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9 Ruthless Lessons from House of Cards for Your Photography Business

Oh television and movies – they teach us so much about the world and shape our thinking. That’s why educational documentaries like Breaking Bad, Dexter (only up through Season 4), and Hannibal are so important. With the second season of House of Cards premiering last Friday – I thought it was fitting that we look at what your photography business can learn from Francis Underwood’s masterful navigation of political awesome.

Note: I was going to make everything line up with some example or quote from the show but um, sh*t I’ve got a business to run, I don’t have time for that. Just know these are ideas you pick up from watching the show. Got it? Get to work.

House of Cards Lessons

Photo via Netflix

1. Dare to Dream So Big Your Head Explodes

It all starts here. Dreams. Aspiration. Ambition. You have to actually WANT SOMETHING.

More than that – you have to tell someone – YOU – that you want it. And it needs to be big. BIG.


Maybe Unrealistic. Why? Because only something so enormous and ridiculously massive can take over you. It needs to be something that you obsess over. That you dream about when you’re asleep AND awake. Only something so big that you’re afraid of it – is worth the effort it takes to overcome that fear and work through the challenges that will be headed your way when you go after something like that.

You want to make a living off your photography business? Have you told that to yourself? How about you tell yourself that you want more than just making a living. You want to make a damn good living. You want to pay all your bills and also have a f*cken amazing time. You’re probably timid in real life – and if you’re timid in your dreams well then you’ll never get out of that death pit.

You know – the one that keeps you chained to your desk in your windowless office, spending your weekly checks automatically deposited like an IV drip of sedation.

2. Throw Jabs and Hard and Soft Punches

Get it in your head that you’re not going to coast to success. Get it through your head that not everyone is your friend. You can’t only surround yourself with friends either. SO understand that you’re going to have to throw some punches. Not only that but a variety of punches. Sometimes you’ll need to throw the first punch. Sometimes you’ll need to counter-punch.

But don’t be afraid to knock someone down when they need it. Hell. if you’ve ever met a good wedding planner then you know she’d definitely shank and cut a b*tch.

Photo via Netflix

Photo via Netflix

3. Accept that it’s a Game

People’s lives aren’t a game. Their lives are serious… things. That’s absolutely true.

You need to accept that business is a game. You can decide how you play, what strategies and tactics to use – but know that it. is. a. game. Sometimes it’s a game of war, sometimes it’s a game of monopoly – but always a game. In games, if you just exist then you lose. You’re either actively trying to win or you’re losing. Whether slow or fast – if you’re not playing the game then you’re losing.

It’s a game – and it’s serious, and it’s not one you want to lose.

4. Play the Game. Play to WIN.

Some people whine that they don’t want to ‘play the game’. That’s their choice. See above.

Decide that you are going to the play the game. Which means you are playing to win. Not just exist. Not ‘for the fun of it’. To f*cken WIN. 

5. Learn the rules and then don’t follow them, USE THEM.

Of all the things I place in high regard, rules are not one of them.

– Francis Underwood

Rules can either be used to guide you or they can be used to contain you. For most photographers – the rules they follow are the ‘best practices’ and advice they learn from all of the good to sh*tty to useless workshops that they attend/watch. I smile when someone posts on Facebook that they learned a lot from so&so’s boring workshop – because I know that they’re about to do the same thing 100’s of other photographers are going to do after the same workshop. Probably nothing – but also probably nothing different or useful. Photographers only ever learn business tactics and rarely actual strategy – and they never figure out how to break‘ someone’s strategy.

When you do that – the other person’s strategy becomes a limitation at best, a noose at worse – especially when change comes along like it ALWAYS DOES.

Some photographers purposefully weed out clients, selecting only picturesque perfect weddings that would be published in Perfect Wedding magazine. Nonchalantly explaining such a thing to clients, and how they can identify those snobby photographers is how you educate them against your competition, using your competition’s own strategy.

This can work even if the client you’re talking to IS having one of those perfect weddings. Unless your clients are snobs. But this is where rule # 7 below is important.

