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Is it possible to limit your style too much? My first post and it's long, but please read


ryan_crouch1
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Is it possible for one to limit one's style too much? Confused? Let

me explain. I love weddings and photography. Always have, even as a

kid I loved going to weddings-they are such a special event. I would

beg to go whenever we knew someone getting married. And I have loved

photograpy since age 12 (15 years). But in my experience as an

assistant for a digital traditional/photojournalist style

photographer I found several things I hate.

I personally can't stand a ton of flash photography at a

wedding. I don't like how some photographers use huge telephoto

lenses during the ceremony, nor do I like having to carry them. Yes,

I know, I was the assistant and I can hire one, but i was his first

one and he had done it all himself previously. I can't imagine

trying to keep up with that volume of gear and focus on the photos

too! Using his DSLR's and flash on every shot it was so obvious that

we were there, there was no way to hide it. And his formals which he

did after the ceremony, were all lit with large strobes and power

packs. That was a pain! Carrying them and having to tear them down

as quickly as possible before we could leave for the reception.

So my question is how much more difficult would it be for

someone starting on his/her own to do something similar to Jeff

Ascough or George Weir? Using Leica M's and predominatly black and

white photos? I love the cameras! And due to a back injury from a

car wreck I won't ever be able to carry a ton of gear by myself. My

thinking is to promote myself based upon my photos, and the fact

that I would act primarily as an observer during the day, not a

coordinator. I want to feature real life photos, not posed. And how

would you market yourself to a higher level clientale? I live in a

relatively small town of 65,000 but am only a few hours away from

all of my states major cities and would definetly be willing to

travel.

 

I guess that's all I have for now, sorry it's so long, but I

REALLY appreciate your help. Any comments or criticism, will be

appreciated, just be polite!

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I'm in kind of the same position. My solution has been to keep working the day job, and only take the kind of jobs that want what I'm offering. Maybe at some point I'll get good enough and build enough of a name that I can quit the day job, but I'm not counting on it anytime soon.

 

If you can find the right day job, it can work.

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Thanks, Glad I'm not the only one! I'm trying to get some marketing tips from my uncle who sells powerboats and exotic cars in a small TN town to places like finland and Australia and to people like Ross Perot. I figure maybe I can pick up something that will help me increase demand for my photography.
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Wedding photography is a service business, and in a service business, you have to meet the customer expectations, at least until you have established a reputation. It sounds to me like you are trying to get ahead of the game, but that only works if you have a really outstanding portfolio of similar work.

 

You may not like carrying the lights, but if the clientele wants those types of photos, someone will carry the lights.

 

I don't do weddings, but I work with wedding photographers on other projects and do my own event-related shooting. One thing I do is professional kickboxing. I love the moody black and white stuff I shoot backstage, but I'd lose my press pass and shooting location if that was what I spent most of my time on instead of the standard color shots of ring action.

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I saw an interesting talk by Sandro Miller, a well-known commercial lifestyle-sports

photographer with clients like Nike and Coca-Cola. He spoke about his strategy of doing

what the clients want, then doing what he wanted and showing both to the client with

confidence. He said to keep the work you really like for your books and folios, and show it

around alot. He did alot

of self-promo work, which often led to commissioned work that looked like his personal

projects, but he said success didn't come overnight. I also think his personality and skills

led clients to have that all-important confidence that they'll be satisfied.

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Ryan, you've asked one of the best questions I've heard in a long time. It really gets to the

heart of why some of us do this. And how one could easily go astray by meeting other

people's expectations.

 

In my real job as a Ad Agency Creative Director, I've been fortunate enough to observe

some of the most successful writers, art directors and photographers in the world.

Successful in that they are great artists, and manage to make money in a service industry

by creating expectations rather than meeting them.

 

When you meet expectations you are limited to the client's vision of things and tend to

subvert your own. When you create expectations you push yourself to offer a unique and

personal vision, and those with whom the work resonates, will become your clients.

