In this episode of the Catalyst Conversations podcast, I interview Lesley Bohm, an accomplished photographer who moved to L.A. from Canada by herself as a young adult with just $800 to her name. Since then, she’s built a reputation for capturing high-profile clients – celebrities like Penelope Ann Miller, Uzo Adubo, and Ernie Hudson to name-drop just a few – in a startlingly beautiful and authentic way. We talk about how she built her successful career from the ground up, and her advice for getting the best headshot of your career.
The secret to the perfect headshot and so much more
In this episode, then, we talk about:
- How she used grit, determination, and networking to grow her business
- The importance of having a good team (both permanent team members and per job contractors)
- How a personal touch goes a long way – especially with a thank you note
- What you need to do in order to build the right moment for the perfect headshot
- How to find the right photographer
- and an exclusive offer for Catalyst Conversations listeners
” I talk to clients, and I like to figure out who they are, what they’re doing, and where they’re going in life. Because sometimes when we shoot, we’re shooting for something that’s going to happen in the future. For example, they might say ‘I have a book cover and I need this and I need this,’ but who knows? Every I shoot with them, I shoot something that they don’t even know they’re going to need. It’s been very interesting.”
Listen to this episode to hear about how Lesley built her business, how to fight the right photographer, and get amazing headshots. She also has an exclusive offer listeners you won’t want to miss!
Want to Connect with Lesley Bohm?
- Check out her eye-popping website at: BohmPhotography.com.
- Follow Lesley on Instagram @lesleybohm or on Twitter.
- Join more than 1,128 fans! Follow along on Facebook.
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As women and entrepreneurs, it sometimes seems like the pressure to have the perfect headshot is tripled! Seriously, we’ve got to have the right pictures in play on our websites, our marketing, our social media, and anywhere else we want to be known. These days, when somebody comes to your website or your social media, you’ve got seconds – mere seconds – to use your images to entice them to keep reading and stick around.
That’s why having a good headshot – and quality images in all of your marketing material is a must. And in order to get the inside scoop on how to get those, I recently talked with the incredibly talented and personable Lesley Bohm, a renowned L.A. photographer.
I am so excited to bring you Lesley Bohm today. She is a super talented photographer that I met while I was at a conference in Los Angeles. Her pictures are just incredible. She has worked with celebrities, actors, actresses, sports figures, entrepreneurs, and she really knows how to bring that personal touch out of a photograph. She really talks about how she’s looking for a moment, not for a look.
In this interview, we have some great conversations about how she got started. She had some issues with her mom that caused her to leave when she was in high school. She moved from Canada to Los Angeles—not just to another city or another state—but another country with $800 in her pocket. She shares some of the challenges and some of the lessons learned as she grew her business into this renowned photographer.
We also talk about how important your headshots are. These days, somebody comes to your website or your social media and you have seconds—you have just seconds, take that in for just a minute—you have seconds to invite somebody in through that imagery to decide if they want to read the copy on your website, if what you have to offer is what they’re looking for, if you are the kind of person that they want to get to know. No pressure. Actually, it’s a lot of pressure to get those headshots right.
She gives us her best tips for finding a great photographer, how to get great headshots, and she’s got a special offer for our listeners. If you reach out to Lesley and you let her know that you heard her here on Jenn’s podcast, Catalyst Conversations, she’s got a special step-in rate, kind of a mini session, if you will. She’s amazing. If you get the opportunity to get on this women’s calendar, you should absolutely do it, you won’t regret it.
JM: Hi, Lesley. How are you?
LB: Hi, Jenn. It’s so good to talk to you. I’m doing really well.
JM: Likewise. I have been looking forward to talking to you since I met you. Gosh. Last fall, you and I both attended a conference that Ali Brown held in California which is where you reside. That’s where your business is based. I’ve been excited to talk with you ever since. You are an amazing photographer. Tell everybody listening a little bit about what you do.
LB: Oh, thank you so much. I have been a photographer in Los Angeles for over 25 years. I shoot celebrities, entrepreneurs, authors, and a whole bunch of people. I have done for years, and years, and years, and I still at this point, being a photographer, I’m excited and really thrilled to meet new people, be able to take their photos, make them look the best that they’ve ever looked, and give them an iconic shot that they can use in their business and life.
