5 Game Changers For Our Photography Business
As a part of our continued growth and pursuit of progress, one of things we are huge on with our businesses is continuing education. We are big believers that education can take on many forms. Sometimes education is formal and happens via a classroom or course you take. Sometimes it comes throughout the experience of trial and error (and success), and often times its gained through connections with others. Hearing about their triumphs, their struggles, and strategies. On one of our recent road trips out of town for a wedding we were indulging in some Ted Talks and I can’t remember the exact title of this one that we ended up eventually linking to but it discussed breakthroughs. Naturally with life on the road, it gives you time to ponder and often times leads to some of our best conversations as husband and wife, as partners in life, and partners in business. It’s a topic of much interest to us because we are definitely going through the process of self analysis throughout the year. I would say at least twice a year we sit down and examine where we are in terms of our business goals, strategies, and if we need to make any adjustments to fit our vision, not to mention the constant but ever-changing vision. Oftentimes the word “breakthrough” is used interchangeably with words like improvement, innovation, or advancement. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to use the words game changer (mainly because I love sports lol). Game changers historically are those players or moments that can turn the tide (for better or for worse) with any game, situation, tournament, play, etc. things may have been going one way and then they went another. In business, it can mean doing things one way and then boom! A great idea, a new discovery of how to do something, or a realization of how something is working and it can potentially change the way you do things moving forward forever. As educators who work with other photography professionals throughout the year in one on one and group settings, we thought it would be cool to share with our fellow photographers 5 of the biggest game changers for our businesses and overall development as photographers.
If you’ve followed any of our blogs on business, or personal development in the past, then you’ve no doubt heard us mention or seen us post about at least one of these books. No Excuses by Brian Tracy and The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Both for different reasons, but utilizing both in the same way, reading both from cover to cover and actually doing most if not all of the things they prescribe throughout their chapters. Even after a few years in the photography industry part time, we still had a lot to learn about not only the craft itself but running a business. We knew that both would take a strategy to accomplish the goals we had envisioned for ourselves and while I think we, like a lot of other people, kind of know what to do, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out where to start. No Excuses provided us that structure and was absolutely priceless to the beginning stages of our development and even to this day with the concept of ‘taking action and taking action now’. Beyond providing simple structure and strategies for accomplishing goals, it goes in to the a lot of different principles of personal development all while maintaining a center of focus on the concept of self discipline which is an integral part of our business. One of the other books that I consider a game changer for us was The Compound Effect. After talking to an old friend about the massive amount of growth and and progress in that first year, we remember having the discussion about feeling like we came so far so fast and it felt like we were slowing down or plateauing. While we had made a lot of positive strides we still wanted more and it felt like we somehow went from full speed ahead back to first gear with regards to certain things. After explaining everything to my friend, he recommended the Compound Effect and said it sounds like it would be the perfect book to give insight to the process of where we are vs where we wanted to be and what that journey might ultimately look like. In short, the compound effect was simply that. The seemingly simple decisions that you make day in and day out may not seem like much but over the course of weeks, months, and years, they tend to build momentum. Think about something like putting on weight. Rarely is anyone actively aware of the moment they’re putting on weight. They live their life, day to day, enjoying their usual routine, and 4 years after high school they realize they’ve somehow gained an extra 10lbs. They might say something like “How the heck did that happen?” Well let’s look at the compound effect. Let’s be conservative, and say you had one Krispy Kreme glazed donut at the office with your coworkers only once per week on fridays, but you’d grab a donut and a plain coffee. That extra 190 calories compounded once a week (x 52 weeks) over the course of a year added up to nearly 3lbs (2.82 to be exact). Now let’s say your habits haven’t changed, you’re stuck in the same cycle, sometimes if you eat a little more, sometimes a little less. Sometimes you take the stairs, sometimes you don’t. That same pattern continued over the course of 4 years would add up to 10-12lbs. And there wasn’t one big event or night out on the town that made you tip the scales. It was the one donut on Fridays compounded over 4 years (do the math). Now imagine the power of the compound effect when used for the positive! Let’s say instead of having a donut every Friday with your co-workers you’ve decided to instead go for a 20 minute brisk walk every Friday and now your burning 190 calories. Over the course of 4 years, you’re now looking at 10-12lbs of potential weight loss from one small decision made 4 years earlier, compounded by action every week. Applying this principle in business was a huge game changer for us. 4 years into being full time, we’re starting to see the benefits of seeds we planted 2 years ago. It wasn’t one big blog, one photo that went viral, one class, or one piece of new gear or technique we picked up. Rather it was every little blog. Every piece of new gear. Every little technique. Every new concept. Every photo we shared. Every wedding published. Compounded over the last 4 years. Now here’s the trick. You have to be focused. The compound effect can work for you or against you depending on your focus. Much of that focus we feel we gained from No Excuses and once we got our hands on The Compound Effect it helped us see it through even on days when it felt like there was little if any immediate progress or impact to what we were doing. I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep reading, or doing audiobooks, or a combo of both when it comes to this process. It has certainly been a game changer for us and these two books we credit the most!
