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posted: 9/17/2012 6:00 AM

Photographer builds, grows business in Lake County

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  • Photo courtesy of Dan AblanDan Ablan, co-owner of Ablan Gallery Portrait Design in Hawthorn Woods, won a photography award for this images he combined, one of a high school senior and another of a street in Chicago.

    Photo courtesy of Dan AblanDan Ablan, co-owner of Ablan Gallery Portrait Design in Hawthorn Woods, won a photography award for this images he combined, one of a high school senior and another of a street in Chicago.


An interview with Dan Ablan, co-owner of Ablan Gallery Portrait Design in Hawthorn Woods.

Q: Describe your business. What do you do?

A: At our photography studio we specialize in modern, studio photography that is current and beyond the ordinary. We customize each shoot for families, kids and high school seniors so that it's about them. Our goal is to capture who they are today. In addition, we are one of the few full-time studios in the area. While most photographers are home based, using just available light, we offer both outdoor and indoor studio sessions all at one location. I am an award winning, certified professional photographer, a designation held by less than 3 percent of photographers in the U.S.

Also, an active member of the Professional Photographers of America, I'm always looking for something different in the portraits I take and invest in continuing education to further my photographic skills. I've written 14 books (Peachpit Publishing, Sybex, Thompson Course PTR) on computer graphics and photography and served as a magazine editor for two years, in addition to running my own digital arts studio since 1994.

The design element of Ablan Gallery comes from my wife Maria, who's patience, style, ideas, and creative talent shine in every photograph we create. The two together make up an uncompromising team unlike any other photography studio.

Q: What made you start your business?

A: Having been photographing since the age of 13, studying broadcast and photojournalism in college, photography was always part of my life. While I would shoot for fun and my own creative outlet, I used photography in my 3-D animation business, and would teach workshops throughout the year. For many years, I had thought about opening a professional portrait studio. My wife is a dental hygienist by trade, but her talents are in drapery, fabric, styling and of course people. I realized that with my technology background and photography, along with her styling, we could make a great team for a photography business like I had envisioned for many years. Life, as you know is short, so in 2008, we launched.

Q: How has your business grown?

A: We first opened our business out of our basement. We had just enough space to photograph families and kids. We quickly outgrew that setting, and in June of 2009, we opened our first studio at Deer Park Town Center. However, within that first year we quickly realized that to bring the business to the customized level we wanted, a retail mall was not the right location. In June of 2010, we moved and expanded to our now current location in Hawthorn Woods. With a dedicated camera room, indoor studio with both studio strobes, and natural light, we also can step right outside to natural wetlands and offer our clients both indoor and outdoor portraits.

Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running or starting a small business?

A: The most difficult aspects in starting a photography business, once you get past the costs, is marketing. It's not as much an obstacle as it is challenge. But once you get the momentum going with unique events, offering clients something value added, you can get to the next level.

Q: What do you enjoy most about operating your business?

A: Simply, creating amazing images that our clients love.

Q: Is this what you pictured yourself doing when you were young?

A: Almost! I grew up with a camera around my neck. And while I did have visions of photographing for National Geographic, or Time Life, I also envisioned having my own photography studio. I'm one of the rare few that got involved in something at a young age. At just 13, I started photographing with my Dad's Canon AE-1.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: Bills.

Q: If you could give one tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?

A: I would tell a rookie business owner to make sure that when they started their business, they have a back up. Do not throw everything you have into this one business. Many years ago that might have worked but in today's world, taxes, insurances, rents ... they are all at a premium and you need time to build your business. While you're building your business, unless you have a lot of cash in the bank, try to have another source of income, either a spouse, or another part time job. This will help pay the bills as you grow and market your new business. It will also alleviate stress, and with less stress you'll be able to accomplish more in your new venture.

-- Kim Mikus

• Every Monday we profile a suburban business. We want to hear about yours. Email to findout more.

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