Justin & I have been putting off working on our new brand for a while now, mostly because it was something that we knew we didn't want to rush. And also to be honest, we're still pretty happy with the one we have (which is such a testament to the amazing guys at Infinet Design who did our current brand over 5 years ago now. Especially when most photographers I know end up wanting to change their brand every year because it's still not quite right!) But we do know that it's time to move forward & get serious about the vision we have for this new chapter in our business and where that's going. And one of the first major steps for that is picking out the images that will go in our new gallery/portfolio and will make up the look of the site.
In other words, we need to pick the top 20-30 images that sum up what we want to stand for as photographers, what our Why is, what our style is, and who we want hiring us.
So all of this got me thinking about some of the mistakes that we made earlier on when we were putting together galleries for our past websites, and some of the most common mistakes we see from people who come to do mentoring sessions with us now when we're talking about their brand. And I thought it would be helpful to put them all here in one place, so that we can all hopefully get better. Together.
1. Having too many images. Plain & simple, for every so-so image you keep in your portfolio....you water down & take away from the really good ones. You want to instantly make your work seem stronger? Start by taking out the five or ten weakest images in your gallery, blog post, facebook album, etc. Annie Leibovitz in her book "At Work" said something to the effect that the greatest & hardest work we do as a photographer is being the editor & curator of our own work. True that, Annie. True that.
2. Showing what you DON'T actually want to shoot. Whether it's saying you want to be exclusively weddings & then having a picture of the cutest baby on the planet as one of the first five images on your site, or showing images you HATE to shoot (like the bridal party jumping up in the air shot)....whatever you put out there, you will attract. So go over your portfolio images with a fine tooth comb. Look in the background for things you don't like. Ask yourself what the image is saying about you as a photographer. Identify the Why that it stands for. And then eliminate whatever doesn't align with where you want to go.
3. Having a mix of different genres of photography in one gallery. Even if you shoot weddings, newborns & seniors and want to keep it that way...give each one of them their own dedicated gallery (or even better, their own website!) Put simply, brides aren't yet ready to think about babies. And moms need to know you know how to pose their newborn safely, not fluff a veil. Concentrating the work in to their own separate galleries will also make the work in each seem stronger. And it will make each type of person who hires you, feel like they are getting an expert in that field.
4. Showing too much from the same wedding/shoot or showing images that are too similar. Remember that we only have somewhere between 10 seconds & 2 minutes to make an impression on a potential bride/client, send a clear message about our style, and look like we've done this before! :) So when you lead off with too many images from just one wedding or shoot, it can very quickly send the message that you haven't shot a lot before and don't have a ton of experience. If that's in fact the case, then create opportunities to shoot as much as possible even if they are just styled shoots. It will give you more variety in your portfolio, and even more importantly, the practice will make you a better photographer. Similarly, showing images that are too similar (i.e. the same couple in the same pose, one with them looking at the camera and one looking away) doesn't do anything to work for you. Having both images, in fact, divides the impact of either, it's honestly kind of boring, and it wastes some of that precious time where you could be making an impression. If the client wants to see a whole wedding later, you can always send them a link to the full gallery. But for these purposes, I want you to think of your portfolio like Top Gun: it's for the best of the best.
5. Not updating the gallery with new work often enough. If there is one thing we hear over & over during mentoring sessions when we go to pull up that person's website it's "Well, this hasn't been updated in a long time and the work has gotten a LOT better. So don't judge it too hard.....and the blog is really the newer, better stuff." And that's all well & good and trust me we've all been there (Lord knows we're guilty of this too!)....but the problem with that is that we don't get the opportunity to give that little disclaimer to every bride or potential client who comes over to our page. And they will rightly assume that when they click on the gallery, they are already seeing the best work that you can do right there. So we all have the choice whether we want to make that really work for us or not. Even if you just made it a goal to swap out the first 10 images on your gallery this week, that would be a huge improvement right there!
As always, we hope this helped! And if there are any questions, requests for future Pancake Sessions, or you just want to say hi :) ...you can add them in the box below!
Pancake Session: How to Get Your Name Out There for Free
A couple days ago we did a mentoring session with a young photographer who has just had to move her business completely across the country from the East Coast to California. It was a HUGE move. And in many ways, now she's feeling like she has to start over.