JM: I love that. You have a great Instagram page. I really enjoy following you because I get to see all of the cool pictures you take. It’s interesting to note that I saw that you photographed one of the actresses from Orange Is The New Black recently which is amazing. Congratulations, very cool. But the quality and the enthusiasm that comes within those pictures, they’re the same for everybody, whether it’s somebody who is a celebrity or not, they’re all amazing, high quality. It’s just great work. I enjoy following you on Instagram.
We’ll talk in a few minutes about your tips for getting great headshots because you are the expert there. But I wonder if you can tell us, I know you’ve got an interesting story where you made a huge change and sacrificed a lot to go to Los Angeles when you were young and start your career. Let’s start there, tell us about that.
LB: Great. I grew up in Vancouver and I went to art school. I absolutely loved it. It was really [inaudible 00:03:46] fine arts, artsy-fartsy kind of art school which is great but I always was drawn to people and portraits, shooting everyone and anyone around me. After I graduated from art school, I decided that I was going to move to the States. I’m Canadian, but I was born in the States so I was able to do that which was really a blessing. I chose Los Angeles because I thought, “Hey, I want to be in really good weather.” Really, it was kind of like that. Two weeks after I graduated from art school, I loaded up my car with everything I owned, my camera, and I drove to LA and I showed up with $800 in my pocket thinking naively that that was going to [inaudible 00:04:41] the long way.
JM: It was going to last. Sometimes it’s better that we don’t know.
LB: I mean honestly, it really makes you wonder, now looking back, I’m like, “Oh, my God. How did I do that?” But I just made it work. I just realized I couldn’t show up in town and go, “Hey, here I am, I’m the photographer, let’s go.” I had to work my way and get really great clients that loved their images and would refer their friends to me. It’s been a long fun journey.
JM: That’s so awesome. You know what’s interesting? I can relate because when I was in college I had a high school sweetheart who I’m now married to. We were apart for about five years. When I was in college, he and I reconnected. We’re re-connected by a mutual friend of ours. I made the leap.
You and I were talking before, it’s funny, it’s interesting when you always have something to lose but you feel like you don’t have your roots, you’re not established, you don’t have kids yet, it’s just a little bit different when you’re picking up and making a big move and it’s very exciting. But it’s always great to try to remember when you’ve got a big change, you can really look at it with a lot of trepidation, fear, and what ifs, or you can try and tap back into that like, “What would my 20 year old self do right now?” That kind of fearless statement. What drove you to make that big change? Did you have any fear around it? Were you just purely excited to get up and leave and be on your own?
LB: Honestly, there really was no choice. I know a lot of your listeners are women so let me just tell you I have had an interesting and sometimes very difficult relationship with my mother. Really, after school, I really had to get away, I had to get away. And I went as far away as I could. No disrespect to her but I felt that I couldn’t create my true self and be myself in the same city as hers. It was almost like a separation of [inaudible 00:06:52]
JM: What wisdom for a child, isn’t that amazing? Really how was to know that at that age.
LB: Yeah. It was either I knew it or I just knew I had to find myself and didn’t know everything. Actually, I probably didn’t know, naivety is really often when you’re young. Just to jump into something completely, no one knows I didn’t have kids, I had no roots so it was really just an adventure. You’ve heard everyone talk about burning the bridges and burning the boats and I’m like, “That’s what I did. I am not going back, I’m only moving forward. I’m out. If I hit a wall, I got to figure out how to get over it, under it, or around it.” I’ve always been a persistent determined kind of person. That’s really what drew me to make this big decision of moving not only cities but countries.
As you’ll see, maybe we’ll talk about why I am so excited about taking pictures of people because I want to see the beauty in people because I felt when I was growing up that I was not allowed to be my true self. And so I now look for everyone’s authenticity and your real self that sometimes we hide. That’s really kind of a key thing that I look for whether I’m working with my celebrities, my entrepreneurs, or regular people, it doesn’t matter to me because my core is something different—finding the beauty in people whether that’s inside or outside.
JM: I love that. Yeah, I noticed that on your website how you talk about how you are not looking for a look but you’re looking for a moment. I love that. And oh, my goodness does it show, if you look at Lesley’s website—which we’ll make sure that we mention before the end—or you go to her Instagram which is @lesleybohm, is that correct?
LB: I’m @lesleybohm on all of social media.
JM: Okay, got it.
LB: Keeping it easy. The only difficult thing is how Lesley is spelled.
