Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What to Expect After Booking a Portrait Session

I have the most fun at my portrait sessions. Weddings are a completely different breed, so when I get to pause from the mayhem and do a portrait session, it's like a spa day... Sort of.

Most of the time, I don't have to worry much about my clients getting confused about their contract or what their session includes. They might ask about wardrobe but other than that, they trust me when I tell them what time is best, what locations work, and how long the session should be, based on the number and age of children involved, if any. But I know there are still a few people out there who may not understand the entire process; the before, the during, and the after of a session.

So you've found the perfect photographer. Now what?

Well, after a few hours - sometimes days - of talking it out, sharing important info about your family and what you're looking for exactly, your photographer will write up a contract for you to sign, as well as send you an invoice for whichever session you've chosen, from which you'll either pay a full amount or a retainer for their services. (Also, I can't stress this enough... Please sign your contract and pay your retainer as soon as you receive them! Your photographer could cancel your session if not.)

And why a retainer? Well, this secures your session on their calendar. It is most often non-refundable, just in case you cancel the session after your photographer has already turned away a number of people for your time slot. Sometimes it is a percentage, sometimes it is a set fee. And I do get a lot of confusion about this sometimes, but a retainer is completely normal. In my small business I charge a 50% retainer for portrait sessions (mine are anywhere from $110-249) with the remaining total to be paid off up to two weeks prior to the session date. Clients can choose to split remaining payments into smaller installments, or pay in full. If payment is not made in full before the session date, the session will be cancelled with all payments non-refundable. All of this is stated in my contract. Which brings me to my next point.

Please, please, please read your photographer's contract! I seriously cannot stress this enough. The information they contain is so helpful. It will let you know what happens if you need to cancel, or reschedule, what would happen if it rains, what would happen if we go over your time slot, etc. If you don't read the contract, you're not completely in the know of what you're getting out of your photographer. And especially if you sign without reading, you could get yourself into trouble if something unexpected happens.

For example, I include a clause about overtime in my contracts. You are paying for a specific time limit, and if you are late, or if you arrive unprepared, you can either lose time from your session, or you can choose to pay extra for me to stay later, but only if I have the time. If I'm doing back-to-back sessions, for example, I wouldn't be able to lengthen your session and you'd have to book another one for later. I try to be as fair as possible, but that goes both ways. No photographer truly wants to charge you extra. It makes us feel terrible, and especially when you're a big family with kids that are most likely the reason you were late or unprepared in the first place. Because we get it! Kids are a lot of work. Even photographing them is difficult sometimes. But if you show up 30 minutes late to your 30 minute session and you assume your photographer will stay another 30 minutes without charging you, she will have been there for an hour, and ultimately for half the cost. And that's not fair.

So now you've gotten all the paperwork completed and you're just waiting on your session. The next thing you should start thinking about is the overall look of your session. Mainly, what you should wear.

This question pops up in my inbox every day. And I only really have two major things to say about it:
  1. Dress for the season
  2. Dress for your body type
It's such a sensitive topic for some people. But when you wear something that doesn't flatter you, it's possible you'll hate your photos, and it's actually quite possible you'll end up blaming your photographer. And although it's not right, it's something we do have to deal with from time to time.

Hair, makeup, and wardrobe are so important to a session. If something doesn't look right, it could ultimately ruin the entire image. So we take a lot of responsibility in telling you how to dress and present yourself because we not only want you to look fabulous, love your images, AND feel confident, but we want our work to appropriately represent our brand, too. So if you ask for advice and show up in something completely opposite of what we told you would photograph well, we might not feel too proud of the end result. It's possible you will love the way they look, but we've become snobs of our own art, and it comes with the territory.

I like to tell my girls to wear clothing that shows off their best feature. I'll use me for example. I have wide hips, so I avoid large patterns and stripes. These will make you appear larger in your images. However, I love my small waist, and I'm a huge fan of the high waist with a tucked blouse. In the summer, for example, it's hot and humid in Virginia. Try a lightweight tank tucked into a high-waisted flowy skirt in a cute pattern or color. Also - no shame - add a pair of spanx underneath to help ward off unwanted sweat and chaffing.

If you still find you're unsure of what to wear, send your photographer pictures of possible outfits, or if you live somewhat close, ask her to schedule a meeting to help you hand select items!

Once you've got your wardrobe, hair, and makeup figured out, you need to match the rest of your family. Use the same advice from above, but play around with it! The family photographed in this post chose to mix and match, and it still ended up really adorable! Mix solids with patterns, and choose colors that go well together.

What about small children?

