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Daily Inspiration: Meet Carlie Adair

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carlie Adair.

Hi Carlie, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Hi my name is Carlie and I started my photography business before I really realized I started a business back in the fall of 2017. My ex-boyfriend’s mom, Kristi, gave me an old camera and I started shooting cityscapes and abandoned properties around Atlanta, Georgia! I immediately fell in love and started shooting anything and everything I could. I was attending a lot of concerts and live music events at the time and decided to try my hand at concert photography.

I started working for small promoters and local venues and would take photos in exchange for tickets! I got picked up by a local music blog, Bullet Music, shortly after starting concert photography. With them, I then started working on larger-scale events and festivals throughout the city of Atlanta and throughout the southeast region of the country in 2018.

I worked at 14 major festivals that year including Okeechobee, Buku, Hulaween, and other Atlanta local festivals/events like Sweetwater 420 Festival, Shaky Beats, and many more! I left Bullet Music in the fall of 2018 and began contracting solely for Shots By Carl by working for artists directly and doing other commissioned projects like product photography, weddings, engagements, headshots, portraits, and corporate events!

Expanding my horizons! I made Shots By Carl an LLC in the spring of 2019 and was then able to start contracting with larger companies. In the spring of 2019, I was hired by a Christian Mission company, SERV International, to travel to Cambodia to capture missionaries interacting with locals, headshots of children in an orphanage so they could be sponsored, and the building projects they completed during their time there.

I was also hired by Atlanta Magazine to do event photography and worked with them through 2022 upon moving to Denver! That year, I also worked with The Hard Rock in Atlanta doing food/event photography, I was hired to shoot corporate headshots for the entire Uber Atlanta office, and was hired as a salary contractor for a restaurant group doing all of their social media/online/menu photos for the 4 different restaurant locations.

Additionally, I started photo assisting for the largest festival & event photography company in the nation, Alive Coverage, which was a very big accomplishment for me! COVID hit my business hard in March of 2020 and I laid very low for quite some time. I started shooting again in the fall of 2020 and did not have another event or festival booking until almost a year later.

Fast forward to 2021, I was hired by SummerCamp Music Festival in Illinois, HomeBase Festival in Florida, One Music Fest in Georgia, and many smaller local events in the greater Atlanta area. I decided to move to Denver in December of 2021 and was hired by Live Nation Colorado as a contracting photographer.

I went on tour with a band, Umphrey’s McGee, in the summer of 2022 as a video camera operator for a few weeks, which was my first time working at Red Rocks Amphitheater! I have continued to work events for Alive Coverage, and also work various miscellaneous camera jobs for a local studio, River North Studios!

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road is never smooth the entire way to your destination; but the curves, bumps, and straight-up lack of pavement sometimes have all taught me different lessons that I am grateful for. There are so many challenges and struggles in growing any kind of business. But one of the largest struggles throughout my career that I still encounter is pricing my time and trying to advocate for my worth.

Music and event photography is one of the most underpaid fields I have ever experienced, and so many people want the world for pennies on the dollar. Having to vouch for what my time is worth has been more challenging than I can put into words. Trial and error is the name of the game, and I have burned myself numerous times for not pricing my time correctly, or for giving someone a discount they took advantage of. I have learned how others value my work and have been faced with the harsh reality that not everyone is supportive all the time!

Photography is extremely competitive and another major struggle is how oversaturated the markets can be. There are so many talented photographers in every city across the country and you have to find something to make you stand out. I was very protective of my business when I first started my company, and since then I have learned there is so much community in supporting other artists! I made the mistake of falling into that competitive trap the first few years, but I am so happy that did not last long.

Another major struggle is time management and work/life balance. Owning a small business, people think you work 24/7 and that you are always on call when that shouldn’t be the case. I’ve recently started prioritizing my mental health, taking time in nature, and balancing that with deadlines. It is one of the best business decisions I’ve made because it helps me be more present when I’m working on an event. Having that ‘return to homeostasis’ between high-stress times in life and in business is essential.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
Shots By Carl specializes in large-scale event and festival photography. I also do weddings/engagements, corporate events, and travel/nature photography. Concerts have such dynamic lighting and capturing crisp images in low and changing light is very challenging! I work very well with low lighting situations, which is something that helps to set me apart from other photographers.

I would say other things that set me apart would be my fast turnaround time and the great attitude I bring to jobs. I love making people smile and interacting with attendees at any type of event! I have made some life-long friends just by saying hi to others while I’m shooting in their general area or interacting with them for a shot. Working events, attendees want to see images in real-time, we call this “live editing”, and it can be such a pain!

But it is also very necessary for creating hype around an event and generating additional ticket sales for a multi-day event. I would say I am most proud of being added to the Live Nation Colorado photo team and the ability to shoot at Red Rocks Amphitheater so frequently! This opportunity to join the LNCO team has been a dream come true and I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be working at such an iconic place, let alone within 4 years of creating my LLC!

Risk-taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
I am a risk-taker through and through! My mother has always hated that side of me (sorry mom!) but through adventure and taking risks, I have had some of the most memorable experiences of my life. However, I would say I take risks in my daily life more than from a business perspective.

In 2017, I went to New York on a whim with absolutely no plan, and the day before leaving I got hired as a photography assistant for Nordstrom and Vogue on an internship for the week through a family friend. It was an incredible experience and opened the door to learning how lighting and being on a professional set worked. This was my first big professional photo experience and I fell in love immediately!

But the biggest risk I’ve ever taken, in business and in personal endeavors, was when I decided to move cross country to Denver. I was born and raised in Atlanta, so I used many of the connections I had established throughout my life to help build my business there and create the Shots By Carl brand. I always made excuses as to why I couldn’t leave Atlanta-uproot my business and start from square one. No thank you!!

Years passed and I started becoming increasingly unhappy with where I was in life. I felt stagnant, unchallenged and with a major lack of creativity, although all of my business there was still progressing! I decided to move to Denver anyways and I was planning for the worst: having to completely restart my business platform from the ground up in a new city. I decided to take a leap of faith anyways. What’s the worst that could happen!?

I let my employers know I was leaving, and a man I contracted with frequently in Atlanta, Taylor Wallace, decided to add me to the Denver market he is involved in, Live Nation Colorado! The Holy Grail of concert photography! He took a chance on me and had faith in my craft and in my work, which was so unexpected.

I have so much gratitude to this man for not just employing me, but for believing in me and seeing my talent, even before I could. It really proves the greater the risk, the greater the reward! I am so grateful I took a leap of faith and feel like I have been immensely blessed because of it.

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