In the past eight years as a photography business and especially the two years since I decided to make my business a full time gig, I've had wonderful opportunities, met wonderful people, and have made many many clients happy with the product they purchased from me. I built a client base by basically never saying "No" to anyone. If someone wanted a particular style for a cheaper price, I did it. If they wanted their images in a certain format, I gave them to them. If they wanted me to leap through a flaming ring of fire over a pit of cobras, I did it. In the beginning I worked for any price, did multiple shoots, made numerous prints and was very very generous with my time. I brought another photographer into my business last year as an internship because wedding clients were demanding 2nd shooters due to the prevalence created by all of the husband/wife teams out there. I was burned. Badly and repeatedly. Through it all, I learned that a business simply cannot be run the way I was running mine and remain successful. I also learned that I needed to define my style, my brand, and who I am as a photographer and a businesswoman.
As is the case with all forms of art, there are those who have never been and who will never be fans of the photos I produce. For that matter, there are people who aren't fans of ME either. Unfortunately and inexplicably some of those non-fans have ended up being clients. Fortunately, in 200+ sessions & weddings I've shot in the last two years, I can count the unsatisfied on one hand. My perfectionist, people-pleasing mind wishes that number was zero. 100% of those dissatisfactions have been over things like, "I didn't like the weather that day... it was too dreary," "I look fat," "I didn't like the sweater I was wearing," "the photo wasn't cropped properly," "My kids weren't smiling in all 100 photos," some are acts of nature, and some are things that probably could have been edited away if I was that kind of photographer. Which I'm not. I'm hoping that through the therapy of writing this post and by also publishing a document about it in a FAQ section on my new website I will accomplish a couple of things. One, is to effectively weed out prior to hiring and place with other photographers any potential clients who aren't fans of my style in the first place but who are choosing me because of price or convenience, and the second is to publicly define my style and my offerings to remain competitive and attract new clients who do enjoy and appreciate my style.
Who I am and who I am not:
I have practiced photography for a long long time. Since about the time I could walk which makes it around the 30 year mark. I am a big believer in doing things and practicing as a primary means of learning. I've always liked and been interested in art, and have always taken pictures of people, places, and things. I was the friend who was asked to bring a camera to every party, sporting event, or after school hangout. I took the time to study the technical aspects of photography in high school and college as well as the basics of working with editing software. I am not professionally trained in graphic design, fine arts, and do not hold a degree in Photography. I definitely do not have a Master's level of education in Photo Shop or any other editing software. Why? Because I feel like I don't need it for the type of images I capture. What I do have, is a unique eye for the angles and lighting that I feel is compositionally correct and flattering to my subjects. I have an understanding from both sides of the lens of timing shots to capture "that moment." It's an artist's eye and much as it is with other forms of art, if it is right technicality (i.e. blurry images are always bad), the rest is artistic interpretation. One artist isn't more right than another, it's all a matter of personal preference. It's life. As it really happens. Maybe that means someone's mouth is open as they share a belly laugh with their spouse, or their hair is blowing in the breeze because it was windy that day, or their cheeks were pink because it was cold. That was how it was and that is how I captured it. I see happiness, joy, and spontaneity in photos rather than flaws. I don't spend 40 minutes posing a shot or asking my clients to stand a certain way, then adjust, then adjust again and again because I feel like this is tiresome for most people and it is almost never as fun unless they have a modeling background and are used to it. I give a suggestion based on what has worked in hundreds of sessions I've shot and capture the reaction. If it doesn't work, I try something else. I use primarily natural lighting techniques to create my images (there are some exceptions obviously) which means that I do not have a team following me around with strobes and reflectors to create beautiful, yet what I consider highly posed and stylized images that don't look like what I saw and experienced during the session. I want things to look how they are. I want my clients to want things to look the way they are. My style is to freeze memories in time, not to make people look like someone they're not, or to take things out of photos, or make the light look like it was a foggy day when in fact it was sunny. Etc. Etc. Etc. Fine for a magazine. Fine if you are looking for that form of art. Not fine if you're hiring me because it's not my style and it's not something I can or will provide.
