Humanizing hosting: What I’ve learned as a photographer in tech

Humanizing hosting: What I’ve learned as a photographer in tech

Kimberly Bailey's Layout avatar

Here’s an interaction I run into often when discussing what I do for a living: 

“You work full-time? Doing photography? For a tech company?!

“Yep!”

“So Flywheel has a full-time, in-house photographer? Why?”

After having this discussion more times than I could count, I thought it was time to sit down and explain how I went from a marketing intern to senior photographer at a WordPress hosting company, what my day-to-day looks like, and share a little bit of what I’ve learned along the way! Let’s dive in:


Just in case you weren’t familiar, web hosting at its core isn’t the most glamorous part of running a creative business. It’s literally where your website lives on the Internet, and all of the technical necessities that come with it. Moreover, hosting is oftentimes associated with headaches, technical mumbo jumbo, and endless problem-solving. Riveting, right?

But, not at Flywheel. Our well-designed products, thoughtfully curated campaigns, and ultimately, amazing people who build, sell, support, and market Flywheel is what makes us stand out from the typically mundane crowd. We have a deep understanding of what designers, agencies, and creatives need to run a fruitful and growing web design business, and have brought a new-found human-inspired presence to the web hosting community and market as a whole.

Flywheel aims to humanize hosting, and one way we do so is by showing the people behind the product. That’s where I come in. My job is to assist the marketing team (and the entire company!) in developing imagery to show Flywheel as a beautiful, dependable, professional, and premier humanized tech company. 


So, what does my day-to-day look like? I like to think that I have two clients: the company as a whole, and the marketing team. 

Having a tech company as a “client” has involved everything from documenting internal events like Perspective Day, to supplying and organizing a set of internal repositories of images used across the organization, to being the sole photographer allowed to shoot the biggest days in Flywheel history. I’ve been front and center during the unveiling of our new headquarters and captured the exciting day when we joined the WP Engine team. Through the imagery I capture, I’ve helped establish Flywheel’s employer brand as a beacon on a hill in Omaha, Nebraska and in the WordPress community.

When I’m not focusing on needs for the company, I’m shooting for the marketing team, which is where I spend the majority of my days. On any given week, I could bounce between shooting article-specific imagery for Layout posts, producing imagery for our Agency Partners Program campaign, or working with our social media specialist to create engaging, whimsical imagery for our followers.

Other elements of visual communication that fall under my umbrella of responsibilities are things like  strategizing and brainstorming with the creative team on how to approach a creative-led product launch, storyboarding an animated launch video, and managing the pre-production logistics for a live-action feature campaign.

Visual communication is what bridges my work together, whether it’s for the company or the marketing team. I view photography as the vehicle and medium in which I do my best creative work for Flywheel, but storytelling is my full-time job!


After four years on the job, there’ve been countless things I’ve learned, realized, and garnered as best practices in this industry, both with and without a camera in hand. Here’s a short list of seven of my favorites:

1. Brands can be whimsical and trustworthy

Flywheel is a product company that, at its core, is trying to make it easier to run a web-based business, eliminate headaches for our customers, and ultimately keep our customers’ sites (and their clients’ sites) safe and secure. Though those aspects of Flywheel’s business are some of the most pivotal to garnering trust from our customers, we have a brand, voice, and approach to marketing that lends itself to whimsy. Can those two worlds collide and still be effective? Yep, they sure can. But it’s taken some practice.

A lesson I learned early on, and continue to be mindful of, is how to make words like trust, secure, professional, and reliable come alive within a creative set of brand guidelines that embraces whimsy, vibrancy, and a little fun. It’s not easy and I’ve definitely failed a few times, but as we combine photography with design and content, while keeping the target audience in mind, I’ve watched myself and the rest of the creative team truly embrace the ability for trustworthy products and a whimsical brand to work beautifully together. 

2. You can do a lot with a little 

When I first started at Flywheel, all I had access to shoot with was any available window light I could find. A year later, Flywheel expanded its space due to rapid growth, and that came with a room big enough for a studio. This little room soon became the place where I would spend hours of time learning how to use studio lighting. It’s where I’d invite Flywheelers down for their new hire photo shoots and capture the advertising imagery for some of our biggest campaigns, like Fly July and Black Flyday. 

It wasn’t fancy or state of the art in any way, but I discovered that photographers really can do a lot with a little, as far as space and equipment are concerned. It’s been fun to challenge myself to be as creative and imaginative as possible with just what I have in front of me!

Note: With the unveiling of our new HQ in the Ashton Building, I now have the privilege to work out of an incredible photo studio built in the heart of our office, but I’ll always channel my scrappy roots that I learned early on in my career no matter where I’m shooting!

3. Being yourself helps others be themselves

Being yourself is imperative as a photographer. If I’m not doing conceptual photo work, then I’m capturing humans in either a lifestyle approach or in the studio. Either way, Flywheelers are not trained models, yet they take time out of their day to represent themselves and the company in our marketing materials so I can avoid the use of stock photography (more on that in a minute). So I try to lead with empathy and create a space where getting your photo taken isn’t intimidating, but rather an enjoyable experience! 

The easiest way to do this? By simply being myself! It helps (and encourages) whoever it is in front of my camera to be themselves, as well. Authenticity, whether you feel it’s an overused buzzword or not, shows. 