You wouldn't want them wearing anything they can easily take off or tug on. This will cause too much distraction during a session, and could lead to difficulty in photographing your family at all. Opt for simple pieces, and dresses for little girls.


Make sure they're dress appropriately for their age. Watch out for the obvious. You don't want them wearing anything too revealing or inappropriate, no matter how much they fight you. A great tip is to take them shopping. This way, you get to see everything they try on and approve of it yourself before it gets purchased, and you'll have minimal drama the day of.

Hair and makeup?

Keep it simple. Don't overdo it. It's not your wedding day, and you're probably going to sweat it right off anyway. Go for neutral tones, but put a little extra emphasis on the eyes and lips. Photographers love those features the most. The right makeup can really make them pop in your images.

As for hair, whatever you know makes you look the best overall, do that. Put it up and add a pretty headband, or clip a few strands back and leave the rest down to blow in the breeze. Whatever makes you the most comfortable. For the boys, make sure they get a decent haircut. You don't want to regret it later.

Any general wardrobe tips?

Watch out for cleavage, dresses that are too short, etc. The wrong move and you might just flash some innocent tourists, or worse, your kids. I had a client wear a low-cut shirt and a bra that didn't quite fit. She bent over once and needless to say, I saw it all. And speaking of seeing it all, don't wear something too tight unless you're comfortable in it. I get emails from clients all the time with messages like, "Oh my goodness, look at my rolls! Can you Photoshop that out?!" No! I really can't. But if you opt for a looser-fitting shirt, you won't have that problem. Otherwise, you might be unhappy with your portraits. And I seriously don't want you to be, so put some thought into your outfits!

Okay, enough about wardrobe. What's next? Well, the day has arrived. It's time to leave for your session! What do you do?

If it's just you and your significant other, get dressed and leave. Seriously, we know you've got it together [we hope]. If you have kids and/or pets involved, however, that's a completely different story. And I'd like to say there are specific times in the day when they're on their best behavior, but we've all photographed enough kids to know by now that's not true.

Your kids are all different. They take naps at different times of the day, and they wake up in different moods. While Amy's 2-year-old daughter wakes up ready for anything, Samantha's 3- and 4-year-old boys wake up ready to kill each other. While Amy's daughter can quietly finish a small box of crackers on the way to her session, Samantha's boys get lollipops and won't let them go throughout the entirety of theirs. So how do you prepare for the best session experience?

Yes to naps, yes to snacks. I always tell my parents that regardless of how grumpy a child may be directly after a nap, it's so much easier to let them wake up and have fun at a session than to try and shoot while they're sleepy and uncooperative. And snacks are just a plus. But within reason.

What to Avoid:
  • Lollipops - These can stain their mouths, and stick to their skin and clothes if not careful, and if they aren't finished with it before their session, you might have a screaming child if you try to take it away.
  • Bribing with candy during a session - If you think this is a good idea, you might be surprised to hear it's actually not. Most kids will milk it and nibble at their candies to avoid having to take pictures, so it backfires more often than works.
  • Chocolate - Whether you're bribing with it or letting them eat it, chocolate is overall not a good idea. Somehow, no matter what the weather's like, it can still melt quickly in the hands of a child. Thinking about chocolate all over their clothes might change your minds about bringing this treat.
What to Bring:
  • A favorite toy - This could come in handy for kids aged 5 and under, and especially 1-3. If we can squeak a toy by our cameras and catch their attention, or if it makes them feel better to get a few snuggles in while we're shooting, by all means, bring it! The more comfortable they are, the happier they are.
  • Juice + a healthy snack - These will keep them hydrated and energized, and won't pose too much of a threat to the session.
Although the main purpose is to get family portraits, we do want your children to feel as comfortable as they would be if we were at your home playing outside.

If you're bringing pets, just make sure you're bringing them to an evening session after a day of play. Trust me on this. You do not want to bring a bunch of wound-up dogs to the middle of Colonial Williamsburg with thousands of tourists if they're going to go nuts. Make sure you take them on a long walk prior to your session, play some ball in the backyard, and bring plenty of treats and maybe one favorite toy with you to your session and they should be happy enough. They're pretty much the opposite of kids. If they took a huge nap right before our session, they're going to be overly energized and incredibly naughty.

Leave enough room for traffic before your session. This time of the year yields much of it. Although we understand traffic may be crazy and it may have been difficult to find a parking spot, etc., as mentioned in the beginning, you're missing out on session time when you're late. I am usually always early because I am an absolute paranoid mess. I used to be late to everything before I started my business, and now I'm either right on time or early. And the summer is my craziest time of the year. Prepare accordingly.

Your session was successful, everyone was happy, and we got some gorgeous shots. Now what? Well, I can only tell you what I do here because it's all I know.

