You obviously need to have great photo services to tempt your potential clients but they will also be buying into you as an individual, so how do you sell yourself as the person to book?
IF YOU’RE FRESH TO self-employment and the whole concept of running a photography business is relatively new it can be tough at times to be able to step back and to see yourself as outsiders might see you. But try if you can to imagine that you’re coming to your website for the first time, as a complete stranger, who just happens to be browsing through a few sites thrown up by a Google search.
They don’t know you but they’ve been attracted by the quality of your work and you’re on their shortlist. Assuming that you’re in the same ballpark as others where pricing is concerned, what’s the crucial thing that might help you to stand out from the crowd and to win their business? Quite simply, it will be personality. Turning up for a photo session can be a daunting experience for many and they’ll be looking for some reassurance that, if they book you, they’ll be signing up to someone who is an easy going and welcoming individual who will put them at ease.
A shining example of a well presented ‘About Me’ page can be found on the website of Hertfordshirebased wedding photographer Becky Harley. There’s an informal-style picture of Becky that you encounter on the home page, beaming with camera in hand, with a brief overview of what she’s offering (‘stories of love and life’) and an open invitation to view her portfolio and to drop in on some of her latest wedding jobs, and then there’s a ‘Meet Becky’ tab, and a click on this quickly takes you through to a more in-depth introduction.
This is a chatty, warm and conversational piece, just under 300 words in length, which is an easy and light read. In the introduction you learn that Becky is a mother, a wife, gin and beer aficionado, a traveller, a teacher, knitter, foodie, classic
rock lover, eco-enthusiast and a Monty Python fan. Read on and you’re introduced to husband Pete, daughter Abby and, especially, Bernard the ginger cat. We hear the story about how he arrived and how he rules the roost, and there’s nothing like talking about your pets for breaking the ice.
Becky finishes up by explaining how she likes autumn walks, Sunday lunch in the pub and chilling out in front of the telly with a cup of tea and a Custard Cream biscuit: note the meticulous detail. Below this are some behindthe-scenes pictures of Becky and family relaxing, and it’s all very cosy and unpretentious. Nothing whatsoever about her photographic skills you’ll notice, but by the end of your quick read you feel as though you know a little about the person you’re thinking of booking.
This is classic ‘soft sell’ and it’s exactly what a modern client is likely to be looking for. “I’ve always been quite clear that my About Me page was to sell myself as a person,” says Becky, “and to connect with clients on a personal level rather than talk about anything particularly technical, although I do have a little bit about my approach on this page. My ideal client isn’t too bothered about the technical aspect of my business – and if they are interested, they’ll ask further down the line – but I’m not a techy person either, so that’s fine.
The Moving Image
GIVEN THE RISING level of interest in online video it’s not surprising to discover that some photographers are now looking at hosting an About Me video Sussex-based wedding photographer Barry Page features an introductory video about himself on his website, which runs to just under two minutes. It shows him talking against a plain black background and also features clips of him at work at weddings, and it’s all designed to give the first-time visitor a very quick overview of what to expect should they make a booking.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision not to include technical information in the film,” he says. “I take the view that most couples have little interest in what equipment we use, they’re mostly concerned with who we are, how we conduct ourselves, the quality of our photographs and what other wedding couples have had to say about us.
“The idea for the video came from Carol at Cut Above Productions, a wedding videographer friend who I’ve worked alongside at many weddings in the past, and we get on really well. Carol has a sister company called Cappure Video that specialises in promoting businesses large and small, so ultimately my video has worked well as a promotional tool for both of us.”
Wanting the production to come across as being natural, Barry didn’t script it out but rather thought about what he wanted to say during his 45-minute drive to the recording studio. “Once I was there and with the cameras rolling Carol asked me some questions and my responses were more or less spontaneous,” he says. “I think we have to put ourselves in front of the camera to help our potential clients get a feel for who we are and to put ourselves in their shoes. To be honest it did feel a little uncomfortable being in front of the camera but I’m glad I pushed myself through the ‘pain barrier’ and did it.”
“It’s really important to come across as someone who is friendly and approachable in this spot. I see this page as a way of connecting with my ideal client from the off, giving them a reason to want to contact/book me rather than other photographers. At the end of the day, we’re all offering a broadly similar service, but selling yourself and your personality is something that will set you apart from others out there. It might mean that you’ll also put people off at times but I don’t have a problem with that because then they probably wouldn’t have been ideal people for me to work with in any case.”
ABOVE: Becky also talks about her approach on her website, deliberately keeping the information short and sweet.
So, how can chat about the idiosyncrasies of the studio cat work so well at breaking the ice? It’s essentially a touch of normality, the kind of catch up talk that friends might have, and it helps the casual visitor to feel as though they already know the person they’re connecting with before they’ve even spoken. Talking about hobbies, or a love of sport or going on long country walks would all work equally well in terms of introducing yourself.
“I think it’s a case that many of the clients that I’m looking to attract will be people who don’t really like having their photo taken,” says Becky, “and they want nice natural photos but are worried that they aren’t photogenic or will look awkward in their picture. It’s my job to prove them wrong on that front, but my laidback approach is what I want to come across, and for them to know that I can help them feel at ease.”
