LET’S FACE IT, economically the world is in a bit of a mess right now, thanks to the ongoing impact of Covid-19. Many of us are currently fearing for our jobs and livelihoods, photographers and creatives in particular have taken a massive hit over the past few months and it would appear to be just about the worst time imaginable to consider starting up a new business.
While it might appear to be a terrible time to stick your neck out, the fact is that there will always be good reasons why the time might not be right to jump in. It’s why some of those who have long harboured ambitions of pursuing a career in the creative industries ultimately end up sticking with a safer option and can be left feeling unfulfilled down the line.
It’s also a case in point that many people might sadly now have lost jobs and be looking for a fresh start in a market where finding a traditional salaried position has never been more challenging, while in acknowledgement of that situation there is now unprecedented support from central government in the form of business loans and grants to help you get started on your self-employed career, which we’ll be taking a closer look at as this series progresses.
Also consider that you don’t actually need to go jumping off a cliff in career terms in order to get your photographic business off the ground. Portrait photographer Rachel Thornhill’s journey into the business was perhaps typical in that it was carefully managed, step by step, and she didn’t go full time until she was completely sure that she was ready and prepared for the challenges ahead.
“I got the taste for being a photographer by shooting pictures of friends and family at get-togethers and family events like birthdays and christenings,” she says, “and this was low pressure work that helped me get some images together for my website. Although the part time job I had at that point involved working with children, which was obviously useful, I realised from the outset that I was a novice in terms of being able to run a business and so I looked around for photographers I thought I could learn from.
ABOVE: With her background in working with children, Rachel had the skills she needed to move into the field of family portraiture.
“I was recommended a couple of photographers to check out and one of them was Paul Wilkinson, who runs a successful portrait business, alongside the Mastering Portrait Photography brand. I ordered the book and found that I couldn’t put it down: it was so informative and inspirational. After I had met him and his lovely wife Sarah a couple of times over the course of the next six months, I decided to ask if I could do work experience with them (at the age of 37!). I offered to make tea, hold a reflector and help in their fabulous studio in exchange for the opportunity to learn. I had two small children at the time and it was a big commitment making a threehour round trip on those days, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done for my business.
“I learned so much from watching Paul and the way he managed his sessions and it also showed it was important to have two or three strands to the business so that all your eggs aren’t in one basket. This has really helped over the last few months as I’ve been shooting headshots and business portraits rather than the weddings that have been moved to next year.”
Now fully established, Rachel couldn’t envisage ever doing anything else and her example should inspire others who have similar dreams. Follow our series and learn from those who have been there and done it, and you could be joining their ranks one day soon!
More information: www.rachelthornhill.co.uk
THERE’S NO SUCH THING as a typical day really, since every wedding tends to be different, but here’s an overview of how things might pan out for me.
Arrival Time: Usually three hours before the ceremony time. As pre-arranged, I’ll turn up at the bride’s preparation location to start documenting the day. Some will be comfortable with photos before make-up, but most aren’t and, in that case, I’d think about less invasive work, for example silhouetted shots and perhaps close-ups of the shoes and dress.
10.30am: It’s time for groom prep. Give two or more boys a free morning and a high percentage will magically navigate towards a pub or a TV screen. The act of getting into a suit is usually no more than a two-minute affair and most men are very uneasy with someone photographing the process. Instead, what I’ve found to be most rewarding over the years is to document the boys doing whatever they choose to do, whether that be go-karting, playing golf or watching a game of football. This is their groom preparation, however maverick, and I join them!
12.30pm: I always arrange my time so that I’m with the bride just after she’s got into her dress, with maybe a shot of mum doing it up at the back. This is followed by whoever is giving her away seeing her for the first time. I always ensure that I’m in the right place for this as this moment is normally one of the most emotional of the day. I then leave the bride to get to the church/ceremony location as I like to get images of the guests arriving and also a nervous looking groom. I also like to get images of the bride arriving, so timing is key here.
1pm: Shooting the actual wedding ceremony very much has to be played by ear. Churches tend to be stricter than registrars and licensed venues, but so long as you speak to the vicar beforehand and confirm that you won’t be using flash or be constantly moving around you should be fine – most of the time! I like to position myself at the front, looking back over the groom’s shoulder for the bridal entrance; I want to show what he saw. The moment they lock eyes and see each other for the first time is precious and is one of the things I’m most proud of delivering. I’ll be shooting on a 70-200mm f/2.8, normally wide open with ISO at a minimum of 3200. I never take it above ISO 6400 if I can help it and usually this is enough and lets me keep shutter speeds over 1/200sec.
2pm: I find that if you dress as a guest, rather than wear something like a branded polo/shirt, you’ll be more able to disappear into the wedding party. I usually shoot candid moments with a combination of 35mm, 85mm and 70-200mm, depending on the situation. There are obviously times during the day – such as the confetti line after the ceremony and the formal group shots – where I need to take control of things, but I’ll have agreed a list of who needs to be photographed beforehand with the couple. As with every wedding, time is precious and the longer we spend doing group shots, the less time I have to do the candid, documentary work which is the real reason I’ve been chosen ahead of other photographers. Lenses used for the group shots depend on location, space and the number of people in the shot. I like using my 70-200mm at around 115-135mm at f/3.5 and pinning focus on the bride’s eyes. As long as the group is standing in a straight line focus will be sharp throughout, with a lovely bokeh drop off.
