Preface: This is not part II in the blog series about booking your wedding photographer!
I wanted to write about a few things I've discovered along the way as a photographer. And not just a wedding or lifestyle photographer either, but rather as a general lover of the medium on the whole. That said, I will include things that relate to or might help you benefit when it comes to the wedding industry, but as a general rule of thumb, this blog is a "for photographers, amateur or professional notwithstanding."
So, shall we break it down?
- When it comes to your gear, research, research research! Once you've settled on the DSLR of your choice, be it mirrorless or not, the first step is RTFM, or Read the F*cking Manual. Learn your hardware inside and out – its limitations, its strengths and weaknesses – so you can understand how to accurately create any and all of the magic it is capable of producing on the fly.
- Always always shoot in RAW image format. In its simplest terms, this means that any image captured in RAW format is unprocessed as well as lossless. In essence, your image is raw; note that you will not be able to print your file until it is later converted to a variety of image formats, most notably, the JPEG file. You will also sacrifice on card space, but it's your best bet when getting top-notch, easy-to-edit photographs when the time comes to post-process.
- Rent loads of lenses before buying. A rule to live by: camera bodies come and go, but lenses are forever. This means that the investment you make with a lens is oftentimes more important than the camera body itself. Remember, bodies only have so many shutter clicks before they start to need replacing. Lenses do not, and unless you're careless or don't store or properly maintain them, they'll be your loyal servants for life. But it's a preference game, too. I adore a 50mm 1.4 and a 85mm 1.4, but I only know this from using and handling them until my fingers bled. Put in the time beforehand and you'll never be sorry!
- 'Having all of the latest and greatest (ie. most expensive) gear will make me a great artist!' This is WRONG. Incorrect. False. It's lies, people, all lies. There are artists traversing our beautiful planet with film SLRs that are older than me. What you have in your camera bag is an extension of you – as in, you are where the magic happens. Not the bits and bolts and glass. I've had the same Nikon DSLR and 50mm lens for the past six years and though I know I'll need to update soon, it's not from a place of 'have to in order to be a successful photographer.' It's because, as mentioned above, camera bodies don't last forever.
- 'But so-and-so does this, so I must do that, too!' Nope, you don't actually have to emulate someone else's style to be great at what you do. You can start there, borrow from a photographer with whom you admire and trust to know what the hell they're doing, but eventually, you need to make the art that comes from within. I've warred with this concept for a long, long time and it's only within the last year that I've discovered what it is I want to put out into the world. Find your truth and follow it – it'll run away from you at first, but don't let it out of sight.
- 'Having x amount of followers/fans will make me successful!' This is a halfway truth. In that it is true that the majority of Instagram users who have soaring numbers do very well and those who do not, may typically not do as well. But it's not everything. Your niche may be exclusive to a specific demographic or aimed at an audience that Miss Photographer With 104k Followers does not. So her success is not your success. Keep on showing up, put your heart into it and the results will speak for themselves.
(This bit might get a little unwanted attention in the long run, but I have to be 100% honest and share what I've used that hasn't worked out. Or what I have used and have done research about after the fact that made me kick my own ass for not doing in the beginning! Alas...)
- Thumbtack. Do. NOT. Use. This. Service. It is a waste of any photographer who's worth their salts time. In a nutshell: You sign up, choose your profession, get a thousand emails with "leads" attached that you then purchase credits (-_-) to reply with, sending your pricing and package information over, hoping they take the bite. So, "throwing your money away," might be a better definition. The "leads" that come in are low-balled to the point of taking offense (no wedding photographer should ever have to work 10 hours for $500-800 – don't you dare do this to yourself. You're worth way more!). I mean, look at a recent one that came in. Price $800-1000 for 10 hours:
- After doing some digging into this company, I found loads of reviews from people claiming the incoming leads were manufactured by Thumbtack themselves, to generate revenue on their behalf, while intentionally misleading their own customers to pine over false, non-existent clients. Lots of shadiness there. Steer clear, folks.