Off Camera Flash
It’s kind of an evolution in your progress as a professional photographer. First you learn your camera and how to use it in different lighting situations. After you get pretty good at natural light you notice that there are certain situations where it doesn’t always give you exactly what you’re wanting. Then you learn on camera flash and it makes you versatile in so many more situations. Until you run into a situation where it just doesn’t work. You search for the answer and you finally find it. Off camera flash. Once you learn this, then you find yourself able to shoot well in any situation. We’ve heard this above scenario several times and this was pretty much our process of evolution from learning one thing to another. OCF was a game changer for us because it gave us confidence not just in one particular location or lighting situation, but in all of them. Initially as photographers we thought OCF was only for those dramatic lighting styled shots which we’ve grown to love and have helped separate our work from a lot of others, but what we found after a couple years of dedication to learning it (and on going) is that it allows you the flexibility to get nice shots in about 99.9% of situations. For us we find that it allows us to do more than just an epic sunset shot but it allows us to correct color when the white balance is off in a particular location due to color casting. It allows us to be more creative with our compositions and shots. It allows us to combat harsh lighting and over power the ambient when you have a backlit ceremony or similar situation. It allows us to be more precise and place the light exactly where and how we want it. It allows us to emphasize where we want someones attention within a photo. In some cases, it allows us to hide a not so ideal background and light just the subject. I think the thing we love most off camera lighting is by developing a solid foundation in this skill, it allows you to provide your clients with a dynamic range of images they wouldn’t otherwise have and it allows you to do it within a matter of seconds. Also, to be 100% honest, when you learn to manipulate the light in such a way to work in your favor as a part of your art and vision, those images usually end up being the biggest attention grabbers. We love natural light as much as the next person and we appreciate a bounce flash off a white ceiling as everything has it’s place, but as you’ll find throughout your photography career, there will come a time when neither are ideal in terms of color, intensity, or availability and that’s where OCF can be a game changer. It definitely has been for us!
Mastering White Balance
Let me start off by saying what we all probably already agree on. Photography is an art and what one person may find right or “technically correct” may not fit all styles. No doubt in our field we have a plethora of different styles when it comes to shooting, colorations, etc. Some amazing pros like their style very light and bright. Some like there’s very dark and contrasty. Some prefer more of a middle ground. Some prefer somewhere in between somewhere that is in between. Beyond this, toning can very greatly from one pro to another. Some like it on the warm side. Some prefer their images with a bit of a cooler color pallet. Some prefer to mute the colors. There’s no 100% right or wrong here, just what you prefer for your style and what you deliver as your final product. I would venture to say that to an extent, some of our styles are ever evolving and constantly being fine tuned. So, with all that being said, when I say “mastering white balance”, I mean for you. This process may look different for every photographer. For us, we like shooting as correct as possible in camera because it gets us closer to our end result with less time spent having to figure out how to balance out the color in the photo to give it our signature look, and again, when I say correct, I mean correct for us and our style. For us this often means the use of a grey card or tweaking the kelvins ever so slightly until we get exactly what we are looking for in camera. While we realize with the advancements in new DSLRs and mirrorless camera, and the flexibility of RAW files that we could set white balance to auto and say the heck with it, and worry about it later, my goal isn’t to perform a miracle in post. It’s to take a beautiful image that’s already 80-90% there and give it a little special touch to polish it off. This goes right into our work flow and is one of the reasons we are able to take on so many weddings and maintain such a fast turnaround time for our clients. Think back to the paragraph on the compound effect, and now compound an entire wedding album worth of images in your mind that you might deliver. Would you rather spend 60 seconds editing an image or 2-3 minutes editing an image? Now compound that over the entire wedding over the course of an entire year. It’s no wonder we hear so many folks in the industry complain about editing and how time consuming it can be. One of the things we’ve seen in so many articles across the internet and social media and even in the comment section of certain groups on social media platform is don’t worry about white balance you can correct anything in post and while that may be mostly true with RAW files, it’s not always the most efficient way of doing things. The other reason this was a game changer for us is consistency. You may have one shoot in the mountains when it’s gray, dreary, cool, and cloudy and the next day you may have a shoot at the exact location when the sky opens up and now you’re getting beautiful warm golden light. Being able to create final images that maintain close to if not the exact same look from day to day and even place to place, will speak volumes about your work to potential clients as it will build confidence that you will also be able to create a similar result for them. White balance is one of the key components in finding/creating your look and can have a definite impact on your work flow as well as your marketability.
