IAM1095- Commercial Photographer Supports Other Creatives

Podcast Interview with Birch Thomas

Birch Thomas is a commercial photographer born and raised in the DC area. She picked up a camera for the first time in 2016 and in five short years she went from taking photos in her spare time to running her own photography business and making it her full-time career. After a decade of working a 9-5 in operations and finance Birch took all of the skills and lessons she learned in her business experience to grow her side hustle into her own creative business. She works with a diverse range of local and national clients and enjoys the challenge that comes with creating something truly unique for every person she collaborates with. Her passion lies in creating work that supports the businesses of other creative entrepreneurs in their pursuit.

  • CEO Hack: Working on myself first then my business second
  • CEO Nugget: Lead with curiosity
  • CEO Defined: Being the leader of your own life and knowing how to be of service to others


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[00:00:31.89] – Intro
Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and level up your business from awesome CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you've come to the right place. GRESTS values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.

[00:00:59.50] – Gresham Harkless
Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast, and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Bert Thomas of Photos by Bert. Bert, great to have you on the show.

[00:01:07.59] – Birch Thomas
Good morning. Thank you, Gresh, for having me. I appreciate it.

[00:01:10.50] – Gresham Harkless
Yeah. Definitely appreciate you for taking some time out. And before we jump into the interview, I want to read a little bit more about Birch so I can hear about all the awesome things that she's doing. And Birch is a commercial photographer born and raised in the DC area. She picked up a camera for the first time in twenty sixteen, and in five short years, she went from taking photos in her spare time to running her own photography business and making it a full time career. After a decade of working a nine to five in operations and finance, Birch took all the skills and lessons she learned in her business experience to grow her side hustle into her own creative business. She works with a diverse range of local and national clients, enjoys the challenge that comes with creating something truly unique for every person she collaborates with. And her passion lies in creating work that supports the businesses of other creative entrepreneurs in their pursuit. Birch, great to have you on the show. Are you ready to speak to the IMCL community?

[restrict paid=”true”]

[00:01:58.29] – Birch Thomas
Yeah. For sure. Thank you for having me.

[00:02:00.09] – Gresham Harkless
Yeah. Appreciate you for for hopping on. And, what I wanted to do to kick everything off is rewind the clock a little bit and hear a little little bit more on how you got started, what I call your CEO story.

[00:02:09.50] – Birch Thomas
Yeah. Sure. So, as I mentioned in my bio, I didn't I picked up a camera for the first time in twenty sixteen. But if you backtrack before that, I worked starting in, like, two thousand ten. I was working more in, like, finance and operations for a local brand. And I remember I hit that point of, like, five years in where I was like, I I knew that, like, my day to day was was challenging, but I I just felt like I wasn't in the right space. And I've always had a knack for business. I come from a family of, you know, small business, and, I've just always been very inquisitive and love asking questions and meeting people. And so there were certain parts of my job that were stimulating me. But I also, growing up, I I also was like, I never considered myself creative. So I kind of put myself in a box and was like, well, I'm gonna end up being in, like, marketing or finance or something like that. And so, I remember when I realized I was like, this full time thing is just not, it wasn't like I was like, there just has to be more to life. And, I picked up a camera in twenty sixteen. And then from there, I really just started wandering around DC and taking pictures and realizing, like, okay. This is something that causes me to lose track of time, lose track of just kind of, like, really catching myself in a flow, which I I felt like was something that was new to me in, like, my adult life of of finding an outlet for that and, really tapping into creativity. And then, from there, like, organically, opportunities started to come my way. And, I also at the same time was, like, really questioning, like, what am I about? Like, what what matters to me? And, what I realized was that I would light up in certain conversations when I was talking to other people, listening to what they do and what they are passionate about and, their side hustles and that, like, entrepreneurial spirit has always been in me. And I think that, like, in listening to other people, I was like, oh, I like, there's part of, like, storytelling that's really intriguing to me and also just connecting with other people and and helping them to to capture, like, what they do. And so I created a documentary project in, like, twenty eighteen where I just honestly was like a fly on the wall with, different artists and creatives here in DC. And it was just personal work. It was a personal project where I was like, let me document the creative process of some of these these artists that inspire me. And from there, I just remember it was kind of like a snowball of, connecting with people that are like minded, and also really challenging myself to understand my process and how I would work with someone from the first email all the way through to meeting with them in person, collaborating, creating imagery that really captures, like, the essence of who they are, and then, like, the editing process and and deliverables and all of that from start to finish. And, and I think that, like, I just immersed myself in the community here and was able to slowly start to kind of look around and be like, okay, maybe I could make this a full time thing. And it, it took many nudges from many close friends to, really battle, like, through the insecurity of, within myself and financially and and just from a couple of different aspects of how do I have the confidence to leave my full time job and, and just make this what I do. And so really from like twenty eighteen until, I stepped off officially in December, twenty nineteen and then spent twenty twenty doing a mix of like consulting and navigating the pandemic and going inward and all of those things that now I'm I'm really it's photography is my full time thing. So that's in a in a nutshell kind of how I got to where I am today.