JM: Perfect, thank you for clarifying that. Yeah, if you go and look at those pictures, you can see it is really capturing that moment for each of these people. It’s just gorgeous, they’re beautiful. How did you make it in those early days? People listening who are maybe in startups, they might be well-established entrepreneurs, how did you make it in those early days?
LB: I learned very early that they didn’t teach me anything in art school so I learned everything about running a business for myself, by myself. I made a lot of mistakes, [inaudible 00:09:46] used to be the girl sitting on the office floor with the shoe box all over seats, that’s not what I do anymore.
As far as relationship thing, we didn’t have social media back then so it was late 80s–90s, it was basically relationship. I learned to knock on doors, make phone calls, be nice, persistent, and say hello. Of course, once I got shoots, I made sure the people looked good, felt good about themselves, and then they would tell their friends, their agents, and their manager. That’s how I got a lot of work. I started with actor’s headshots, then I got into meeting some managers, and I got into my celebrity work and magazine work. It just snowballed from there.
JM: Really, the networking and the referrals which I think, unfortunately—in today’s day and age of social media—is a little bit of a lost art. I talk to my clients frequently about how they’re building their businesses and how they’re prospecting, it’s like, “I’m on LinkedIn,” LinkedIn is great, it is a form of networking. But being willing to, in terms of when I was younger and starting my business, I was at hitting the pavement every day, shaking hands, taking people to coffee, taking people to lunch, anybody that could meet with me. Now you have to use your time more wisely. But like you said, being nice, relatable, persistent, and staying on top of those relationships is a lost art.
As an entrepreneur it can get very lonely—and we talked about this a little bit—especially I know now you have a team of people that you’re working with, was that always the case? What are some of your tips for somebody whether it’s photography or another kind of business where they’re sort of a lone wall for a solopreneur? What are some of your tips for growing your business?
LB: Yes. In the beginning, it was just me. I worked every single [inaudible 00:11:56] there was. When the digital age came in, I actually did everything on my own, I didn’t hire a lot of people. Nowadays, it looks like I have a huge team. But even my basic team, I just have one regular, my office manager, I’ll call her. She’s awesome. Then per job, I hire out so I don’t have a huge full-time team. I hire as I need which is an interesting way to work it. As a photographer, it works really well because you actually work on job. Job comes, job goes. You can do that because that’s how it’s set up.
But what I would suggest anyone who wants to start a small business with just yourself, you have to get a really great program that will help you with all the business and the money side. I use Quickbooks Pro and it’s just something I’ve used forever and ever. There’s lots of other ones that people can use. I personally really like the kind of community aspect and collaboration, having someone in the same room with me. I know you can do virtual assistants and stuff like that and that’s really good to save money in the beginning, but I really need to balance ideas off. I’m very creative than I like balancing an idea of someone and creating as I go. But being persistent—and let me tell you—even before all my social media, it’s persistent. I have a newsletter now, I have social media I’m on and off the time. I’m persistent. I send out little hellos to my list. That is the key right now. It’s not anything other than that. Of course being consistent and showing up when you say you’re going to show up and all that good stuff, just a few tips.
JM: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny that you say how those little hellos are where it’s at right now. It’s very similar to what you did in the old days, isn’t it? Where you were going around and talking to people, and meeting people and now you can kind of utilize these virtual resources to do the same thing.
LB: Yeah. It’s full circle. I find now the people that send me a little-handwritten note I’m like, “Oh, my God, that’s so amazing.” Which is really kind of funny. Now, I’m creating a whole marketing—but a thank you marketing campaign—of sending something out and handwriting something, a little gift for the little-handwritten note. I think that just builds little things, will keep you on someone’s radar and not let you fall away. Let me tell you, it’s a very, very easy.
JM: It’s unique now. It’s funny, I was talking with Amanda Tress this morning who is a digital marketing expert. I think you might have met her as well but we were saying the same thing, how sometimes, the more thing’s changed, the more they stay the same and how there’s kind of this backlash. I find that with my prospects and my clients with catalysts, we have a dinner series called Catalyst Conversations. It’s kicking off next month as of the time of this recording. It’s funny because I was inspired to do it, I put it out there. I thought we’ll start with a small group and I couldn’t believe how fast the things sold out. I think that people are really looking for that personal connection again. And like you say, handwritten note, so simple, it’s so quick and so easy but it’s so different because nobody does it anymore. I think that that is great to have that awareness. It’s a great tip.
