"Been there, done that.”
Coming from a seasoned photographer with his own successful business, those words are exceptionally meaningful for a college student who is hoping to make his living behind the lens.
Of course, being a great photographer and running a business are two distinct skill sets.
That’s where Longwood’s Work Shadow Program came into the picture for Connor Thompson ’23, who is working on a BFA in photography at Longwood. He was paired with Mike Kropf ’14, who, after a few years as a staff photographer at Longwood, went out on his own in 2017. Since then he’s stayed busy with clients ranging from brides and grooms to the Longwood athletics department.
I wish someone had offered to do this for me. It would have been really helpful early in my career.Mike Kropf ’14 Tweet This
“I thought it would be cool to be able to mentor a student in this unique niche field,” said Kropf, who has volunteered to participate in the Work Shadow Program twice. “I learned a lot in my photography classes, but that was mostly about the photography. I never learned about the business end—how to get clients and that sort of thing. I wish someone had offered to do this for me. It would have been really helpful early in my career.”
Helpful advice is definitely what Thompson took away from his day with Kropf.
“I really wanted to find out about Mike’s work flow,” said Thompson. (For those unfamiliar with the process, the work flow includes taking photos—often hundreds of them, downloading the images, sorting and narrowing them down to the 60 or so best, editing and adjusting those shots, and then delivering them to the client.)
“It’s impressive how efficient Mike is with getting the job done. I’ve actually changed my work flow seeing how fast he is,” said Thompson, who also appreciated Kropf’s advice about how to brand himself as a photographer.
“He explained that I didn’t really have to brand myself strictly as a wedding photographer or a sports photographer. It’s possible to tap into two different markets with different branding,” Thompson said.
There’s a difference between friendly chitchat and really getting down to business and talking to a professional about how you can improve.Connor Thompson ’23 Tweet This
In addition to the business aspect, Kropf gave Thompson some tips on his photography when they attended a Longwood basketball game together—both with cameras in hand—that Thompson was covering for The Rotunda student newspaper. They had both covered the same games before, but this time Kropf’s attention was focused on Thompson.
“Being able to ask him questions and get his direct feedback on my photos while we were both seeing the action was amazing. We also sat down together after the game to review our photos. I watched him edit some photos he had taken, and then I showed him the photos I was working on. Normally we wouldn’t be able to talk like that.”
Starting his own business feels less daunting after the Work Shadow experience, Thompson said.
“There’s a difference between friendly chitchat and really getting down to business and talking to a professional about how you can improve,” he said. “I want to eventually be in Mike’s position. He’s a busy man.”