When I leave a session I usually tell my clients right away what to expect within the next few days, and the next few weeks. Everything is also stated in my contract if anyone forgets. The first few days after a session, you'll notice a "sneak peek" on Facebook. If you are my friend - which I encourage you to be! - I can tag you and you'll be alerted right away. If you aren't my friend, I can probably email you to let you know they're up, but your friends and family won't see them unless you tag yourself and other family members involved. But the one thing I'm noticing lately is that not everyone allows my images on their walls. And I guess that's okay, but my business runs primarily through Facebook and word of mouth, and I'd really appreciate the extra shares!

After a sneak peek - or two - I finish your gallery and send it to you through email within two weeks or so. You can email it to friends and family and even order prints directly from each image, but it expires within seven days, so make it a priority to at least download and save them all to your computer as soon as you receive the gallery, and your contract is your right to print wherever you'd like. Some photographers will charge extra if you need to reorder your gallery. Make sure to ask them. I charge $99 for each reorder, for example, while others may charge $300. It just depends.

Interested in an evening session in the garden? Contact me today to schedule one! I am currently offering 15% through June!

Monday, June 20, 2016

An Open Letter to the Bride

Dear Bride,

You have been through it all. You've gone through months and months of planning, both the big and the small. You've dealt with the drama, the stress, and pretty much everyone else's opinions. You just want to relax and enjoy your big day. But I need you to know a few things about your photographer.

You've picked your wedding photographer based on a few things. Maybe they just have a style that you love. (This is usually the reason.) Or maybe you just like who they are. Maybe they're already a good friend, or a family member, or a business someone close to you recommended. Well, whatever it is, your photographer already loves you. You have given them all your trust in capturing your wedding day. ...It's kind of a big deal. They know without a doubt that you chose them to be there specifically because you trust that they know what they're doing already. So, prior to your wedding day, there are a few things you might want to take care of to help your photographer do a great job (a.k.a. get you those amazing pictures you dream of).

First of all, you must know just how much work your photographer has already put into your wedding day, years in advance. She has either gone to school, or spent the past 12 years reading books and learning and photographing people in her spare time. She's gone through camera after camera and picked out the best lenses for her specialty. And she's got an impressive portfolio packed with excellent work, which is why you chose her in the first place. She's bonafide.

But although she's gained that respect from you, she needs it from your friends and family, too.

The last thing a photographer wants to deal with is a demanding family member. There is always that one person, whether they're related by blood to you or not. Maybe you gave a family friend the job of coordinator for your wedding, and she's taking charge of everything. Well, that's great that you've left her in charge so you don't have to be, but if she's stressing out your photographer, you may be risking just a little of her creativity in your images. When you wanted that romantic portrait session after the ceremony with your new hubby and your coordinator is yelling at your photographer not only to do her job - which she quite honestly already is - but also that after just ten minutes you've simply run out of time... You will definitely regret that later. And your photographer will, too. Especially if you'd already allocated that time specifically for portraits. If you've paid your photographer to deliver specific portraits, don't let someone else step in and take that away.

And it's not always the coordinator, or your mom's best friend, or your grandmother or aunt or uncle. It can actually be your bridesmaids. And this is true more often than not.

Depending on the relationship you have with your bridesmaids, they may have already stepped on one too many toes during the planning process. I've been to weddings where the bridesmaids are basically "in charge" of everything, and I've been to weddings where this simply doesn't happen at all. But if it does, it's probably going to happen again at your wedding, so prepare yourself. Bridesmaids mean well, but they have an innocent tendency to take over. When your photographer places your bridal party on the beach with the entire length of the shoreline in the background, for example, she probably did that to give your images depth. Instead, your bridesmaids thought it was a better idea to stand everyone directly in front of the ocean, which is equally great, but not what your photographer had in mind. So instead of listening to the photographer, everyone is already moving to a completely different location because of a few girls, and you have no choice but to listen because you're in this huge dress and it's difficult to move. Yes, that photo still looks great. But your photographer already had a great idea in mind. And you won't ever be able to see that.

Photographers seriously don't want to be the ones causing problems during your wedding, so oftentimes, they'll keep quiet. But when you've placed your trust in them based on their style and their experience, and they are still unable to do anything you had discussed prior to your wedding date, it's a little frustrating to your photographer. She'll send you your gallery later filled with only half - if that - of the photos you had told her you wanted, and although it won't be her fault, you'll still be a little upset, and that is never the goal.