 

If you subvert a unique vision for the sake of initial success, you will slowly become a

commodity and eventually start losing business because nothing separates you from the

100 other shooters out there who did the same thing.

 

Here's a personal observation. Try it your way. Stick to it through thick and thin. In time

you will know if it is a viable way to do business. If you don't try you will always wonder

"what if ? ".

 

There are some "reality check" things in your post, but I'll leave that for others to address.

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I will have to take issue with Marc here. Expectations can be altered by the photographer, but only after one has amassed a substantial portfolio of work that shows a broad range. To a great extent, people buy things that are not "traditional" only because they can see and contrast it with the traditional.

 

None of this means that one must "subvert" their style. Plenty of photographers meet the client's expectations while simultaneously taking what they feel is most important to take. Over time, the portfolio broadens and the clients may be able to moved towards the work that is more interesting to the photographer. But starting with something that is outside the client's expectations rarely works without a broad background and finely honed sales skills.

 

There'a an extremely talented photographer here on photo.net, and Marc will know who I'm talking about, who makes a living shooting celebrities and fashion for newspapers, magazines, and online. He shoots some phenomenally creative stuff, black and white and very outside what you see in any paper or magazine. None of this hits the wire - he would lose work rapidly. The stuff on the wire is mundane but very well-executed. When one is being paid, one does the work one is being paid to do.

 

I would add that you should think about "style" more than you seem to have above. Your comments about it seem a bit superficial - more tied to equipment and process than the vision that will allow you to execute the style. As an example, I would hold up Marc, who has a very well-defined style that I would call "intimate." His photos carry an intimacy in the event that many people don't capture, and his style is wrapped around that intimacy. What makes it work has nothing to do with what cameras, lighting or film that Marc uses, it has to do with how he, and his eyes, relate to the event. You need to figure out what it is you want to capture, regardless of equipment. When you figure out exactly what that is, and demonstrate that you can do it, then you are there.

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I don't think what Jeff and Marc are saying is necessarily contradictory. If you need to get paid <i>today</i> you basically show up and do what you're instructed to do; that's the 'delivering a commodity' part. But if you want to be more than a day laborer you do have to forcefully inject some of your own personality into your work and risk the consequences. How and when to do that is always the trick, though!

<p>

Captital sees all labor as fungible-it's up to the individual to insist otherwise.

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While there is certainly a market for unobtrusive B&W PJ style wedding photography, whether you could shoot that 100% even with the worlds best portfolio will depend more upon your personality, what you want from life and what you financial status is. If you have bills to pay and a family to feed you might just want to agree to that half hour color traditional portrait session in the middle a high paying wedding rather than turn it down because you only want to shoot how you want shoot and you won't comprimise your style. If wedding photography would be second income for you to enable you buy luxury items or take holidays then you may be able to afford to turn away work. It is possible with the right personality, the right clients and an excelent portfolio that you would not even be asked to do such a thing some photographers can command such status but in reality its very few.
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I think that there are significant differences between commercial and retail/wedding photography. Commercial clients tend to be visually more sophisticated and are looking for unique looks in art work. Many wedding clients want pictures that look exactly like "xyz". Depending on the size and taste of your market you may be limited in what you can locally sell stylistically. If you are distinctive, and very good, you can successfully market yourself so that clients from "all over" hire you. Jeff Ascough and George Weir are sucessful because they have a distinctive look, produce great images and know how to market themselves. You equipment has to be the right tools for supporting your vision, and not the other way round.
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I, of course, don't completely agree Jeff. Guess that's what makes the world go around ; -)

 

First, a couple of points of clarification. Nowhere in my reply do I mention anything about

equipment. The semantics of your term "Style", and the "Vision" term I tended to

exclusively use, are superficially similar. However, if someone believes a type of hardware

choice will help realize their vision (or style if you insist), then so what? I personally

believe I shoot differently with a simple rangefinder and super fast lenses for available

light work. It's closer to what I feel about becoming intimately involved with the subject.

