Power to the People – Put Your Clients First by Spencer Lum

We’re sold the dream. Being our own person. Owning our own lives. Maybe it’s the idea if you work hard, you’ll get there. Maybe it’s the idea that it’s a birthright for being who we are. Maybe it’s just a burning desire to get somewhere. But slice it how you like, one way or another, we’re always beholden to someone. If it’s not ‘the man,’ then it’s the planner who passes you the business, the client who posts the reviews, or the blog that features your images.

Forget independence. Forget freedom. Forget the notion that going for the gold means we’re a hop, skip, and a step away from strutting down easy street, owing nothing to no one. Because the question isn’t whether you own your life. The question is who you want to be beholden to.

My bet? Go with the client. I’m not saying to forget the partnerships, skip the …

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Learn How to “Read” Light by Jared Platt

Since there is so much to discuss, join me at Office Hours on March 5, 2012 (10:00 AM PT) for my FREE Webinar Series. The topic of discussion will be exposure, both in the camera and in post-production. You all know that I’m a Lightroom advocate, so we’ll be talking about Lightroom 4 and all the new exposure controls in this new release of the software. As always, this is a first-come, first-serve webinar, so sign up and show up early!

Jared Platt’s ‘Office Hours’ are Sponsored by The Photo Life and Pictage. For more information about Jared Platt go to http://www.jaredplattworkshops.com. For more information about Office Hours and The Photo Life, go to http://www.thephotolife.org/authors/jared-platt-authors-2.

Let me take you back a few years. Just ten years ago, we were transitioning from film to digital and twenty years ago, digital was still very Buck Rodgers and while it was a cool idea, everyone said that nothing would replace film. So, twenty years ago, I was learning the intricacies of film exposure. Back then, we talked a lot about the Zone System and because there was no instant feedback on the back of our cameras, we all carried around an incident light meter and we double and triple checked our exposures because, while negative film had a lot of latitude, if we underexposed that film, we had nothing!

Expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. That was the mantra. You had to protect those shadows with your very life, because underexposed shadows gave you clear film and clear film equaled flat black with no detail…i.e. nothing! And for those of use shooting weddings, that was a very frightening prospect. The white dress could fool any camera meter into underexposing the shot and 50% of the people in the shot were wearing black tuxes.

Learning to correctly expose film with consistency required a sort of “boot camp” mentality. Mentors and instructors drilled us on taking readings and making exposure computations time and time again, which gave us confidence in our ability to see and read light and know the exposure of each tone within the frame. Then digital came along and a whole new generation of photographers entered the scene. Many may never have held an incident light meter. Many have never spot metered a tux or a dress. Most simply guess the exposure and look on the LCD screen and adjust! The most technical lesson digital photographers learn today is how to read a histogram after the shot. And if you have not learned that lesson, then we really have entered a brave new world.

Just because we entered the digital age and no longer blindly shoot latent images on gelatin does not mean that we can dismiss exposure. There are many exposure lessons in digital that are still critical to the final quality of our images. For instance, now, rather than protecting the shadow during the exposure, we must protect the highlight. With film, we could burn through the silver buildup on a negative and still get some detail out of an over exposed highlight, but once a highlight has reached an even R255 G255 B255 level in a digital image, you effectively have clear film! That means no detail, which will result in a flat white paper print…i.e. nothing! And if this is a wedding dress, you’ll have quite a disappointing image!

In the process of protecting the highlight (a dress or a cloud) in a shot, the exposure ends up darker than you would like. And if you are a “guess and cheat” shooter, you’ll invariably increase the exposure in the camera to get a bright, pleasing image on the LCD screen. The result? An image that feels nice on the camera screen, but falls apart when it is printed. I have heard it so many times, when discussing RAW vs. JPG shooting, “I just expose correctly in the camera!” But what photographers fail to recognize is that exposing correctly in the camera does not mean that the image will look perfect in the camera. Ansel Adams called it pre-vissualization: the act of seeing the final print from the point of the exposure. Often that meant he had to overexpose the negative and then under develop it, in order to get the perfect print. Don’t ever think your image must look perfectly exposed in camera. While that works in controlled lighting photo shoots, it is not the case with most documentary and available light images. Perfect exposures most often do not look great in camera because the photographer has pre-vissualized the final image from the point of capture and protected the highlights by under exposing the mid-tones.

