3 Last Minute Things to Do Before Wedding Season Starts (AKA: Holy shi@—is it spring already?)
If there’s one thing I love, it’s dogs. Funny thing is, it’s mainly bullie breeds (pitbulls, rotties, etc) but that’s a personal thing and it’s really because they get so overlooked and have a seriously bad stigma attached to them. But that’s not what this is about. It’s about using your skills. It’s about getting out into the community (people or animals) and helping out.
4+ years ago a friend of mine asked me if I would come to an adoption event to take some photos of adoptables. Of course I said yes, so we headed down, got some great pictures, I brought home a dog and that’s all she wrote.
I’m a firm believer that photos of sad dogs behind cage bars, is no sure fire way to get a dog adopted. They’re sad, confused, scared among other things and in all honesty, not a flattering photo. Getting these animals out of the shelter and into a neutral environment helps their personalities shine a little more. This is where you can sit back and capture they’re goofy personality that’s going to get them adopted!
So where do you start?
With me it was a little easy since I was asked to do it but there are tons of rescues and shelters that need help. Start sending messages on Facebook offering your services. DO NOT CHARGE them for these!! Seriously. All rescues are non-profit and make no money so charging them is just plain stupid. Same goes for the shelters. Most shelters have a volunteer program that you will have to go through in order to start shooting for them but each one is different so you’ll need to contact them to see what their rules and regulations are.
Now remember something, just because you go to a rescue’s Facebook or website and see that another photographer has taken photos, don’t just assume that they won’t want your services. Most of the time, their fosters are all over the place so having more than one photographer can be a benefit for them. Scheduling, etc, things like that can make it difficult for one photographer to take photos of 20+ dogs so don’t assume.
I love working with the rescues more because they are usually foster based rescues, so they will take any help they can get. The more great pictures they get, the more they can get adopted and the more they can save. Just remember that volunteering isn’t going to bring business busting down your door, or it could but don’t bet on it. You should do this because you want to, not because you think it’s going to zoom you to the top of the photography food chain.
If you’ve never attended WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International), it might be hard to understand the scope of what I’m about to write about (and why it even needs to be written about). The thing is, Las Vegas is a whole bucket of cray-cray all on it’s own. Add tens of thousands of photographers to that mix, throw in a handful of photographer “rock stars”, and a ginormous trade show to boot? It’s like crazy took crazy pills. There is so much to do, so much to see, so many vendors and new gear and demonstrations and platform classes and that’s just the photography side! Add the parties, the casino floor, aaaaaall that cigarette smoke, the focus groups, the meals and meetups, the let’s-go-test-what-we-just-learned-and-have-a-photoshoot-in-our-room-oh-crap-who-can-we-get-to-model-forget-it-we’ll-just-shoot-each-other moments, the no sleep, the endless walking, the lights, the shows…. it’s seriously nuts.
And if it’s your first time attending, it can be really (REALLY) overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost in the fray and to feel truly starstruck as you walk around passing by your photography heroes and meeting so many people that seem to be doing all the things you wish you were doing too.
Now, I’ve been in this business full-time for over a decade now, and I feel like I’ve finally gotten the hang of this whole insane conference thing. I had the opportunity to not only room with a few people who were brand new to WPPI this year, but to observe several different levels of experience. I spent time with WPPI’s marketing team, with one of this year’s Grand Award winners, with various “famous” photographers, with a lot of the vendors, and with a whole lot of people just like me who spend their year day-in-and-day-out in the trenches of this business. One of the things that struck me was how people choose to let their conference experience go.
Hands down, the best advice I can possibly give to anyone attending WPPI (or similar conferences) is this: go up and talk to people.
It sounds simple, but let me expound for a minute here. I watched so many new conference goers “fan girl” and freak out about talking to someone (a photography hero, a vendor, etc). I’ve been that person myself. I’m watched people do the circling-to-land maneuver, flying around the periphery before finally working up the courage to say a simple hello. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve seen people leave the conversation at a simple “I love your work”, take a selfie, run away combo.
Whether you’re new or not, I would urge you to try to connect with people. Is it terrifying? Yeah. Of course it is. Even the most extroverted of people get a flutter of I’m-about-to-make-a-fool-of-myself when they open themselves up like that. But I’m telling you, there is nothing more inviting and nothing more rewarding than being vulnerable. It is the universal connector. It is the author of authenticity. If you see a photography hero in the halls, walk over, introduce yourself, tell them something you learned from them, and then listen. Ask them a few questions. Connect with them as a person. Smile. Be confident in knowing that you’re both just people. Give them the space to do what they need to, but acknowledging the vulnerability you both feel to be opened up to the world like that will allow for a genuine connection.
Don’t have time to talk one-on-one with someone (ps – after a class or presentation is a bad time to try to do that), that’s ok. Leave them a thank you note (scribbled on the back of an envelope if you have to, but if you bring cards, awesome!). Tell them something you’re thankful for in their presentation. You’d be surprised how many of the presenters never hear that stuff. Leave your email address on the bottom and let them know you’d love to connect.
