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In 2004, local business owner Tara Key had just moved to Los Alamos. After attending a certification program on the University of New Mexico campus, she felt comfortable enough within the community that she decided to fund Key Photography, a studio which took her passion for photography one step up, and challenged her to acquire sharp business skills.
“You basically have to run your business in this town by word of mouth,” the young entrepreneur said, who spent two years on building her brand and making her name recognizable within the community.
When she started exploring the idea of opening a business, in 2006, she was lucky enough to find “one of the most perfect spots” very quickly.
At first, she converted her garage into a studio, but in 2009, after looking for a new studio home for about a year, she heard about a quilt business closing and contacted the landlord quickly.
Concurrently, she concentrated on reaching out to the public. It was a very difficult endeavor, but through newspaper and phonebook ads, an appealing website, direct mail, an interactive Facebook page, and, of course word of mouth, she was able to make a name for herself within the Los Alamos/White Rock area. She feels the community is very receptive and supportive of local businesses, especially when they have something fresh to offer.
“I have a very modern approach to my photography, and I think you have to grow with the market. I love trying new things!” Key said of her niche within the photography market. She loves anything new and exciting, and is always open to client suggestions.
One of her favorite places to shoot is the Santa Fe railyard area, which has a lot of versatility from train tracks, to graffiti, to more industrial settings. She also has a soft spot for brightly lit areas and open meadows.
“Most clients don’t have a preference,” she said, and they trust her creative judgment, which results in some unique photography.
Most clients have their first encounter with her at the actual shoot. Wedding clients, however, usually go through a few consultations before the shooting takes place.
Key has big plans for the business. She’s currently looking to expand her studio, hire more employees, such as an office manager, merge with another photographer, and cover a larger area of Northern New Mexico, including Taos and Española.
She hopes to gain ground in other areas of photography, such as sports, school, and prom photography.
Aside from using photography as a means to support her family, Key is also a strong supporter of charity work. Adoptions, Hope Pregnancy Center and Locks of Love are three causes near and dear to her heart.
Some of her past projects include Halloween portraits and portraits with Santa Claus, which raised funds for Hope Pregnancy Center of Los Alamos.
Currently she has an adoption fundraiser planned for Sept. 8, when she will be taking portraits at the price of $50 and handing over disk copies to her customers. All proceeds will be going towards her friends’ quest to adopting a third child, a young girl from Africa. The fundraiser will take place at her White Rock studio, by Smith’s.
Another ongoing project that not many people know about is the free before-and-after photo-shoot that people who cut their hair and donate it to Locks of Love can experience.
In addition to her fundraising work, Key connects with Los Alamos youth through her Senior Ambassador Referral Program, a chance for seniors to get their pictures taken at a discounted price in exchange for word-of-mouth publicity. During the late fall, three to four juniors are chosen to take part in the program. They each get early sessions, and are given about 100 to 200 business cards with their photos on them. For each person that comes in with a referral card from a particular ambassador, there is a price deduction for that student.
Her ideal ambassador is involved in extracurriculars, outgoing, and willing to participate. For those interested, there is an online application which can be accessed.
With little prior business experience, it is amazing to see what this young mother of three has been able to achieve in terms of public relations. She credits the Internet for many of her successes, saying that she spends a lot of time researching online. Other than being trained by an accountant about proper bookkeeping, she has learned as she went along.
“In order to succeed, you need to have a lot of business skills,” she said, sharing her belief that in order for a business to thrive, one needs 80 percent business skills and 20 percent talent and drive.
For more information about Key Photography visit tarakeyphotos.com, or her Facebook page, Key Photography Los Alamos.