6. Use meaningful threats and use them wisely

Threats are merely a different form of incentive. Stop wasting everyone’s time with incentives that suck. Stop posting on Facebook that people will save a whole whopping 10%, or 15%, or 20% off of your regular $150 rate. Your rates suck and anyone looking for a discount at that price actually just wants a cheap craigslist photographer anyway. 

You need real incentives. Hire me right the F now because I’m going away. Because at the end of this quote period that rate on your contract will honestly and truly GO UP. Because right now, this close to your wedding – I’m all you’ve got.

Incentives (threats) can and should be used on ALL players of the game. Everyone working with, near, or around your business. Money is an incentive. Easy is an incentive. Avoidance of pain is an incentive. Or threat. Whatever. They’re the same. Know when to use them, who to use them on – and remember to use them.

You should act like you have a bag of threats (incentives) about to blow up and you’re trying to get rid of them before your head blows off (you’re so poor you have to sell your camera.)

7. Mastery of People

Humility is their form of pride. It is their strength. It is their weakness and if you can humble yourself before them they will do anything you ask.

– Francis Underwood

Not Master People. Mastery of People. Learn about people. Everyone you can. Because you have to deal with everyone - and that’s a good thing.

Unless your clients are robots then you deal with a lot of people in your photography business. Clients. Other Photographers. Vendors. They’re all people playing the game once they come into your world (see above about the game.)

You need to KNOW ABOUT ALL OF THEM. You need to understand their motivations, their fears, their triggers. How to direct them. How to guide them. How to lead them. Stop thinking that you can just keep perfecting your widget (or photos) and people will magically come around and just hire you.

There are too many other photographers you’re competing with – including ME.

Learn about people. Always be learning about people. Learn what threats (incentives) work on what people. Go out and FIND the incentives you need.

8. Be What Your Clients Need and Want

Are you unappealing? Do you not look right? Do you come off as weak, afraid, unsure?

Maybe you’re completely wrong about yourself – more importantly – maybe you’re completely wrong about how other people see you. You think you’re great. Your potential clients think you’re unprofessional, young, inexperienced. You need to know these things. You need to find them out. Somehow. How? Ask someone dammit.

Once you’ve learned how others truly perceive you – fix that. I’m not saying they’re all weaknesses or that you should always change perceived negatives. But you need to either make them work for you, or overcome them.

Pro Tip: It’s in the details and the accessories.

Glasses make everyone smarter. Sneakers are for teens. And being Asian means taking photos is in your blood. Seriously though – outward organization is key. Make sure they see you taking lots of notes – even if you throw them away afterwards (although you’ll discover that you actually end up using them. huh.) Have a nice camera bag that a normal person would want. Even a nice pen. Details = Serious about your business = You Are Better Than that damn Art Student & Soccer Mom.

(If you happen to be that suburban mom photographer reading this well, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about the other soccer moms that aren’t cool. If you’re that art student well, I’m definitely talking about you. Get out of my way. I’m here to make living.)

9. Find Your Calm Center – then keep fighting.

When you have rebellions on all fronts (clients angry, intern mutiny, etc.) – don’t let them break you. Go to the calm center of you and say to yourself I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. 

And then get to work. And keep working.

“Rebellion on all fronts. Claire, Zoe, and Russo. I must not loose my resolve. I will march forward even if I have to do so alone.” – Francis Underwood



Questions? Need more information? Ask in the comments section below. Thanks.


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9 Business Lessons You Should Learn from House of Cards.

Weekly Newsletter Volume 12

I haven’t posted one of our weekly newsletters as an actual blog post before – but this one was so much fun (drawing on photos!) and a little informative as far as what’s in our heads when we take photos – so here you go in case you haven’t signed up for our newsletter! (Which you can do Right Here.)

Atlanta photographers

Lines, Shapes, and Composition

I know. Composition. Again – but look! This time we have drawings  - sort of 🙂

We both take photos, but Mark is a natural at “seeing” the shot he wants.  Leah – not so much.  But composition can be learned. So once we realized this difference between us, we decided Mark should teach y’all some of his inner workings.