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[00:06:05.89] – Gresham Harkless
I know I touched on a little bit when I read your bio and you did as well. Could you take us through a little bit more on how you work with your clients and what that process looks like?

[00:06:13.00] – Birch Thomas
Yeah. So I actually, the client experience is something that's really important to me because, I I want to align myself with people that, you know, I'm the perfect fit for them. I don't go into every conversation thinking like, yes. I'm the best photographer for this job. The client experience is something that I from the first email all the way to when we're flipping through the final images, I want people to feel that I'm really listening to them and understanding what they need, and also, like, expanding what their original vision of what they think it can be, in terms of visuals for their brand. So, kind of from start to finish, I I will give a lot of credit to just, like, the the community and word-of-mouth here in DC. It it is kind of a small creative community. I would say it's like a, one of the biggest small towns, where both the community and Instagram are are ways that I get a lot of my the clients and the people that I work with. It's just organic and, those connections. But whether it's an email or a phone call, really like starting the conversation and trying to dig into, into their story and what they're about before I even go into, like, what are your goals? Like, what do you want you know, where are these images being used? What do you want them to look like? And I just have to get to know someone. And so I do invest a lot of time, I feel like, outside of just what is expected from me on preproduction and capturing email, and then really getting on the really getting on the

[00:07:44.89] – Intro
really getting on the really getting on the phone with someone, it's with someone, it's

[00:07:45.00] – Birch Thomas
with someone, it's with someone, it's like, I I have to connect with you. And then really getting on the phone with someone. It's like, I I have to connect with you. And now, you know, more so, like, grabbing coffee and and just, like, really getting to know my clients to know that, like so they know I'm invested in this. And so from there, I, we're you know, I'm a a visual person, and so I like to communicate in visuals as well. And so it's, working with my clients to say, okay. Like, let's share some inspiration with me. Share some visuals with me that that speak to you and that you like or show me examples of other brands that you're you know, if you're trying to aspire to, creating content for your business that looks like that.

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[00:08:32.50] – Intro
One of

[00:08:32.70] – Birch Thomas
my favorite clients that comes to me is, like, someone who's like, I'm launching a new business. I'm going after this, or I'm rebranding completely, and I need social content, website imagery, all, you know, all just all complete refresh, and being able to really collaborate on that, the look and the feel. And I do I when I'm working too, I like to ask them questions of, like, how do you want people to feel when they look at these photos, and they go through your your website? Like, what is the the mood you're trying to set? Because all of that then goes into how we can bring that to life visually. And then from there, it's, you know, the the actual, like, photo shoot, and that can be a range of things just because right now, I haven't really, like, narrowed my my niche in terms of only doing food photography or only working with some of this, small businesses I work with, whether it's in, like, the wellness space or, or, you know, there's just such a range. And so that can be anything from, like, a studio shoot with a client on-site, or it can be, you know, more of, like, lifestyle outdoor shoots. There's such a range. And then, yeah, it's really wrapping up with, like, editing and and the final deliverables. And then the best part is seeing them out in the wild and, like, continuing that conversation. And, like, how is it how how is this serving you? How is this helping you, you know, following up and asking, how is this helping you, like, get you know, further along your path of, like, what you're trying to do with your business.

[00:10:00.10] – Intro
Yeah. That's so powerful.

[00:10:01.00] – Gresham Harkless
I appreciate you for for breaking down that process, and I love that, you know, relationship piece that that you kinda talked about and is evident, you know, in in your process and what it is that you do, the questions that you ask. Because I think a lot of times, the the things that we do, especially if we're working with businesses, is an extension of that business. In order to really, kinda showcase that in the correct way, you need to have those conversations, those deep dives into understanding who they are, what lights them up, just all of those questions that you would have, you know, with your friends. So I I appreciate you having that, you know, embedded, you know, within your, your process. And and would you consider that to be, like, what I like to call your secret sauce, the thing you feel kinda sets you apart and makes you unique? Is it that desire and ability to build that connection and relationship so that it's not transactional and it extends, you know, when, of course, you're working with them, but also it sounds like beyond that.

