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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!

Getting Published, or Not.

Getting PublishedI have, for the past year or so, been struggling. I’ve made it pretty known. I’ve written a few posts on this very blog about my struggles. I’m not struggling with booking, pricing or workflow. I’ve been struggling with being inspired, but mostly with STAYING inspired. I only write these types of posts so that anyone reading, whether you’re a brand new photographer, or season veteran, know that you are not alone.

 

Because of all of that, I have been pushing myself. I was bound and determined to GET PUBLISHED.

For some reason, I had it in my mind that I needed to be published to be worth something.

Even writing that it sounds nuts, but I know a lot of photographers put a ton of pressure on themselves to be published, whether print or blog. I’m not saying getting published is bad, so hear me out.

BEING PUBLISHED DOES NOT EQUAL YOUR WORTH. 

I have tried getting published a few (more than a few…) times. And every. single. time. I’m told that they need to see more detail shots. You know; cake, shoes, dress, venue, centerpieces….yawn.

Don’t kill me or anything, but I just don’t see the merit in photographing those things for an hour. I know some photographers do, and I’m so glad that works for you. It’s not for me, because

I’m a photographer of people. 

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I’m a photographer of moments. 

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I am NOT a photographer of things. 

I know there are more of you out there like me, which is why I’m sharing this with you. I always get what I need of the details. I know how hard my brides work on their wedding day details, so they are important for that reason. But, if I have 30 minutes to photograph the bride and groom AND the details? I’m going to spend 25 minutes with the bride and groom and 5 minutes on the details. The photos of the two of them, on one of the most important days of their lives, completely outweigh photos of the napkins and chairs.

I know some people (ahem, other photographers) say that being published gets you free advertising. Especially if you make it on a really well known blog. Somehow, unless you are VERY specific in your niche, I doubt you’re getting much out of that one blog post. I would rather provide my couples with really kick ass customer service so they tell their friends about me. Personal referrals are everything to me.

I’m not saying getting published is stupid, or that I’m bitter because I was rejected so many times. I know my clients are happy, and I’m happy…so that’s what matters.  Just know, if you are struggling with the desire to be published, but are getting denied; don’t get discouraged! Take a step back and figure out WHY you want to be published, and if it’s actually worth it.

 

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5 Mistakes New Videographers (and photographers) Make

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Today we want to talk about the top 5 mistakes that people make when starting their videography career. The reality is that we all make mistakes, and no matter where you are along your path of experience, there is always room to change and grow. Some of these mistakes can also be applied to the photography world, or other creative endeavors as well!

 

So, whether you have been shooting video for a couple years on the side, or are looking into figuring out the video side of your DSLR, hopefully this article will help you steer clear of a few common things that hold people back early on.

 

1) Gear Obsession

 

Those of us in the industry know that you need to have the right gear for the right job. It means if you are shooting a wedding, you need to have an answer for a dark reception, or if you are shooting a corporate interview video, you need to be able to capture good audio. There is a certain amount or quality of gear you need in order to be a “professional.” That is a fact. However, I think most people starting out take one of two routes with this.

 

The first route is to just be wildly intimidated. To think to yourself, “well I can’t bid that project because I do have the gear to get it done, but there is newer better gear. Or to not even start getting the gear you need because it’s just too much in your eyes. The great thing is that with very limited gear you can still produce great results. I would never tell someone with a rebel and a tripod to promote themselves as a professional wedding videographer. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make great things with just a rebel and a tripod. You won’t get better at video without practice anyways, so even if it isn’t a paid job, take what you have out and shoot something for yourself. Work on areas you are afraid of and POST YOUR WORK (we will get into this later).

 

The Other route we see people go with gear is to drop major cash on the top notch stuff right away without even really knowing the gear. In addition, people will constantly be upgrading to the latest and greatest without ever reaching the point where they are pushing their current setup to the best of their abilities. Now, I’m all for the latest and greatest. There are things that will add production value and are a great investment. There are also things however that maybe don’t warrant the upgrade and are really just keeping your business unprofitable.