The Wedding Festivals
For those of you that have followed us for any amount of time, you may have seen us participate in the Wedding Festivals or mention them here and there. This organization and their bridal shows were a definite game changer for us when it came to the beginning stages of our business. Prior to The Wedding Festivals we had been going at it part time for approximately 4 years (3 of those in FL) and while we were booking clients, it wasn’t anything super consistent or reliable. We would book something here and there from this source and then maybe book one from this one, and maybe one here if we were lucky. From the research we had done, it seemed like a bridal show could be a good way to get our name out their to prospective couples looking for a wedding photographer. It allowed us a chance to meet and connect face to face with hundreds of couples and not just put our branding and images out there, but actually get to know people. Heading into the first Wedding Festivals show here in Asheville, we were strategic and realistic in our approach, as well as confident. We did our market research on the average price of wedding photographer in the US. We also looked more specifically at articles that were more local and different platforms to see what their data said. Based on what we had seen, we were able to come up with a price range that met our market demand for our skill level, and offer a service/product that would also meet the needs of our potential clients. Having never done a bridal show and reading about other peoples’ experiences, we gave ourselves a goal of booking at least 3 weddings. Within a week of the show in Asheville we booked 10 weddings!!! It got us so pumped that we decided to sign up last minute for the Greenville show in SC and I kid you not, we booked another 15 weddings from that show. Having literally just moved from another state a few months prior and freshly establishing our business vision and goals for the future, the Wedding Festivals were a huge game changer for us as we were able to move to an area where we had no connections, no word of mouth, no web presence, no reputation, nothing, and we were able to book 25 weddings in a few short weeks. Beyond the obvious things you need to do to be successful at a bridal show (have a nice booth, be outgoing, present well, dress nice, possibly give a presentation, showcase your work well, etc.) we also put in the work to come up with a range of realistic packages that we knew would likely do well. This, all coupled with the support of Marc and Colleen Wheeler to guide us on anything we felt like we needed help on throughout the process was invaluable to our growth as a business. Even more than the bookings, one of the best things for us about the show was making connections with other vendors from planners, to florists, to venues. Every industry niche is there and the connections you can make here are priceless to the long term success of a business.
Last but certainly not least is relationships! In fact, I would say one of the biggest game changers for us as a business was our ability to develop effective and meaningful relationships with a lot of folks in the area, within the wedding industry, and within the photography community. What does that mean? Just be nice to people and reach out to people and see if they are willing to help you? As we found out, those folks were very few and far between. But for those few that we were able to connect with that way, we will be forever grateful for their time, generosity, and kindness. For us relationship building meant being the best version of ourselves we could be not only when it comes to shooting photos, but the interaction, coordination, and team work of working with others to make a wedding day come together for a couple. Some days that looked like putting down the camera for a minute to help a planner wipe down chairs after it had just rained prior to a ceremony. Other times it looked like letting the DJ know he frickin rocks in case no one else had. Heck, even letting the florist know her work is beautiful goes a long way. This last one may sound crazy but saying thank you to the catering crew for your vendor meal. Building relationships in the industry isn’t just about WIFM (what’s in it for me), it’s about connecting with those you work with on a regular basis and enjoying that time spent. The amount of joy we get from reading a vendor list prior to a wedding day when we see several we know is crazy sometimes. It’s like having a get together with friends every weekend, and that’s the way it should be. Another area in which we are blessed is to have befriended a lot of awesome people in the area who are also pro photographers. Do I mean now we’re all friends and refer to each other when we’re not available? It does happen sometimes, but even more than that is being able to relate to someone who understands exactly some of the things you may experience in your professional and personal life as a result of your career choice. Having friends whom you can all learn from and share ideas and watch each other grow together. One of the most rewarding things we’ve been able to see is watching those around us get better and grow because naturally it lights a fire up under you to continue getting better and growing. Being a photographer can sometimes be full of lonely days. During the busy season you may shoot a wedding all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only to find yourself by yourself editing for the next few days or handling emails that you may need to catch up on from the weekend. You’d be surprised how far a call from a photographer friend can go and vice versa or even just editing together. Even if you work is awesome. Even if you’ve nailed down your skills, marketing, etc. Even if you’re continuing to grow, the journey is so much sweeter when you have a few friends to share in it with along the way.
As we reflected these business game changers for us over the past few days, it was a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It was cool to sit back and analyze what has made the biggest impact and the growing pains over the years. We believe this kind of reflection, whether yearly, or more often is one of the keys to continued growth and success in the longevity of your business. You gotta know where you came from to know where you’re going! We hope you all enjoyed this one and if you’re ever interested in a coaching session to help grow your photography business or skills, don’t hesitate to give us a shout!
Joe and Jenny