Another issue your photographer may run into is physically being shoved or stepped on while trying to photograph your reception. It sounds so silly, but it happens. Maybe it's the dark clothing we wear because we don't like causing too much attention. For some reason, we just aren't always noticeable. Maybe you have a small wedding. Maybe it's big. Regardless of how many people show up, your reception space is probably exactly the right size for that group of people. This means there may not be a lot of room, and your photographer has to weave in and out of mass swarms of those people to photograph everything. If she's not tall, this is often extremely troublesome. Sometimes your photographer is all of five feet - ahem. Your guests need to be aware that she is there in the first place, or she'll struggle all evening getting elbowed in the face, or stepped on, or backed into. And especially since she's carrying thousands of dollars in equipment, it's important that everyone know that she is, in fact, there.

One thing your photographer may struggle with before the wedding is scheduling meetings with you. We know you have a ton of meetings with your other vendors, but personally, we feel as though our job is the most important to discuss. That may seem a little arrogant of us, but when you think about it, what do you get to keep from your wedding day? Your dress, your jewelry, your shoes. But most importantly, your photos. And those, you get to look back on every day for the rest of your long, beautiful life together. So making sure to meet with your photographer at least a few times prior to your wedding is extremely important. It can help you piece together the most appropriate timeline for your day for the type of portraits you want (if you don't have a wedding planner doing this), it's a great start to getting to know your photographer - which is important to us, too, because it helps us better photograph your personality as a couple - and it allows us all to become more comfortable with one another. After all, we will be working very closely for an entire day together once your wedding date arrives. (Did you know you will spend more time with your photographer than you will your own fiance on your wedding day?) Just remember to make those meetings a priority. They might be used to discuss your timeline (and make time in your wedding day schedule for all those awesome photos you want), or your engagements and/or bridals prior to your big day. We can talk about anything from the decor to the venue itself - after all, we are photographing it. Or maybe it's just to catch up and let you vent about the stress over coffee. Either way, we want to be there to help, and ultimately, make you comfortable in your decision to work with us.

It may sound a little silly, but seriously... make sure you're feeding your photographer and her team. Yes, we bring snacks and water to keep us alive throughout the morning. But we still need a substantial meal. You wouldn't want us passing out in the middle of your reception after already having worked eight hours. Make sure we know we can take a plate to a quiet area nearby and enjoy a meal while everyone else is eating. This way, we aren't missing anything. I mean, we do get the occasional glare for leaving the reception, even if for only ten minutes. But if you had us working through the entire dinner, you'd probably end up with one too many photos of Great Aunt Sue scarfing down her chicken, and Uncle Ben drinking too many beers, and your brother in the background making really dumb faces. We are super reasonable and only take about ten minutes, and then we're back at it.

Your photographer also wants you to know that we know your friends and family want to capture your wedding day for themselves, too. We understand completely. And with the new hashtag craze, we are totally aware that you want people using their cell phones to post your day to Instagram. But there's a problem with flash photography when your guests are bringing DSLRs to your wedding.

The above photo is a direct example of what happens when your guests turn into photographers at your wedding. And we really don't wish to be mean and force everyone to stop taking pictures, but you're putting your photographer in a really awkward spot when all of her photos look like this for ten straight minutes because 50 of your closest friends and family are photographing your first dance like their lives depend on it. And your photographer not only has to deal with the harsh flash, but also with people getting angry with her for getting in their way. We get nudged all the time. We hear the remarks behind our backs, the click of the tongue and the eye roll when we stand directly in front of cousin Bill and his fancy new Canon Rebel. It's not fair, and it puts a strain on the job. No, it's not your fault. But you can help by simply banning flash photography at your reception, and by making it clear that you have a photographer there already that you've paid to capture your day. (And she has a really nice flash of her own!)

Most people will understand. But we do still get the occasional family member who will walk up and ask us if it's okay if they use their DSLRs to take a "quick" photo. For example, your sweetheart of an aunt who actually took your photographer's opinion into consideration. She'll claim she won't use the flash, but your photographer is seasoned enough to know most people can't shoot on manual - and that by using the Auto feature, the flash will most definitely pop up - and she'll ultimately feel awkward telling your aunt no. So this is always an issue. And especially if it's family, if we do say no, we risk angering the person and creating a scene we didn't want in the first place.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, please show your photographer some love! We work so.incredibly.hard. Before, during, and after your wedding. I'm talking hours upon hours of editing and writing blog posts and sharing all over social media. We answer emails from curious family members even just days after your wedding. We do so much for each wedding and we truly love what we do. So we want to hear how obsessed you are. We want to know that you love the photos as much as we loved taking them. It makes everything worth it for us to know we did our very best.

