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As Photographers we are Creators, as Small Business Owners we are creators too…we want to focus on our passion, our art, and what we love to do; and if you’re anything like me you hate to “Sell” Showing all your beautiful images, albums, and slideshows is almost as great a joy as creating them; in fact that is mostly why we create them.

So why are we so afraid to sell our services and artistry? For me at least the word SELL gives me an unpleasant image of a greasy car salesman {no offense to any car salespeople reading this} The last thing we want to do is talk numbers, especially when our industry is so abstract and prices literally range from $250 for all day wedding coverage with a disk of images to $25,000 packages by some of the world’s best. It’s a struggle to figure out where we fall on the spectrum, trying to differentiate between being affordable and being cheap. Dealing with not only our own insecurities in what we are worth, but also the cut-throat nature that this industry has adapted and being judged as a ‘sell out’ or not having a love for the artistry because we price ourselves for profit.

Ideally everyone would just be madly in love with our artistry and hand over a blank check for us to fill out and money would never be a topic of discussion, but such is not the case. The other side of the sword too is that many times in order to share our artistry and capture the moments that matter most we first have to sell them our services. Mostly them not buying you has less to do with them not liking your art then it does with your sale pitch. You know what the problem is right? You are making a sales pitch.
People think selling they think prices, packages, payment options and plans, deposits, and a la carte lists. In fact the first contact you ever get from a potential client is usually “can you send me your prices” And we, send them that information, doing a disservice to them and ourselves. They don’t actually want to know just your prices…they just dont know what the right questions are to ask.

Back to the car salesman for a moment it is actually similar to buying a car. They go into a dealership and say, “I want a car. What are your prices?” Well if you are buying a 6 year old with 100,000 miles that’s a lot different from the shiny new model fresh off the line. Even if you are buying the new one, as soon as you start deciding whether you want a sunroof, power windows, leather interior, etc it changes all the pricing. They don’t want to know the price, they want to know what the price is for what they want. Imagine if you went in and said I want a new 2011 Honda Accord with leather interior, built in GPS, power everything, sunroof. And the salesman said “ok well here’s our list for all our used cars, we have a 96 toyota, other honda models over there, our trucks are back there, and here’s the individual a la carte menu for all the extras you want to add-on, but once you do all the math there’s tax and service charges, and other expenses, it’s going to be different anyway…. how’s that sound?” You’d go find another dealer. One that would say, that model, with all the amenities you wanted is $22,000, you can put a $1000 deposit down and take out a 6 year payment plan at $420 a month, all taxes and service fees are included. Far less overwhelming eh?

Sending blanket price and package lists to your clients does 2 things, it causes them to focus on the numbers instead of the art, and they start comparing you to everyone else by cost and not value, it also intimidates them and in most cases discourages them from ever calling back for more information. Having an actual meeting where you can find out what they want, and which of your products and services fit their needs and personal style.

You don’t sell them on your products and services. Here is the big secret: Almost ALL Selling is Storytelling. I don’t tell my clients about why this product is worth the money they’re investing, because of what it’s made of, or where it’s made. I don’t explain why my rates are set this much for hourly, or sessions. I never try to equate a financial value to them; I tell them stories.
For instance one of my favorite weddings was Mea’s in 2009. A beautiful military wedding. Right before she left to go walk down the aisle one of the groomsmen came in with a little box. In the box were a pair of earrings. She had wanted to buy them for the wedding but didn’t because they were expensive. Her husband bought them for her, and had them delivered with a love letter. Aside from the mushy, I love you, so excited to marry you musings you’d expect to find, he told her that he had bought her the earrings as a wedding gift, but hoped someday when he got to walk their beautiful little girl down the aisle she would let her wear the earrings as her something old. EVERYONE was crying and ‘Awwing’ it’s one of my favorite moments of their day, and the photographs I took of that moment let him experience the emotion he invoked in the girls and his lovely bride, even though he wasn’t physically there.
That story invokes emotion in couples particularly brides… And they are sold without me ever having to talk money or prices. It has to be genuine though. That is one of my favorite stories from all the weddings I’ve shot, not only for the moment, but for the moments it will inspire decades from now. People see the photos of the moments captured from that experience, but if you’re like me you also imagine Mea 20-30 years from now teary eyed putting those earrings on her not so little girl, and remembering her in a white dress just barely more than a toddler as a flower girl at their own wedding, and seeing Shawn look at his daughter with the same overwhelming emotion as when he saw his wife wearing those earrings decades earlier… perhaps it will become a family tradition and heirloom that will be passed down to their granddaughter’s wedding as well, for generations.