In the example above, I am shooting without fill flash in open shade. The sun is blasting the grass and of course there’s sky and mountains to contend with as well. I underexposed the shot by a stop and a half to control the exposure on the grass and in the sky. This makes the subject too dark, but that’s why we develop for the shadows in Lightroom. If I had shot this image to look perfect in-camera, the girl would look great, but the grass and sky would be blown out. Could you live with a blown out sky? Maybe, but blown out grass is unacceptable. But because I exposed to protect the highlights and developed to perfect the shadows, I have the best of both worlds.

When you encounter an uncontrolled lighting situation with a wide dynamic range, you can still get a great deal of exposure latitude by exposing for the highlights and developing for the shadows. The trick is to push the exposure as bright as possible without blowing out the brightest IMPORTANT highlight. Experience will tell you how much exposure clipping can be recovered in a RAW exposure. The resulting exposure will often feel a stop or so underexposed in the camera, but when the RAW image is brought into post-production, the shadows and mid-tones can be brightened significantly to bring the exposure back up to that ideal look you envisioned in the camera. It is no different than what we did on film. We exposed for shadows and developed and printed for highlights. We are just reversing the rules when it comes to digital.

This does not mean that you can severely underexpose without consequence in digital anymore than you could severely overexpose without failure in film. But with experience and wisdom, you will come to know how far you can push the limits of your exposures in the highlights and the shadows. At this time, digital has far less exposure latitude than film, so exposure is even more critical in digital than it was with negative film. Learning exposure is critical to the success of your images. Do you know what your histogram should look like? Do you know how far you can push a highlight before it is unrecoverable? Do you know what type of exposure yields the greatest number of tones? Can you read your exposure meter and take a photograph without reviewing the LCD screen to make sure you exposed it correctly? If not, it is time to learn.

About Jared Platt

Jared Platt is a professional photographer and photographic educator. He studied photography at Arizona State University where he earned his undergraduate and masters degrees in Photography. He teaches college photography courses as well as workshops for professional photographers and provides online education for photographers and photo enthusiast throughout the world.

 

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Getting Goals – Divide and Conquer for Results by Brian Friedman

“Most have lists for their groceries.  Few have lists for their lives” – Robin Sharma

Something that often gets overlooked in our hectic world are our goals; the things we want and work hard for every day of our lives.  We all have them in some way shape or form, but are we really utilizing the power of ones goals?

Having done this myself at the time I transitioned into photography fulltime, I am a firm believer that successful goal setting can move your life forward in ways you might find hard to believe.

So what’s the secret to successful goal setting?

First, you have to divide your goals into all the categories of your life, not just one broad “life” category.  Next you have to actually write them down!!!  Putting them in writing does the trick!

Here’s how I break mine down:

Personal goals – What are my fitness goals this year?  How about the …

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Lessons Learned from a Photographer Planning his own Wedding by Paul Morse

New Orleans by Paul Morse

Planning our wedding has been intense, fun, and quite a learning lesson. The experience gave me a much different perspective on what new clients see while searching for photographers and other professionals who make their wedding day special.

The First Impression

At the beginning of our planning process we met with the general manager of the venue where we wanted to host our wedding. We looked through their display albums out of curiosity and for decor ideas. There was strong work by local photographers, but surprisingly none of the albums had contact information for the photographers printed inside! The albums had the photographer’s name, but no phone number, email address or website.

The ‘A List’ and the ‘Black List’

After settling on the venue, we asked the general manager for recommendations for bands and florists. She presented us with an extensive list of people she had a positive experience working with. It was golden! Because we highly valued her opinion and our venue’s expertise, we contacted many of the vendors on her list to inquire about our special day. My fiancé and I are also new to the city we’re getting married in, so having a list of preferred vendors was extremely important to us.

