Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What I learned in 2011 and All the Trappings That Come In Your First Year In the Wedding Industry

Like that long title?  At least its to the point.

So now that the year is coming to a close, I've had to take a long look back at this last year for Stark Love in order to prepare for next year.  And this is what I've learned:

Photography is an Art.  Enough said.  It is the ability to create a still image of life that is constantly moving, shifting, and changing.  It is my ability to communicate the emotion that once was, so that it is forever imprinted in an image.  It is an art.  And for me, by thinking that, it became less and less about a business.  

I can't compete.  I don't need to compete.  I shouldn't compete.  And the only way I can fight the competition, is to stop looking at all these different photographers and compare my business model, my work, my photos, my clientele, my comments, my stats, and so on.  Let go of all the pretty pictures other photogs take and just work on honing in my own look, style, and talent.  So I got off the bandwagon and just started going my own way with all the rules out the door.

Have a Top Five.  I still need to be challenged, pushed, and encouraged to see outside of my own box, so I picked my safe Top Five photogs, who I don't feel less when looking at their photos, instead I feel empowered to do more.  These top five photogs are who I study, learn from, and allow their work and business model to inspire me. (Wanna know my safe Top Five: Jonas Peterson, Troy &; Aimee Grover, Katie Neal, Stone Crandall, Jasmine Star )

LET GO.  My first year I did everything I could to check out other's photos, try to assume what they used, had, and did, and worked my best to do similar.  Because I thought that was what I was supposed to do.  Learning to LET GO of what other's were doing and learning to just be myself, was probably the MOST pivotal moment in our business and where our personalities felt FREE and safe to just be US.  And that was when our serious bookings took off.

Stop the Envy.  Most of us probably have it and probably like to deny it.  It's even a running joke among photogs about camera gear envy.  I remember showing up to a location where other photogs would also be shooting and I would see their gear was bigger than mine and probably far better.  And I would feel insignificant, stupid, and ready to call it quits.  But when I trusted my ability over my gear, and learned to just rock the gear I had, I saw my confidence take root in the images I was producing.  And in the end the confidence allowed my images to come out cleaner, and better than before.  So as I was able to upgrade, I knew how to work my gear and utilize its full potential.

Pin Point Specialty And Stick To It.  I heard and read this over and over again but didn't let it soak in because I was too worried about getting as many clients as I could so I didn't care what they wanted, I was willing to do it.  Not until the end of the year did we make the decision to just focus on just one area of photography did I realize why it was said.  Instead of spreading myself thin with my creativity and talent fading, we're able to devote more time to fine tuning all the areas devoted to weddings.

Contracts!  Contracts!  Contracts!  And this isn't just to protect yourself.  Clients feel safer when they know that you are being held accountable as well.  But go beyond what you would think.  Get contracts for second shooting.  When you're blocking out a date and turn down future business, protect that date with a contract.  This year, I didn't take contracts seriously and lost out on multiple weekends that I had business planned and was canceled last minute and all I thought of was the clients I had to turn away.  So get contracts.  It is actually safest for everyone involved.

Branding is a big deal.  I enjoyed playing around with fonts and my logo for a while and it drove my husband nuts.  I just thought it was fun, pretty, and I liked it when people comment on one they thought was cute.  But what I had no idea, was the branding was actually what first defined me and my work.  Branding is one of the biggest thing a client looks at whether they know it or not.  So if I had a playful logo, I was portraying a more playful personality.  So, I had to define the kind of photographer I was, the kind of business we wanted to have and design our brand from there.  The colors meant everything.  The feel.  My job was to attract the kind of clients that were drawn to the feel my logo sends off.  So when we pin pointed what we wanted, we started to define our brand.  And we like it.

There is plenty of work to go around, so share!  This year, this was probably the most challenging thing to get through.  I had a photographer friend skype me for two hours to help me work on my workflow for editing and teach me a few tricks.  We work in the same area yet he was still willing to help me get better.  To most, this is putting a knife through his business, but to him it was more.  He grew in leaps and bounds this year and so did I.  Both our business took off.  I loved what he told me "There will always be people getting married."  And that really stuck with me.

