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3 Last Minute Things to Do Before Wedding Season Starts (aka: Holy shi@—is it spring already?)

wedding photographer tips

3 Last Minute Things to Do Before Wedding Season Starts (AKA:  Holy shi@—is it spring already?) 

 3 LAST MINUTE
As wedding season wrapped,  and the winter months settled in—the list of ‘to do’s’ I had in mind to conquer was a-plenty.
All of the ‘workflow, ‘marketing’ and ‘business development’ ideas I had stuffed into my perpetual to-dolist  (but did not have the time to complete while fully engaged in ‘season’ ) were ready to hit the scene over the winter months I had off.  (I mean man, a whole three months “off!”)
And yet, though I did accomplish some of these things:  somehow, its nearly April. I blinked. And,  here we are again.  Its wedding season 2016 and many of those tasks remain untouched.
So what’s a girl to do when, in two weeks:  it is prime wedding season?  Here are a few ‘hail Mary’s’ for my fellow photogs friends who are also in my last-minute shoes:
Wine and cocktails anyone?  (no, seriously.)  Vendors Relationships are everything!   Get out there and set some appointments with your favorite venues/wedding pros.  Invite a few of your planners, hair and makeup artists or caterers to a meet-up over coffee or cocktails.  (I always prefer cocktails;-) About 80% of my business comes to me via relationships with others in our industry who refer me to their clients.  Keep in mind—this is the same for many other (successful) photographers in your market!  So when you sit down to chat—discuss both of your ‘ideal clients’ (uh-hum: referrals are a two-way street my dear!) so you can each keep a lookout for each other in a more specific way than ‘refer-me-all-the-things.’
Its a lot more difficult in the sea of photographers for folks to refer you if you don’t immediatley pop into their brain as the ‘right’ fit for their specific clients. (I.e, I adore intimate weddings of wild-child,  adventurers having elegant/outdoor weddings .  I want my wedding industry peers to think of me when they come across these folks.)  So in a few weeks, Im hosting a little cocktail party at the studio to gather some of my favorites all in one place as we hop into season.  (Its impossible to be referred if you are not on the forefront of people’s minds and you cant be if you are not in contact..)
 best charlotte wedding pros
(My ‘theme’ for our our vendor cocktail meet up. Who doesn’t freaking like tacos? If you say ‘you’–you are not my people.)
Get your Gear in Gear:  If you are like me—since I do not photograph much outside of weddings—my gear does not get as much use in the off-season (other than an ocaasional workshop or personal project)  Other than my core body and a few lens/flashes.. some of it is gathering dust.  So, pull open those drawers, closets, bags and boxes and compile all of your gear.  Inventory it.  Make sure everything is functional and organized in the manner you prefer. (I recently purchased the Think Tank (ginormous) rolling bag,  so for once—ALL of my gear can fit int one professional looking bag that can rolled into the venue doors.)
Get any replacement gear orders rolling—for example, I found one of my flash triggers was no longer functioning and placed an order  along with a few extra camera batteries.  (Thank you Lord, for Amazon Prime.)   Also—think about sending off anything that may need annual ‘clean and check.’ (If you are Canon and are not a CPS member—get on it!)
think tank logistics manager
(Totally expensive..but totally worth it.)
Blog it!  If you are a better woman than me-you kept up with your blog all winter.  Kudos! If not—time to step up. Make this week a crash-course in giving your blog some lovin.’  (The last thing you want is for a prospective client stop by your blog and see content that is from last fall. You look both not busy and a little lazy.
‘But Cass—how can I cram 3 months of blogging in in a few weeks?’   Drum roll please:  Year-end wraps-ups are a great way to recap your favorite images of the year. (As are behind-the-scenes posts which always get a laugh.)  Both of these types of posts are some of the highest rated for me in terms of both ‘google juice’ and my most mentioned by clients/peers.  They are also a great place to link to when replying to client inquires. Clients get to see a bit of your ‘high lights reel’ all in once place with a bit more ‘personality’ than dropping by a website gallery as you have the ability to tell stories with your copy.
best charlotte wedding photographer
(you can check out mine here)
 
Bonus Tip:  Take a an overnight get-away.  My hubby and I are getting the hell outta dodge this weekend for a little mountain air before season starts and ‘life’ gets away from me.  (As you may recall from this post...I am a BIG believer in how much you enjoy your business and stay creatively motivated is directly proportionate to how much you are enjoying your life.)  Taking a day or two to just ‘be’ before the chaos of season allows you step into it refreshed and ready.
Now, go forth young soldier—we’ve got a wedding season to slay!

Volunteering your Photography

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.

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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.

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WPPI Wrap Up: My #1 Suggestion for Newbies (and Veterans too!)

WPPIWrapUp_BrienneMichellePhotography

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

* 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 *

4 Things My (Photography) Mentor Taught Me that Changed My Life

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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.

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.