LB: It’s true. Everyone went away and [inaudible 00:15:44] little space and just being online, now I think everyone needs the social interaction, the real face to face, the connection.
JM: The connection again, it’s true. Crazy, face-to-face. Can you imagine?
LB: Absolutely, so funny.
JM: Talk to us a little bit, a lot of my clients do have their frustration around headshots, it’s like they’re dreaded being in front of the camera. We talk about video and it’s like, “Oh, God. Don’t even take me there.” But let alone just the headshots. Everybody must have amazing headshots. I can’t say it enough, your headshots are so, so important. You have to invest in them. Obviously, there’s investing in it but you can spend a lot of money with the wrong photographer. I have done that not once but several times during the course of my career. Talk to me a little bit about your clients, what are some of the challenges, the fears, or frustrations that come up when you are getting ready to take pictures?
LB: First thing I hear, I hear everything that’s bad that they’ve ever had when a photo comes up.
JM: Like avoid this, this, this, and this.
LB: But within the first three minutes, she’s like, “I hate my smile. I don’t like this, I use a bigger [inaudible 00:16:57]” I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. Can you imagine?” As women, it is really difficult to get in front of the camera and show yourselves, because there are so many expectations that we don’t even know that are out there. We see the media, we see everyone looks so perfect all the time. It’s a really interesting thing putting yourself out there—which we all have to—within three seconds if someone doesn’t find your really great headshot on your site or online, they go somewhere else, they want to see who you are these days.
Few things that I can suggest, I can’t really talk for any other photographers, but what I do is I try to make you comfortable in your own skin, talk to you, and tell you what to think about if you’re in panic mode. Because sometimes, what I do is put myself in front of the camera every year, and it just binds up all these stuff like confidence, what do I look like, and how do I be natural. Each year teaches me that it is a little hard thing and my gift is making people feel comfortable, making them feel like themselves, and the pictures look like who they are. That’s what I hear all the time.
JM: The best versions of themselves, yeah.
LB: That’s the best version. I do bring in people to help us with that, it’s really nice to have a hair and makeup, clothes, styling, and all that kind of stuff.
JM: It doesn’t hurt. I think that’s important to have a polished look. That’s important. I think to have wardrobe styling is important but I love your philosophy in making sure that it looks like you, it is who you are. I think we have often discussed in the recording of this podcast but any expert that I talk to, we talk about personal branding and what it’s like for women to put themselves out there, and you think so much of you putting yourself out there is online, and you don’t control that environment. Once it’s out there and it leaves, you don’t control the comments, the responses, and the reaction. It feels like this incredible pressure and you have to be so commercial. You have to meet these certain specific expectations based on society, your audience, and the people around you. But at the same time, if everybody were the same, and everybody was super commercial, and if everybody came in one flavor, it would be so boring, you would never stand out. I love that you’re always looking to bring out what is individual about that person.
LB: Thank you for that. I just truly love it each time. I’d show up and someone actually makes that leap and trusts me for coming to the studio and take their picture. I just think it’s such an honor. I make the photoshoot so much fun. I don’t allow them to bring all that stuff, the baggage, I allow them to leave it outside, and then we can just have fun and bring in that personality and sense of fun that everyone has.
JM: It shows in your pictures. It looks like genuine happiness in those pictures. Give us a couple tips, if our listeners, they know they need to go get headshots, it’s time to update. I always think it’s funny when somebody uses the same headshots for 10 or 20 years and you meet them in person and they look like a different human being, like it’s time, every couple of years, to go get pictures.
This is a two-part question, what would you ask, recommend, and what are your tips for getting a great headshot? I would love to know when you look at a picture with your trained eye as much as you have seen. When you look at a picture, and you think, “Wow, that is a terrific headshot.” What has gone into that? Tell us a little bit first about how you would find a great photographer.
LB: To find a great photographer, first of all, find someone who will actually talk to you. I know that seems really basic, but these days, a lot of photographers, they won’t actually pick up the phone and talk. I like to talk, especially my bigger entrepreneurial clients who are looking for more of iconic image and also a lifestyle, more a bigger shoot. I look to talk to them and I like to figure out who they are, what they’re doing, and where they’re going in life. Because sometimes when we shoot, you’re shooting for something that’s going to happen in the future. I have a book cover and I need this and I need this, but who knows? Even Ali Brown said that every time she shot with me, I would shoot something that she didn’t even know on the future she was going to need. It was very interesting. Make sure you can talk to them and feel there’s some kind of connection on the phone.