3pm: At this point I take the bride and groom away for a short period of time – 15-20mins – to do some couple shots before the wedding breakfast. This is long enough to get some nice images but not so long that people notice they’re gone and start to miss them. I want this time for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to ensure I get a set of couple images in the bag. Secondly, I find the couple needs some time away from everything as this is normally the first time they’ve been alone since the ceremony. I advise them to have
a drink and five minutes together before we go back to the wedding. I tend to use my 85mm and 70-200mm for these images as I like to give them space.
5pm: Speeches are often the most emotional part of the day. Again, I like to give the speakers plenty of space if I can. I don’t want to be noticed by them as it’s a hard enough job in any case and the last thing they need is to see is me a few feet away recording everything. I like to find angles that show the speaker and who they’re talking to at the same time. The reaction shot is often the winner.
7pm-7.45pm: I always ensure I have sunset timings with me. Prep is key in wedding photography: I like to know everything about each wedding, the weather, when the golden hours starts, last light etc. During this time, I take the couple out again for another 15-20min spell of photos. They now trust me and know the process isn’t awkward. They’ve also normally had a couple of drinks so that helps!
More information: www.mattwing.co.uk
WHEN YOU’RE FIRST starting up your new photography business there are so many things to think about, and it could be that marketing is way down your list of priorities. Believe me, I get it. Your passion is photography and it could be that it doesn’t feel natural to have to consider other aspects of your business. For me, the thing I don’t like doing is finance. So, pretty early on in my business, I made sure that I got the tools and professional help in order to make that part of running my business as straightforward and stress free as possible.
So, as you’re making that big move and are taking the first step towards starting up your own business but perhaps don’t know exactly what to do when it comes to promoting yourself to an audience that doesn’t know you yet or how wonderful it might be to work with you, then you’re in the right place.
The first thing to remember is that, whenever you’re promoting your business, behind every interaction that could lead to a sale there’s an actual human being, with intricate wants and needs. And no doubt with a brain that’s working overtime, assessing, analysing and deciding whether they want to spend their hard-earned money on your business.
No matter what you’re selling, there’s a defined pathway from attention to a sale. The good news is that they’re clicking on your homepage, but you’re still losing them somewhere before they buy. So, what’s going wrong in the process?
Think about this analogy: you walk into a cafe where you’re meeting a new friend, that you’ve only met once before. You’ve barely sat down at the table before they invite you to dinner with the parents. And to be the guest of honour. At her brother’s
wedding. Your instinct is to run. It’s way too intense.
So many people market their businesses precisely like this. They’re asking for the sale way too early and, by doing so, they’re missing out some critical steps that need to take place in the middle. As you build your photo business, don’t be that person!
Every time you market your business, you’re interacting with another person. An actual human. An individual who doesn’t know how much they need you. If you properly listen, engage and take your time, you build trust. Earn that person’s trust and you’re in a position to gain their business.
More information: www.carolinesumners.com
Eight Steps to Success
So, if you’re just establishing your brand-new photography business, how should your initial marketing go? Well, instead of throwing a load of tactics at the wall and hoping that something sticks, think about this eight-step marketing blueprint to build customer loyalty and generate leads and sales.
1 AWARE: The goal here is to make someone aware of the services you’re offering through ads, carefully targeted social media or other activities.
2 ENGAGE: Here, you start conversing with your prospects. You engage them through some form of content that provides entertainment and information to them. Typically you would offer blog posts and other content such as podcasts.
3 SUBSCRIBE: In the subscribe phase you’re encouraging your potential client to give you their contact information, along with permission to stay in touch in the future. The nurturing phase begins and you offer them some form of useful content that can enhance your expert credentials and help solve your contact’s problem.
4 CONVERT: This is about acquiring buyers/trials or ramping up the commitment level of the leads you already have. It’s not about profitability, but it is about getting someone to commit to you with an investment in either time or money, e.g. an intro product, free trial or webinar.
5 EXCITE: The prospect must get value from their last transaction with you. The Excite stage of the journey is something you must return to again and again as you build your business.
6 SCALE: Here it is essential to be able to move your customers seamlessly through your various products.
7 ADVOCATE: An advocate is what you might call a ‘passive promoter.’ They won’t necessarily actively promote your business, but when asked about you they will be sure to respond favourably. So this could be previous customers who have had a positive experience using your services.
8 PROMOTE: Promoters differ from advocates in that they are actively seeking to spread the word about your brands, products and services. Here you can potentially offer a referral bonus, cash, gift vouchers etc.
These eight steps are vital to promoting your business, and if you apply them consistently, you can’t go far wrong. We will be focusing on and addressing these stages, tactics and tools over the coming months.
MPB Used Kit List
If you’re looking to move into wedding photography, here’s an outfit suggested by used kit specialist MPB’s resident pricing expert Marc Read that could get you started on a budget.
Sony Alpha a7 II – £694,
+ Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA – £449, Good Condition + Sony Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS – £539, Excellent Condition. The well-built older brother of the a7 III combines a full frame sensor with a compact body. You’ll also have plenty of cash left over for a couple of snazzy high quality Sony Carl Zeiss lenses too.
Nikon D800 – £664,
+ Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G – £279, Good Condition + Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G IF-ED – £819, Good Condition You won’t go wrong with the outstanding quality and monster file sizes of the D800 and you can also go hybrid by shooting 1080p video too. This reliable workhorse won’t let you down on the job.
Canon EOS 6D – £559,
+ Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM – £199, Good Condition + Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 L IS USM – £345, Well used Condition The lightweight and compact Canon EOS 6D has fantastic, full frame image quality. With advanced features like Wi-Fi and full HD, it’s the perfect wedding companion for the professional photographer.
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