When inquiring about certain bands that were not on the list she would simply reply “no comment,” which we found out later meant she had a bad experience with them. Most of the complaints were about the particular vendor putting their interests before the client’s interests. They could have been very talented and capable but they were now on the “black list”.

Price vs. Value

When considering venues and services, we usually checked out at least three options at various price points and found that cheaper wasn’t necessarily better. We wanted affordable exclusivity and the cheaper options felt less special. We definitely learned to do research, decide how much to allocate to certain services and be willing to spend extra time in certain places to gain affordable exclusivity.

Simple and Inclusive Pricing

The first venue we looked at was at the top end of our budget. When we priced it out per person we thought we could afford it, but we soon realized that it didn’t include tax 10% and a 23% gratuity. That was a third of the total cost left out!

The pricing plan for the venue we ultimately chose was very simple and all-inclusive. They offered three options, each offering a bit more. Then, adding an extra hour to the reception was simple and affordable. We went with the middle package of the three. Jared Bauman would be proud!

Paul and Sara

Searching for Ideas

My fiancé, Sara, has looked through countless wedding photo galleries and blogs to get ideas for flowers and wedding decor. Occasionally she would ask for my opinion by showing me blogs. There were a few shots that caught my attention but sadly very few images showed the unique moments from the weddings and many lacked any sort of branding.

I posed a question to her, “Would you hire a photographer based on shots of flowers and table settings?” To paraphrase her response, she said that these images rarely moved her beyond a “that looks pretty” comment about flower colors and centerpiece arrangements. What she did notice were the silly shots of bouquets posed in an old oven!

Who’s Going to Shoot my Wedding?

This has been the number one question others have asked me since Sara and I got engaged. My closest photographer friends and a few really talented photographers in the wedding business have volunteered their services. Some have suggested I should set up remotes and shoot it myself!

Rather than accepting their gracious offers, we decided to hire a photographer whom we trust and respect for several reasons. First, our goal is to make our wedding a celebration of the people we love and we want our closest friends to celebrate with us rather than shoot! Having someone volunteer to shoot is gracious, but we feel like it fundamentally changes the client/photographer relationship. I also want to support a photographer whose vision I admire and thus pay for him for his services just as any other couple would. After all, we are relying on him to tell the story of our wedding and put together a collection of images we will cherish forever!

About Paul Morse

Paul’s skill and style have earned the trust of the President and world leaders as a White House documentary photographer. The consummate visual story teller, Paul’s ability to capture emotions with power and beauty propelled him to become the wedding photographer of choice in Washington DC and across the US.

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Five Tips for Dramatically Improving Reception Photos by Doug Levy

When I shot my first wedding in 2007, I was lucky! The reception was pretty bright (and my camera was worthless above about ISO 400, so that was a good thing!) Since then, I’ve learned – sometimes the hard way – that not every wedding reception is inundated with light, and you know what? I love that.

Bright is great, but dark is full of endless possibilities. Consider a wedding reception outside at 2 p.m. under a clear sky (I know, not common, but play along). There’s not much you can do with that light, right? Your hands are pretty much tied; you’re not competing with a cloudless sky with the speedlights that most wedding shooters have in their bag!

Now take a pitch black 9 p.m. reception. Much more common, right? “Oh crap, the bride’s making her grand entrance in 5 minutes and it’s ISO, 12,800 at 1/2 a second in here!” That’s just awesome. Here’s the thing – you can mold that darkness, you can shape it, it can be whatever you want it to be. You can’t say that about a bright afternoon, can you?

Now, I know dark receptions can be intimidating, so here are five tips to help you conquer the dark:

1) Know your focus modes.

For Nikon shooters this means shooting in AF-S, for Canon users “One Shot” in order to activate your flash’s red autofocus assist beam. In AF-C (continuous) and AI-Servo modes, your camera will attempt to track moving subjects, but won’t put out that AF assist beam, which is key to focusing in the dark.

2) Use back button to focus.

After your camera has hunted for and finally found focus (the 5DII shooters out there know what I mean), and you’re ready to take a photo, there’s nothing worse than your camera starting to hunt for focus again when you press the shutter. So, disable your shutter button from activating focus. It takes some practice, but this way, once the camera has acquired focus, you won’t risk it hunting again when you’re ready to take the photo. This works great for static images (toasts, posed shots), and takes a lot more practice for moving subjects.