This is how Mark sees the world – even when he doesn’t have his camera:

Basically – straight lines framing or accenting/contrasting/stressing the shape of curved human bodies. I first started seeing things like this when I took an art history class and saw this painting by Parmigianino:

In my current Art History book – it says this about the painting: Parmigianino spent six years working on this painting. The length and slenderness of all the limbs is exaggerated but it is the Madonna’s neck, likened to the ivory-colored column behind her, that gives the picture its expressive power.

And yeah, it’s kind of a weird painting – but then I started seeing other paintings differently – like this famous one by Diego Velasquez: Las Meninas

Of course – there is more than one way to view any piece of art:

Now it’s one thing to compose a shot when you have time – but it’s another thing to be able to do it on-the-fly, during an event, when people keep moving:

The thing with lines is that you can’t just depend on them to frame things – you actually have to MOVE into a position where the lines work for you and your shot. If you examine our photos – we like people to be flat-on facing us.

Rarely do we take shots that are just ‘off to the side’ or at some weak diagonal angle. We’re very big on getting in position to get THE SHOT. Sometimes it’s just a foot to the left, sometimes we need to move across the room – but we rarely ‘settle’ for a shot due to our position. When we enter a room – we see the space, the lines and the available shapes (yes, even Leah can do this now – it just took some more practice for her). They stand out to us. Then we see people and where they’re moving within the space and the lines.

If you know where the lines are in a room – then you’ll know when to take your shot as people move about the space. If something is happening across the room – you’re able to size-up and frame the shot without blinking, and then you can focus on the action that’s going on. Because you might not have another chance to get the shot you want so you’d better be quick and know what you’re doing (or at least know what you’re trying to do.)

We try to always ‘ground’ our photos of people with strong lines and shapes. That’s the most simple way I can put it. It’s a formula we use – but people aren’t formulaic – so it works. They’re not static, even when our ‘framing’ IS static, and when you combine them, you tend to end up with strong photos that just ‘work’ – even if you don’t really know why, or spend the time to wax poetic and draw red lines all over them.

Now, go through your own photos – do you have strong lines that direct the viewer to your subjects? Or framing lines? Are the lines distracting and pulling your eye away from the subject? Do your lines contrast or emphasize what’s going on in your photos? Do you have a lot of diagonal lines showing frenetic excitement or energy? Do you have strong straight lines keeping everything stable and holding it all together? Do you have them both present, balancing out your composition?

Knowing your lines and shapes, and using them to effectively direct the viewer and balance out your composition, will help differentiate you from everyone else with an expensive camera. Look at the whole picture.

See you next week.

Thanks for reading.


Leah and Mark Tioxon

Forward to a friend | You. Are. Awesome.

Atlanta. Photographer. Children. Family. Portrait. Photography.


Our good friend JennyMac has an a cuter-than-cute son that we photographed last fall.  See?

I know.  The cuteness.  Oh, the cuteness.  He’s even more adorable in person, especially when he busts out with The Eagles or some Springsteen.  This kid has got some serious talent.  And he’s ONLY THREE!

Anyways, JennyMac also has an awesome blog that has three very important blog-reading qualities: 1. It gets updated super regularly.  More than  Almost daily, in fact.  2. It runs the gamut from laugh-out-loud, splatter my coffee on my monitor hilarity to grab-the-tissues, cry into my coffee tenderness.  3. It has awesome recipes.

Ok, that third item might not be what everyone is looking for in a blog.  But that’s just because you haven’t seen or tasted JennyMac’s recipes.  Since I am her in-real-life friend, too, I have had the supreme pleasure of tasting her creations.  So I already knew that the recipes she posted would be fantastic.  I am not a great chef.  I am hesitant to buy a bunch of ingredients and try a new recipe if I’m not sure it’s going to come out.  Thankfully, JennyMac spells it all out for folks like me.  I’ve made some super fancy and delicious things that I never thought I’d be able to make.

Anyhow, this post is not just about singing JennyMac’s praises.  It’s about this really cool thing she did with one of our photos.  LOOK!

