SHE'S A PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER
Author Nicole York of PRO EDU
Jai Mayhew is a luxury portrait photographer who has built a 6 figure business through word-of-mouth, but the most important part of what Jai does isn’t necessarily her amazing customer service or her gorgeous photos: it’s her “why.”
If there’s one important thing to know about Jai Mayhew, it’s that she’s passionate about what she does.
“Portraits have power,” she said during our interview, “we are telling people, ‘this is what you look like, this is your image, this is your likeness.’ There is power and responsibility in that. I will get on a soapbox about this, I am passionate about thi. It’s like a calling for me to have women stand in front of me and reflect beauty back at them.”
And she has good reason to feel that way.
Mayhew’s first foray into photography was taking a portrait of a friend. Her friend loved the images, and the experience sparked something within Mayhew. “In that moment I fell in love with this idea of creating something for someone that hadn’t existed before, of making her feel beautiful.”
The ability to make someone feel beautiful is deeply rooted for Mayhew. “I was not that pretty girl growing up. I like to say that I was the funny friend but the truth is I wasn’t that funny, I just wasn’t the noticeable person.”
And since she grew up watching Old Hollywood films, the glamour, romance and style was something that resonated deeply with her desire to feel seen. Now, when someone steps in front of her camera wanting to feel beautiful, all of those past experiences come to the surface.
“When I shoot my clients, I very much put myself in her place,” she said, “because, as a woman, most of us are used to having our insecurities validated. We’re used to seeing the worst parts of us reflected back. And I know for myself that’s typically the case.”
So when a client steps into Mayhew’s studio, it’s almost as if her super powers get activated and she steps up to give her clients an experience that makes them feel beautiful, and images that prove it.
That’s why she built her portrait business around treating clients as if they were models or A-list celebrities. She wanted to pose, light, and style her clients as if they were models, complete with mood boards, hair and makeup. “I fell in love,” she said. And that experience had her clients raving and recommending the experience to all their friends. It’s the experience that brings people back, she said.
SHE'S A BUSINESS WOMAN
But that business, and those insights, were hard won. She built her business on the back of personal trauma, relocating, and having to rebuild her career more than once. But, at the end of the day, she keeps coming back to the immutable truth that anything amazing in life is worth fighting for, despite the struggles. And no matter what difficulties she’s had to overcome, Mayhew said that nothing has ever given her the joy and the pride that photography has.
When she first started shooting, most of her time in photoshop was spent trying to fix bad lighting. She would just point the lights at her subject, pray something good happened, and then spend the rest of the time trying to fix it in Photoshop. And all that time spent in post production actually taught her many of the skills she uses now, except the out of camera product is much better, to say the least. Now, a major part of Mayhew’s process--and a point of pride--is that her shots straight out of camera are good enough to allow the client to take part in the culling process and choose which photos will be edited.
All difficulties have some lesson to teach and some skill that can be built, whether it’s Photoshop skills, or resilience. “So, sure,” she said, “I could have walked away and spent a decade learning something else, but this what I take joy and pride in.”
And while many photographers might feel a little bit sick at the idea of showing their clients unretouched photos, Mayhew says it’s actually a service her clients love because it allows them to be in control of the outcome. They will often choose photos that aren’t her favorite, but because they see something in their own image they identify with, and feel invested in the final outcome.
Besides that, Mayhew says she doesn’t want to cap her sales by retouching photos in advance. If she shows clients 25 images, the most she will ever sell is 25 images. But if she shows clients 50, 100, 200 images, then she has a much wider margin for income. And since her images are solid straight out of camera, she can retouch her clients favorite images quickly, or send them to a professional for a quick turnaround.
It’s not just the extra income or allowing her clients to control the outcome of their photo sessions that motivates Mayhew to show them unretouched photos. Early in her career, when she was still showing clients only retouched images, one client said during a reveal, “I only look beautiful because you Photoshopped me.”
Mayhew wants her clients to know they’re beautiful before post production ever begins. She wants to empower them by letting them see themselves.
“My sales went through the roof,” she said, “because if you only show 30 pictures, you can only sell 30 pictures.” And better than great sales are clients who rave about the experience and their photographs.
It could be her customer service that truly defines Jai’s business. She has completely oriented herself around serving her clients, from sending them beautifully created welcome packets and walking them through wardrobe and where they can get facials, to choosing light, providing refreshments, and all but spoiling her clients before, during, and after their shoot. She makes herself 100% available to her clients, and puts her ego aside to provide a service.
Her goal is to create something for them that reflects the beauty she sees.
“I think the act of creating is an almost spiritual thing. We are the only life form on earth that truly creates. We are able to create true art, and I think it is a reflection of soul, and a reflection of something so much greater than us. We are given a gift, and I think we are supposed to give it back. [...] There is a lot of things I cannot do, but I can see beauty in women. That’s my gift. And when I give it back to women I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to do.”
— Jai Mayhew
SHE'S A TEACHER
The act of creating and giving back to her customers puts her in the position to not only become a mirror of beauty, but to help her clients learn more about themselves and see themselves more clearly. She uses photography help them learn more about their value.
That, more than anything else, is what makes Jai’s work so powerful and her business worthwhile. Her ‘why’ permeates everything she does, and all one must do is see her in action to see how that passion translates to the people she works with and for.
It’s a reminder that everything we give and make as artists has its roots in who we are and why we create. And now Jai is bringing that passion to the PRO EDU stage, where she will teach her students to do the same thing.
Jai’s tutorial, Luxe Portraiture, is scheduled to launch April 6th, and she walks students through her entire process, from planning to shooting and the subsequent reveals. If you want to learn more about Jai, you can check out her website, follow her Instagram, and watch her interview on The Social Hour.