At every wedding we do, Justin & I try to make a point of taking what we call "The Iconic Bridal Portrait." This is a portrait of the bride, by herself, usually during the getting ready portion of the day because we love all of the anticipation that that part of the day holds. (We also take a portrait like this of the groom too...we like to call that one The Iconic Groomal Portrait :)
We always like to say that we take this picture not so much for the bride, although she loves it too....but for her future granddaughter to one day find. For her to be able to see her then grandmother as the young & in love version of herself- the one full of hope, full of joy- that started their family. And to know that their family always started with love.
Justin & I realize so much that every time we push the button on a wedding day, we are capturing the moments and slices of life that will tell a story for generations to come. That WE get to show the world years from now who these two people were on Day 1.
And for us, the best stories are the ones that start with love.
**here are a couple of our favorite iconic bridal portraits we did for Sheila & Jon yesterday in Chicago!
Pancake Session: 5 Steps to Better Bridal Detail Shots
One of my favorite parts of the day is shooting the getting ready. I love all of the anticipation, I love when things get emotional, I love that we're photographing a part of the day when the bride & groom aren't together so that through our pictures they can still see what the other was doing as they were getting ready to promise forever.
And I also love it because I really do just love shooting all of the pretty details that a girl will put on as she gets ready to become a bride. Her grandma's locket, that beaded belt she spent months searching for the perfect one, her perfume that will remind her of the day every time she smells it, that amazing pair of shoes.
As anyone who has ever heard Justin & I teach on pretty much anything can tell you....we're big on starting with Why. On doing everything with purpose. And letting every choice you make as a photographer flow from that place
And for me, getting amazing shots of the shoes, the jewelry, the dress....this all fits with our own Why because we believe that the fashions of the day can be as much a part of the nostalgia of images as what's happening in them. Think about Jackie Kennedy in a pink Chanel suit or Grace Kelly in long lace sleeves, I think about my own parents on their wedding day with my mom's lace flower child dress and my dad's powder blue suit. Or my grandparents at City Hall, and my grandma's suit and pillbox hat. When I see those pictures, when I see what they were wearing...it makes me feel like I was there. We love giving that gift to the future kids and grandkids yet to be.
And, over time, we've figured out a few things to make those shots even better.
1. Shoot the details where they feel natural. In keeping with part of our Why which includes the phrase "exercise the restraint to tell those stories through the veil of authenticity," it is very important for us that, even if we are styling the details and changing where we found them, they should still be placed somewhere that it's reasonable that they might have actually been found. So for example, shooting the shoes on a chair or side table, which is normally where we find them anyway...we just move them to some good light. Or hanging the dress on an armoire or on a door, where a bride would most likely hang her dress. So in keeping with our own Why (and we know that our Why is not the same as everybody's out there! and if it's not yours that's ok!), for us we would never want to hang the dress in a tree or put it in the bath tub or do anything with it that a bride might not actually herself do. Because when she gets those pictures we want her to remember how excited she was to put on the dress.....not wonder "hmm...when did my dress go outside!" :)
2. Create simplicity of background. If you're shooting something like the dress full length, remove as many distracting elements as you can out of frame. Either crop them out or actually move them. Simple is beautiful. And nothing will ruin a beautiful shot like having a plant in the corner of the frame or random things sitting on top of the armoire. In the same vein, when you are shooting the small details, try going closer. For example, when I'm shooting the shoes on a chair, I almost always try to have the background of the chair fill the frame. It gives me a nice clean background and makes the eye focus in on the subject!
3. Try to shoot across the subject rather slightly down at it. When I'm shooting those smaller details like the shoes & jewelry, I'll sit down right on the floor so that I can bring my lens to be able to shoot right straight across it at an even height as the subject. What happens when I do that, is that by shooting at a wider aperture I am able to keep the subject tack sharp but then use that shallow depth of field to make the background fall off really quickly which makes it soft & pretty. I'll even make sure I enhance that effect by moving the subject toward the front of the chair & even further off the background. If I were instead shooting slightly down on the subject then the subject would be in focus, but so would a good bit of the "seat" of the chair because it's not that far from the subject and the planes of focus wouldn't fall off fast enough. The result is that it looks like I'm shooting at much more stopped down aperture, which tends to have more of a point & shoot look. Also, because we now see so much more of the detail & fabric of the chair, it becomes a lot busier (i.e. not as simple) of a background! I will say though that sometimes shooting straight down on the subjects can make for a really interesting shot...just stay aware of your background!
