A year ago, I took the plunge and opened my own photographic studio. I was fortunate to have secured a great location and a number of events orchestrated by the universe, pushed me gently in this direction. A year later, I reflect on the lessons that I have learned during the course of the last year.
My work is all about people. Whether I am photographing an expectant mother, a newborn baby, a model or a family group, I must take into account that they are all individual, unique beings. They come with their moods, attitudes, expressions and desires and my job is to honour and respect that and photograph them “as they are”.
Although I photograph only people (and pets) in the studio, there is a lot of diversity and variety in this. All people are different and unique, and photographing a newborn baby is a completely different challenge to photographing a 2-year-old toddler.
Creativity is key to ensure that a) I don’t get bored and, b) my clients get something unique to them. To this end I am constantly in search of props to use in the studio. From the much underrated feather duster (to make kids smile) to rocking horses, the studio is full of texture rich and visually enticing objects. I look through hordes of decor magazines for ideas on backdrops and other goodies.
There is what you want and what the client wants. The commercial vs the creative. I have had a great battle with this concept and when I first opened the studio, had great notions of doing things “differently”. The truth is, that whilst people appreciate some creativity, a lot of people just want great photographs of themselves and their children. Their children are what’s unique to them. Not my red crystal ball hanging from the ceiling. I have learned to keep it simple and keep it real.
I have defined my own style and I work it. I used to fret when people asked me if I took photos like Anne Geddes. Firstly, I dislike copying other creative ideas. Secondly, I want people to come to me because they enjoy my style and my approach. I decided very early on to be honest and state my feelings clearly. I found that people appreciated the honesty and were just as happy with my “non Anne Geddes” photos.
I do my utmost to over deliver all the time, every time. As a free add-on, I always create a few collages and add these to the CD for the client. I seldom get a Thank You, but that is not the point. I know that I am giving something extra of myself. It’s a little way of thanking my clients for choosing me in the first place.
I try to make things as simple as possible for my clients. In other words, I try to think of what would be a hassle factor to them, and then overcome this hurdle for them. A basic example is including a “web sized image” folder on the CD, so that my clients can mail, put on Facebook, save as wallpaper any of the images without having to worry about resizing them. It’s a very small gesture, but one that I believe goes a long way.
People do not wake up in the morning and think : “ oh, today I would like to have my photograph taken”. It’s not a haircut or medical check up. Photographs are nice things to have. Especially professionally taken ones. So I remind my clients regularly by communicating with them often. A professionally designed newsletter with meaningful updates and interesting content is a gentle reminder of my existence. My hits on my site go up and this helps with Google rankings. And I get phone calls for booking and clients thank me for reminding them to do so.
I market my business all the time. I have to. I use the web – Website, Facebook. Twitter, Blog – and struggle to keep up with all the demands. But in this fast-moving world, I feel that I have to be out there with everyone else. Equally important though, is face to face networking. My clients are a great source of contacts and ideas. I have entered into successful business relationships with some of my clients and in this way I have tapped into their networks too. It’s not only the net that is viral!
I have fun. As much as possible and as often as possible. Photographers can take themselves very seriously and become horribly intimidating. The last thing I want to be perceived as is unapproachable or unfriendly to my clients. A studio photographic session is a stressful event to many people. Hi tech equipment, bossy photographer demanding poses and smiles do not add up to a pleasant experience generally. The words I like to hear most when people leave my studio are, “Wow, that was fun”.
I will learn more things as time goes by. For now, these 10 points remind me of my objectives and keep me grounded. My photographs are not “ground breaking” or “ award winning”. They are competently taken, honest photos of real people in my studio.