Oct 2, 2014

Your Photography Business - Be Prepared to Answer Questions!

I am a HUGE believer of laying everything out on the table before the day of the session. I have a FAQ page, I answer questions via e-mail and am fully prepared to answer questions at my pre-session consultations. It's all apart of the business. Clients are investing time and money with me and I want them to feel 100% confident with their choice to choose me as their photographer.

On occasion, however, I wonder if I'm a little too honest and a little too blatant with my answers. Then this happened at a high school senior pre-session consultation the other weekend that put my worries to rest.

Mom: "Well, we had another photographer."
Me:    "Oh, really?"
Mom: "Yes. But, she cancelled on us to shoot a wedding."
Me:    "Oh, that's too bad. Weddings can bring in a bit more $$ and exposure. Maybe that's the direction she's really interested in? In either case, I'm happy about the cancel."
But, this isn't what struck me. Sure, I hate to be second fiddle, but what Dad mentioned next made me think. As I was answering questions from the family, the father said...

Michelle, we are so impressed that you can answer all of our questions quickly and honestly. Our last photographer seemed to skirt a lot of questions and never gave us straight answers.  
Hmmm...skirt the answers to questions?? My reply...

It's possible that your photographer just didn't know the answers yet. Based on what I've heard, she may be just starting out and hasn't had the experience to give you an honest answer. All of that comes with time and experience.
Of course, the take away here isn't to bash new photographers that don't have their answers yet. Heck, it took me almost three years to feel comfortable answering questions from clients. Once I left the comfort of shooting for friends and family, I would dodge every question that came my way. But, it hurt me. Why? It looks unprofessional.

So, my suggestion is this.

Create a short list of policies and procedures that you can work off of. Write down what you know to be true to date about how you want to run your business. Check out your FB groups and your G+ communities. Reach out to message boards and forums and see what works for other photographers. I can tell you first hand that not everything will work for you, but it will give you a really good idea of what to expect and you can make your judgement calls from there. I don't suggest leading your client to believe that you don't know the answers, but in this digital age, you can stall a little bit while you research their question. In the end, give them a good solid answer to their question, even if you think they won't like it. Be straight and be honest. Period. You will be appreciated for it!

Next, don't expect this to happen overnight! It took a few years for me to really get a good grasp on my policies and expectations of my business. I didn't always have a FAQ page. I didn't always do a pre-session consult. But, my market is high school senior photography and I now like to meet with the clients and answer questions before the session. It breaks the ice and helps them to feel more comfortable the day of the session. But, if you are not prepared to answer questions "on the fly" then don't meet in person yet. It's fine. I don't think many folks expect it anyway.

And, finally, DO NOT ever blame or bash clients for asking you a question. 
You are the professional. 
You are the business owner. 
You SHOULD have the answer. 
It is not the client's fault for asking.

For those interested, I have highlighted two great resources for photographers---> here. The MCP Actions and Presets FB Page is a must for photographers just starting out. They have photographers of all levels in the group and the information offered by all of those that contribute to the page in invaluable. That is definitely a great place to start.  

Aug 29, 2014

Shooting Old School: Valuable Lesson Learned

Vacation is over and it's back to reality. In the chaos of Northern Virgina traffic, forgetting to load the kid's suitcase in the car, purchasing new clothes for the kids at Target, an ear infection and some car sickness, we managed to have a really good time in OBX. Really. It was awesome.

I mentioned in my 1999 post that I intended to use my old school Cannon ELF APS camera on this trip. The primary goal was to ensure that I'd create tangible memories from the trip (no digital madness) by using film only. While I haven't sent the photos out yet to get printed (I guess that could be the equivalent of never going through your digital files) I did take away something extremely valuable from the experience. And it goes far beyond just holding tangible memories.

This experience allowed me to tune in and turn off.

Limiting myself to only my film camera freed up my time to NOT dwell on capturing that perfect shot. There were no do-overs of an image. I wasn't forcing my kids into one scenario or another just to get that shot. There was no hiding around the corner. No crawling on the floor. No focusing on the light in the room. If I saw a little moment, I asked my kids to smile and I snapped the shot. I may have said "cheese" at some point over the week, too.