4. Convince your boss to ditch that stock photography subscription

In the realm of using imagery to enhance marketing materials, I’m sure we’re all very familiar with the use of stock photography. However, since I arrived on the job and expanded my responsibilities to shoot original photography for all channels, we have been stock photo free since 2017 (yes, anyone you see in photos or on our website, our blog, or our social channels are Flywheel employees!)

This is just another example about how Flywheel truly lives out its values, as our founders believed early on that “design matters” and that generating our own whimsical, intentional, human, and vibrant content would not only set us apart in the market, but speak to our target audiences (freelancers, designers, and agencies) best! I know it might seem easier to just pull a stock image here and there, but if you’re in the tech industry and are looking to make a big impact, replace Shutterstock with an actual photographer. Whether it’s full time or just a contracted freelancer, the difference will stand out substantially from the competition.

Fun fact: This photo of our VP of Customer Experience, Kaitlin Grohmann, was once mistaken for a stock photo!

5. Never forget to play, even if that’s not on the shot list

One of my biggest inspirations, Brinson Banks, said it best when they were explaining what it’s like to photograph celebrities for big, national publications. They talked through how they mentally breakdown the typical 5-minute shoots with a high-profile person who has a schedule to keep. The first three minutes is all about nailing the shot the publication or outlet is expecting them to deliver. The other two minutes, they let creativity take control and have fun. They make sure they crushed their shot list, and then make time for play.

I look back on this example often in how I like to approach shoots at Flywheel, as I find myself in similar constraints. As I’ve stated before, our models are employees at Flywheel. They have code to write, products to sell, customers to support, and people to hire. So, when scheduling the shoot on the calendar, I like to budget a comfortable amount of time with the Flywheeler(s) to be efficient, but not rush. Then, I’ll take whatever bonus time is left at the end to choose a different perspective or try something new! 

And friends, I tell you that the images in those last five minutes of a shoot land themselves as the final products more often than not. Give yourself time to play, even if it’s not included on the shot list. 

6. Learning by doing

I don’t have many peers like me (especially in the WordPress hosting space), and if you’re a photographer, I’m sure you can relate to this. So, one might suggest that I live by the old cliche of “fake it ‘til you make it.” Well, I prefer a remix  to that statement, and lean more towards “act like you’ve been there.” As I’ve gained more confidence and overall experience as a photographer in this industry, I’ve learned both by doing (and learning the hard way sometimes) and not being afraid to ask for help. 

Before coming to Flywheel, I had never shot in a proper studio before, let alone use strobe or artificial lighting to make a scene come to life. Sounds simple, but there’s an art to it! The longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve been forced to learn through practice and failure in the studio (and now I have a new tool in my photography toolbelt because of it)! 

In the end, I lean into discomfort daily, I jokingly (but very seriously) start sweating every time I pick up my camera because that means it’s “go time,” and know that the moment won’t capture itself.

7. Teamwork makes the creative dreams work 

I’m thankful Flywheel takes the stance on “developing talent,” because development, practice, and honestly a chance is what I needed when I first set my eyes on being a photographer. I had never shot in a studio and I had never taken a single marketing course, but thanks to my teammates and mentors at Flywheel, I’ve grown in ways I didn’t even know were possible.

It’s no surprise that Flywheel is full of the best of the best. And yeah, that can be intimidating when you’re first starting out and getting your bearings as a creative. But, to be surrounded by passionate, hard-working, and inspiring people makes a photographer’s job seem less intimidating and unbelievably rewarding. I cannot thank the Flywheel team enough for setting an incredible example of how to do your best work, and do it together. I implore you to find a company that cares, not only about design, but about you and your growth in whatever creative field you’re in. 


Best seat in the house

It’s important to me that Flywheel continues to be intentional with photography and to use it as a communication tool to not only help every Flywheeler (and potential Flywheeler) sees themselves here, but to help our customers recognize and relate to the humans behind the products they use every single day.

I get to meet every insanely talented and passionate person that is hired at Flywheel. I get to be front-row for some of the biggest moments while documenting an undeniably unique story of a hosting company changing the way creatives do their best work. I get to work from a brand guide that includes the colors of the rainbow, a recurring interest in using toys as conceptual props to describe products and features, and I’m endlessly encouraged to embrace the impact of whimsy. I wouldn’t trade it. In fact, I believe that countless other tech companies and startups would benefit from hiring an in-house photographer. There’s something special about getting to be behind-the-scenes for every small victory and moment of growth, while also being there to help broadcast all of its biggest innovations.

What started as me interviewing for an internship I stumbled across in a college memo four years ago turned into becoming the in-house photographer at one of the fastest growing companies in the country. It has been and continues to be a whirlwind of learning, flying by the seat of my pants, failing a lot, thinking quickly on my feet, learning from my coworkers, digging deep into my interpersonal skills and extroverted nature, and figuring out how to humanize a global tech company that is typically moving at the speed of a rocket ship. But, I’ve got to say, the view is great and I don’t mind the speed one bit. 

Contributor

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Contributor
Kacie Hughes
Social Media + PR at Flywheel

Comments (1 )

  1. James G

    September 21, 2020

    That was great. Thanks for showing us how things work, and a different way for companies to go than stock. Glad it has worked well for you.

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