the norm. I do think that it has had a huge influence on the way the imagery has gone.”
Embracing technology and keeping up with the latest gear make life more efficient and business more productive. France streamlines her business and client experiences with the latest technology. She was considered an Aperture guru and was a member of the Aperture Advisory Panel for Apple until the company ended the product.
Efficiency creates time, and versatility keeps you on top of your game. After a wedding ceremony or a photo shoot, photo editing is a big part of the job.
“A lot of what we do, we try to do in-camera,” explains France. “We shoot manual everything! We shoot manual white balance—and that was a huge help in making the shift of doing less postproduction. We shoot manual exposure, and in some cases, manual flash. So, I think that once you get to know your craft and are able to really use your camera and not let it use you, then you’re really able to cut back on the postproduction time. We focus on postprocessing that’s really as true to the image as possible, with just a little enhancing.”
Business has been growing steadily, which certainly motivates efficiency and organization. In some cases, France Photographers may be shooting 50 weddings in a year, so team efficiency in postproduction provides time for more important things.
Being immersed in a new city or culture often conjures creativity. Photographers and artists know that passion often ebbs and flows between projects or around work schedules.
“Getting out of my own space and into new spaces is really inspiring for me,” says France. “I love it. And I love to travel outside the country; it really refreshes me.”
After a busy wedding season, while looking with fresh eyes for a creative recharge, France and her team sit down to discuss business and inspiration, and where the two intersect.
“I would say my favorite thing to do, to really open up the box of inspiration, is to do a style shoot—come up with a concept yourself and create it yourself. I always tell new photographers that are trying to build their portfolios to just dream up something and make that happen!”
When France and her team seek out creativity with style shoots, they find that the inspiration gained there spills over into their business and their clients reap the benefits.
Notes France, “To show them what comes from your own heart, with your own creativity, just makes them see you more.”
And, in turn, those eyes capture and create beautiful memories to last a lifetime. It’s true—Sara France loves what she does, and it shows in her work.
To see more of Sara France’s photography and the work of France Photographers, visit sarafrance.com.