 

One thing that we believe in entirely and tell all of our interns, or people who ask is that you should be able to tell a story with a tripod and a camera (nothing else) before you invest in other tools. In the video world, where drone, jibs, and glidecams are finding their way into most productions (and rightly so, they are awesome!) at the root of those videos is still a story. That is what video is, it’s telling a story. While fun fancy tools can help you make that story look great, that story still has to exist. The most intriguing videos are those with a great story.

LESSON 1: DON’T BE AFRAID TO INVEST IN GEAR, BUT SHOOT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE AVAILABLE, AND MAKE SURE THE FOCUS OF YOUR BUSINESS IS CREATING, NOT OWNING GEAR.

 

2) Being too Proud

 

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to be too proud to ask questions. Or later in your career, forgetting that you were once a beginner and letting that pride get in the way of learning and helping others.

 

You should absolutely be proud of your work. I have videos from years ago that are hilariously bad, but I’m still proud of them. They helped get me where I am today, and I’m sure that when I created them I learned something along the way.
One of the absolute best decisions I think you can make as a videographer, or photographer for that matter is to learn under someone else. This usually takes the form of second shooting or assisting and it is absolutely invaluable. You are given, free of charge, an in depth, hands on, real world experience into exactly what you want to do. Not only do you get this great experience but more or less, there is no risk involved. You are able to learn in an environment that is setup to keep you from failing, while hopefully helping out the person you are working for.

 

However, in order to do this, first you need to ask. Even if you are established in one realm of video or photo, it can be incredibly helpful to learn behind someone in another area you are interested in.

 

In addition to second shooting is asking questions in general. There are no stupid questions. So, ask questions to your peers, your mentors, online, take classes, read up on new things in the industry. The moment you think you are too good or too established to do these things is the moment you will start to get surpassed in the industry. Plus, this is an industry that is changing constantly on so many levels. To not learn and change with it is essentially giving up.

LESSON 2: DON’T BE TOO PROUD TO KEEP LEARNING AND ASKING QUESTIONS, AND YOU ARE NEVER TOO EXPERIENCED TO LEARN FROM OTHER PEOPLE.

 

3) Being afraid to start and not putting the time in.

 

Fear is a tough one because it affects us all differently. However, when starting out, most people have it in one way or another. Fear of marketing yourself. fear of showing your work publically, fear of learning the gear, fear of editing video. The list goes on probably forever.

There is no magic solution to this fear, we all overcome things differently, but it is something that needs to be taken care of. The best way to start of course, is to start. Getting out and shooting as often as possible will help to build skill and confidence, and slowly it will become no big deal.

 

Similar to this is not putting in the time to build a business. I think there are tons of ways to build your brand and gain your experience. You can start part time and do it on the side. You can go all in from the start. You can second shoot for others, and more. However, in any scenario, to be successful, you have to be doing something. Business will never just come to you because you are sitting there waiting. Whether you are working paid jobs, or doing some things to stay sharp during a slow time, people need a way to find you and see your work.

 

Putting in the time to figure your brand, your marketing, all the legal things, the taxes, researching the right gear, and all the other things that go into business is no easy task , but it is a necessary task. If you want to own a business and especially if you want that business to be your full time income, you are going to need to put the time into getting it there.

 

LESSON 3: START SHOOTING, AND KNOW THAT YOUR BUSINESS CAN ONLY BE AS SUCCESSFUL AS THE AMOUNT OF TIME YOU INVEST INTO IT

 

4) Pricing

 

I see this come up SO often on forums, facebook, in person chats, and from personal conversations. I see people getting torn apart for charging next to nothing, and I see people tearing clients apart for telling them they have a budget of $500. This all comes down to a lack of education, and it exists on both sides.

 

First I will quickly say, that many people who aren’t in the photo / video industry, don’t know much about it. Do some people want something for nothing? Of course those people exist. But before sending them back a snobby remark, I’d encourage you to educate them. That doesn’t mean that you need to justify your costs or break them down. However, simply sending along a friendly note with your starting price and asking them to get in touch in their budget changes can go a long way. Some people simply don’t know what to expect price wise.