Not All Clients Are For Me.  This I most definitely didn't understand until one in particular session went south.  I just tried to take on as much business as I could.  So I said yes to just about EVERYTHING that came my way and from EVERYONE that came my way.  What I later learned was that some yes' might actually not get you business, especially the kind of business we wanted.  I found myself trapped in a situation that I ended up losing out on in order to make the client happy.  I later learned that my style isn't for everyone and everyone isn't for me.  And it might just be better off that way.

Keep your clients close and your fellow photogs closer.  Nothing could currently be a bigger inner battle than that statement right there.  But it is constantly what I'm telling myself.  And I'm talking about all the local photogs.  I've had my fair share of being used for someone else's gain, but I also understand that in my own place, having friendly photogs is important, so I must be one in return.  And since I'm not a great newborn photographer, it is excellent to have local photogs who I can send clients to (even if they don't do the same in return).  But living in the same town with mean photogs isn't fun - what happens when we bump into each other- so we might as well make the best of it and get to know each other.

Balance Your Books.  My biggest mistake this year was not paying attention to the financial side of our business.  At the end of the year I went through all our expenses and realized we were spending far more than we were receiving.  Whoops!  Biggest mistake ever.  No wonder why photography is so expensive for both the clients and the photographers.  Time to revamp things up a bit.

Joined Showit.  This was probably the BIGGEST choice I financially made this year that was the BEST for us!  From website to a community of photographers to experts leading the way that believe in helping instead of hoarding, BEST CHOICE EVER.

I hope some of the things we learned this year can help rocket you into a better place next year.  We had a year full of silly mess ups that could've been avoided, but we also had a year with some of the best clients out there.  With six weddings in our first year, we're anxiously looking forward to the year ahead.  But before we do...


  1. This is great Jhen! I definitely have a lot to learn from you! I really enjoyed this post!

  2. I always love your photos. I'm not a photographer, but this is good advice that can translate into other freelance work fields! Thanks!

    ps. Good luck to your and your growing business in this new year!

  3. Your work is stunning... Really and truly beautiful!
    Do you mind if I share some of your work on my blog?
    ps. Love what God has been teaching you this year... Moving forward with Him and living in the blessings that He surrounds us with is incredible!

  4. These were such great tips. Thank you so much for sharing them. I especially appreciated the envy one for the equipment and skills.

    You have definitely learned a lot in your first year!

    I loved your favorite pictures too, especially the street shot! Amazing!!
    Emily at Amazing Grapes

  5. great post and very thorough tips and pointers! This all resonated well with me. Keeping our eyes on Jesus and not on others is key to staying content and at peace and yet such a hard thing to do at times yah know. I like to look around for inspiration to get out of my box but, if I am in a weird mood I can get discouraged easily so you are right...gotta find the right balance in all things. I think your photography is beautiful..I am always inspired by the natural moments you capture between brides and grooms and I think you have branded yourself perfectly!

  6. Great post :) I LOVE reading what other photogs have learned :) I'm still in the process of learning not to compare my work to others... it's hard! I agree that all it does is discourage instead of encourage.

    I'm so excited to see what you do in 2012! I think you have GREAT things ahead of you :)

    I'm glad that we're friendly photogs, I love having friendships with other photogs... it can feel like a lonely profession at times!

  7. p.s.... I hope you have found me to be a friendly and encouraging local fellow photog... I definitely strive to be that!

  8. Your photos are so lovely, I can't believe it's only your first year, they are so good :) That first photo is breathtaking!

    I love this post and it's like to are speaking right to me :)
    Im going to check out Showit right now :) Thanks for sharing!!!

  9. What an inspiring post. It is apparent how thoughtful you are when you write. This is good advice for any of us- photographers or not. :)

  10. Agree - photography is art, and you do a great job of it! Thanks for letting me use some of them. Will have one posting in an article on marriage on Family Fountain Sunday. wb

  11. Thank-you SO much for sharing this! I love your work...can't wait till you make it to Australia. ;-) I also am excited to see where your photography will actually take you...