4. Keep your lens parallel. In addition to shooting straight across the subject, we also take care to make sure we're holding our lens in a way that it is staying parallel to the subject. What I mean by that is that even if you are low enough to shoot across the subject but you are tilting your lens up or down, then it will distort the parallels in the background of the image (like the lines or edges of the chair). Our eye is really attracted to images with very little distortion because we understand them more. They make more sense/look how they should look in real life. So just that simple change can create a much more simple, beautiful image.
5. Try to make it feel like they were found that way. Now obviously this rule has kind of a gray area, because the truth is that we often find the shoes still in the box or the dress still wrapped in plastic. But I guess what I mean is to try to shy away from setting up the details in an overly staged/too perfect/shot in every combination possible way that makes the viewer feels like "oh look what photographer did" and instead feels more like someone is just getting a behind the scenes glimpse into what that morning really felt like. What the dress looked like hanging there waiting to be put on. What the perfume bottle looked like that she was about to spray on. Which is really what we're trying to capture! So allow in some of what we call "benign neglect" where it's pretty but not necessarily perfect, to make it feel more like real life. And so sometimes, the best way to get details shots is to simply shoot them as the bride is actually about to put them on!
As always, we hope that helped!! And if you would like to receive even more free tips & tricks, be sure to get signed up for our newsletter below! We are going to be sending out one next week about "5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Portfolio" and it's going to be a GOOD one! :) You don't want to miss it! We have been really loving our newsletter community so far & we've had thousands of people sign up in just the past few weeks! We would love for you to join 'em so you don't miss out on a single one!
**Today we are SO honored & excited to have the amazing Abbey Kyhl on to guest blog in a very open, honest & raw post about what happens when the business takes over....and how to take back your life! Thank you SO much Abbey for sharing your story & your incredible heart!
When I first started this journey into a photography business I thought it was about two things...taking pictures and making money. I had no idea what was in store for me. I had no idea that it would become about so much more than that, and that this thing, this business, would become the journey through which I would truly discover who I am and "why" I do this thing I do (as Justin and Mary would say). And I am excited for the opportunity to share with you three moments that propelled me to the place I am now and living a life I love, with a business that is so much more than just a way to make money.
Right from the beginning, I got really lucky in my business. Or at least that was what I thought. My business instantly exploded and I had more clients than I knew what to do with. I found myself constantly bombarded with inquiries and I was jam packed with bookings all the time. In 2010, I worked with 460 clients. That isn't a typo...FOUR HUNDRED AND SIXTY. It was because I found myself always saying yes. I said yes to everyone...well almost everyone.
See these three. They, along with their daddy, are my everything. And during that period where I was saying yes to every client in the world, they were all hungry for my time and attention, but I said no to them. All the time in fact. “Not right now. In a minute. Hold on.” were words that came out of my mouth dozens of times during the day. And then there for a minute, they started to lose faith in me, and it wasn’t me that they wanted to be around anymore.
Along came life altering moment number one. My amazing, wonderful son taught me an important lesson about my "why". Kids are funny like that, aren't they? Always teaching us. He was five at the time and was taking a hip hop class with a bunch of his friends and they had two recitals in the year. Because his first recital wasn’t scheduled months in advance like my weddings were, I missed it. Daddy was there, Grandma and Grandpa were there, even my assistant was there, but mommy was working. So for his next recital, I made huge efforts to make sure I could be there. I wasn’t going to miss this one. But I never told him that, he was five, he wouldn’t understand how much effort I put into being there for him. Then one afternoon I could hear him chatting with my assistant in the other room while I was busy emailing, editing, blogging, posting on social media and doing more work than I knew how to handle. I heard him say to her, “Will you come see me dance hip hop?” She, of course, said she would. But then the next thing that came out of his mouth were the most painful words I have ever heard in my life…”Oh good, because my mommy won’t be there. She will be working.”