A little while back, we got this email from a brand new photographer who is just trying her best to get started:
Thank you SO much for offering to answer questions from other fellow photographers! My questions is this: I recently (since March) decided to follow my dream to take my photography full-time. I'm working on a near-zero marketing budget. What are a few inexpensive, effective ways to reach my potential clients? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
And I think in a lot of ways, these two photographers are facing the same problem. That whether you are brand new and just getting started or you're in a place in your business where you feel like you have to start over, the question becomes....how do you go about even starting to get your name out there?
While I was in the mentoring session, I really tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who had just moved to a brand new market, didn't have any contacts yet, and really felt like I was being forced to start over. What would I do if I suddenly found myself back to square one? What if I were starting it all over tomorrow and just needed to find a way to get my name out there as fast as I could & start building momentum again? In the meeting, I came up with a seven-prong plan of attack. And it occurred to me that all seven could work whether you're like Jill & just getting started...or you're finding yourself in a place where you have to start over. So for today's Pancake Session, I wanted to share them here! Seven ways to get your name out there for (MOSTLY!) free!
(**And because it's always good to remember where you came from, I've also included some pictures of us in the early days! Like, our first website...I'm pretty sure my hair didn't move back then!)
So here we go! If I woke up tomorrow and found myself as either a brand new photographer OR in a brand new market, and I knew I needed to get really scrappy if I was going to make this thing work....here is what I would do:
1. Find a local photographers group. One of the fastest ways we built our business in the beginning was just by having a strong photographer referral network, ALL of which we met at the local photographer's group that we started. Which means that if your answer to this point is that your area doesn't have a good group like this, start one! Step out & be that leader. Either way, when you go to those meetings go with one thought in mind "how can I be of help to THEM?" Trust me, nothing will make you friends faster than putting what you can do for them ABOVE what they can do for you.
2. Put myself out there as a second shooter Before I would ever ask or expect someone to just start referring me weddings, I'm going to let them see how I work on a wedding day. We all know how hard it is to find good second shooters, and this is a MAJOR need that I could help fill in this new market. At those photographers meetings that I'm attending, I would make sure to be likable, helpful & professional (offer to help clean up before you leave!). And I would make it known that I'm available to help with second shooting & anything else they need help with while I'm working on building my business. When I'm second shooting, I would hustle my butt off to be the best second shooter possible. And I would try my best to become actual friends with those photographers, so that when they're booked they'll consider me. But even if they don't, that friendship will still probably prove to be invaluable.
3. Find 3 other photographers who are in the same place as I am in my business. Whether we are all brand new or all a couple years in (or maybe even a mix of that), I would seek out peers who understand what I'm going through. I would put together a lunch (or even better, a fondue night! with wine, obviously) so we can all bounce ideas around together, problem solve together, and hold each other accountable to our goals. And we could also all share a Google Calendar so we can refer each other.
(**Our first blog! Justin & Mary Montage... NOBODY knows what it means, but it's provocative!)
4. I would email every planner, venue, florist, dress shop, baker & paperie whose work I RESPECTED & see if I can buy them lunch Note that I didn't say every vendor out there, but the ones whose work I really love and who I would want to shoot a wedding with. I would send out 50 emails if I had to, and if only two people got back to me I would still consider that a win. I would take those two people to lunch & try to help the heck out of them! Remember, "sweat equity" & helping people doesn't cost you anything. I would listen, learn from them, and keep my ears open for opportunities for me to make their lives better. Do they need new head shots? Are they moving studios & need someone to carry boxes? Is their birthday coming up & I could bake them cupcakes? (ok, who am I kidding...BUY them cookies in my case) In any case, I would buy the lunch. I would try to make a new friend out of it. And I would come bearing a thank you gift for taking time out for me. Remember, small business owners are crazy busy...and even just a little gratitude goes a long, long way.
5. I would have three sample albums made of my work & drop them off at my top three venues I wouldn't ask first. I would just show up with it. Yes, they're probably going to tell me that they only show the books of people who pay to be there. And yes, they may even blow me off a little bit that day. But if the book is remarkable enough, and the work is remarkable enough, and it comes wrapped up in a pretty package with a hand-written note....there is not a doubt in my mind that they're still going to look at it. And if they like it enough, they will show it. We did this at a venue six years ago & we're STILL booking weddings off of it. Ok, ok so this one isn't actually "free", but before you tell me you don't have the money to make a book...go find it! Remember the name of the game is getting scrappy. This is our dream we're chasing here.
