Member Monday: Marco de Liso of Icàstico
Where are you?
I’m in Italy, and my studio is in a tiny town, half an hour by train from Venice.
How long have you been a professional photographer?
I’ve started promoting myself as a professional photographer five years ago, but I’m working as a freelance graphic designer for eight years.
What has your journey to becoming a professional photographer looked like?
I started thinking about being a real professional photographer only after viewing one video from Sue online. I never thought about trying to do it for real before. I thought it was only a passion that couldn’t transform into a job.
What events in your life have transpired to bring you to where you are today?
I’ve been through many stages in my life, personal, and professional. I was bullied during all my young life; this has taken me into being more introverted. I started drawing a lot with pencil and then with Photoshop. I bought my first camera to capture my vision of the world.
I have had many achievements in my photographic career, but I’m the kind of person that thinks “I could have done it better” all the time. So this kind of perfectionism and being shy is still something that blocks me to promote myself as a professional photographer.
The first time I did it, I was a victim of cyberbullying from other photographers, and that made me think again of my past. I’m still trying to balance the love for myself with others opinions.
What genres do you shoot?
I shoot only portraits for real women and men. I wanted my brand to be clear for clients. No models, no weddings, no still life, no travel photography.
Have you had a transformative shoot that inspired you?
I think that the day that really “clicked” in my mind was when I met Sue in Paris for her workshop. Shooting with her and all the mentors was inspiring and changed the way I was doing my portraits.
Do you have a studio?
Yes, I have one if we can call it a studio. It’s at my house, the first room when you enter it. I’m in a condo, so it’s something unusual. I wanted it to be like a real house room so it’s comfy and a bit small, I chose the house with that idea in mind. I’ve got an enormous window that helps me with the light for most of the year. I’ve got a lot of poly boards that I painted with different colors. I have two of each color so I can create a corner. Since those kinds of things are uncommon in Italy, I’ve had to make a specific order to a manufacturer, and I’ve had to order a lot of them!
Also, I have two canvas backdrops that I painted, one black and one blue/yellow. I have a table that during the consultation is used to show the products that I convert to makeup area for the shoots. The studio space is small, so I have to reduce the things around. I have a lot of wardrobe for different sizes. I tend to buy things that people usually don’t have at home, but I have some classic pieces too. Some pieces were explicitly made for the studio by a fashion designer.
I’ve got a chaise lounge, a massive and comfy one, that I use for the “white sheet” setup that is always the client favorite.
I’m printing with Graphistudio, and I’m still working with the digital reveal. I did a kind for reveal wall twice, and it worked good, but it looked a bit messy since I don’t have a specific space I can use for 20-25 printed images. Maybe in the future, I will think more about having one.
What marketing materials do you use?
Marketing materials are my love! Being a graphic designer, everything is made by myself. I have my version of the magazine I give to every client during the consultation appointment. It’s more like a guide on how to look gorgeous for a portrait shoot with suggestions about dresses, sleeves, hair, nails, and everything else.
I’ve got a different version of it that I send by email, but I use it rarely, only when I feel that the client is just randomly contacting photographers. I have the gift card with gold foil that I’ve printed with Moo. Many photographers asked to buy the template of my digital magazine and my gift card, so I’ve sold it on Etsy.
What do you wish your studio has that it currently doesn’t?
I would love it to be bigger and outside of my home! Being small and using it both for consultation and shooting cause me significant work to organize it everything. Assembling and disassembling backdrop stands, light stands, moving things around – when you lack energy or time it’s discouraging.
Do you do location shoots?
I offer locations shoots in Venice and on wherever the client wants the shoot to be done. The biggest and most unexpected challenge I had until now was when I had to shoot inside a hotel. The client had this suite in a world famous five stars hotel on Lake Garda River. They wanted to shoot inside the fantastic pool of the hotel and into their garden. When the client asked for permission, they offered them their photographers that were a typical shoot & burn price which was way cheaper than me!
I was lucky that my brand was strong enough, and the client refused the proposal. I tried to get permission to shoot at outdoor locations at the hotel, but in the end, we were allowed to shoot only inside their room. I went with all the equipment, my assistant, and my makeup artist to them, and we did five different sets inside the room, and they were pleased with the results.
