Ryan Kaplan a wedding photographer from Suffern, New York posted this yesterday on Facebook Wedding Photographers. Ryan has a lot of good comments, being an active member of the forum, and he got me thinking about the topic as a blog post. While the topic is directed mostly to "newbies", we all take short cuts. We live in a rushed, instant fulfillment, "I WANT IT NOW" world. Sadly, too often, photographers jump the gun and break the rules without understanding the impact of their actions.
Paraphrasing my buddy, Sal Cincotta, in his pricing video he talks about the easiest way to destroy a business is simply to price your products too low. New photographers and seasoned veterans often forget the costs to be a photographer. They look at the actual cost of a print for example, without considering the expense that went into building their career and running their business, including their own education. They haven't learned the basic rules of profitability.
A Weak Skill Set:
I've written this before, but anybody can get their first customer. The key is to get the first one back a second time or better yet, have that first customer tell their friends about the incredible experience of working with you. No matter how good your marketing is, you'll never build a business if your images and skills aren't better than "Uncle Harry's".
Years ago I assisted Denis Reggie at a wedding. That night, everything seemed to go wrong with his flash. The flash kept misfiring. The problem was condensation on the connection (SCA390 Adapter) between the flash and the camera. It was hot, high humidity and going in and out of air conditioning created the condensation.
My point...Denis understood everything about exposure and simply changed flashes, switched to manual and never missed a beat. This was also back in the days of film. There was no opportunity to see any of the images until they came back from the lab. Plus, it was a high-end wedding with no room for failure.
What if Denis had "broken the rules" and skipped learning about his gear and understanding exposure. What if he had shown up without backup equipment?
Communicating With Clients:
Practice your pitch over and over again. Are you ready to answer questions like, "Why are you more expensive than the other photographer down the street?" Practice with a friend, a family member even other photographers. Role play and understand the importance of believing in yourself and being direct with your clients. Don't launch a business on concepts that are half-baked.
Getting it Right - Right out of the Can!
You can break the rules of exposure and composition all day long and then spend hours in Photoshop cleaning up your images or.... How about learning the craft and understanding every feature of your gear so well that your images are great right out of the can. Solid images then allow you to enhance them with great products like Alien Skin's and save you time at your computer. In turn, you're freed up to market yourself and build a stronger business.
Knowing the Basics:
Symphony musicians warm up playing the scales, literally thousands of times in their careers. They practice over and over again. Photography is no different. You've got to practice. You have to know the basic poses when you've got a client who's made what you consider a traditional request. For example, do you know some basic bridal poses? How well do you do posing groups? Everybody shoots bridals, but what about "groomals"? The groom's got family too!
My old buddy, Don Blair, used to use a spin-off of Picasso's quote above. He used to tell people that until you learned the rules you didn't earn the right to break them. Learning the rules in photography means you can provide a client with virtually anything they want. Then, and only then, can you push the envelope of creativity from an established base line to being a true artist.
I'm not against "breaking the rules" - just make sure you know them before you rip them apart!
You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else."
“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
Dalai Lama XIV
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.