6. Once I meet some vendors I like, I would see if we can put together a styled shoot I want to shoot with these people! And if we don't have weddings together yet, we can make that happen with a styled shoot. Then I can get them pictures of their work & hopefully get them published. And a great way to pitch a styled shoot is to put together a design board for it, so they can catch the vision & know that you're serious.
(**Our first bridal show, which we DON'T recommend! Don't adjust your screen, that is a giant, over-sized champagne glass you're seeing!)
7. Finally, I would do some FREE shoots Yes, I said it. And yes I know free is pretty much the four letter f-word in our industry. But the simple fact is, if I'm not getting hired yet...I know I NEED some shoots to do so that I can blog them & put something to tag on facebook. Work begets more work. And I want to WORK! I'm never going to get my name out there if I can't show anything. So I would find a few couples & put together my own mini-styled shoot with them where it can be whatever I want. They get the shoot for free & in exchange they agree to let me use them on my site, blog them & tag the heck out of them on facebook. If you can pick couples who are natural "sneezers" (i.e. they have a lot of influence and love to talk about the next big they've discovered)...all the better! Hint: look for people with a lot of Facebook friends. Obviously, I don't want to stay at free (or super cheap) for long because I know there's no faster way to burn out. But if I'm just trying to make something happen, then I gotta do what I gotta do.
And I'm willing to do what I gotta do....to work harder, run faster, and get my hands dirty. If it means that I'm building my dreams in the process.
Pancake Session: Running Your Business from the Road
Good morning & Happy Pancake Day!
One of the questions we got a ton of, is since we travel so much (right now as I type this, we're in Baltimore and getting ready for a shoot in DC later today) do we have any advice for keeping our business running while we're on the road & away from our desks. And boy oh boy, has this been something we've had to learn & figure out over time. It used to feel like we couldn't get anything done while we were out traveling for shoots, workshops or conferences. And it would all stack up until we got home, which is a pretty stressful way to come back! But over time (and a TON of traveling later), I feel like we've finally dialed in a system that works. And since I know a lot of you are probably traveling now that it's the busy season or you might be taking trips for the summer, we thought we'd share some of them here. So you don't have to take as long to figure it out as we did! :) Here are the top 5 things that keep our business moving on the road:
1. Being able to take email with you. Whether it's a dedicated laptop or a web based service like Gmail, being able to answer email as you go and not letting it pile up is key!
2. Having a hotspot on our phone. It's about $60 a month, but having our own internet hotspot is worth its weight in gold! And by the time we skip buying internet in all the hotels & airports we go through it pretty much pays for itself. Which now means we can get a blog post up in the airport or I can answer email while Justin drives. So we're doing our work in the "down time" rather than when we get back home.
3. Having companies who do the work for you while you're gone. Our album design company Align is the perfect example of this! I love that I can just send them over a PASS gallery (more on this in a minute!) of album selects before we leave for our trip & by the time we're back it's done (usually even sooner!) So they're working for our business even when we can't. If you want to give these guys a try, just mention "Justin & Mary" & that will get you your first design for 50% off!
4. Having set work hours. One of the toughest things about being on the road & getting work done, is that usually when you're traveling your days fill up a lot faster than when you're home. Whether you're meeting up with someone, attending a conference, doing a shoot, or doing some sight-seeing...the days get pretty full. So I always make the choice to get up and do about 2 hours of work in the morning, no matter what's happening. And also to block out some afternoons (or if we're traveling longer, I'll do full days) as dedicated work time. We have to set those boundaries for ourselves at home, so we have to be extra disciplined about it on the road!
And finally that brings us to...
5. PASS! In all honesty, the way that PASS has been saving our lives & rocking our world while we're on the road is what gave me the idea to write this post in the first place. I can't tell you how many times a day I pull up PASS for something or other that I need to keep our business moving forward. Here are just a few examples from the past couple days: a) someone needed to swap an image in to their album design, b) someone needed an image for their thank you cards, c) a magazine wrote with a 5pm deadline and wanted to feature one of our images in their story, d) a pickle company (you can't make this stuff up!) wanted to use one of our images of a pickle bar at a wedding in their advertising. In every case, the person writing needed a high res image and they needed it fast! Normally, this would be the kind of stuff that would pile up and have to wait until we got back home to our hard drives. But now with using PASS, it puts our entire body of work right at our finger tips!
