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Interview with Jonathan Canlas

Interview with Jonathan Canlas
by Rebecca Malouf Franson

Jonathan Canlas

Last month I was lucky enough to get to chat with film photographer Jonathan Canlas not once, but twice! Canlas is the owner of theFINDlab and has been in business as a professional photographer for 19 years. Film is Not Dead, The Ohana Guide, and The Biz Guide are educational resources he has created that have helped photographers all over the world develop their photography skills and their money making skills. Canlas’s 2018 schedule is packed with weddings in Hawaii, teaching engagements from San Antonio to South Africa, family photo shoots, and overseeing the construction of his studio. However, he has intentionally kept his summer open to spend lots of time with his kids. This man knows what’s important to him and he lives his life accordingly.

Last summer the Canlas clan: Jon, his wife Callie, their six children, and Jon’s mother whom he has been caring for since 2005, relocated from Hawaii to Payson, Utah. I was greeted warmly by Canlas when I went to chat with him in his gorgeously-renovated 1884 home on a chilly Utah Spring day. It felt like his home could easily be the backdrop to an Anthropologie catalog shoot with its layers of character: stained glass windows, fabulous wallpaper, claw-footed bathtubs, and of course, amazing photography peppered throughout their home that is elegant and timeless while still feeling warm, inviting and relaxed.

Sitting down with Canlas I had three main topics I was aiming to explore with him. The first: “Tell me about yourself as a person.” Canlas shared that he loves music as much as he loves photography and that his musical tastes are quite eclectic and ever evolving. Beyond his passion for photography and music Canlas has a passion project that has taken him into multiple Native American reservations as he works to shine a light on the families who have daughters, sisters and mothers whose murders have remained unsolved and largely forgotten leaving a wake of devastation and despair.

I asked Callie, Canlas’s wife to talk about how her husband’s profession had affected their family life. She shared that she loves the flexible, adventuresome lifestyle that his career has afforded them, although in the earlier years his weekends were much busier with work than they are now.

My second topic for Canlas was to ask him to describe himself as a photographer. Primarily a family photographer, Canlas typically likes to keep his yearly wedding count in the single digits. He also threw in that although he’s not above doing any type of work, that you won’t see high school senior photography in his portfolio!

During both of my interviews with Canlas we were broadcasting live on the Instaproofs Instagram feed and invited viewers to chime in with their questions. One photographer asked for tips for photographing large family groups. Jon directed us to a recent 47-person shoot he had done and said that he took no more than five shots to arrive at the finished group photo! In order to accomplish this he said he was carefully watching and was really, really, really loud in order to get everyone’s attention. 

Another viewer’s question prompted Canlas to share that he always sticks with the same film stock during a shoot, and a question from a fellow family-photographer led Canlas to share that, when photographing families, his advice is to go in with a predetermined game plan. His typical aim is to capture a set of specific shots, including some that could make great wall portraits, some of the family having the time of their lives, a few quiet moments, and a variety of killer headshots.

Never one to take himself too seriously, Canlas didn’t skip a beat when one of the live viewers asked if his “physique” was a result of lifting weights. He quipped that it was just his “dad bod” but that he has plans in the works to build a gym adjacent to his studio.

I was inspired to hear that he has a monthly series of his own children that he is continually adding to. Some of my favorite Canlas advice is that your personality is far more important than your camera. Known and loved for his keeping-it-real down-to-earth way of communicating, Canlas openly shared that drumming up business after moving to a new area is “straight-up hard.”

Canlas Family

My final topic for Canlas was to ask him about himself as an Instaproofs user. As one of the very first subscribers to Instaproofs back in 2005 he has been an advocate ever since. Canlas shared that his first month on Instaproofs he sold $0 on the site. The second month wasn’t much better: $85. The third month it was back to $0 but he kept refining his strategy and by the fourth month he made over $200 through Instaproofs. The 5th month bumped up to $1500, the 6th month brought in $2200, and the rest, is history.

With a live audience watching, and not having asked him if he was OK with this question, I ventured asking what his biggest month of print sales via Instaproofs was. He didn’t even hesitate, “North of $30k.” Wow!

So what’s the secret sauce to keeping the sales rolling in? Canlas believes that Instaproofs has the best tools in the biz. He shared that using Instaproofs has “been life changing in terms of adding to my bottom line” and “the tools that Instaproofs has, I don’t feel any other site even comes close to.”

“You can give your customers the same type of online shopping experience as you have with your favorite high-end stores. Instaproofs gives you the marketing tools to do the same things as the high end stores. Email templates, tiered sales, triggered sales, time sensitive coupon codes… it’s just genius to me,” Canlas explained.

Canlas has come a long way from shooting $400 weddings where he finished the night by handing over the rolls of film to his clients. His willingness to share his journey and what he’s learned along the way provides us with a treasure trove of wisdom.

I can’t wait until I get to visit again, hopefully next time as a client in his new studio.

Until next time, Aloha!