 

More importantly for this article however is pricing your service. Photo and video work very similarly here and so often we see people make some pretty big mistakes in this area. The big ones we see are people pricing themselves super low because they don’t have a lot of experience, or even worse cutting down prices because business is slow, or pricing themselves according to their market only.

 

The reality is that your pricing shouldn’t be some number you decided sounds nice, something you picked out of a hat, or something you chose because your competitor charges a little more. That is a great way to probably not be in business in a couple years time. As you are probably figuring out, owning a business has a lot of expenses. Gear, website, hard drives, classes, workshops, insurance, studio, transportation, marketing, prints or media, and much more. Oh and of course remember that about 30% of what you make will be going towards taxes. So instead of picking a number randomly, if you want to be a business you need to be a business.

 

This means you need to sit down with all of your expenses and figure out what you need to charge to be profitable, and more so, what you need to charge to be profitable to the point where you are making enough where it is worth your time. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take your market into consideration, but just because everyone else isn’t profitable in your area, doesn’t mean you have to be too.

 

Also a bonus comment on this topic. Raise your prices systematically. Whether this is every year, every other year, every few weddings, etc. First off if you started out super low, you need to get out of that quickly or you risk being trapped in this circle, where you were paid too little for your services, did a good job, and will continue to get referrals of people with that budget in mind. Even if you started off in the right price point, the cost of business increasingly goes up, you probably have more or better gear in your 5th year than you did in your first, and with each year you have more experience and knowledge, therefore demanding a higher price tag.

 

Second short bonus comment. Don’t discount your prices. It discounts your brand. That doesn’t mean don’t negotiate, but find a way to add value rather than remove cost so you don’t cheapen your brand.

 

LESSON 4: DO THE MATH TO FIGURE OUT YOUR PRICING, AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO RAISE PRICES THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER.

 

5) Not finding a community

 

This can be so incredibly helpful at all stages of your career. We all know that the photo video community is sort of a two faced coin. Some communities are incredibly helpful and welcoming, while some are incredibly hostile. It’s a bummer that the latter exists, but it is what it is. Finding that helpful community however is one of the best decisions you can make. There is enough work to go around, and everyone is a little different. So, rather than cutting down our peers, we should be helping each other book, learn, and create.

 

Once you’ve found a community that supports you, I would strongly encourage you to SHOW YOUR WORK. This is a great way to get feedback in a safe setting. Getting constructive criticism is a great way to improve, as others will see things that you maybe don’t. On the flip side, you may also learn that certain things that really bugged you with a video or photo, don’t really phase anyone else.

 

LESSON 5: FIND A COMMUNITY THAT BUILDS YOU UP, AND MAKE SURE TO PARTICIPATE IN THAT COMMUNITY.

 

I will close by saying that what we see most often is business not failing because of the quality of work, but rather failing on the business side. I touched on some of these like pricing, but only briefly some other important things that people don’t do correctly, like paying taxes, using licensed music, having insurance, etc.

 

There are plenty of places where people can fall short, especially early on, but knowing the things ahead that can trip you up is incredibly useful in pushing forward, recognizing mistakes, and correcting them for the future!

 

BONUS!

 

I feel like I can’t publish an article about video mistakes without addressing audio. Of course not every video will use audio, but most will. Audio is extremely important, and while you may thing the visuals are significantly more important, that’s not really the case. Sure a video with great visuals and poor audio is better than a video with poor visuals and poor audio, but not by much. If you don’t pay attention to your audio, you can dramatically decrease the quality of your video as a whole. Audio is not easy, but it’s worth learning.

Top 5 Tips Before Jumping Into A Studio

So you’re tired of working at home, and want to move into a studio? Maybe you have dreams of not binge-cleaning your whole house before clients arrive, and of having the freedom to show up at your dedicated space stress-free. Maybe your business is growing (YAY YOU!) and you want to expand your current photography business, or you’re joining forces with another local photographer to start a studio space.