Jeff Ascough seems to believe that also. Doesn't mean I suddenly can't use a MF camera or

a big ol' digital Canon to accomplish it. It's just a different, more direct, less obvious

tactile experience. If that were not somewhat true, there would be only one kind of camera

by now. Ryan seems to have noticed this difference in the work of people he admires. In

his defense, Ryan also goes into the many stylistic aspects that he gravitates to far more

than just what gear.

 

As far as meeting expectations verses creating them, that's a personal career decision

every creative person faces right out of the box. Grant is a poor example Jeff, because IMO

he is a talent with a unique eye applied to the wrong outlet. It's like trying to sell foie gras

to Mc Donald's. He may or may not eventually realize his full abilities where he applies

himself now, or perhaps realize it immediately elsewhere, where it is in much more

demand and in fact prized. But that's another discussion.

 

Meeting or creating expectations is a marketing issue plain and simple. Ryan need not

ponder IF the style/vision he gravitates to is in demand. There are enough examples of

very successful wedding shooters ( some mentioned in his post) in the area he's interested

in to indicate he won't starve ... IF he has the vision and talent to pull it off, which remains

to be seen. Won't know unless he tries it, which is easier starting out than waiting until

people's expectations of you are already formed and then changing.

 

In my long career now managing all kinds of creative people I've observed a few

reoccurring themes. Each creative person moves at different speeds. Some evolve their

style/vision like you indicated (more common), while others zero in on it immediately

(rarer). If you have a talent,

and clarity of where you want to go, why dumb it down to meet expectations of the

homogenized sensibilities of others? Again, it's a marketing and positioning issue. Go

where it will be prized, not where it will be rejected. Ryan also seems to get this when he

asks "how would you market yourself to a higher level client?" While "higher level" may not

be the right term because demographics do not taste make. But I get what he means ...

basically the question is "who will gravitate to this type work, and how do I reach them?"

That is also a pure marketing issue of the type dealt with by media placement services on

scale of sophistication that would boggle the mind.

 

I see hundreds of photographers work each year. It's mostly a homogenized blur of those

struggling to meet what they think are the expectations of what the buyers want to see.

This does them no good, because all of that can be had cheaply by buying stock work. But

there are clients who want to make their images cut through the clutter because they are

literally spending million$ on the media to get it in a magazine. Believe me, that demand

IS there and millions are spent hunting it down and securing it. I recently did a national ad

campaign that frankly I could have used $5000. worth of stock photography in terms of

content and even style. Instead my client authorized $50,000. for a unique take on the

same subject and style. The difference was astoundingly clear when the results were

presented. Subtile things made a huge impact in drawing you into the ad.

 

IMO, this business is no different. Some people come to you with a brain load of

expectations. You meet those expectations, and this happy client refers you to the next

brain load of preconceived expectations. Or you realize a vision, market it to the right

group, and the wheel starts revolving in the right direction. A direction mind you that is

already seeking a unique approach so it's easier to develop and grow faster.

 

Just a different perspective based on having one foot in creative pursuits and the other the

real world of marketing. And in my many years of experience buying

photography for all kinds of applications, marketing IS the weak point of most

photographers, talented or not.

 

 

 

 

 

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I was in a similar situation when I started working. I worked briefly for 2 other wedding photographers. It sucked. They were very traditional and I was not at all interested in what they were doing so I decided to start my own business. When I told the person I worked for that I was quitting and the reason the reply I got was- "You're too artzy for this area- you'll have to go to Chicago- nobody here wants your type of photography" and it's true- their clients did not want my work, but I assumed there were people who would. And I found out that I was right!

The hard things about this are- not booking people who you feel have a different vision than yours. People who say things like "I love your work but I also want 50 group photos and definitley one with our hands over the flowers...etc". It's very hard to turn away money-but try to look at the big picture. Know how much you are willing to compromise before the meeting and be totally honest. You will definitley lose clients sometimes...

