March 18th, 2010
When I contacted Emilee Fuss for an interview, she wanted to be sure it wasn’t a prank, because who would want to interview her?
Um, we would. The request wasn’t a prank, but that reaction speaks to the reserved and low-key way Emilee goes about her business. Her pet photography business, which she runs from her home at the age of 18. Yes, one-eight. Eighteen. Before graduating from high school, Emilee has created and branded a business. (Oh, and coded her website, written her blog copy, mastered her camera, experimented with studio lighting, and fallen in love with Frank Sinatra.)
At age fifteen, Fuss’ parents bought her a point and shoot camera. When she got around to using it, Emilee fell a wee bit in love. She started taking pictures of her dog and had fun doing it. When her parents noticed how much fun she was having, they ponied up for a D80 and a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. Those two elements form the backbone of Emilee’s shooting today, proving that equipment does not a photographer make. Her use of consumer-grade lenses to turn out professional-grade, emotive and telling photographs is remarkable.
While in the studio — her parents’ living room makes a fabulous one — Emilee breaks out her SB-800 with a 28x28" Westcott softbox and goes to town. She photographs dogs (or those seven cats, that one time) on a seamless gray roll of Savage background paper using her uber-simple setup. She admits to being embarrassed about her equipment specs when people ask what she uses to achieve such fabulous results, but Zack Arias would be nothing but proud.
Emilee looks forward to graduating from high school so she can jump into her business full-time, and is ramping up her marketing efforts accordingly. Fuss has been visiting local pet businesses to create displays of her work. She’s been dropping off business cards. She’s been talking to strangers and networking like crazy. Since Fuss admits to being shy, I asked how she prepares for meeting with other, typically-much-older, business owners. She simply reminds herself that this is her business. This is what she wants to do. To make it succeed, she has to get out there and meet people.
“I gotta do it, whether I’m scared or not.”
Fuss taught herself to shoot her camera manually, to write code for her website, and to shoot with artificial light. The only business resource Emilee has turned to has been Easy as Pie , Alicia Caine ‘s guide to modern portrait pricing strategy. (Promo code: TRA saves you $30.) She credits the book with helping her to a.) create a sound strategy and b.) charge appropriately for her work. Fuss has also learned post-processing goodness from Scott Kelby ‘s many books, and is currently taking classes with the New York Institute of Photography .
When Fuss isn’t completing schoolwork, shooting, or editing, she enjoys reading works of classic fiction, watching the Turner Classic Movie channel, and listening to the music of crooners like Frank Sinatra.
“My dentist told me I’m an 80-year-old in an 18-year-old’s body.”
In three years, Emilee Fuss hopes to be a better photographer and a better businessperson. She cites the work of Grace Chon , Sara Beth , and Claire’s Rouxby as both inspirational and motivational. She also hopes to travel a bit more with her work, and is looking forward to seeing the world beyond Florida on a regular basis. Taking the world beyond Florida by storm, is more like it.