Regardless of the reason, starting a studio can be a daunting task with lots of things to consider. I had an at home Boudoir Studio for three years, and it was great while it lasted. Mostly. (You can see my post about how I set that up on the blog over here.) It was in my master bedroom, which had amazing light and an ensuite. It was easily accessible and minutes from downtown. It had free parking (in front of my house.) I had no overhead. BUT… I knew it was time for me to transition to a REAL, grown up studio, stop binge cleaning my at home studio space and screaming at my kids to PICK UP THE TOYS FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME when I stopped wanting to book shoots. It was too much. I was meeting all my clients at coffee shops, juggling at home chores and bookings, and not having a lot of fun. I managed to find the PERFECT space… but I’m a PRO/CON list girl. Here are the things I took into consideration-and you should too-before I took the plunge into leasing a studio.

1. Bills, bills, bills.
There’s a lot of costs associated with a studio startup. I’m going to break these down into subsections, point form style.

  • Lease: generally, you’ll have to pay first and last month’s rent on a space to start, and then you’ll have your monthly overhead. The terms of the lease are also important- I covered a few of the big ones here in a previous article, but make sure you check, then double check your lease terms. I have a few friends who have ended up on the wrong side of a five year term, and are paying for it now. Maybe it’s my commitment issues showing, but I couldn’t imagine saying yes to a five year lease. That’s a lifetime in a photography business!
  • Furnishing: you gotta make it pretty. This is doubly true for boudoir and glam studios. There are a lot of ways you can repurpose and refinish furniture to do this on the cheap- I have my entire studio furnished for just over $1,000. Now, this does NOT include wall art, promo materials, and the basic paint and renovations. Those are categories unto their own. It does, however, include everything you see in this photo-including the brand new queen bed. I also have a dedicated hair and makeup space with hairdressing chairs, a hair sink, vanity, etc, not pictured here. Stephanie Moore Studio
  • Signage: Clients need to be able to find you! Make sure you have signs on the street, as well as your door if you are in a shared unit.
  • Renovations: going beyond patching holes in the wall, painting, cleaning carpets or replacing flooring, there are other things to think about and budget for as well. If you’ll have a hairstylist and makeup artist full time, you’ll need the proper plumbing and lighting so they can do their job properly. You’ll need to make sure your outlets and the panel in your studio can handle the voltage from your studio lights. Do you need new frosted windows? Are your steps precarious enough that your clients might end up suing you? Is the area well-lit? Do you need additional security measures to keep all your gear safe?
  • Promotional material: do you need new business cards with your new address, fliers, leaflets, new sample albums, etc? What are you going to hang on your walls? Is it time to hit up CG Pro and get some of your work on the wall? Clients won’t buy what they can’t see- and I’ve sold a LOT more canvas since I draped my reception area walls in them.

2. Location!
It’s not just for Realtors. Clients want to have a safe space in a nice area to come to- but beyond that, there are a few things that are super important. Is it easy to find your studio? Is there parking? (Nothing frustrates me more than trying to park on a crowded street in rush hour. ARGH!!) What businesses are near you- and are there opportunities for cross-marketing there? Is your space in a high foot-traffic area? On a well-traveled road?

3. What’s gonna work? TEAMWORK!
Those of you that are work at home moms know EXACTLY what I’m talking about… Anyways- moving on. When I was looking into my studio space, I knew I wanted to  keep my overhead as low as possible. I joined forces with my hair and makeup artist, and together we went through a list of who else we could bring into the studio to split the rent three ways. We ended up with an awesome girl who does professional eyelash extensions- a good fit for our businesses, and a great way to keep the rent price low. What would have cost me over $1000/month is now $350/month each- and we were able to afford a larger space in a nicer area than I would have been able to afford on my own.

4. Be Proactive-and careful at the same time.
Sit down and really do some soul searching. Can you afford the cost? If it will put unnecessary strain on your marriage or home life to have a studio, DON’T DO IT. However, if it seems like a good time and your finances match up with your ambitions, check the spreadsheet again. Know exactly how you’re going  to promote your business. Know when your slow seasons are. Remember tax time, and save accordingly. Squirrel some money away for those panic moments that seem to crop up every now and then. Have a plan of attack for the quiet times- you’ll thank me for it!