And that's just for the individual images we can download at a moment's notice. In addition to that, having links to the full galleries is something we use ALL the time on the road. Here are just a few examples of that from the past few days: a) a potential client wrote & is really psyched to book the date...she just wanted to see if she could show a full wedding to her fiance. Having those full galleries means I can get right back to her before someone else does. b) a magazine wrote & asked to feature a wedding. It had already been picked up, but I was able to get right back to them & send them over 3 other weddings with a similar vibe they were going for that were still available. One of them got picked up and will be featured in print later this year! c) A planner is being featured on a very popular blog and needed some images of her work to go with it. I was able to send her over the galleries of every wedding we did with her in the past two years in under five minutes, so she had a ton of our images to choose from for the feature.
So you can see how PASS has pretty much become our mobile archive and it means that we get to take every image us with us wherever we go! One other thing we do to be able to get through all those images faster & therefore be able to get back to people faster, is to create a pretty extensive & specific catalog of images that we sort our pictures into before we upload. With PASS if you create your own sub-folders and sort the images before uploading, then it will automatically create those collections for you when you upload. So we just have a pre-set list of collections (as you can see from the example above) that includes very specific things like "details flowers" "girls getting ready" and "couple portraits." So now if a florist needs a picture, we know exactly where to look. If a couple needs a portrait of them for their thank you card, we can find that in two minutes or less.
So that's it! That's pretty much how we keep our business moving while we're on the road! We hope it helps!
As always, if you have any questions at all feel free to leave them in the box below & we'll do our best to answer them!
Happy Pancake Day y'all!
***And as an extra bonus, the awesome Kevin Sturm at PASS has given us not just one, but FOUR $50 PASS credits to give away to four lucky winners! Just leave us a comment in the box below & introduce yo'self :) and we'll announce the winners early next week! And...GO!
One of the biggest questions we get from our clients & other friends who aren't photographers, is for a recommendation for a good point & shoot that they can take with them on the honeymoon or vacation. We get it so often in fact, that I just put together one of our email signatures for it with links to our favorite p&s cameras. But I was thinking about it, and I realized that even professional photographers need a good point & shoot now and then for those times when you're going away and don't want to have to take your "big" camera with you. Because I don't know about you guys, but sometimes it's really nice to go away and not feel the pressure to have to document every little thing on your vacation as if you've been hired for it! Or to spend more time thinking about how you're going to blog it than actually being present and enjoying it. :) We're actually packing up as we speak for a little getaway up to Maine with some amazing friends...and that's exactly what I'm hoping for. To take some pictures yes....but to ENJOY it even more!
So without any further ado, if any of you are on the look out for a new "fun" camera here is our recommendation for the top compact camera we're loving right now: the Fuji XM-1!!
We love it first and foremost, because let's face it...it just looks cool! :) You can also get it in silver or black, but we're loving the vintage vibe of the tan one. In addition to the cool factor, we also love that is has a growing arsenal of interchangeable lenses that you can add to it over time for different looks, a tilt lcd screen so you can shoot from the hip or shoot up high, a fairly large sensor (resulting in better quality images, better lowlight performance, and more shallow depth of field than other point and shoots), more compact than it's big brothers the X-EI1 and XPro1, fast autofocus, and HD video. And finally, perhaps one of the coolest things about this camera would be that it has wifi built in. Which means that you can send the pictures right to your phone & use them on Instagram if your iPhone camera just isn't cutting it.
And because looking at cameras is a lot more fun when you have some money to spend on them :), just leave us a comment in the box below & some lucky winner is going to get a $50 gift card to Adorama to get you on your way! Winner announced early next week! Happy Pancake Day!
Pancake Session: Get Images from the Guest's Perspective
Happy Pancake Day!!