But the bottom line? Choose connection. Choose to talk to people instead of skirt the edges. Choose to be vulnerable. Choose to put yourself out there not only with presenters and “famous people”, but with the people you sit next to at your classes, the people you bump into on the trade show floor. Go to lunch together in that lame food court and learn from each other through conversation and shared stories. Grab coffee or sit in the hallways charging your phones and really listen to what the people around you have to say.
The best moments at a place like WPPI rarely come from the presentations or the tech talk or the selfies. It’s the people and connections you make. I promise you won’t regret it.
* Brienne is a the snarky chick behind the camera and under the water for briennemichelle.com and hipeanut.com. Besides her love of sarcasm and wine, she also loves to connect with people, mentor, educate, and generally get her geek on with photography. Have questions? Want more input? Email her directly connect through the cool crowd on her website — briennemichelle.com/coolcrowd *
Most of us in this business have a mentor. I’m convinced that the woman who was my mentor was the best one out there. She started out as simply my wedding photographer when I hired her over 11 years ago. She became my teacher, my friend, eventually my colleague and always remained my go-to for advice and input on all things business and photography. I have gotten input from so many people of the years, but she was my only mentor. Despite being only a few months older than me, she had so much to offer. Tragically, at only a few years into her 30’s, she passed away just two days ago. In her honor, I’m sharing the top 4 things she taught me that absolutely shaped and changed me as a photographer and business owner.
- Find Your Tribe: Have you seen those threads on social media? The ones that start out with “So-and-So said they can’t believe I charge $___ for a 5×7! How do I explain to them why it’s worth this much!?” This usually is followed by a long (looooong) parade of photographers encouraging the OP (“original poster” if you’re not a this-facebook-group-thread-is-so-long-I-forgot-to-feed-my-kids-dinner veteran and you’re lost on that acronym…) to “educate” the client. I mean, we’ve seen the memes, right? The ones that breakdown the “real cost” of photography. The ones that breakdown mileage and hours and editing and the cost of insurance, the cost of education, the cost of gas…. (can you feel my eyes rolling?). Those things are all real. Very very real. And you should know your CODB (cost of doing business…. I’m all about the acronyms today I guess!) in order to set your pricing because most photographers are woefully undercharging. But here’s the thing. None of that means anything to the client that questioned your pricing. One of the best things that my mentor taught me was to let that kind of thing roll off my back. Because if you have to convince someone to pay for you, you’re already lost them. Don’t spend your time wording your website, your social media posts, your emails, your conversations with keyboard warriors defending what you do and what you charge. Spend your energy finding and connecting to your Tribe. The ones that get you already. The ones that understand your value without you ever having to explain. Those are the clients that will keep coming back, will evangelize their friends, will do all that explaining in a way you never could and actually be heard by the potential clients out there. And believe me, it’s a much more rewarding experience, both personally and financially. And they will be so much happier as your clients knowing that your energy, creativity, and efforts are dedicated to them. All the wins right there.
- Be Frugal: This seems like an odd thing (or maybe just a boring one) but it’s huge. I was brand new to the business (when I first started taking lessons with my mentor, I didn’t even know I’d be starting my own business yet!) and she counseled me to be very smart about my purchases, my investments, and to avoid credit like the plague. She offered guidance on investment purchases when needed or asked for, but constantly taught me to think about ROI (return on investment…more acronyms!). Did I want a fisheye lens? Sure. But would that be a smart buy for maybe a handful of images per wedding? NOPE (with a big ‘ol p-pop). Because of her guidance, I started (and kept) my business 100% debt free. I didn’t take out a line of credit, I bought everything for cash, and I kept my overhead low. And I have no doubt that is a big reason why I didn’t sink when business was slow or when I had to cut back on work load from time to time. Boring advice? Maybe. But HUGE. Be frugal people. Don’t buy it just because you like it. If I had done credit I might have some sweet lenses and a whole lotta ONA bags, but I wouldn’t be a more successful business. I’d just be in debt.
- Stay Timeless: When I look back at my wedding photos (over 10 years old now), one of the things I appreciate most about them is that they still look good. There’s no wacky editing, not strange colors/filters/angles/overlays/double-exposures/layouts…. It’s classic. It’s timeless. And other than my choice of dress and hair styles, it will stay that way. The photos will remain timeless because that is exactly the style she shot weddings with. Portraits were a source of artistic expression and a place to occasionally try out a trend, but weddings? No way. Timeless was always the goal. She taught me to see trends for exactly what they are – trends. And much like my poofy bangs in the 80’s, my Lisa Frank trapper keeper (holla!) and my everything-has-glitter makeup choices from the 90’s, trends have a way of becoming embarrassing later. Keep the bulk of your photography clean, classic, and straight ahead and watch it stand the test of time.