It’s not about the pictures, and it’s most certainly not about the pricing… It’s about what we are capturing and preserving, and what the value of that is to them, now, and decades, centuries in the future. What you are selling isn’t photography, or prints, albums, or frames, no matter how high quality they are, you will never sell people on the products or services alone, the only people who do that are the CHEAP photographers, and cheap is vastly different than affordable. You are selling stories. Love stories, family favorites that they will tell over and over at holidays, memoirs… Stop Selling, and start telling the stories behind your images and clients, watch your sales start picking up because of it.

Against the Grain

Softly. The thoughts of you come softly towards me, humming familiar secrets to my subconscious, like a lullaby for my wounded being. It dances and seduces, like the candles’ flames across the room, both threatening and encouraging the shadows. The recollection of your fingers is burned into my skin’s affections, and my fingers trace the paths yours once carved into my memory and desire. When I’m quiet, when I’m sensual, when I’m pensive, when I’m alone, when I’m in love, thoughts of you come softly toward me…

Visceral

There’s something about the way the fabric clings to her skin, soaking wet. It’s erotic and intense, and a bit of a mystery that you don’t entirely want to unravel. The turn of her head and she’s glancing downwards, her eyes following the line of her hip, little rivers of water droplets pouring over the rivets in the folds of her negligée. The water on her collarbone and chest glistening as they catch the little pieces of sunlight and fragment them across her skin rhythmically as she breathes in and out. There is longing and anticipation yours or hers, it’s irrelevant at this moment. All you know is that in this moment she is hauntingly sensual, oblivious to the captivation she has inflicted upon you, you want her, or want to be her, no matter she feels the same. This is the embodiment of everything beneath her skin that I saw, sexual, ferocious, intoxicating, feminine, vulnerable and voluptuous…
I used to write. All the time. I was fairly visceral with words, but words could I offer that this image would not scream louder?

I have been told more than once that I have a gypsy soul, mostly in relation to the fact that I am never long in one place without feeling restless. In the interest of having roots, I plant them firmly in the ground, but change the garden instead so that I feel like it’s changing without having to move. I repaint rooms in my home every few months, reposition the furniture, delve into a new project…I know it exhausts the people around me I love most, and they try their best to be good sports and keep pace.
I think that’s why I like the Black Velvet Parties so much, 5 or more girls, champagne, hors d’oeuvres a lot of giggling, make-up, curlers, high energy and different personalities all photographed at once, it’s a fun, fast paced day and appeals to my artistic chaotic nature.
The only hesitation always comes in with who will be the brave soul that will go under the lens first… When Jamie and her girls trekked the 5+ hours from connecticut for their session, Kim volunteered to start the session.

I LOVE this image, there is something vintage and wistful about it that really appeals to me and the lace and pearls and crystals draped over her and the chair create just enough mystery to allow for intrigue to be woven into the elements of the photograph, and the viewers imagination.

Sometimes I feel that when I want to continuously look at one of my own images it equates to a photographic version of vanity, but for this one it has far less to do with the photographic artistry and more to do with the allure and sensuality that is just dripping from Kim’s essence.