Another perk here is when you’re shooting in bright light and using a continuous focus mode, you can just keep your thumb on the focus button all day and your focus will always be active.

3) Don’t use off-camera flash as your key light.

I love off-camera flash, and it’s how I shoot most of my portraits, but for wedding receptions when I’m moving and my subjects are dancing, I can’t adjust my exposures fast enough to keep up with manual flash. What’s my solution? On-camera bounce flash with off-camera accent lights (usually 1-2) on the edges of the dance floor at low power, usually 1/64 or 1/128.

The great thing about setting your accent lights at such low power is that if a bride dances over close to a light, 1/128 isn’t enough power to overexpose her, and if she dances far away from it, I’ll just get less of it! If you were using a higher power, say 1/4 or 1/8, you’d get great light spreading across a greater distance, but you’d have to constantly adjust as your subjects approached the lights.

Another perk of low power shooting…I’ve never changed the batteries in my off-camera lights at a reception. Ever!

Here’s another reason to avoid TTL off-camera. Most TTL systems only have a six stop range. That means +3 to -3. Minus three stops from full power could be as much as 1/8 power, and that’s still a TON of power, especially at 1600-2000 ISO at 2.8 where I like to hang out.

4) You can bounce flash off of almost anything.

Here’s the trick though. If you find yourself in a dark reception hall, with dark wood walls and dark ceilings (like the downtown Harvard Club in Boston, or Mechanics Hall in Worcester), in addition to increasing your flash power, zoom the flash head. That enables more light to reach the ceiling, which enables more light return to reach your subjects.

5) If you’re really stuck, mount a flash on a monopod and have your assistant follow you around.

Would this be my preferred choice? Heck no. Is it better than no light? Absolutely. If you find yourself with a reception under the stars (nothing to bounce off there!), mount a bare speedlight on a monopod and have your assistant hold it like a boom overhead 4-5 feet and angled down at your subjects. The look will be similar to bounce flash (the light is coming from the same direction after all), but with a bit more contrast as your light source will be significantly smaller.

Bonus tip: Use PowerEx 2700 batteries in your flashes and Imedion 2400′s in your Pocketwizards (my trigger of choice). The PowerEx batteries have the highest capacity of any rechargeable AA on the market, and the Imedion’s are “slow drain,” which means they won’t die unused sitting in your bag!

About Doug Levy

A wedding and portrait photographer living outside of Boston, Doug Levy spent six years pursuing a career as a professional baseball umpire before deciding a lifetime of road trips and 7:05 starts wasn’t for him. A professional photographer since 2007, Doug’s clients have included Harper Collins Publishers, Starwood Hotels and the Golf Course Superintendents of America. He’ll be teaching “Killer Reception Light” at the upcoming Inspire Photo Seminar in Boston, and offers customized lighting workshops for professional photographers as well. For more on Doug, visit his website, or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

For more from Doug check out his workshops or his “Killer Reception Light” presentation at the upcoming Inspire Photo Seminar in March.

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Pinterest for Wedding Photographers by Leeann Marie

Continuing the social media theme this month, The Photo Life team is sharing another helpful article about how photographers can use Pinterest to market their business and engage with their clients. Many photographers have asked us to keep sharing info about this new social network that’s spreading like wildfire! Special thanks to Wendy Roe and Matt Herron for their contributions to social media mega month!

The social media to-do list gets longer every day. Between Facebook, Twitter, and Blogging it seems like there are a lot of platforms on the modern wedding photographer’s daily list. Well, get ready, because there is one more to add – Pinterest.

Since Pinterest hit the social media scene it has become hugely popular with home decorators, exercise and beauty buffs, and above all, brides. It’s the new “place to go” for wedding inspiration, so wedding photographers in a moving marketplace should get familiar with the platform quickly if they want to stay ahead of the game.

What is Pinterest?

