I will never forget my first workshop, there were 5 of us and one model, in a cramped studio in East London. I actually knew three of the attendees already, I charged just enough to cover the space, not having the confidence to put a price on my work. Looking back, I can still remember that morning, feeling sick to my stomach with clammy palms, refusing all food that was offered to me (rare, I know!). What if nobody turned up? What if I gabbled? What if I forgot how to use a camera? What if I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew and everybody saw through it? WHAT DO I KNOW ABOUT ANYTHING?
I am pleased to say that didn’t happen. The session was about giving model direction, something I have come to know is a strength of mine and the feedback was great. It was not the most ambitious session I have ever run, but it certainly formed part of the foundation of what I continue to do today. I didn’t know it at the time, but these small interactions helped me build my brand completely by accident. From that session, three of the attendees have booked me for further work, with another booking a one on one session, later going to assist me on a paid shoot. Last week, the daughter of one of that same group of people sent me a wedding enquiry. Somehow the energy and positivity of the workshop had been stored away in their minds and it meant they thought of me when it came to selecting a Photographer. Lesson one; Successful brands reinforce our reasons for staying loyal to them.
Photography is an industry which is enormously saturated, in which people have vastly differing measures of success. For me, I manage to work and be paid a fair price for that work, I book clients on recommendation and have formed good working relationships in the fashion industry. Am I where I would like to be? No. I am not someone who will necessarily notice when the pinnacle of her career is in sight, but I think it is healthy for everyone to strive to improve year on year. You might want to book more weddings, you might decide to raise your prices, you might decide to be more selective in the work you take on. Success is first and foremost the ability to have these choices and I think these aims can change drastically as your business grows.
I sound very together, reading that last paragraph, don’t I? I think it was Jasmine Star who first spoke about the “appearance of limitless everything” and I just realized that that last passage might give a false impression. Do not assume that I have everything I would like for my business, do not assume that I book clients through “luck”. I love this crazy job and try to always talk about it positively but I have not mentioned the non paying clients, the model with no eyebrows or the time my second shooter neglected to show up. I have not mentioned the “all the gear, no idea” guys, sporting massive telephoto lenses, the latest bags and an ego large enough to disguise the fact they have not one solitary clue. Most importantly, I have not mentioned the Photographer who you compare yourself to for absolutely no reason.
Oh, it is so easy to compare yourself! How did he afford that mac? I don’t understand how he has TWO mkiii’s and I only have one! She got ANOTHER lens!! WTF? Her website is SO much better than mine. I wish I had that job, why do people hire him? Blah blah blah.
And, my personal favourite- She is so overrated.
I have been guilty of being of that opinion, I’m going to come right out and say it- I have sometimes been RIGHT in that opinion. But I only heard it said about me until fairly recently. Initially I felt pretty gutted, because we all want people to like our work (LIKE US MORE LIKE) then I realized that in order for someone to think you overrated, they must be in some way aware of those RATING you, which in a roundabout way means you are doing precisely the right thing! Remember, just as owning a camera does not make you a Photographer, buying all the kit under the sun does not make you a successful, or even a working one, it might give the impression of being one, but the impression of being a working Photographer does not pay the bills.
I get asked “What is your business plan?” And it is primarily “Be a Nice Person” Capital N. Capital P.. Nobody wants to hire an asshole, all the gear in the world won’t cover up the fact you are an asshole. Excellent work WILL get you hired, but so many Photographers do not realize that a brand is more than a logo. A logo, dear friends, is brandING. I never used to ask clients how they found me, or why they hired me, until they started offering up the information themselves. This simple question can help you learn so much about your business. In many cases, your personal interaction with a client IS THE REASON THEY HIRE YOU. For this reason, I am never too busy for a client. I learnt a long time ago that formal email conversations don’t set you apart. I also go into every shoot with the aim for people to leave happy and confident. For people to be happy and confident in my work, they need to be happy and confident in me.
So much of what I do relies on being me that it is truly the one thing that other Photographers (yes, even the ones I compare myself to!) do not have. And that, is the brand experience our clients pay for.
Now, if you will excuse me, I really need to start thinking about a line of merchandise here….