It’s ART!  That will hang on her wall!  Courtesy of the folks at Modern Bird Studios.  So, if you have awesome photos that you think would make fantastic art, hit ’em up.  And if you want a discount, check out JennyMac’s blog: Let’s Have a Cocktail.  Oh, and if you DON’T have amazing, art-worthy photos… well, you know who to call.  Actually, email.  Definitely email.  Thanks.

Have yourselves a fantastic day, y’hear?

Email by

We get a lot of questions about our photos. How do you take them? Where is the light? What type of camera do you use?

Sadly, people don’t realize that when they ask us a photography question, they’re in for an excited stream of consciousness flow where we tell them everything we can in the span of 2 minutes.

We have a light here! And Here! And over there! We had to slow the shutter speed down to 1/30th and f/1.8 because man, the light in there sucked. Oh, and I had to use a tracking maneuver + the McNally kung fu grip because they kept moving AND it was dark in there!

So yeah. You could say we like making photos. A lot. Times Infinity.

But we can’t keep what we know to ourselves ’cause that’s no fun and we want our friends (you!) to have as much fun as we do.

So we’re starting Email by – it’s our weekly email where we send out tips and tricks and other ideas. Basically – things that are rolling around in our heads that somehow help us make our photos – and that we would otherwise keep to ourselves for fear of embarrassment. I mean really – there’s a huge section in my head devoted just to DIY photography gear made from parts of things from IKEA. If you’ve ever thought that your gear was pretty low-tech and even ghetto – I’m pretty sure that I’ve made and USED something way, way worse – in public, and for an event. Trust me. Very few things stop me from trying/doing whatever I think it takes to get the photo I have in my head.

Those were just a few of the sessions we photographed during our 10 hour photo shoot last Tuesday while we were in Phoenix.

Even from this short video you can tell that our setup isn’t fancy. We have some $10 flashes from ebay (they pretty much have two settings – On and Off), an umbrella, and then models who’ll struggle through my not so great posing ideas until we get to something pretty awesome. Couple that with some know-how-to-use-my-camera stuff and you’re pretty set.

Of course – that’s all gear talk.

You probably don’t have ‘gear’. You might not even have a DSLR. It doesn’t matter – because according to the stats office, something like 98% of DSLR owners never get off the automatic setting.

Automatic is where mediocre lives and if you’re using it – it’s one of the reasons why your photos aren’t exciting.

And Leah and I are all about making photos that we find exciting.

Honestly? Our learning curve was pretty steep. It wasn’t until last year that we seriously picked up our cameras and ever since then we’ve been running. Hard. We know a lot and there’s still so much to learn. We’d like you to sign up for our weekly Email so we can give you a few of the things we’ve picked up, and throw some random ideas at you – because we’re ALL ABOUT IDEAS – and we’re even more all about fun ideas.

Our first email will go out this coming Monday, March 22nd. Although we’ll continue to post pictures and stories to our blog – our Email will tell you how we really made the photo, what we were thinking – but more importantly, some methods you can actually use – no matter what camera you have.

Sign up and be our friend!

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Keep Shooting


Click HERE for the Pig Race & Corn Maze Gallery:

I’m sure that I’ve crossed that line of annoying where ‘photographers talking about photography’ is as mind numbing as ‘actors talking acting’ – except actors would call it ‘the craft’ or use some other name that causes us to roll our eyes, hoping they notice and so they will stop talking about ‘being the character and not acting’…

I’ve been guilty of both – being an actor talking about acting (thankfully I didn’t have a blog back then) and a beginning photographer talking about photography, discovering the things that every photographer discovers as they continue to shoot.

I’m still trying to figure out what ‘type’ of photographer I am – if that’s even possible. I have a hard time writing the common tagline I see on so many photographer websites that literally says, “I specialize in high fashion, children and family portraiture, weddings, events, headshots…” what else is there? Is that really specializing in anything? I know I’m all over the board as far as what I shoot – but as long as I’m shooting ‘people’ – I’m generally okay. Because I like people – but don’t tell anyone I said so.


Still. Saying you’re a photographer these days has replaced saying you’re in a band.