Currently invite only (don’t worry, it’s easy to get on board upon request), Pinterest in the internet’s take on inspiration boards. Tons of content is added to Pinterest on a daily basis, and it’s almost all photographic ideas. Here’s a little visual depicting how it works:

Your clients can use a “Pin It” button while on your website. This will bring up a visual list of all photos on your website (think…your blog), and clients can “pin” an image to send it directly to their own Pinterest account. Once they send it to Pinterest, it will show up on their selected board (i.e. “Wedding Photo Ideas”), and it will be searchable by other Pinterest users. The photos from your site will link back to your site. This is the KEY benefit of Pinterest. The pin will then be viewable in the client’s feed, so their friends who follow their pins will see it too. This may cause them to like, comment, or re-pin the pin.

As you can see, Pinterest is a potentially huge source of website traffic, and allowswedding photographers to share their work easily. This may lead to increased referrals, oh-ing and ahh-ing over your photos, and potential destination weddings!

How Photographers can Creatively Use Pinterest

Encourage your website viewers to Pin: Pinterest offers free code for pinning, and you can easily add it into your blog post footer or website code. Place it on your website and encourage visitors to share your images on their boards! Create your “favorite photos” boards: Pin your own work, and create boards of some of your favorite photos. Share why you love them. Keyword them and hope they spread! Create inspiration boards for your clients: Have you photographed lots of pink weddings? Modern weddings? Rustic-chic? Create boards based on the style of your previous weddings. Hold a contest: Ask your blog readers to search through all of your photos and find their favorite photo of all time, pin it, and comment on why they love it the most!

Caveats

You can view all of the images that have been pinned from your website at: http://www.pinterest.com/source/leeannmariephotography.com (change it out for your URL) Make sure clients and users are pinning and crediting your source! It’s more important than ever to make sure that the images are coming from you directly, or that they are being credited in an updated link source. Watermark your images! If you don’t, and there is an incorrect source link, your image is as good as gone. If you at least watermark your images, they can be shared on Pinterest and a potential client can still find you. Don’t be a jerk – Pinterest states in their user etiquette listing to “avoid self-promotion.” Don’t post every single image you ever shot onto Pinterest. It can be annoying, and look like you don’t care about anything else. Participate. Be creative. Contribute and offer ideas.

Happy Pinning!

About Leeann Marie

Leeann is a Pittsburgh-based wedding, engagement, and boudoir photographer. An avid blogger, she loves connecting with her clients, friends, and other photographers around the world. She holds an engineering background from the University of Pittsburgh, which has led to a love of technology and teaching.

She loves Lady Gaga, champagne, and kettle-cooked chips. She has traveled the world to places such as Russia, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and Panama, and believes in living the life you have dreamed.

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How Social Sharing Can Improve Your Photography Business by The Phuse

You say your work speaks for itself.

But does it?

In an age where every website that matters is connected in some way to social media, is your work strong enough to speak for itself? On an internet saturated with photographs, how do your photos get attention?

Do you want the truth? Even if you win the National Geographic Photo Contest, there’s a good chance that announcement will be drowned out by social media noise. People would rather look at ‘LOLCats’ or tweet about Justin Bieber. Guess what was trending on Twitter when I wrote this? #OnlyGhettoPeople and “Happy Chocolate Day!”

Your work can’t speak for itself anymore. Not on the Internet, anyway. Too many people are talking, and you can only “Like” yourself on Facebook once.

So how can you make social media as useful for your photography business as it is for asinine trends? Get your fans to speak for your work, too!

1. Connect Your …

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The Mashable Movement Part 2 by The Photo Life

**Great news! We’re hard at work updating this guide and will be re-releasing it shortly. In the meantime, check out The Photo Life Social Media Guide!**

What if Photographers Stopped Trying to Combat Change and Embraced it Instead?

It’s a question worth asking again and again. And again! That’s why this Dispatch seems familiar to you. It is. Re-releasing “The Mashable Movement” is a challenge to you to consider this inescapable question and find your unique answer.

What if YOU stopped combatting change and embraced it instead? What would that look like in your unique business?

Let’s take a look together.

What’s Inside:

A challenge to look at your photography business in a different way, to see your clients as collaborators rather than consumers. Inside you’ll also find practical tools for identifying the collaboration methods that work for your business.