[00:10:44.29] – Birch Thomas
Yeah. I think it's, it is a combination of, I would say that and then also, you know, the the people being at the forefront of my creative process, like, I've really shifted the way I look at my creative process. I'm like, it's not just when I am, behind behind my camera. I think that, like, that's part of it, but then also, my I I do think that I have kind of a a natural way of of framing photos that it just comes to me in the moment. That is something that the quality of my work will I will always put more importance on that over the quantity.

[00:11:23.00] – Gresham Harkless
Definitely, appreciate that. And and I wanted to switch gears a little bit, and I want to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app, a book, or a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

[00:11:35.10] – Birch Thomas
I read something that that said, well, two things. One, I read something that said, like, work on yourself first, your business second. So that was a hard lesson for me. I was, very much I I got fulfillment out of checking things off of my to do list and being productive and measuring productivity by, like, how much I was able to get done in a day. And I've it was hard for me over the past, I would say even like two years to shift that mentality of like, if I can take care of myself first, and know when to close the laptop, know when to step away from something, or to really prioritize my self care routine, of waking up early, just so that I have an hour to meditate and journal and get right with me, then that will serve me in every aspect of what I do. And I can feel when I'm off, and that's when you have to know, okay. Like, maybe don't have a a photo shoot on this day. Like, you I have to know how to, like, recenter myself. And so I've I've shifted my thinking of, like, you know, prioritize myself, and then that will benefit my my business.

[00:12:48.10] – Gresham Harkless
Yeah. And so, I want to ask you now for what I call a CEO nugget. So this could be a word of wisdom or a piece of advice. It might be something that you would tell a client, or if you hopped into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.

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[00:12:58.79] – Birch Thomas
One thing that has been the greatest, like, teacher for me has been, has been any of the, like, struggles or challenges that I faced. Before I used to, like, resist them and and kind of like be you know, question why I'm being presented with this. But now, I try and take more of a a nonjudgmental approach to it and and just be curious about something that is, like, a hardship or a challenge that I'm facing in my business. And if you lead with curiosity, then what I've learned is there's a lesson on the other side for you, that is going to help you in the long run-in terms of it's just gonna feel easier once you break through to that.

[00:13:43.10] – Gresham Harkless
Yeah. Absolutely. And so I wanted to ask you now my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO, and we're hoping to have different quote unquote CEOs on this show. So Birch, what does being a c CEO mean to you?

[00:13:53.29] – Birch Thomas
I think it's a web of a lot of things, but really at the core, I think that it's being kind of along the same lines of of what I was saying before that it's knowing that, like, being the CEO of yourself and and the leader of your own life first, and then knowing from there, like, how to help other people and be of service to others and knowing also, kind of something I like to live by is always be teaching and always be learning.

[00:14:24.10] – Gresham Harkless
Birch, truly appreciate that, and I appreciate your time even more. What I wanted to do is just pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know and, of course, how best I can get a hold of you and find about all the awesome things that you're working on.

[00:14:36.89] – Birch Thomas
Yeah. For sure. I think one of the best ways to to get get in touch with me is email. It's just birch at photos by birch dot com. You can also check out my work on Instagram. My handle is, is just my name, birch. It's pretty that that name was easy to grab. But, and I would say, you know, the kind of the last sentiment I would leave is really just I love talking about this stuff. And if there's anyone who is curious about, understanding more about how how to take a side hustle to a full time thing, or if you have that idea that's in the back of your mind or it's been sitting in a notebook for five years and, you you like, if something is coming to mind right now and you would like to talk about it and you need a resource of someone who has recently been through it, I would love to to be that resource. And so my, my door is, virtually or, in person. It is open to have that conversation. Because I really I do this is some of my favorite stuff to to talk about, and, I think that it's, it helps, like I said in the beginning, it helps to have people in your corner that are encouraging you and and can shed some light on something that you you may not know, you know, how to navigate right now.

[00:15:54.70] – Gresham Harkless
Yeah. Absolutely. Well, I I definitely appreciate that, Birch. We will have the links and information in the show notes. I love that last piece as well too because I think so many times, you know, we don't realize that taking a nine to five or having our, quote, unquote, crazy idea or unique idea, whatever, you know, however we might phrase it, it can come to fruition. But hearing people that are able to make that happen sometimes is one of the most exciting and empowering things. So I appreciate you for for sharing your story and talking about your process, but at the same time, of course, keeping that virtual door open as well too so that people can have those conversations is absolutely huge. So thank you so much for being an awesome resource and taking some time out with us today, and I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

[00:16:30 – Outro

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO Podcast powered by Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes Google Play and everywhere you listen to podcasts, SUBSCRIBE, and leave us a five-star rating grab CEO gear at This has been the I AM CEO Podcast with Gresham Harkless. Thank you for listening.


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