...But we also want to hear your concerns. We aren't cocky by any means. Most photographers literally sit behind their computer screens, just waiting for the comments to come in. It tells us we did good. It shows us that we did our job well. But if there is ever anything we could have done differently, we want to hear that, too. We are always looking to improve. And we are always learning.

However, make sure your family members aren't harassing our inboxes, sending mean comments about how we didn't take photos of specific family members A, B, and C. We do everything we can during your wedding, and we make sure to ask specific questions. During portrait hour with friends and family, we make sure to ask you or your mom or whoever if there if anyone was left out, or if there are any other photos you'd like to take before we go into dancing. We'd really like to not feel like we let you down if you personally forgot Aunt Sue and cousin Bill at your wedding - and we totally understand if you did because let's face it, weddings are stressful. The point of the matter is we don't know your family members, and we can't think for you. So if we missed them, we're sorry!

You're probably thinking, "Holy crap, this is a lot to remember." And I'm sorry if we seem high-maintenance. But this isn't just a snap-and-shoot job. We put a lot of time into learning how to create those beautiful images you dream of for your wedding day. We don't want to hand you mediocre work. We want to wow you! Our only goal is to make you happy. And we know that in order to do that, we need just a little bit of your help. And we promise, you won't regret it.

To save from people taking over on you wedding day, or pushing your photographer around in a way that makes her feel as though she is unable to do her job well, you can talk to your guests and bridal party. Maybe you have a 300+ guest list. If talking to them in person seems too much a task, include a little note in your invites, letting everyone know all at once that there will be a photographer there. You of all people know how important your photographer is. After all, you didn't just pay her, you invested in her. This way, they know not to get in her way, and to be courteous of her purpose there. She doesn't want to be shoved, or stepped on. I mean, hey. Sometimes she's five feet tall, and no one actually sees her. Just make sure they know she's there with a big fat camera on her face. They'll understand.

Nelson Wedding
Virginia Beach, VA
May 22, 2016

Saturday, June 18, 2016

What Days Off Actually Look Like [When You're a Photographer]

It's 11:31 AM as I type this and I just finished answering emails, Facebook messages, texts, and comments. I've been up for a while but have been working since 9, so that just goes to show how much time is put into just the communication part of the business. I'm having my third cup of coffee and the kitties are snoring beside me. I'll probably read my book for a few, but after that, I'm diving head-first into weddings.

I have four weddings to finish within the next few weeks. Luckily July and August are empty of weddings for me, but I still have deadlines that need to be met. One of my brides is actually becoming a friend, so she keeps telling me "Take your time!" And although it's sweet, I'm doing no such thing.

Today is my day off. And this is what it looks like.

I chose to keep my full-time job, so I could never complain about that. But it does mean my life is super busy all the time. When I'm off on a Saturday, much like today, I'm writing blog posts like this one, editing photos, posting sneak peeks, answering emails (and random texts from my fiance), traveling to any sessions scheduled for the day, and writing lesson plans for upcoming mentoring sessions, which have become SO popular lately. I feel like my brain never shuts off from work mode, but I'm okay with that for the most part. My clients are happy, and that makes me happy.

But what else does a day off for a photographer entail?

A) When it's not a wedding day, I'm usually in sweatpants with messy hair. I have a cat on either side of me as I work, and there isn't a sound aside from my typing and the buzz of the air conditioner in the kitchen. I will spend the entire morning on the couch, tending to inquisitive clients regarding their photos, what to wear for their sessions, and maybe joke about their kids and/or husbands. Most of my clients build a friendly relationship with me, and that's the way I like it. What I do is just so intimate. I get to spend time with complete strangers and capture their personalities. I get to know them and their children. So to become friends before I even do that means you'll have a positive experience with me, and you can trust that I'll get the photos you want of the kids you just knew would be terrible the whole time (everyone says that, anyway). Most importantly, you'll be comfortable with me. So these days spent at home chatting with you really mean a lot to me.

B) On days off, there's a lot of coffee. I mean, a lot. I don't stop drinking the stuff until my hands are so shaky I can't type anymore. Everyone keeps telling me to quit. I'm going to have a heart attack one day, blah blah blah. But I haven't yet. I'm still alive. So bring it on.

C) I take a few breaks in between, just to take pictures of my cats. ...Because cats.

D) I will turn on Netflix occasionally. I actually do that a lot while editing. I like it on in the background, you know? Sometimes that silence is deadly and I'll lose my crap after too long.

E) If I do end up having a session or two - like today, I have one at 6 PM - I'll load up my equipment and head out, come back, and immediately post sneak peeks to Facebook. Lately, I've been coming home and nearly finishing a clients gallery right then. I'm crazy.