Take a Look:

Collaboration can’t be formulaic, which is a good thing because neither can your business! In …

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What’s Pinterest and How Can I Use it for My Marketing? by Wendy Roe

If you haven’t been introduced to Pinterest, you’re in for a treat!

It’s the newest, hip social network that cracked the top 10 of popularity…while still being INVITE only!  Inspiration boards of styles you like, goals for your future, books you want to read, cute DIY wedding ideas have always been around but up until Pinterest, they were created with paper, scissors, tape and poster board – I know, we’ve all been there!

Pinterest is a gold mine for photographers, especially wedding photographers, because brides-to-be are there, pinning images from their favorite websites to showcase ideas while categorizing their favorite wedding cakes, details, dress and even their ‘something blue’ for crying out loud!  As photographers, we supply images that they pin (you can pin ANY web image and brides are scouring wedding websites and blogs for new images). Then, their followers and friends see our work...and boom…in comes a job lead!

Things to remember when using Pinterest:

You must use a watermark or a logo border on all of your images so that no matter which image they choose, your brand goes with them (as well as a link from the source URL). Pinterest frowns on being solely a self-promotion tool. It’s inherently about authentic social sharing! Sure, you can share your own images on your boards, but think outside the box and pin into categories your style, stuff you love and even posing ideas from others to spread the love. Clients are looking for ideas, from cute clothes to wear to their session to adorable save-the-date concepts.  Include images that you want your clients to pin for a specific reason, not just because you think it’s a great image. Market your boards to your audience and fan base to follow you. Why? Because when clients choose you, it’s because of your personality and style! Pinterest shares both the style of your images and the uniqueness of your personality by visually displaying things you love. Consider adding ‘Pin it’ plug-ins to your blog and a link to your Pinterest page from your website. Optimize your description and include a link to your website and Facebook URL.  That shows on the left side of your page. Check out what images of yours have already been pinned by others using this link: http://pinterest.com/source/yourdomain.com/  (Change yourdomain.com to your website URL).

Pinterest is THE hottest new online marketing tool and there are endless possibilities of vision boarding. When you jump on the Pinterest bandwagon, showcase your personality and style by pinning things your clients will LOVE. Being a genuinely helpful resource for your clients catalyzes dialogue about their planning, showcases new ideas for their wedding or portrait session, and builds trust.

Happy Pinning! This is part of the new e-book “55 Smart Web Ideas for Photographers.” For information on the e-book, check out: http://bit.ly/webmarketing-ebook-55smartideas

About Wendy Roe

Wendy Roe has spent the last 10 years ingrained in all things web marketing – from design/development to search/social media. In May 2010, she decided to quit the corporate life and join forces with her husband, Byron Roe, to shoot full-time one of life’s ultimate highs – weddings. She now focuses on business development and being a second shooter for Bend, Oregon based wedding photographers, Byron Roe Photography.

She is the co-author of “55 Smart Web Ideas for Photographers” e-book, a 2-time speaker at WPPI Photographer’s Ignite and traveled through west coast PUG groups consulting photographers on web marketing. She’s known as an interpreter, changing technical language into easy information. Above all, she’s an educator at heart and believes: “Web marketing and wedding photography are two passions that drive bringing the best out of beauty and brands.”

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Lifestyle Baby Photography Part Three: Overcoming Insecurity by Amber Holritz

Real life is beautiful.

We established that in Part One of this series. But although this philosophy sounds wonderful, it can be hard to follow through with, particularly when it’s personal. In my last installment in this series, I explained that I believe there are two major barriers to overcome in Lifestyle Photography – ignorance and insecurity. I outlined ways that I work to combat ignorance by cultivating true relationships with my clients. Once the barrier of ignorance has been removed, and people become aware of Lifestyle Baby Photography, we are still left with their insecurities. Even if my potential clients embrace the concept that Real Life is beautiful, in a global sense, they have probably not truly grasped that their Real Life is beautiful. My job is to prove this to them. I have to help them see beauty in their own everyday experiences.

