We had the good fortune of connecting with William Edwin Willis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi William Edwin, what do you attribute your success to?
There are so many different elements that have to come together to have and maintain a successful business. For me, the answer is in two parts. One, it is critical to have a solid, no frills, creative workflow: from where and when to shoot to printing and packaging my photography – not to mention all the important decisions in between – a smooth and unencumbered workflow offers the best opportunity for consistently good photography. Two, it is even more critical, perhaps, to have a solid business foundation. I can’t emphasize this enough. I could give a million examples of why this is true, but I’ll just say this: a photographer who does not have a solid business approach that enables him to operate within his means and be profitable will fail inside the first year.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
One thing that sets me apart, perhaps, is geography. I spend the majority of my creative time photographing the first 7 or 8 miles of California’s coastline, basically from the Border Wall at the US/Mexico border to the fence at NAS North Island in Coronado. (Coincidentally, both of those structures extend about the same distance into the ocean.) Unless I’m photographing the IB Pier or the rock wall behind the Hotel Del, I’m usually the only photographer out there. It’s awesome. Most of the photos I take are very specific, ie, they are of an identifiable thing or landmark along the California coastline. But I also sometimes photograph the beach in such a way that it could be a beach anywhere, which has really helped my online sales around the country. I’m catching people doing general searches for beach decor for their home or office that I otherwise may not have reached. On a technical note, neutral density filters are an excellent way to control the movement of the ocean. I use ND filters on probably 75% of my photos, as they’re critical to helping me achieve my artistic ideas.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The Tin Fish Restaurant at the end of the IB Pier has really picked up its game in the last few years. They serve some really good seafood there. Coronado Brewing Company is another restaurant that is consistently good. El Tapatio in IB has the best enchilada I’ve ever tasted. For outdoor activity, hiking in the Tijuana Estuary and in the lower Tijuana River Valley is a unique and often exhilarating experience. It’s where the remnants of the edges of the desert meet the Pacific Ocean. It is where international borders meet and sometimes collide. It is where horse ranches of a bygone time wrestle with progress and sometimes pollution. All of this while Navy helicopters are circling overhead. The contemporary art museum in La Jolla is a magical place. I like Bird Rock because the surf is always turning over the rocks, creating that wonderful click-clack sound. And, of course, all the incredible San Diego beaches are great destinations. You just can’t go wrong, no matter what beach you pick. We have it pretty good here.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Tara, my wife and business partner, is the reason I have a successful business. Period. Full stop. When we started, all I was was a dreamer with a camera. There are a million photographers out there just like me. The difference was and is my wife. She handles the business side of the business, and she’s taught me to do the same (which couldn’t have been easy). Once I started thinking in a more practical and economical way, I really started seeing the possibilities of what we could do. I also need to mention the City of Imperial Beach and everyone in it. The city got behind me from the get-go , and the incredible people of IB were always helpful with compliments, encouragement, and business.
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