F) I'll do a little cleaning, fix myself some lunch, or work out. You have no idea how I sit on this couch all day when I'm working. My back is all twisted, my legs are sprawled out. I move in a dozen of these weird positions all day long. So getting up and moving around truly saves.

G) I set editing goals for myself so I can feel somewhat productive by the end of the day. For weddings, this often means a couple hundred photos per day. And I often get asked by new photographers and even my clients, "Just how are you doing that much at once?" with eyes wide. Well, I use CameraRaw to mass edit in Photoshop. No, I don't understand Lightroom, and I really don't care to right now. Maybe one day, but for right now, I'm good with CR. I am not a huge editor. A little tweaking and I'm happy. The photos you see on my Facebook page and website are SOOC (straight out of camera) for the most part.

H) I will have the occasional friend over. I don't get to see people a lot due to my busy schedule. It feels funny to me to say that right now, as this past week was SO slow for some reason. I feel like it was needed, but usually, I do have to schedule to see my own friends.

Especially when I have my students over, they have this goal in mind that they'll one day be an amazing photographer and get to stay home every day instead of going in for a 9-5. And I want to say sure! You can definitely have that one day. But the truth is, it's not always sitting around at home in a comfortable pair of yoga pants with a cup of coffee. It's a lot of organization, scheduling, driving to and from random sessions - and sometimes you'll even be gone for 16 hours for a wedding a few hours away! It's not a consistent job. You are not promised work. You have to push and push and push until you get where you want to be. And even then, you still have to put yourself out there every day to gain new clients.

I try to change people's minds every day from that mindset that they can simply run out, buy a camera, and make a fortune. It just doesn't work that way. And however glamorous most photographer's lives look, they still have a not-so-pretty side at home. The messy hair and dusty laptop, the overbearing animals who don't care that you're busy and don't have time to pet them - because there's always time to pet. The children who require your attention while your husband is at work himself. There's always something.

If you have any questions regarding photography or business shoot me an email and I'll feature your question on my blog!

Dixon Wedding
May 14th, 2016
Nags Head, NC

Friday, June 17, 2016

The 5 Things You Need to do Every Day to Become Successful

If you are here because of yesterday's post regarding What to Expect When Starting a Photography Business, then YAY! I'm so glad. While writing that post all kinds of new ideas popped into my head, and I knew I had to keep going with it, so I'm excited to bring to you another business-related post today!

Also, before I continue, I do want to remind my local photogs that my mentoring classes are booking quickly and will increase in price come September, so get yours now while they're just $175! And don't forget, you can book with a friend for 10% off! These are one-on-one and so very helpful if you're just starting out, but they're also great for the semi-professionals out there who need a little push in the right direction for branding, website design, social media and blog content, etc. I live for this stuff. So come over, have a glass of wine, and let me share with you everything I've learned in my 12 years!
What I'd really like to talk about today is the stuff we can do as photographers to improve our craft, our business, and our day-to-day routines. You see, we are extremely blessed to live in such a high-tech world. We have access to pretty much anything we can think of. Articles, podcasts, videos, webinars, and so much more. I am told often by my students that they just can't "afford" to learn more about photography, or about how to design their own logo, or blah blah blah. But I want you to know something... You don't have to pay a dime for most of it.

I am 100% self-taught, and I feel so blessed to be able to say that, but if you want the honest truth, I wish I had gotten just a little help when I was first starting out. I reached out to so many photographers. Being as busy as I am now makes me realize how annoying I may have been, but I just needed a little push, and I felt like most of them wanted nothing to do with me. I am finally at this point in my career where I have more of a need to help others than myself, and it feels so good. But I offer the help because I knew I could have used more of it back then. And I strive to not be like those other photographers who shooed me away when I pushed too hard. I was told I could sign up for their $800 class - with 40 other girls. But that didn't appeal to me. Quite honestly, it intimidated me. And, like my students, and probably you, too... I couldn't afford it. Hence my one-on-ones. I like them like that. They're inexpensive, and they're personal. And I love the feeling I get when my girls leave, knowing they have a friend in this industry.

But what about when you can't afford to sign up for a class, or you can't invest in that fancy lens you really want? Here are the 5 things you should be doing every day to become more successful, regardless of the equipment you already own.

1. Research anything and everything you have questions about.

You can literally type in any questions you have in Google and be provided with a wealth of information. I can't tell you how many times I've done it myself in the past. I always advise my newbies to research camera brands and models before buying one and then camera settings to learn how to shoot manually. For my more seasoned photogs, I typically send them searching for contract info so they can start taking their business more seriously. You can literally find anything on the internet. Use it.