- Pay It Forward: This is quite possibly the biggest thing that my mentor taught me. She took me under her wing, with no hesitation (that I knew about anyway) and willingly shared with me everything she knew. She brought me on shoots. She helped me setup my own to test new techniques and get more guidance. She pointed me in the direction of places to learn the things she couldn’t personally teach me. She taught me to love not only learning about it all, but to help others as well. She taught me to not see other photographers – even the local ones – as competition, but as co-workers. She would laugh when talks of “stealing work” came up between catty photographers because she’d always point out that there’s PLENTY of work to go around. She never hesitated to refer people to me (she knew her tribe too!) and she believed that “a rising tide raises all ships”. Because of how she treated me, I promised myself that my business would always do the same for others. I have helped to teach or guide several photographers and photographer-hopefuls along the way this past decade and I have maintained a internship for several years. I operate an online forum for educating underwater photographers and I teach through my local photography meetup group when I can. I never became a “cards close to the vest” photographer because she taught me to be generous with my knowledge, just as she was with hers. Her legacy lives on in the work of so many photographers because of it. It’s a legacy I’m proud to be a part of.
Whether your find your mentoring here on Photography Awesomesauce, or you have a specific person you are able to go to, I hope you one day have the chance to pass on what you’re learning to someone else. This business can be brutal and working from home or running your own business can be lonely. Find your tribe, find your connections, find your colleagues, find your voice, and know that you are creating a legacy that you may never be fully aware of. I wish I had told my mentor more clearly just how much she meant to me. But I hope that my work will honor her investment in me.
Happy February, friends.
This is going to be a juicy article, filled with information I didn’t learn in graphic design or “designer school”. That’s because I didn’t go to graphic design school, nor do I have any formal education it graphic design. I say that because it’s important for you to know that finding the right designer for your project is a lot like finding a new best friend. They have to fit your style, personality, and interests or the project is going to drag on forever. Coming into the industry 5 years ago, I had expectations to what I should look like, and they didn’t always line up with what clients likes the most about working with me. So for all of you looking to work with a designer, here are five check boxes you should tick for that special one.
This is by far the most important thing for you to have with your designer. It can make or break a brand, keep you from being frustrated, keep the designer on task, and you may just end up with a new BFF. Before I tell you email is king or you should never text your designer, it’s important to figure out your favorite, and best way of communicating. Those two ways may be different by the way. For me my favorite way of communication is in person or over video chat. It allows for quick and clear communication of hard topics. However I have found the best way I communicate is via email. Not because I am terrible face to face, rather it’s the balance I need to collect information, have a reminder of what was said, and keep it within business hours.
Don’t be afraid to interview designers, or just ask what has been the most interesting discovery they have made lately, it helps you see their expertise, as well as find out if they can consistently communicate during your project. Another tip, set expectations, even if something isn’t done, let your designer know you are ok if they check in and fill you in. This is important when you are working on the stage of a project with not a lot of visible changes happening.
If your designer talks more than you during your interview or initial call, something is wrong. A good designer knows how important it is to listen first, then clarify later. Your project/business is most likely your baby, your dream child. You need time to talk about it, throw ideas around, and explore all the possibilities. Naturally I have found the best designers are curious cats by nature and are always wanting to hear more about your business and help to make it thrive. Another way curiosity helps vet that designer is that it shows their interest in furthering their education. If they are curious, it’s likely they are learning more every day which will only make your project better.
This is especially important in a world of “he-said-she-said” and social drama that surrounds us. Working with a designer should mean you are taking on a business partner for a period of time. Sure maybe they don’t make all the decisions but their expertise can weigh in on many decisions you end up making. Often times they are helping you make a strategic game plan or integrating sensitive client data into your website or internal systems. You need to be able to trust your designer with all of these things, and know they have skin in the game too. It creates a project that the designer is going to want to work on first, as well as giving you the peace of mind to let them make some of the smaller decisions needed.
I just realized all my points were starting with “C” so we are going to continue that trend.
The worst feeling in the world is getting a second, third, fifth draft back from a designer and hating it. I have been on both sides of that journey, and it’s not fun for anyone. Thankfully for me as a designer I was able to push through and get to the client’s vision. That’s your end of the stick, when looking for a designer, go in with a vision to share with them. See if they are confident in making that vision happen, and ask them how they would do it. You will see more competency with designers who latch on to a vision and have all sorts of ideas to run with. In the end, your designer should be able to use the following programs well: Illustrator, Photoshop, WordPress, (webdesign platform you want your site on), and even Social Media. If they aren’t representing themselves well, or at all, on these spaces – just ask why not!
You have a lot on your plate with a new brand, website, or business launch. The last thing you need is a designer who is late to every meeting, deadline, or disappears for days on end. Make sure that in all of these points above your designer is constant with all of them. Having that consistency will keep you sleeping happy at night, excited for monday to come, and better yet wanting to make another business just to work with your designer again. The best designers I have seen can pick up a conversation at WPPI or any other conference that they had with a client a year ago. That’s because they are invested in every business they work with and that doesn’t get forgotten easily!
As a designer myself, I have make mistakes in each of these areas before, but thankfully I have seen more success each time I work to improve these areas of my business. Being technical is great, and to be honest, it’s expected. If you are in the search of a designer, even if I am not the right fit, I would be happy to help you find one who is. You can learn more about me and the projects I have worked on here: 2BlokesDesign.
Just for you guys, if you ever need to email me, this is my direct inbox. Aka the top of the list. 🙂