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In terms of marketing to higher end consumers (50% of personal income in the US goes to 20% of the people):

 

Infousa.com is one place where you can get mailing lists of consumers in the upper income bracket. Do a search, register, and wait for their sales, which are geniune.

 

There won't be too many of them where you live now, so you should plan on moving to a large city. You will get tired of driving 4+ hours round trip for shoots.

 

In most big cities there are one or two local publications that keep track of "society" events like fundraisers. This is one place to collect "A list" names and the names of organizations that sponsor these events.

 

Get contact management software like Goldmine or Act! and start building a database of names. Use this list to build long-term relationships with people.

 

The problem with weddings is that they are a one-shot deal. It takes to lot of work to get customers in any business. With weddings they only buy once (or twice or three times) and then they are gone.

 

Although your love of weddings will increase your chances of success, perhaps you should expand to thinking of people photography in general. There are other events like birthdays, reunions, first confirmations, bar/bat mitzvahs, and parties that may all need pictures. Not to mention portraits.

 

You could even track the names of weddings you don't do. These days I think people mostly get married to make babies, which means recurrent opportunities for pictures.

 

See this: http://www.dawdyphoto.com/oual/sevenages.html

 

Also check out Thomas Stanley's "Marketing to the Affluent" and "Networking with the Affluent."

 

Technically, fill flash at 2 stops down will improve your pictures a lot and reduce exposure problems. I like the Lumiquest Softbox. Don't be obnoxious, but also don't worry about being visible enough to get the pictures.

 

Wedding pics are very important family documents. It may be the last time they all get together because some of the people will be in the last years of their life.

 

An Alien Bee 1600 may be enough light for formals- under 3 lb. I remember being at weddings where people used the same handle-mount flash for everything.

 

Use a piece of Rosco Rolux over the reflector- beautiful light and only 1 stop loss vs 2 stops for an umbrella. Or get a Norman 400 for cordless operation.

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Stacey, when you are doing pictures for money you also need to take your clients into consideration.

 

Yes, this may mean compromising your artistic notions in some cases, but those cases your business will prosper because you do respond to clients. Being a prima donna is not good for your business.

 

When you are doing your personal work you should indulge your artistic impulses as much as you want, and you should include that work in your portolio and website- some of your prospective customers will buy into it and give you free rein.

 

Some very successful photographers first shoot it the customer's way, then their way.

 

I find that there is good feedback from personal work to commercial work, and vice versa. Don't be so pure you can't live in the real world- you may starve virtuously.

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I don't view this conversation as a competition. Excellent points are made by all, and it

becomes the task of the readers to sort through the experiences and select that which

may be valuable to them.

 

IMO, Jeff is right, in that a portfolio has to be developed to sell anyone anything. My point

is... what do you concentrate on in that portfolio? And do you subvert it to show what you

think others may want in order to get work? That's where marketing comes in. These are

fundamental marketing and positioning issues every single business out there has to come

to grips with ... or eventually falter. Except for a few exceptions, photographers are

notoriously lousy at doing this or don't do it at all. And even when they do, some waffle

on it at the first sign of resistance by clients. Once again, that's simply a marketing issue

indicating you are "fishing in the wrong waters" not an indication that your work suddenly

sucks.

 

This is topical for me right now. In the past 3 or 4 years I signed every client who came

to the studio and reviewed the work. Most of them were creative types or couples looking

for something other than the usual traditional wedding photography. Then I began getting

secondary referrals looking for a mix. I signed them anyway. That mix became more and

more conservative. Less and less about the look and feel, more and more about the range

and content with less regard to the intimate vision. Those bookings resulted in work I

really don't want to do. And I've noticed that my work changed for those clients. As a

result, I've lost 2 out of 4 bookings lately due to opening myself up to the competition.

A course correction is now in the works.

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