My clients are amazing customer evangelists. (Side note: If you haven’t yet read the book Creating Customer Evangelists, pause your reading of this post and go buy that book. It’s that important.) When I photograph a session, I try to share that session with my clients as quickly as I can via Facebook and my blog. I want them to have the images while they are still feeling emotional about the experience. I am always amazed to watch what happens after I share the images. My clients immediately begin the evangelization process. They share with their networks on a large scale. They single out the mostly likely potential candidates for me, and then they push those people to connect with me. They transform from my clients/friends into my personal sales representatives. It’s a foolproof technique, because they are sincere in their pursuits. They have no reason to push their friends towards me, because I offer no incentives for their doing so. They do it because they believe in me, and because they believe in Lifestyle Photography.

Even with all of this encouragement, many of these potential clients remain resistant to Lifestyle Photography for one simple reason. They fear that their Real Life isn’t beautiful. This insecurity remains as the greatest barrier to my ability to gain new clients, even though I am surrounded by amazing customer evangelists.

There are two points at which I have the ability to combat this insecurity. The first situation is one in which the potential clients are intrigued by their friends’ images and excitement, and they contact me. I hear various excuses for why their life isn’t currently beautiful enough to be photographed.

“I have to lose this baby weight first.”

“We need to finish decorating/unpacking/renovating our home.”

“Newborns don’t really do anything interesting. Maybe when he’s older”

They never come out and say “No,” but rather, they inevitably say “Let’s do this later.” They are waiting for that day when suddenly their Real Life seems worthy of being photographed. (Just in case you are wondering, that day will never come for these people. If you let them fall prey to the ‘Later disease,’ they’ll always find reasons to wait. Their Real Life will never be perfect enough unless someone intervenes.)

I love the challenge of these opportunities. Whenever I am met with “maybe later” responses, I try to bring the focus back to the real point of these sessions. I assure them (often in a sweetly sarcastic manner) that I am not going to be taking closeups of their dirt or their clutter. I ask them to look at session after session on my blog, and then ask if they really noticed any baby weight. I ask them if they really think that their newborn is uninteresting, or if they are, in truth, fascinated by the smallness and perfectness of them as they sleep. I tell them that the point of these sessions is not to document their inadequacies, but that the point is to document their love.

I ask, “Do you love your family, regardless of their imperfectness? Sometimes because of their imperfectness?” The answer to this is invariably, “Yes, of course!”

I respond, “Then let me capture that. Trust me to capture that. I promise that your Real Life is beautiful. Just give me one chance to prove that to you.” If this conversation doesn’t completely seal the deal (and sometimes it doesn’t. Why would they trust me? They don’t know me yet.), I ask them to go back to that referring friend and discuss their doubts. This strategy almost always brings me to the second scenario in which I need to work to combat this insecurity.

My clients amaze me with their persuasiveness. Often, they’re so persistent with their friends that they convince them to book a trial session with me. They don’t try to sell them on a full baby’s first year collection, they just convince them of the importance of booking a simple newborn session. I’ve even had clients pool resources and purchase a newborn session as a gift for a particularly insecure mom. (This has actually happened more than once. Seriously, my clients are amazing!) When this happens, I am entrusted with a true gift. My clients are trusting me to take care of their friend. They believe that Real Life is beautiful, and they are giving me the opportunity to share that belief with someone they care about.

If I fail to follow through, I am not only losing the opportunity to create a new and amazing client relationship, I am causing damage to current client relationships. I have to show them that I truly mean it when I say that Real Life is beautiful. They must see that I’m not talking about other people, but that this philosophy also applies to their Real Life. In these situations, I have to prove myself. I have to listen to my new clients. I have to learn about their insecurities and doubts prior to our session. I have to work to instill a sense of trust and relaxation during our session. I have to deliver images of their Real Life captured beautifully soon after our session. I have to do everything in my power to prove that their perception of their life as inadequate is wrong.

