By Emily Merrell
Praise Santos, a magical name for a magical human. Praise is one of those individuals that you meet and fall in love with easily. As a photographer, she has a way of nailing all of your best angles. In addition to photography, she’s passionate about sustainability and helping vendors add a lens of longevity to their business. Learn more about this SF based photographer and check out her work for weddings and headshots.
SDS: From a child actress to a photographer, how did you get involved in photography?
PRAISE SANTOS: I have that almost fictional sounding story that I was “discovered” while out grocery shopping with my mom when I was six. I was a cute little Filipino girl with the 90s bangs so thick they could be a helmet. My first modeling gigs were for a book company. I remember enjoying being on set where all I had to do was smile and laugh. I remember the warmth and kindness of the director and producers. I was thus exposed to what a healthy, comfortable production set could feel like early on.
When I was a teenager, I borrowed my sister’s “fancy camera” and taught myself how to take photos just using objects in my room (I’ve always been good at keeping myself busy while riding solo, haha! Foresight into solo entrepreneurship). A family friend saw some of my photos and asked me to take their engagement photos. I thought they were crazy to trust a 16-year-old with such a milestone moment but I believed their belief in me more than I believed in me. And that’s life – sometimes you have your own faith but more often you have to borrow the faith of others.
Fast-forward a number of years, I’ve been working in San Francisco in the non-profit marketing sector for a couple of years. It wasn’t sitting right with me. I was aching to do something not only where I could love people but where I could also make pretty things. So, in my quarter life crisis, I moved to Kenya to photograph artisans with the jewelry social enterprise Soko. I was so encouraged by these jewelry makers/business owners who used their skills to make a better life for their family and neighbors in the biggest slums in East Africa. I felt the inner nudge telling me I could give entrepreneurship a try myself back in San Francisco. I started my photography business ComePlum in July 2014 and have continually been blown away with the inspirational people I get to serve and photograph since.
PS: One day when I was helping my Dad at work, the name came. He owned a paper route and I was doing a repetitive task of bagging newspapers (in a way, I’ve always been in media!) that didn’t take much mental investment so I decided I’d play a game to find words that rhyme but we’re not spelled similarly. For example, noise and boys, high and pie, etc. When the words come and plum came to mind it made me smile. Right then, little fifteen-year-old me said that if I ever started a business, whatever it would be, I would name it ComePlum and I wanted the business to bring the same smile and delight as it did me.
SDS: What does it mean to be a sustainable photographer and to shoot sustainable weddings?
PS: Whether you have a followers on social or not, you have to own that you are an influencer. We should be empowered with the thought that we all have a platform to create change. For me, it’s about being an owner of a photo business that seeks to do good socially and environmentally.
My portrait business ComePlum invests both profits and time into organizations that support a world where women can live inspired lives. Currently, we invest in Because Justice Matters, a local organization in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco that teaches young girls leadership and confidence through dance. Additionally, we are aware of our environmental impact by doing our photo productions mindfully: going paperless, riding carshare and styling props and wardrobe with vintage or sustainable brands. We also reduce plastic use by utilizing as many reusable items such as water bottles, utensils, props, etc.
I have been photographing weddings for over a decade. Eventually, I began to notice how culturally, a one-day event had become less about a celebration of a couple and more about consumption. I then became passionate about resourcing couples and the industry to remember what truly mattered. I founded the platform Ethical Weddings as an online resource that provides couples with a beginners guide to clarify their values and demonstrate how to get started with a wedding that had positive social and environmental impact – what I call an eco-ethical wedding.
Additionally, I connect them to wedding vendors that hold the same ethos. More back end, I have a resource for event and wedding professionals to learn how to make their businesses socially and environmentally conscious in a five part webinar series and an in-person retreat in upstate New York this summer called The Good Green. Two like-minded visionaries, Ellen (an eco-ethical wedding planner from New Jersey) and Natasha (an eco-ethical wedding planner from Vancouver) started The Good Green with me. We knew that for the long term sustainability of the movement we would have to educate those who would be in the space for a longer period rather than only couples who only plan weddings for a short season.
SDS: You’re often found collaborating with other photographers, are you ever scared of collaboration becoming your competition?
PS: There isn’t enough. I don’t have enough. I’m not enough. This is a human mindset we all struggle with.
Even almost six years into business, this mindset of “lacking” can still surprise me! Yet, when I look back at those who have invested and shared with me, I can’t help but pay it forward.
I remember a new photographer who moved into the area a few years ago whose confidence in her brand, her target audience and her services intimidated me. At first, it made me feel behind. And that my business, what I’ve spent so much time on, so much of me on, was a toddler compared to her very mature, bold enterprise. But I reminded myself that I have to be fully invested into what I was called to and she was simply leaning in 100% into her calling too. As I got to know her better, she became my people, she became my bud. As we were able to work together more, I became a natural cheerleader for her, becoming so proud of all that she ventured into, giving her resources and connections as much as I could.
And now that it’s been a few years, I look at how much my life has benefited from rubbing shoulders with her. She showed me what was possible! She showed me what it was like to fully invest my personality into my business. She showed me how to take risks and was transparent about it even when it didn’t pan out.
I actively choose community and collaboration over competition. Honestly, you can go at it alone and maybe you’ll get to the mountaintop first…but who is going to pop the champagne or take your pic while you’re there? Ain’t no party to party with if you’re alone!
And now my mantra is: There is enough. I have enough. I am enough.
SDS: Creatives are often the first to be nickel and dimed, how do you stand your ground on your pricing even if it means walking away from an exciting opportunity?
PS: Some abiding principles: know your worth and pay people what they’re worth.
I feel as if it’s important for every service provider to know the fair rate for what they are offering. The group Freelancing Females is an online community that is transparent about pricing for different creative services in different regions (cities will always cost more). Out of respect not only for myself but also for the others in my industry, it’s best for me to maintain the rate (i.e. quite fair for professional photographers to charge about $400-600 for one hour of photography in San Francisco.) When others start charging an hourly rate less than that, it sets unrealistic expectations and hurts the industry in the city as a whole. Additionally, raising prices as your years of experience increase and quality of offerings grows is expected too.
How I stand my ground is reminding myself of the resources that not only goes into photographing a job, but also marketing it, planning the shot list, editing, delivering the photos, and nurturing the client relationship. When appropriate, it’s ok to kindly educate the prospective client on what is invested so they properly value the service.
I’ve had to walk away from both acting and photography jobs that don’t pay a fair rate. However, this a great opportunity for me to refer the client to others who are just starting out/are earlier in their career who would value the portfolio build.
But saying no is still hard. I’ve had to remind myself that everytime I give a yes, I am additionally saying no to other things. And sometimes that no is more intangible. Oftentimes when I say yes to a job that isn’t a good fit, I say no to eight hours of sleep, mental space to be creative and my overall wellbeing – aka not worth it!
SDS: Where can our followers learn more about Praise Santos and Come Plum? PS: Thanks SDS team for allowing me to share my story and also for creating a space for women to connect and thrive! Love your team and what you do. On Instagram you can find me, ComePlum and Ethical Weddings. You can also find our websites here for ComePlum and Ethical Weddings.