5. Have fun with it!
Your studio doesn’t just have to be a place of work. For 2016, my Beauty Babes and I have a host of things planned for our clients, to promote ourselves and have fun while we’re doing it. Makeup lessons, collection reveals from local boutiques, ladies nights… These are just a few parties we have coming up to bring clients in the door and use the space. I can’t wait to think outside the box and make 2016 more fun-and more profitable- and to continue to add to the space as we go. Happy studio hunting!!

Why Writing Your Goals is Important

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Happy New Year everyone!!

Can you believe it’s 2016 already? I’m kind of blown away by it. Where the heck is time going?

Anyway, today I wanted to share about why writing down your dreams and goals is important as well as give you examples by sharing some of my personal goals that I have accomplished.

Let me just start off by saying I believe if you have practical goals written down for business or even personal life and you keep revisiting your them, they will happen. It really is all about setting your mind to it and believing it for yourself. For example, for the first half of 2015, I was miserable at my full-time job so I said, “I will work my hardest this next year so that by mid-2016 I will be able to pursue full-time photography” and guess what? It happened waaayyyy faster than I had planned and it’s been the best thing ever! I will say that a huge reason why I was able to do that is because of my husbands job but I still have been able to maintain my income so that I can pay the bills I need to. Along with that, here were my 2015 goals:

  1. Launch my photography website
  2. Book 5 Weddings
  3. Work hard enough to be full time by 2016
  4. Go to a workshop
  5. Plan a styled shoot
  6. Get my styled shoot published
  7. Sign up for some online classes with my favorite photographers (via blogs, Skillshare, Creative Live)
  8. Raise my prices
  9. Get better at posting on Instagram/book a client from Instagram
  10. Invest in surrounding myself with community in the industry
  11. Book a wedding out of state

So there you have it! Those were my goals and 10 out of 11 of them happened. I had foud it to be VERY helpful to revisit these goals regularly and to continuously dream about what I want to accomplish and find practical ways to pursue those things. For example, out of all of these goals for 2015, the hardest was planning a styled shoot. I had no idea how difficult that was going to be to execute but it was literally like planning an actual event. It took tons of  coordinating and communication and lots of time. I had to find wedding vendors that were interested and chat with each one of them about my vision for the shoot as well as learn how to give them room to express themselves. I had to learn to be patient and how to manage stress because I was stressed out of my freaking brains. I will say that it was totally worth it but I know now that I will probably only plan 1 or 2 a year. (By the way, if you don’t know what a styled shoot is, take a look at Carrie’s post about them here).

Also, another reason why I think writing your goals down is important is because I’ve seen, from personal experience, that as you pursue your dreams and goals, super cool things can happen along the way that end up becoming great accomplishments that weren’t expected. I know for me, this year some of my photos had been featured on some of my favorite Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and blogs. I’ve also had the opportunity to be a part of some amazing shoots and meet some amazing women in the industry and become great friends with them and part of that was because I put myself out there and did some workshops (including Carrie’s wonderful Awesomesauce conference). All of this was because I was trying to accomplish other goals but along the way I came across some fun opportunities.

Starting a business is not easy but it’s definitely worth it. Our businesses can become mundane and even drain us and that’s why it’s important to just sit and dream about where you want to go and what you want to accomplish. If we don’t then we will get burned out and our passion for our businesses will fade. Keep that fire alive by pursuing things you love in your business. Photograph for you and plan shoots that allow you to experiment and express yourself.

As you get settled into 2016, begin to think and dream BIG about your business. Write down goals even if they seem unreachable because if you visit them regularly they’ll continuously be on the front of your mind and then they become less unreachable and less nebulous. Also, don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments as well as write them down because eventually you will forget. We work hard at our dreams and goals and once they’re accomplished that shouldn’t be the end of it. Treat yourself and celebrate when you can. It’s important!

 

So what are some dreams or goals that you can think of off the top of your head? I’d love to hear about them.

 

Alicia

 

P.S. Here are a few photos from my 2015. I’ve posted a few photos from my favorite wedding I was able to second shoot, a photo of a couple for the announcement of their new band, my styled shoot (vintage tea party), a photo from my sunflower shoot that was featured a couple times,  and a few thumbnails from a few accomplishments this year.

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