What you can expect:
You can expect that I will not ever make someone look like something or someone they're not (unless I'm capturing someone in costume). My whole entire goal when shooting is to make people comfortable so they act like themselves in front of the camera and I can capture the true essence of them. I like to see kids play, couples look at each other lovingly, brides struggling not to cry as their father walks them down the aisle. That sort of thing. As a bigger gal currently who used to be much smaller, I can FULLY empathize with a size 14 woman who wants to look like a size 2 in photos. But I'm here to tell you, it's not gonna happen with just a camera and my editing software. That sort of thing happens with diet and exercise. In the case of a wedding, which has situations that allow for the least posing of any sessions I shoot, this is especially true. I can pose formal photos to take off a size or two, use techniques to minimize flaws and hide problem areas but if someone is asking for a specific shot of their wedding congregation and them standing up at the altar and doesn't like the way they look from the back or the side (the two views people are least familiar with viewing themselves from), chances are they aren't going to like that photo. Maybe they'll like others of the 800-1000 I take that day, but chances are there's going to be a few unflattering angles in the bunch. Is that going to ruin your view of the whole portfolio? Or are you going to pick out 100 or so images you love (which is about all the top/$3000+ studios provide) and be happy about them?
What I am willing to change and what I'm not:
There are hundreds of different photography pricing guides out there and various offerings for various things. The end cost to my clients for what I offer is between $1.50 to $2.50 per image. That seems to be about average for a lifestyle, natural light, editorial style photographer. If you are into the more airbrushed, faux lit, uber posed and uber edited style of photography (there is nothing wrong with that by the way!) you can expect to spend more ( as in $25-$30 per image or $3000+ on wedding photography and up to $1000 on a portrait session). I simply cannot afford to spend 4 hours per image editing the many images I provide to give that look, nor can I afford to outsource the editing given my current rates. I do a basic edit on all of my photos. I will balance color, add light/depth and correct obvious flaws (skin blemishes, eye brightening, clothing lines in baby photos, things along those lines). Occasionally I change a photo to black and white. This is where a change comes in. As of right now, all clients will have the option to purchase a professionally outsourced "Uber Edit" (I may actually call it that, lol) on as many photos as they choose for a fair price. This can be slimming, retouching, object removal, whatever your heart desires. Everyone will still get the current pricing and will still receive lightly edited images from me which make many people very happy. I will still be using my top of the line equipment, great locations, and skills to get the best photos possible. BUT, if you want a few photos to be polished and taken to the next level, you have the option of doing that via a professional editing company at an additional cost (and production time). This work will be outsourced (i.e. it's out of my expertise so I'm hiring someone else to do it). I want to be clear here; my style will not change. I'm still going to pose people and angle shots the way I think they should happen, but if you have a photo you "would love if only," this may be a good option for you. You don't want me giving you a virtual tummy or chin tuck... trust me. My skills are more with people and my camera, and less with my editing. I would rather be out shooting photos than sitting at my computer
Yes, I'm still talking:
I have guidelines for a reason. I generally choose not to shoot in the rain (unless it's a wedding, in which case it obviously cannot be helped but can usually be worked around), in hazardous weather, or outside of what I consider to be "sweet light." I also have structural limitations on my own indoor studio space (max of about 10 people, depending on the number of children). I try hard not to schedule anything outside of these times but occasionally have done so either as a favor or in an attempt to try to make something work. The truth is, I usually end up regretting changing my policies because the exact thing happened I was trying to avoid (it got too dark, too rainy, too cold) and then people aren't happy with their photos and I wish I had stuck to my guns. I want everyone to be happy with their photos. So if we can't make the scheduling, or type of shoot work, at the risk of losing business I'm going to be passing people along to someone else who can accommodate whatever it is my clients are looking for that I can't give them.
Into the future:
Ultimately, I hope to continue my work as a photographer for a long time and work for clients who know and appreciate the talent that I have to offer at the price that I feel is fair. If I get to a point where more clients are looking for the highly photoshopped photo or the "edgy high fashion" look than they are my style, I will either have to reevaluate my style or pursue a career change. Now however, I think the best approach is to be less of a Jack of All Trades or a Yes-Man(woman) and be true to myself and my style by not taking on clients who are looking for something that I may not be able to give them. Right now, I refuse to feel bad about myself or my style or be bullied into doing my photos a certain way by people who think they know everything about everything (or who aren't happy with anything no matter what). Effective immediately, more emphasis will be given to the fact that the session fee includes my time, travel, the session itself, the editing, and the shipment of the final product and as such no refunds will be given. All session and wedding bookings are going to require reading my style contract and viewing my photos before consulting or booking as a means to ensure that my style is understood and that people's expectations of me are on par with what I can provide.
As a wife and mother of three little kids, it's unrealistic for me to pursue college courses, major equipment upgrades, rent studio space, or any of the other things that it would take for me to vie for a spot as one of the top photographers in the Pacific Northwest. That's really not my goal anyway. My goal and my vision is to continue capturing moments and freezing memories in time, as one of my clients put it, "Just like how it was in real life, but just a little bit better."
Many thanks to all who love my work and have supported me and my business throughout the years. I love and appreciate you all!