When Justin & I were getting married and were looking for wedding photographers for our ourselves, there were of course a few things we were looking for. Ok, a LOT of things we were looking for! :) Hey, we're photographers ourselves...we're picky! But as we were going through all the different websites trying to make sense of who we might want to go with, we did have a few, what you might call "red flag" deal-breakers we were on the lookout for that for us meant automatic disqualification. :)
And of that list, probably the number one deal-breaker of all was if we saw a first dance photo in the gallery where the couple was looking directly at the camera. That's because for us, that photo only ever told the story of that couple clutch-and-swaying along enjoying their first dance as married people only to have the photographer interrupt them to say "look at me." And what we realized was that we didn't want a photographer who said look at me...we wanted a photographer who could say "bet you didn't even know I was there." Because that's the kind of photographers we wanted to be as well.
When we were first getting started & figuring this out, we used to say we wanted to "tell the story without becoming a part of it." Now, I think it's something more like, we want to be able to tell the story as if we weren't even there. As if the whole thing was somehow told through the eyes of the guests, seeing things from their perspective and from the point of view of the people who love & care about this couple most in the world. And who are taking a thousand mental snapshots along the way. What if we could tell the story that way? What if we could give our couples the images that felt like what it was to be a guest there that day, laughing and crying right alongside them? Sure, it would probably have to be a pretty high-ranking guest like a bridesmaid or groomsmen since we get to be there all day & get a glimpse at the behind the scenes. :) But a guest's perspective nonetheless. What if we could do that for our couples?
You guys might remember that "Intimate" is one of our "AEIOU" filter words we derived from our Why of things we strive for when we shoot. So in pursuit of getting more of that intimate feeling in our images, we came up with a new goal: Tell the story from the guests' perspective....but get the images that the guests can't get.
That second part has everything to do with lighting, composition, instincts & exposure. And there isn't a Pancake Session big enough to cover it. So today, I just want to talk to you about that first part: Tell the story from the guests' perspective. Here are our Top 5 tips for making that happen:
1. Remember when to just be quiet & invisible (hint: it's most of the time) Before you speak up, stand up, stand right in front of someone, stand ON the altar, ask them to stop and do it again, or ever think about using the word "pretend"....ask yourself if it will really make it better. In some cases, we do need to speak up for the sake of the pictures and that's ok. Somewhere around 95% of the time... we don't. :)
2. Make yourself part of the crowd. This one seems a little backward for the goal we're going for. But plain & simple, the more comfortable people are with you...the more likely they are to be able to just go ahead and ignore you when the time comes for shooting. The more you can blend into the group as if you're just one of them, the more seamless those images will become. (It's one of the biggest reasons Justin & I prefer to dress like the guests when we're shooting.) So yes, this will require some well-timed smiles, polite conversation and perhaps even some witty banter here & there. :) But the more the bridal party/guests can see you as just part of the crew, the less they'll think of you there as the photographer.
3. Now that you're just one of the guests, shoot from where they see things. Justin & I will pay attention to how & where the guests are when we're shooting. Are they sitting at their tables? We'll try to shoot from that height too. Are they standing in a semi-circle around the bride & groom? Great, we'll not only stand as well....we'll also shoot from different angles as if we were at different places in the circle. Are they seated in the pews of the church? One of Justin's favorite places to shoot part of the ceremony from is the outer edge of the second pew where nobody ever sits. But from that vantage point, he can shoot through the bridesmaids or groomsmen in front of him for a few shots and really capture that feeling of what it was to witness the ceremony as a guest. Plus, because he's seated and not moving around a ton he becomes less of a distraction.
4. Use other guests in the foreground and/or background One of the reasons Justin loves to shoot through the bridesmaids & groomsmen during the ceremony is because he can use them to create layering in the image. He can put them offset in the frame and out of focus, and use them to draw your eye into what he's really focusing on. And that framing makes it feel like you're seeing the whole thing unfold just like a guest would.
5. Finally, shoot with longer lenses Even though I am a sworn 50mm devotee, I do have to admit that Justin tends to get a lot more of our candid, from the guests point of view images because he shoots with our longer lenses. What that allows him to do is shoot from further back, but frame the image as if he's sitting right at the table with you or in the same aisle. Which means he can be shooting from across the room so he doesn't ruin the candidness of the moment, but it still feels super close so you don't lose that intimate feel either.
As always, we hope this was helpful & got at least one person out there thinking differently about how to approach the day. Or at the very least, that you'll all promise me you'll never interrupt the first dance! :) But I already know you guys would never do that!
If you have any questions or requests for future Pancake Sessions, feel free to leave 'em in the box!