THE BOOTH: Ian and Laura Londin’s Candid Cameras, Ardsley and Port Chester, NY
What if, instead of forced smiles and familiar line ups, event photos—bar- and bat-mitzvahs, weddings, corporate events, sweet 16s—embodied the kind of playful candor that defines life’s big moments? The Booth, a pop-up studio hosting quick-hit, freestyle photo sessions mixes the style of Vogue’s Richard Avedon with photo booth spontaneity to produce portraits you’ll be proud to post on Facebook. Husband and wife team Ian and Laura Londin coax smiles from even grumpy posers and put everything in a beautiful light.
Thanks to a small business loan of $50,000 from Community Capital everything clicked. These two shutterbugs now employ 4 full time and one part-time office staff to manage up to 10 events booked in a single evening—including the International Emmy and ESPN’s bashes–and online ordering, as well as 15 part-time photographers in the field that work on call for The Booth’s event photography and burgeoning video sideline. The Londins just took their mobile business from a home office in the basement to 1,200-square foot digs in a renovated artist loft in Port Chester.
How did you get into the photography business?
Laura: I married into photography. I was an Art History major and Ian was a photographer.
Ian: I was a commercial photographer. I shot everything from social events to interiors. We started mixing our own style–Avedon meets photo booth–and saw that it was well received, that people really responded to something simply beautiful, the shock and glamour of a simple image on a white background. We take chic, clean and spontaneous event photography and bring that to a party.
Laura: We have a formula for what looks good. Our camera, the lens, has a consistent feel to it. It’s a combination between really strong high production values and how to get a good photo.
Ian: It’s never automated. There is always someone behind the camera who knows what photography is and who is trained to provoke an image out of the guests. This is still about photography at its core.
How did you get your business off the ground?
Ian: The two of us developed this way of shooting, and created The Booth business 10 years ago working out of the bedroom of our apartment in Brooklyn. Then it moved to the upstairs room of a house in Westchester suburbs. Then the basement of the first home we owned, in Ardsley. We do both social and corporate events. For bar- and bat-mitzvahs and weddings, we print right on the spot. For things like proms we do post-event online ordering, so people can select more than one photo.
Laura: In our first year, we brought it to a few weddings and people loved it. At one of these a big event planner saw us and we did 70 events in one year just for that firm. We incorporated. But we realized we needed to bring a more professional ‘box’ to each event, something that would allow us to put up our white backdrop, run our lighting and equipment without cords zigzagging all over, and something that felt more polished. With a loan from Community Capital we were able to create a custom case, like a cabinet, and buy much-needed tech equipment, and computers, so we could take more jobs on in one night. We can now do up to 10 events a night. The loan also made it possible for us to finally move the business out of the basement of our house. Now we’re moving to our own 1,200-square foot studio space in a redeveloped industrial building.
How did your business evolve?
Ian: Laura and I still do individual events, but mostly we’re the safety nets, floating from event to event. I come from that commercial background where it’s ingrained that you are only as good as your last job. We had to move past worrying about power going out in the hallway and the jig being up at a gig. Now we can handle anything. Our reputation grew not just from our style, but also the fact that we have never just not shown up.
Laura: We drove through a blizzard to make it to an Emmy event in Manhattan and hurricanes to make events.
Ian: Everyone we hire is a trained photographer with a photography background.
Laura: We’ve also begun doing trade shows, like Bizbash, to generate more corporate clientele, and some wedding shows. I also participated in the 10,000 Goldman Sachs Small Business program to help treat our business like a business. It changes the way you think.
When did you know you’d arrived?
Laura: We’d set the bar at 10 jobs a week, which we surpassed three years ago. It feels really satisfying to be able to give young people—the average age of our photographers is 22—great jobs and get them paid for doing what they love.
What do you wish you knew?
Laura: I wish we would’ve been faster to get out there in a more corporate way. All of our growth has been by referral. When we started there was really only one or two other companies doing anything even remotely like what we do, and we really could have owned the market. We’re still considered one of the biggest and best companies in this field, but I wish we’d been a little more assertive about our marketing in the beginning.
Ian: We’re not business people. We’ve learned so much more on the fly, like how to run a business. I always wanted to be a photographer. I never wanted to be a manager. Now I need the skills to manage five teams in one night.
Laura: Our set up is really technical, and there are a lot of pieces to it. I would be trying to work around our two young kids with equipment everywhere and entertain the kids with the TV on while we prepared for four jobs. I wish we’d hired the people we needed faster. I was always worried about the money. After my first hire—a part timer—I was so relieved to be giving her simple editing stuff and batch automation and it took hours off my ‘to do’ list. It allowed me to do something that was more valuable for the business.
Laura: The Port Chester studio will allow us to test our ideas, and as we get bigger clients in the corporate world, and to flesh out more difficult lighting situations.
Ian: I get to have a career out of doing what I love—photography. Annie Leibowitz is still working. Avedon took his last breath on the job, on an assignment for The New Yorker. In terms of the business, we hope to do more video work, creating Mission videos for nonprofits.