Look at the photos and see if you want to meet those people that you’re looking on the website. Because there’s lots of really pretty photos but what I think is the best thing about the photos, if it’s more three-dimensional, you can actually dive in, and you want to know that person. Especially if you’re in the entrepreneurship and small business. You will need people to look at your photo, and within three to five seconds, you have to have them go, “Oh, yeah. I want to dive in. What else does this person have on his website that I want to look at.” Because a bad photo, you’re not representing your high brand as you will know.
JM: Absolutely, it has to be top notched.
LB: Then, here are some tips I’m going to give you, a few tips for preparing even if you don’t wear a lot of makeup in real life. You need to present yourself in a little higher level, you need to have a hair and makeup person, pull yourself together, go out and buy a new suit, dress, shoes, if it makes you feel better, just so that you actually have a new look, things fit well, the colors work well with your skin and eyes, and get your hair done. Make sure everything is checked before you go because that’s only 50% of the shoot, then you have to show up and join all of that good stuff and make a good picture. But you don’t have to worry about that then. I’ve had ladies come in with [root 00:23:48] and they’re like, “You can just retouch that.” I’m like, “Oh, no.”
JM: What is your philosophy in Photoshop? While we’re on that topic. I personally think that Photoshop for little things like a blemish or something like that is fine. But my goodness, some of the things you see in social media right now where people are changing their nose, they’re like Photoshopping out like an extra chin or crazy things. It kills me because I feel like people have, for one you create this unrealistic expectation from those kinds of images, but for two it’s so sad that you’re not really authentically yourself. Do you do a lot of Photoshopping or retouching?
LB: I do. Let me just say I do the most minimal I can. But sometimes I like to pop the eyes and blemish or something like that or clean up a little bit under the eyes if we’re over a certain age. Just a little.
JM: I appreciate that.
LB: But I like to shoot so that you look good in the light. I mean, I came in from film years ago and I had to make people look really great without all the retouching that everyone does now. There’s so much posts I see and it drives me crazy.
JM: Can you tell them there’s been a lot of post-production?
LB: I can really tell, which is why most of the time I use natural light. Because natural light is a more beautiful, softer way to get your energy to come to the surface because you’re not in the strobe situation, you’re in the studio, and you feel uncomfortable. If at all possible, I try to take people outside. I have it natural light studio in LA. I shoot on location, I go to people’s homes, it just doesn’t matter, I just want to make sure they’re comfortable and beautiful. The lighting is the key and really lessens more when it comes to retouching.
JM: I totally agree.
LB: Unless you’re a celebrity and then all those rules pile up more.
JM: Go out there and [inaudible 00:25:57] then you probably don’t have control over the finished product anyway. Perfect, where can people find you, Lesley? Tell us your website and where people can find you.
LB: I’m based in Los Angeles but that doesn’t mean I don’t travel, so I do travel. My website is bohmphotography.com, that’s my last name. You can find me there, send me an email, and just for listening to this podcast, you can mention your name and I will take one of my entrepreneurial what I call the “marketing iconic photoshoots” and I will give you a special introductory equivalent of the step-in rate.
JM: Perfect. That’s exciting, I didn’t know you were going to do that, thank you.
LB: Because they’re usually really big, usually the package you come in and you get bad looks and lots of changes and stuff but I find that mostly people want to just kind of put their toe in the water, see how it feels, get a few looks and a really great iconic portrait that they can put up on their websites. After that, and after their business doubles, they may come back to me after they both get somewhere so they come back to me for more of a bigger shoot. Yeah, if you just mention Jenn and I heard you on the podcast, I’ll get you one of my real especial introductory marketing photo session.
JM: Awesome, step-in rates. Thank you so much, Lesley. You are a pleasure to talk with. Thank you for that offer. We’ll make sure that we promote that. I know I will be using it. At some point, I’m going to be coming to LA and I’m going to see you for my next round of headshot. Thank you for your time, thank you for your expertise.
LB: Thank you. It’s been such a pleasure and I love talking about it, and business, and being creative. I love what you’re doing too. Thank you so much.