My heart sank. My five year old had lost faith in me to show up for him. To be there for him. He was so desperate to be with me, but I wasn’t putting that same energy into being there for him. Something had to change…In fact, just about everything needed to change.
Not long after that my husband's grandmother, whom I love so dearly, unexpectedly passed away. My heart broke. I thought about all the times I missed out on trips to spend the day with her because I was too busy working. In the days before her funeral, we gathered as a family and shared experiences and memories we had of her. And one thing so vividly stuck out to me. Out of all her children and all her grandchildren, not one person could remember a time when she didn't show up for them. No missed dance recitals, no missed basketball games, no missed important moments. Grandma always showed up. She was always there for the moments that mattered.
Moment number two, when again, my heart stopped. I knew I wasn't that person for my family. I was trying, but it still wasn't enough. Truthfully, there were so many days when I wondered why my husband stayed with me. How we could put up with all that I was doing to our family? And for what? It wasn't just my family that was suffering, my business was failing too. Because it was impossible to run a successful business the way I was doing it. So I was putting everything at risk for nothing. I gave myself a deadline. One year to turn everything around...or walk away from my business.
Then along came Mary. She was my moment number three. She didn't know me. She had no idea that her entire WPPI talk that year was for me. She spoke about her own grandmother, and I sat in my seat and wept uncontrollable tears. She knew what it was like. She understood. She spoke about the things we leave behind, and how they need to count for something. She talked about how you can make more than just a living, but can truly create a beautiful life with purpose. About creating a history that mattered. Like my grandmother did. And I knew as I sat there listening that I could do it too.
And I did. I came home. I sought out the help I needed. I found ways to streamline absolutely everything. Ways to work smarter, not harder. Ways to integrate balance into my business and my life. I learned amazing tricks, and techniques, and created a system for running my business that was truly life altering. And I did do it. I really did. I changed everything. I created the business that I knew in my heart I was capable of. And I not only discovered my "why" but maybe more importantly for me, I created a successful business that is centered around my "who." The ones I am doing this all for. The ones I am building my legacy for. Those who really matter in my story. And it isn't just my family, but also those special amazing brides whose lives I am supposed to be a part of. They are part of my legacy to, and I a part of theirs.
So you may be in this place. This place where you don't know the "why", or maybe you do, but you are drowning trying to figure out the "how". How to run a business that doesn't run you. How to do what is important first, and let everything else fall into place. Because I can guarantee it will. If you focus on your "why" and your "who," everything else will fall into place. And if I was going to give you three tips to get you started, here is what they would be.
1. Learn to say "no" to the wrong things, so you can say "yes" to the right things. Learning how to do this will change everything. This concept, this idea of saying “no” was one of the biggest stepping stones to taking back my life and in turn taking my business to a whole new level. Think about all the people in your business you say "yes" to that you know that you shouldn't. Have you ever thought of it this way? Each time you say "yes" when you know you shouldn't, you are also saying "no" to the people who really matter. And I can honestly tell you, when you start to say “yes” to the right things and “no” to the wrong things, you will find you actually have more business than you know what to do with. On average I receive at least two wedding inquires a day, that's over 730 wedding inquires a year. And now, because I put my family first I only book 8% of the brides that contact me.
And here is the best part, I have more time to be with my family than I ever did before. Each year, I take a full month off in the summer. That's right I am a wedding photographer, who takes a good chunk of the busy summer season off. But my brides just understand how important taking a summer break with my kids is, because there are so few of them in a lifetime. And my brides, the ones I do say "yes" to, they want me to be able to be a good mom. They support me in that. They are willing to be flexible with me, because they know that when I am giving them my time, I am giving them my very best. My brides now become my friends, because we have the time to cultivate that relationship, and my friends value my family. So of course, there are still days when I have to be away from my family, but those days are not as big of a deal anymore. Because I am there for them a lot. I am there for them when they need me, and many times when they don’t, just sitting here quietly watching them grow and falling in love with them even more. I've found out I can have the best of both worlds. Being a great mom and being a great business owner...because I learned to say "no" when I should.