Tell us about your camera. What do you primarily use? Why did you choose it?
I’ve got a Canon 6D. I had a 450D before, so this was a big step for me. I felt better using the Canon system, so I stuck to it without a particular reason.
What other equipment is on your list of must-haves?
Reflector! I could not leave without a reflector. The power of it is evident to me as Sue show it in every shoot.
Tell us about your lighting preferences. What do you primarily use?
I primarily use the sun from the window, but the winter here can be dark, so I had to start using strobes. You can imagine my small studio with a backdrop stand, and all the light stands? Crazy!
Do you do your own retouching?
Yes, retouching is another thing that was easy for me as I was already doing it for clients with my work as a graphic designer. But it’s still something I’m improving every time, and my process and my style have changed a lot during the years. I’m always looking for new solutions and from learning from the masters.
This kind of portrait photography didn’t even exist in Italy when I started. We’re a small group of photographers in Italy trying to change how people think about portrait photography. People are not used to going to the photographers as in the States, and all the other photographers around are asking something like 80€ for 100 photos with the same backdrop and no retouch.
I’ve started with my packages, and I’ve already raised the prices three times, but I still have to explain a lot about how it works to clients. Sometimes the packages are just a starting point, and I end with offering a customizing package for the client. I’ve tried the voucher things in many situations, but I am still trying to figure out the right way to make it profitable.
Are you comfortable with selling and marketing?
As I said before, being shy and perfectionist makes it a bit difficult for me. Since I’ve exposed myself a lot when local newspapers and radio did some interviews of me that landed to this massive defamation attack on Facebook from other photographers, I’m now marketing way less than before.
Where do you find you get the most traffic/leads?
Most of my clients come from Facebook. Even from paid advertising or from viewing the portrait shared by the clients. I’ve got a guide to look fabulous in pictures that people can download from my website after putting the email so I can send them emails and convert them into clients.
What elements of being a business owner have been the most challenging for you?
Being a business owner, you have to expose yourself to critiques, and that’s the most challenging thing for me.
What is challenging you right now?
Now I’m debating if I’m offering enough variety to my clients or if it’s just a problem that it’s only on my mind. I think it’s the second one.
Networking: What type of networker are you?
Oh, networking! I’m amazed when I see people in the states talking about these network groups! We don’t have anything like that! I’ve thought about creating one of them myself, but I’ve still to find the courage!
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently at the start of your career?
I would suggest to myself to avoid buying so many fake flowers (never used!) and so many dresses! Would have been awesome to choose better the people I’ve shot for free, I should have looked to more engaging profile, but it’s something you learn with time.
What is your average sale going to be in a year?
I would love my average to be 2.000€ in a year. Who knows!
Do you see yourself doing this in five years?
I don’t know. I’ve never thought of it as the job of my life. I changed many things in my life during the last years, so I’ll see where the future takes me!
What inspires you the most?
I have to say I don’t feel myself as inspired. I define myself more as a craftsman than an artist. I build the client shoot based on her and most of the times I shoot things I don’t like, but the point for me is making the client feeling beautiful and happy, and that is what happens.
For those just getting started, what advice do you have?
Shoot, shoot, watch SBE, shoot, shoot, watch SBE again! The information that Sue provides to us is everything one needs to start shooting good! You don’t need expensive lights, backdrops, dresses, or whatever! Just practice, and you’ll be good!
What have been your favorite courses on SBE or with Sue in person?
Can I say the Men Shooting Glamour? Sue asked me to be part of it, so I went to her studio in LA, and the experience was amazing! I will treasure it in my heart for the rest of my life!
Have you taken any other courses that were a game changer?
Is there anything else you’d like to say about SBE that could be helpful to new members?
Focus on the basic lessons first and practice it immediately after you end the course. If you look at the posing ones, try to replicate the pose yourself in front of a mirror. Arrange a test shoot with a friend, pose and ask your friend to replicate you than do it again with a friend of a different body type. Look at what you have to change based on the body and your camera. These for me are the basic you have to cover before starting adding lights or amazing dresses.