2. Use Pinterest to your advantage.

This sort of extends from point #1. Pinterest is a great tool for photographers, and not just in viewing pretty pictures to store away for inspiration later. You can find useful charts and articles there to help you learn everything you need to know. Most are actually even written by photographers themselves, which also ends up leading you straight to their website for more fun info! Even if you're a professional and feel confident in your abilities, browsing Pinterest at least once per week will also keep you in the loop on updated techniques or poses. The worst thing you can do as a photographer is fail to evolve.

3. Invest in a book collection.

This has always been my favorite way to learn. I have books about the specific camera models I own (I advise every photographer to have one to flip through every now and then), about posing, about business, and even books about the history of photography in general. Anything and everything about photography can be found at the library and/or the bookstore. I buy most of mine online, as the bookstore doesn't carry a lot of them, but I find myself repeatedly opening them back up, so they never have a chance to collect dust. Whatever you can get your hands on, read every single chance you get.


4. Network with other photographers.

This is so incredibly important. You cannot be successful unless you network with people in your industry. I can't lie and say everyone is great to work with out there, but if you find a few people you enjoy talking to or shooting with, make it a habit to get coffee together once a week - or month - just to chat about the business, or any concerns you may have. We are all at different levels in our careers, so sharing what we know with others can help dramatically. Never compare yourself to [or judge] them, but instead, learn from them. For example, I am always changing my contracts due to whatever issues have arisen in the past through troublesome clients - I'm talking about the ones who find any ridiculous excuse to demand their money back, or ones I naively did work for without payment. A fellow photographer and I sat down together one day and reviewed our contracts, compared notes, and borrowed ideas from one another to improve our wording and what was covered within them so future issues could be settled more easily. It truly pays off to have a friend who understands. Make a point to find one and help each other out!

5. Follow some kind of routine.

Maybe you want to put on a sale every month. Or you want to finish galleries in a week or less. Or maybe you just want to write a blog post every day. Making a routine and sticking with it can really help you out, and it will also eliminate any stress that may be caused from running behind or being just a little disorganized. I've gotten to the point where I can get a gallery done in a few days for a small session and spend most of my free time focusing on wedding galleries instead - which end up getting finished in 1-2 months. Also keep in mind I work 45 hours per week during the day at another job altogether, so scheduling and setting a routine is extremely helpful for me. Whatever is important to you in your business needs to be placed somewhere on your schedule, whether it's daily, weekly, or monthly, in order for you to successfully accomplish what you want.

I hope this helps a few of you out there. Whether you're new to this business or going on five years of it, these five tips will keep you constantly up to date and organized to run a successful business! 

Have questions for me? Send them here and I'll feature them on my blog!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What to Expect When Starting a Photography Business

I've hesitated to write posts like this in the past because I feared what my clients, family, or friends would think if they happened to read them. No, I'm not writing about anything bad, but I didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea. But I've changed, my business has changed, and my clients have changed. Where I was once booking with people who simply needed "cheap pictures," I am now booking with people who love my work, basically stalk my Facebook page every day, and have this incredible desire to invest in me no matter what. And I feel so blessed every day to be doing what I love with people who love what I do.

Recently I've taken up mentoring. I was always too nervous to offer it because let's face it, we photographers are artists, and artists are sensitive, and when you're as sensitive as I am, you really never feel entirely good enough. I thought, "What on earth would people want to listen to me for?" I didn't think I'd be taken seriously. I was still a little insecure of myself... until right after my first few mentoring sessions. And now I'm hooked. Honestly, they are the most fun I've had in this business in a long time.

So in addition to creating our secret Facebook group for interns and students, accepting and answering questions daily, and hanging out with people interested in the subject, I decided to start blogging more consistently about not just photography, but the business and the personal side. I want people to know what my life looks like since starting this journey. Too often I see photographers only blogging about their awesome adventures, their weddings and sessions... and then forgetting to post the behind-the-scenes details. It makes life as a photographer look like something anyone could do.

And I'm not going to lie. I want to put an end to that idea. Because no, you cannot just pick up a camera and call yourself a photographer. You can't buy all the fancy gear just because you can afford it and accept money from people when you don't even understand your settings, or have any knowledge regarding posing and lighting. It takes years to master this craft. And I want to help everyone understand that.

Do you want to be a photographer one day? Awesome! Let's help you get there! My attitude is that anyone can be a photographer. But only if they work at it ever.single.day. Do you have what it takes? Can you sacrifice your social life just a little bit to focus on photography? Then I hope to see you back here frequently. Submit your questions, and I'll answer them here. And if you're local, I'd love to sign you up for a one-on-one mentoring course in my home in New Kent County, VA.

But let's get to today's lesson. Exactly what should you expect when starting a photography business?