2. Systems = Success It's impossible to be successful when you are trying to do everything yourself. You need systems. And you need things like Shoot Q, PASS, Zenfolio, and others to lighten the load. You need a streamlined workflow. You need time managing techniques that will help you balance your life. You need to utilize these important tools so you can make your business as efficient as possible. Implementing systems will drastically change everything. In my system (the one I teach in my Evolving Workshop), I now save 20 hours per client for a simple cost of $48.00 per client. Imagine what you could do if you gained 20 hours of your life back per client and all you had to do was raise your prices by $48.00 dollars.
3. Think like a boss, so you can feel like an artist. Once you get your business together, and can organize and balance all the behind the scenes day-to-day tasks that have to be done, you can begin to focus on the importance of this work. What you are doing, what you are capturing for your clients, and the difference you can make in people's lives. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you can get that time back to follow your heart and your art. Instead of seeing deadlines, demanding clients, and being overwhelmed with to-do lists, you begin to see the beauty in this work again.
The truth is this...Life is all about our moments. And these moments that we are given are so fleeting. In a breath they become a whisper of a precious memory. But how we choose to spend our moments is what really matters. Being with my family matters. Being a part of a brides most important day matters. And if I could stand all day and pour out my heart to you about one thing, it would be this...You can have it all. You can have the best of both worlds. I know this without a doubt, because I am living it.
Abbey Kyhl is the owner of AK Studio & Design and is a thriving and successful wedding photographer located in Southern Utah. She has created the Evolving Workshop where she teaches all about the system she designed and integrated for running your business, taking back your life, and catapulting yourself to success. It truly is the "everything business" workshop. She also runs the private facebook group, the AK Crew, where each day she answers a different business question and gives her advice on anything and everything related to your photography business. To learn more about her visit her website www.akstudiodesign.com.
The J&M Wedding Experience: Pictures in Silver Frames
***If you are a client & you are reading this, STOP reading now! :) Close the blog, walk away, do not Pass Go! :) We want you to be surprised!
One of the things that we talk about in The Guide is the J&M Wedding Experience that we create for our couples as part of our marketing (and how we would MUCH rather spend money spoiling our clients than on prints ads or bridal shows that never had the same kind of return anyway!) We do a series of gifts from the first meeting to the holidays after the wedding that we outline start to finish in The Guide. But one of the new things that we've added to the line up, is one that we're super excited about not just for the wow factor, but more importantly for The Why.
In our workshops, when we're talking about our "Why" for why we do what we do, we show this picture below of my grandparents sixty years into marriage holding a wedding picture in a silver frame of them on Day 1. We talk about how this work that we all do is such an honorable calling because by its very nature it is work that will live on long after we're gone, and it is work that provides proof to the world that a love existed in the first place. And in respect of that honor, we have to make sure that the work that we're creating is timeless and enduring enough to still be beautiful & relevant sixty years from now. To ensure that it is not just pretty, but that it tells a powerful story of who these two people were when they started a life together.
So that's why the latest gift that we do is so powerful for us. If we want to be the ones to create images that will end up in a silver frame on someone's mantel for the next sixty years....what if we were also the ones to give them the frame? So now at the end of the night at weddings, we bring with us an 8x10 Restoration Hardware silver frame and we print a wedding picture from that day on site! We're using this very portable & easy to set up Canon printer and the whole thing takes about ten minutes to do!
And the best part is how surprised they are to already have their first wedding picture & how all of the guests and bridesmaids love it so much too! It's tangible, remarkable, Purple Cow, and most importantly....it's something we know that they can keep forever!
And if you are looking for some more help with your marketing & getting your name out there like wildfire, we are super excited to be partnering with Shoot Dot Edit & WPPI to bring you a webinar on July 2nd all about 10 Simple Things you can do right NOW to book more weddings! This will be completely FREE to watch and we are also going to be giving away a ton of prizes to the LIVE audience, so be sure to mark your calendars & tune in at 1pm EST. You can find all the info & get registered by going HERE!!
A time with multiple shoots every week, a ton of traveling, a ton of editing, and not enough down time.
And as fate would have it, our busy season as wedding photographers just happens to line up with the time when the rest of the world starts to take time off, time for themselves, and time to work on those personal projects they've been meaning to get done.....like starting or finishing their wedding albums! :) Sound familiar?