- Weddingwire. This one might shock a lot of you – YES, it's an amazing site and service if you're a bride/groom seeking vendors and endless venues for your wedding. But unless you're a vendor who's willing to spend hundreds per month advertising your business via WeddingWire, don't bother. When I first began on WW, I had a free, basic profile. Simple, but still searchable and page listed after a half a dozen or so worth of clicks. Not great, but not impossible either. Then in 2012, I sealed the deal and purchased their $95/month plan. Guess what? Never received one single lead. For an entire year! I paid $1,140 over twelve months and not a single lead ever panned out. Because my plan, though paid, was still only one teeny tiny step above "basic." The prices rose from there onwards and upwards. I canceled and never looked back. Until recently, that is. I logged into my dusty account to check out my storefront only to be immediately (and I mean, first thing I saw) greeted with this message:
- Oh, cool. So, even basic profiles nowadays are completely, wholly, invisible. (Why bother having an account there, I ask myself?) Curiosity plagued me, and so I clicked on 'See Options >>' and was taken to this:
- Double cool. So, my antiquated $95/month plan is now an odd $108.33/month and the other two plans are sold out as you can see, so I have no idea as to their exact figures. But I'd guess, respectively, $195-295 for Featured Ad and a whooping $395-495 for Spotlight. This is per month. I know it's not a lot if you're working 20-36 weddings per year, and if you can do it, then forge ahead and pay no mind to my grumbles. But for me? Sinking $1,140 into a fruitless venture at a time when I couldn't have been more broke was enough for this gal. Lesson learned.
- Facebook. This one is tough. I have a love/hate relationship with FB, only because I hate everyone's sideways opinions on me and my business after an ex-friend blacklisted me. Sorry, but truth is truth. But I love it for connecting with people I genuinely am interested in keeping in my inner circle. For businesses though? It's deplorable. Again, this section is called "Bottom-Liners" for a reason: unless you promote (paid advertising), your post/image/offer will not be seen to a wide audience. You might have 4k fans on your page, but only 500 of them might come across your post unless your pay to promote. Facebook does this purposely and so effectively, it has almost completely driven me away from the platform on the whole. I get that advertising is everything, I do. But it's only that way on sites like FB and WW because they're so heavily trafficked. They abuse the little small businesses because they know the conglomerates will throw millions at them in paid revenue. But hey, that's the world, isn't it?
We Have A Winner Here:
- Instagram: Despite the fact that Facebook bought IG and sunk its dirty, money-hungry paws into it, instigating a wickedly effective algorithm, Insta is still the best way to get your name and business out there. The hashtag games are strong and concise, well thought out and will direct you exactly where you'd like to go. There are catches to gaining success on IG however; having a feed full of matchy-matchy photographs is a must, connecting with other users (ie. leaving genuine praise, private messages, etc.) and an all-around "putting the time in," are really the only caveats. And honestly, IG is a wonderful platform to connect to fellow photographers and bloggers that you invest regular time and interest in. Yes, you can promote there, too, but I find it's a lot easier to be seen via your hashtag game than anything else.
- Pinterest. This should come as no surprise to literally anyone reading this, but Pinterest is just so damn lovely, innit? And it's absolutely amazing at driving traffic directly to your website, so long as you update it regularly, post content that links back to you correctly, and create a clear, concise look to your brand. The most traffic I see on my Google Analytics is nearly always driven from Pinterest. So sign up, get posting and watch the ratings spike!
- Blogging! Write, post, write, post, writepost, and then do it again! Share your content, your words – you – in as many ways as possible. You will find your tribe and resonate with the right crew eventually. Just stick with it, keep at it and don't skip an article idea because you don't believe anyone is going to read a really long post about tips, advice, no-no's & sure things! ;)
And there we have it, my fellow photographer friends! A little surface area insight for you, if you're just starting out or curious about anything you might have always wanted to try but haven't yet.
Be sure to reach out and let me know your success stories and if I'm dead wrong about any of the above. I'd love to have proof to the contrary...honestly!
(Here, have a cup of coffee after that novella... 😆)