There were selfies with my kids and with the family. There were some beach shots. Some car shots and some shots just because. I may have taken two images with my cell phone during the week, but for the most part, it stayed (almost uncharged) in our room. It was nice not worrying about social media and posting images of my feet at the beach. For once, I felt totally there and in the moment.

I will admit that on 2 occasions I busted out the big girl camera.
  1. To take landscape images for a HDR project that I'm doing. This happened on one night and one night only and it lasted 1.5 hours.
  2. On the final night of our stay, my friend asked if I could take some beach photos of her family. Before we called it quits for that little session, I handed the camera to my friend, gave her a quick lesson in BBF and got the image above. 
I seriously feel like learning photography is a gift and a curse. You never look at a scene the same again. We're always evaluating the best possible scenario every time we snap a picture. But there is something about the organic and sentimental nature of going old school. My kids seriously do not care how I capture the images of us together. All they will care about is that they are there.   I cannot wait to see these images in two years when I finally send them off for processing!!


Back in May my family and I participated in Screen Free Week (I wrote a little something about it on my business blog---> here ). For one whole week my family ditched the TV in place of good old fashioned family time.

Aug 22, 2014

Just Say No.

For those of us just starting out, we're excited. We want to build our business and will jump at every paid, slightly paid or unpaid opportunity out there. We want to learn the craft and we want to build our business in that greatest attempt to build our portfolios. We're anxious and ready to go. It's fun and exciting, and then...it gets old. And, I'll tell you why.

When I started taking all of this seriously a few years ago, I wasn't quite sure what direction I wanted to take my little business...so I did a little (actually, a lot) bit of everything. I did a lot of children's portraiture. I did many family sessions. I did one wedding reception on my own and was a second shooter for a friend for a full wedding. I did some maternity and an engagement. While I certainly appreciate all of the time and trust that everyone put into me, all of the "everything-ness" of my business was starting to wear on me. I became the "go-to" photographer for all the wrong reasons. I felt like "dial-a-photographer". You need a photographer? Michelle will do it. I wanted the opportunity so badly that I never turned anyone down...and it wore me out.

A few months ago I announced that I was going to direct my business to high school seniors. Sure, I still take the occasional family session here and there, but I stopped marketing to them all together. Why? It's not my core business anymore. So when I received two separate messages this past weekend asking for my services, I almost second guessed myself and said "yes"...almost.

The first text I received was from a friend asking me about my services for her friend's wedding. Her friend is on a budget and wants a cheap photographer to capture her very important day. While my friend didn't say "cheap" she did say "budget" so already that means a ton of work for little pay. While the opportunity is definitely there, I declined. First, I'm a high school senior photographer and really want nothing to do with weddings. Second, photographing a wedding would take an enormous amount of time away from my actual business and would take away from a potential high school senior client for that day. Third, I found from those first two weddings that I HATE photographing weddings. It's just not me.

The next text that I received was from a past client who wanted a cake smash for her 1 year old son. This client is special to me. She found me through Google when I just started out and her family was one of the first families that I photographed for my portfolio building sessions. She also became my first maternity client. We asked her to be our guinea pig for the session, and she gladly obliged. She was such a trooper. However, I'm no longer an "everything" photographer. I'm a high school senior photographer. As much as I love and adore this client, I declined. I sent her the information for another photographer in the area that does cake smashes and wished her well.

It's understandable that you will most likely say "yes" to many different types of sessions when you first start out. Heck, there are some folks who live in small towns and have to cater to these different types of sessions to stay afloat, but in any case, it's OK to say NO. You can do it. You don't always have to be booked 100%. You don't always have to be putting new material on your blog. You CAN have a say in the way your own business runs.  If it's not your cup of tea, then it's simply not your cup of tea. Say no and then move on.

NOTE: If I do decline a session and I know of other photographers in the area that fit the bill, I will ALWAYS try to get them that referral. It looks good for me (I didn't leave this client hanging) and it's good for them (they get some business).