1. The Worst

Please, please, pleeeease... Do not jump into this business thinking it's going to be all sunshine and rainbows. You're going to get hurt. You're going to fail just a little bit. It's inevitable. As soon as you come to terms with that, you'll do just fine. (If you were to get your hopes up, think of how much more disappointed you'll be.) I started shooting 12 years ago and created a business out of it five years ago. I was, in fact, envisioning sunshine and rainbows, and I definitely got myself hurt. I can't tell you the number of nights I spent crying in my bed, threatening to quit. It takes time. And if you can understand that, you'll go places.

2. Extremely Useful Mistakes

Um. What?

Yes. You are going to make mistakes. But what would you learn, really, without them? Sometimes they'll be terrible ones - like letting your emotions take over with a client who was super rude to you and suffering the consequences of that client never working with you again, even if you apologized. And maybe they'll be small - like.... Well, I'm a drama queen, so all mistakes feel HUGE to me. But regardless, no matter their size in terrible-ness, they'll be useful to you in the future. You will learn, and you will know better next time not to repeat them.

3. Going With Your Gut

You're going to plan out a lot of things, but more often than not, you're going to listen to your gut, and most of the time, unconsciously. This goes for choosing gear, business cards, website design, branding, etc. You can't plan everything. Just listen to your gut. It'll all be okay.

4. Longer Hours + Less Sleep

I am finally at the point in my career where I get my 8 hours every night. But when I first started out, I was up until two in the morning finishing up a blog post or a disc for a client to mail the next morning - thank God for online galleries nowadays - or just staring blankly at Facebook, waiting for people to be wowed by my work... while they were all clearly asleep, unlike myself. We drive ourselves nuts in this industry, and we do crazy things, and it's probably because there are just so many of us out there. But we want people to love us. We strive to be the best, and while we're still new, it's just not going to happen. It will take time and patience and a whole lot of work.

I now set specific times aside for my business and editing. I work at least 3-4 hours per day alone just editing weddings and sessions, answering emails, etc. This is typically in the evening, unless I have a session scheduled. And the weekends are entirely dedicated to sessions and the occasional editing. And on top of that, I work 45 hours per week at my day job. Although my business has taken off, I haven't found a good enough excuse yet to quit. But as long as I make sure I'm in bed by 10 PM, I can wake up around 6 AM refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

5. Suffered Relationships

This is a tough one, and I won't sugarcoat it for you. You will probably lose a few friends along the way on your journey to becoming a rock star photographer. A lot of people will assume you'll do free work for them. I've literally heard people tell their friends, "It's so great having a photographer friend everywhere I go!" And in the beginning, in order to build your portfolio, that's okay. But once you start getting busy, you won't have time for that, or patience, for that matter. It's difficult to say, "Hey, look. If you'd like to book something with me, here's my price list, website, email, etc." People will get offended. Especially if they've watched you grow up, or if they've grown up with you. It's a difficult transition from friend to local business. But it's necessary. You have to separate the two. I learned this the hard way.

I have been lucky so far. A lot of my friends have understood the transition, and have been supportive. But I made the mistake of involving one of them in my business, and it backfired terribly. The first negative review that came in for her services did not yield the appropriate response. She took offense, took it out on me, and literally told me the client was wrong. ...First of all, if you've ever worked in retail, you must know by now that "the customer is always right." You simply NEVER blame the client, no matter what. They might say something that hurts you - and if it's something they did get wrong somehow due to miscommunication or a misunderstanding, you can kindly discuss it with them and come to some sort of resolution. But if a client had a bad experience, you should go out of your way to fix it, not blame them and say, "Well, you can't please everyone!" That's just unprofessional.

The moral of the story is, simply, don't involve your friends in your business. If they are business owners themselves, and are competent professionals, by all means, work with them! But use your head. Don't do anything you think you may regret later.

Overall, business is tough. You're not going to magically become a pro overnight. It takes time. But if you have the drive, the patience, and the passion for it, you will most definitely make it!

Have a question about photography or business? I'd love to help out! Send me your questions here, and follow the blog for my response!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Our Fantasy Wedding [Marvel Addition]

We are Marvel nuts. DJ loves Ironman and Deadpool (the three of them share the same sarcastic humor). I am a Black Widow fan, but really, I love them all. We go to the midnight releases for every single movie. I even read the Black Widow teen novel that came out not too long ago - it was a gift from DJ, and we didn't know it was for young adults, and it was only okay. But I periodically see Marvel-related wedding stuff on Pinterest, and I thought it would be fun to fantasize about the big wedding we won't be having... Marvel style.

All images can be found here.