It’s not just the words that are doing a job, of course. You need to have a photograph of yourself on the About Me page – and we’ll come back and talk in more detail about this in a future feature in this series – but the choice of what image to use can also be crucially important. An informal style shot such as the one Becky uses does the job well, and it’s not been chosen entirely at random.
“The main images of me that I’ve used on my website are ones I’ve had taken on a specific branding shoot for the purpose of having content for this page”, she reveals. “I’ve just picked an image for the About Me page that reflects all the elements that I’m talking about there. The personal shots of myself and my family have also been added to give people an insight into me as a person.”
YOU DON’T HAVE to look far to see stunning images of food these days, be it in a magazine, on the web or on one of the many social media platforms that’s devoted to this perpetually fascinating subject. With the rising level of interest in food and the tendency by some of the top restaurants to treat their dishes as works of art in their own right, there are rising numbers of photographers now looking to move into this field.
As someone who has worked in this area for several years through my business, Electric Eye Photography, I can vouch for the fact that this is a great area to specialise in and there’s plenty of potential to give full rein to your creativity. It enabled me to be named Fortnum & Mason Photographer of the Year in 2019 for my work on the Verveine Restaurant Cook Book and I was also shortlisted in the latest Pink Lady Awards.
My Typical Day
Like so many other working professionals, as a commercial food and drink photographer most days will revolve around the back-office element of the business, which, amongst other things, includes keeping on top of existing jobs, confirming and detailing briefs with new clients and general housekeeping.
Once I’ve met with a client and the product to be photographed and the date of the shoot have been agreed, the real planning begins. One of the most important discussions to have early on in the process is the one where you’ll look to gain a full understanding of the purpose and end use of the images that you’ve been booked to shoot.
For example, if you’re photographing for a recipe book you’ll need to consider page ratios and whether you’re shooting for an upright or landscape format and your composition will clearly need to take this into account. Then you’ll need to establish the vision of the chef/cook/author that you’re working with and you’ll need to know, for example, whether you’re shooting to inspire a final dish or whether this might be part of the process of the construction of a recipe.
You’ll also need to establish if there is a requirement for any reportage or action-style shots, as the equipment you require for each will be very different. Many of my clients are restaurant owners and if that’s the case then my brief will often involve creating images that don’t just capture the dish but also some of the atmosphere of the establishment itself, with the pictures then used either on their website or as illustrations in lifestyle magazines. Alternatively, if the shot is going to be used in the menu, I could be asked to capture an image that closely resembles the dish the customer would receive. I’ll need to establish the brief well in advance so that I can prepare for the shoot.
When quoting for the work it’s important to manage the client’s expectations regarding what can be achieved in the amount of time that’s been allocated, and this will help you to avoid any uncomfortable shoots where you feel you might be being rushed.
Checking the Location
Often my day will involve a site visit, since it’s crucial to check out a location if possible before a live shoot. I find this helps me to gain a full understanding of any challenges that might arise with existing lighting, ambient light opportunities or areas with strong colour casts. Many restaurants will utilise quite low tungstencoloured lighting, which might be great for ambience but it can create a lot of issues in terms of getting your colour balance right.
The day prior to a shoot and before selecting the gear to take along I’ll usually contact the client to reconfirm everything and to check there aren’t any changes to the original shoot plan. I usually pack enough gear to cover all eventualities in any case, since there is always a good chance you’ll suddenly be asked to do something that was not part of the original brief, such as a team photo of the kitchen staff – where you’ll find you need a particular lens or flash head – or maybe an interior shot of the venue where the only way to capture the full scene is to work using your widest lens. The bottom line is I need to be ready for anything and I’ve become used to travelling with a full contingent of kit.
Much of my work involves 45-60-degree angle shots or ‘flat lays,’ namely overhead shots, usually featuring ingredients or fully laid out tables. My go-to lenses tend to be my Nikon 50mm f/1.8, 60mm macro f/2.8, 85mm f1.8 and 105mm f/2.8, while something wider like a 35mm f/1.8 might also be packed in case it’s needed.
The lenses are complemented by two Nikon DSLR bodies, my D850 and my D810 as a back-up, but lately I’ve been finding the mirrorless Z6 and Z7 are fast becoming my go-to cameras.
Tripod wise I’ll work with something like my trusty Manfrotto 055, where it’s possible to move the centre column to a horizontal position, which is ideal when I’m looking to produce overhead shots.
Lighting-wise things can start to get a little more complex. I’ll either be working purely with ambient window light and bounce cards or I’ll be supplementing the light with colour-balanced continuous lighting and soft boxes.
My golden rule is to always shoot tethered into Lightroom since this gives me a good indication not just about the obvious things, such as focus points and lighting, but it also enables me to see the final capture more in the context of a larger format. Additionally, itgives more professional feedback to the client who may wish to then interject with any styling changes or prop adjustments.