It has the potential to be the straw that breaks the overly-scheduled, overly to-do listed camel's back. But it doesn't have to be.
We've already blogged on here before about how we started using Align Album Design over a year ago and how much we are LOVING them! Their designs are clean, classic, exactly what I would do if I had time to do it myself. And they have incredible customer service where they get to know your style more & more each time they work with you. It's like they came along and took a HUGE weight off our shoulders. And now, in the height of busy season, I am more grateful for them than ever before because we actually have time to go out on a date night, spend a day at the beach, or go on an adventure. They've helped give us our life back and THAT is an amazing feeling my friends!
So Align makes up a huge part of our album process, but what does the whole thing look like? What are the steps we take to approach creating our signature books? Well, here you go!
1. We pick the images for the first mock up. This is something we educate on right from the beginning, that we will pick the images for the first mock up using our J&M favorites just so that we get a good story board of the day going. Our clients know that they can then make any changes or additions that they want, but this at least gives them a really good starting point. It's much less overwhelming for our couples AND it means that a lot more of our favorites/the best work from the day makes it into the final book than if we just put that burden on our clients to pick the images. It is definitely a Win-Win!
2. Send the PASS gallery to Align. One of my hands down favorite parts about Align is that they accept PASS galleries for image submission. So what that means for us is that as soon as the faves are uploaded to PASS, we can start the album process! There is no ftp-ing images or shipping drives, it's an instant win. And since there are no bottlenecks or steps we dread doing, we don't procrastinate it and it all gets done a lot faster. Like I mentioned, we use our faves for the first mock up so I just tell our designer Michelle to only use that folder for now.
3. Leave 2-3 spreads open. We have our designers use all or most of our faves to fill up all the spreads, except 2-3. We then leave those open for pages dedicated to family photos & reception party dancing. Since neither of those types of images tend to make it into our faves, we ask our couple to choose some images to add in from those categories once they look at the first mock up & those get added in with round two. But by leaving space, it means our designer can just create new spreads of them instead of re-working already awesome pages to make room for them.
4. Make changes based on comments Align uses Album Exposure to proof the album to our couple, which is awesome because they can leave comments right on each spread. We honestly typically have very few changes to make after the first round, but I'll get those comments and make a folder on PASS called "album updates" for any new images that are being added/swapped in & then our designer knows exactly what she's looking for to add in those images.
5. Get final approval, pick cover options. The final step is a statement in writing (email is fine) that the couple approves the final mock up of the album exactly the way it is, and then we ask them to pick a cover color, cover image, and the exact text for their imprinting. We limit our cover color choices to colors we believe will stand the test of time: dark brown, black, and a lighter brown/camel color. This also makes it really easy for our couples to make their choice by not overwhelming them with cover options. Because as the saying goes, "too much choice is actually no choice at all!"
6. Order the book through Leather Craftsmen. We have been using Leather Craftsmen for years now & we absolutely LOVE the quality of these books. Every time we get one in, we are just constantly impressed with the quality of the leather, the binding, the printing, you name it! They are just impressive books with a big WOW factor (something our clients also always comment on too!) & they just seem to always get it right! One of the extra bonuses that we love about LC, is that they allow us to imprint our logo on the inside cover of the book which kind of puts our stamp of approval on it. We just have always had such a great experience with these guys!
7. Quality control & personalization. Finally, we always have the books shipped to us first so we can check them over, make sure everything looks good, and then add a personal note/packaging before we ship them out to our couple. We love putting on that final touch!
That's pretty much it! Albums used to be something that SO overwhelmed us and were such a pain point in our business. And the biggest two reasons for that are that 1) we didn't have a system and 2) we didn't have HELP! Now the whole process is so streamlined and easy, it makes a WORLD of difference! If you are finding yourself in the midst of busy season and the album requests are piling up, do yourself AND your business a favor and look into bringing on help!
We can't recommend Align enough & if you want to give them a try this week, you can get 50% off your first design with them by heading over HERE & mentioning "Justin & Mary" when you place the order!
Here's to taking your life back & actually enjoying your Summer!