My first task is to learn what they are afraid of. Most clients aren’t going to offer up this information. It’s not easy to talk about fears and insecurities, particularly with a stranger. I have to ask them questions. I have to get them talking. Most importantly, I have to listen not just to what they say, but also to what they don’t say. If their referring friend has any information to share, I make sure to listen to that as well. If I know this mom is concerned about her weight, I need to make sure I never share any images with her in which she looks even slightly heavy. I need to be sure to shoot her from flattering angles and to compose my shots in ways that hide her trouble areas. If I know she’s worried about clutter and disarray in her post-baby home, I need to make sure to stay focused on her and her new family. Many times I shoot a few pull back shots that showcase the clutter and craziness, but with a mom who’s already paranoid about that part of her life, I make sure not to include these in the blog or on Facebook. Instead, I’ll save them for a Pictage gallery. By the time she sees them there, she’ll already have embraced the fact that her life really is beautiful, and those images will just be amusing reminders of how crazy (wonderful) everything really is. (This works, I promise. I’ve seen it a million times.) I have to really really listen to what she does and does not say, and I have to make sure that the photographs I take work to combat those fears and insecurities. I can’t assume that I know how she feels. I have to listen. (By the way, sometimes just giving this potential client/new mom the opportunity to talk about herself is the key to gaining her trust.)

After I feel I have some sort of grasp on what my new client’s fears and insecurities are, I then have to show up at the session prepared to fight them. When I show up at her house (newborn gift in hand, as explained in my last article), I always greet her with a giant hug and some sort of compliment. I have driven to their house with the client’s insecurities rolling around in my head, and I’m prepared for the worst. Because of this, I don’t have to work to create some sort of compliment. Without fail, my thoughts go something like this: “Are you kidding me? You were worried about being in front of the camera? You’re adorable! This will be a piece of cake!”, and since I struggle with my verbal filter, those thoughts are usually exactly what comes out of my mouth.

New moms, in general, are exhausted and overwhelmed and need encouragement. (I also try to bring my new moms some sort of a physical pick me up, usually in the form of Starbucks.) Hearing me say, enthusiastically, that I think her session will be a piece of cake, is usually just what she needs to relax and enjoy herself. I encourage her throughout the session. I compliment specific aspects about her home, I ooh and aah over her baby, I heckle and joke with the dad, and I lavish the mom with compliments relating to things happening during our session. I make sure they never feel like they’re taking up too much of my time. I assure them that if the baby needs to nap/eat/scream/etc, all of that is beautiful and all of that is photo worthy. I never stop photographing, unless it is to offer a hand. I try to never leave the session during a stressful time, even if we were basically done with the session when the stress begins. I work to make sure our sessions end on a peaceful note, but there are times when that isn’t possible. Sometimes the baby really is having a terrible horrible day, and sometimes it feels like she cries for the entire session. I know that when it feels like that to me, that feeling is magnified intensely for my client. When this happens, no words from me are going to assuage her fears. I will promise her, as I leave, that we captured beautiful images, but she will not believe me. It’s understandable. She just experienced the same stressful time that I experienced, and for her it is personal. She will not be able to see anything beautiful about it. In these situations, she doesn’t need words. She needs proof. From this point on, the images have to be that proof. The images have to prove that her Real Life (even the horrible part that she just experienced) really is beautiful.

Once the shoot has ended, the hard work is done. If I’ve done my job, I’ve listened to my clients fears, and I’ve worked to combat those fears during the shoot. All that’s left is to process images and share them with as quickly as possible. I choose as many amazing images as I can, focusing on the happiest moments, but not avoiding the difficult ones. I’m not going to convince my client that her Real Life is beautiful by only showing her the traditionally beautiful parts. I have to show her all of it, and I have to showcase it beautifully.  When the images are culled and edited, I am left with a story. The story these images tell might have messy moments and stressful moments and sad moments, but the overwhelming theme of the story will be love. In every image, love should resonate. That’s what makes Real Life beautiful, after all. If I have done my job correctly, this story will change things a little for my new client. It will be impossible for my client to walk away from this experience without thinking, “Wow. My Real Life is beautiful.”

 

Written by Amber Holritz the lifestyle baby photographer Amber is a wife, mom, and photographer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can see more posts by Amber in the coming weeks here on the Pictage blog as well as at www.amberholritz.com.

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