I usually ensure that I have a wide selection of backgrounds to hand that can be employed to enhance a scene where needed, and it’s always worthwhile having additional props available that can be utilised if required. During the shoot I’ll never be afraid to offer suggestions and ideas. If you don’t feel something is working as well as it could it’s your job as a photographer to say so. An eye for detail is also key: look out for such things as fingerprints on cutlery, bottles and glasses and anything else that’s uncomfortable or otherwise missing from the composition. For example, perhaps adding a grater next to a lemon in a cake recipe would add some extra context.
With the shoot completed I then run through the Raw images with the client to confirm that we’ve captured everything required in the brief and then, without fail, I make a secondary backup to an external SSD before breaking down the set.
On returning home my first job will be to import the images into Lightroom and to run a back-up routine on my NAS. I usually agree on set the images that the client likes and I’ll then be able to set about the postproduction in the next couple of days with fresh eyes.
Getting a taste for food photography? Here’s a round-up ofthe kit you should be considering, at a range of price points, supplied by MPB’s resident used kit expert Marc Reid.
Canon EOS R (Like New – £1214) Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM (Excellent – £409) Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 – Canon RF Fit (Like New – £504) The full-frame, mirrorless EOS R is packed with features to get the most out of your food photography. The high resolution 30.3MP sensor produces exceptional image quality and works especially well in low-light situations. Lens-wise, we recommend the attractively priced Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro , and complement this with the Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 – Canon RF Fit, which offers great control over depth of field, for isolating subjects.
Nikon D810 (Excellent – £1009) Nikon AF-S DX 40mm f/2.8G Micro (Excellent – £199) Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR Micro (Excellent – £519) The Nikon D810 is a modern full-frame DSLR, created primarily for photographers who require exceptionally high quality. Colour reproduction is magnificent and highly detailed images can be captured thanks to its 36MP sensor. It’s one of the best cameras for food bloggers, and the small wonder that is the Nikon 40mm f/2.8 gives a very natural viewing perspective, with the very capable Nikon 105mm completing the kit.
Fujifilm X100F (Excellent – £689) Lastly, a wildcard pick from Fujifilm, either for use as a secondary camera or for going it alone as an upgrade for a foodie smartphone shooter. The X100F features a 24.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor and X-Processor Pro image processor to realise rich, highresolution stills and fluent performance with expandable sensitivity to an impressive ISO 51200. A built-in Fujinon 23mm f/2 lens provides a general wide-angle 35mm equivalent focal length, and a heightened hybrid autofocus system utilises 91 total points, including 49 phase-detection points, for quick, accurate focusing.
THE START OF a new year is the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate what you’re doing and to think about marketing your business for the next twelve months. Obviously, this should be an ongoing process – we all know only too well how marketing plans needed to be re-jigged several times during 2020 – but going through an annual planning process at this time of year can be really helpful as consistency and reflection are crucial ingredients in helping a business to move forward. With this in mind here are four important steps to think about when setting yourself up for success in 2021.
1. Reflect on the year just gone
While there’s an understandable desire to put 2020 behind us, it’s still important to reflect on your marketing activity over the past twelve months. What worked well, what did your customers respond to, what ideas perhaps didn’t produce the results you were looking for and, more importantly, what did you enjoy doing? The key to consistent marketing is undertaking tactics that you and your customers take pleasure from. There’s no point, for example, saying that you’re going to do a Facebook Live presentation every week to tell potential customers about some new service or to pass across some hints and tips if you hate doing live video. So, the important thing is to be honest with yourself. Write down your thoughts and take a few days over the process if necessary, since this is important.
2. Know your audience
Most of us realise that it’s important to consistently evaluate what your customers’ needs are, and that’s more important now than ever. However, things move on and what was a key concern for someone at the beginning of 2020 might not be now. Why not ask your past customers what they liked about you in the first place and why they originally wanted to work with you? If you’re new to the business why not reach out via social media and ask customers what they are looking for in a photographer? It’s always a good idea to achieve first-hand feedback on things rather than trying to second guess what people are thinking. This will give you an insight into additional services and packages that your customers might want or need, and talking to your clientele helps refine what you’re offering and how you deliver it.
3. Write down your goals
This is really important and helps you to stay focused on what you are achieving. For example, do I want to book ten weddings or would I rather bring in twenty head shot sessions? I like to write these things down and to track them on a monthly basis and, that way, you keep on track and can check back in to see progress. It’s also important to write down not just your sales but also your marketing goals, for example setting out that you intend to send out one newsletter every month and to post a fresh blog every week. Consistency really is key with your marketing, and only by tracking it can you see the effect that it’s having on your sales goals.
4. Tactics and Tools
Try to avoid shiny object syndrome here. It’s so tempting to jump onto that new platform – Instagram Reels, Twitter Fleets anyone? The important thing here is to remember where your customer is hanging out and to then go there to meet them, rather than expect them to make the effort to come to meet you. So, if you’re a wedding photographer then Pinterest is probably a really good idea, but Reels might not work quite so well for you. Remember what you’re doing something for, commit to it and don’t abandon what you’re doing for the next cool thing that comes along.
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