I’ve reiterated on more than one occasion that I’ve never studied photography in school, highschool or college, though I definitely understand that people learn in different ways, and education is always always always an amazing gift we can give ourselves and others. I did study as a fine art major when I was in college. I have a thing for greek statues, something I have no ability in sculpture or carving, and found it interesting that a sculptor was not considered accomplished by carving women. I obviously have a considerable bias towards the feminine figure, I just think the curves and femininity of a woman’s body are alluring and sensual, and sexual, and intoxicating. The theory being that women being more fluid curves while men are more angular and therefore harder and far more complex to create, so sculptors would drape the feminine figure in fabric, not out of modesty or to create an ancient version of the implied nude, but to showcase their talents as an artist by creating complexity. To me I dont think there are many things more indicative of my style and creative abilities than photographing a nude woman. Without the element of amazing architecture or location, intricate and gorgeous gowns, jewelry, and updos, their is nothing except the raw beauty of her skin; the turn of her head, and sway of her hair, the sparkle of her eyes, and line of her hip. I think that little swag of lace and pearl, an opal, golden glistening, the details of the stitching just really compliment her and contrast against the softness of her skin and gaze.
Images like this are what really inspires the passion of artistry within me.

When I bought my first DSLR 3 short years ago, I knew nothing about photography, at all.  I walked out of the store with my shiny, extremely highend, top of the line, can’t get any better Canon EOS 40D and Kit Lens!  I shot my first 2 sessions on that little green square that makes for perfect exposure every time!  I even went back to the store thinking something was wrong with the camera because I kept getting blurry images; which had nothing to do with that fraction on the camera being at 1/20, and what the heck do I need to worry about math anyway, I wanted a camera not a calculator.

{it’s ok, go ahead and laugh}

Bambi Cantrell teases on occasion and says “I know the difference between an F Stop and a Bus Stop”  Well I had no idea what it was stopping, and ISO I didnt say as letters, I actually told someone very proudly that my is-o was 400 at one seminar.  Every newbie wannabe photographer that the trolls hate, and the pros knowingly shake their heads at with a sort of wise amusement.  That was me.

I went into a seminar knowing nothing declaring my bold ambition to become an amazing wedding photographer to a room full of mostly men that had been shooting at least 5 years or more.  I got laughed at, literally.  In fact I’m pretty sure the scene could be very likened to Legally Blonde when she hands her pink scented resume saying “I think it gives it a little something extra” before flipping her hair and walking purposefully away, and the teacher turns and says “You think she just woke up one morning and said ‘I think I’ll go to lawschool today.’?”  Well essentially that was exactly what I did.

I will say that I have always been an artist in one medium or another, and studying figure painting working with oils I think definitely gave me a distinct advantage in being able to compose the image, and later in understanding how lighting could change the mood of the photo.  I didnt understand how shutter speeds worked, or what aperture was, and while I understand ISO now, I still never remember the words the acronym stands for.

I shot my first paid photo shoot for $25 in my bedroom, Thanks Remy :)  and my first wedding for $250, thanks Stacy :)  With no prior experience.  Although I’m not sure Stacy knew that at the time.  To be honest Looking at the images now I dont feel like I had the right to charge anything.  There is a reason why any good professional will tell you to study and assist a pro first, especially with weddings.  They’re too important and they can never be recreated.  At least with a portrait session if a client or model is unhappy with the end result they can reshoot it, with you or someone else.

Most people assume that as you get more talented, and more experience you get to charge more… well yes to an extent.  Like any craft the better and more high end your service or product the more expensive it becomes comparatively.  The first year I raised my prices because I knew what I was doing and the quality of my images improved drastically.  Raising my prices also enabled me to incorporate a lot of the services and products that I knew I wanted to include in my studio.  At the end of 2009 I raised my prices not only for the increase in quality and because I wanted to move up to the next level of high end products and albums to display them, but because I understood the value of what I was doing.

I have never been the photographer that promises to treat your day as the most important thing in the world, because my focus is not on the day.  I take photos with the next decades and generations in mind.  For instance one of my favorite clients is Angelina, who was my very first maternity session.  We did her beautiful daughter Valentina’s newborn, 3,6,9 and 12 month portraits, and soon they’ll nail down a wedding date ;)  I see these images of Valentina and Angelina, and I know that someday when Valentina gets to put on a wedding dress and her Daddy walks her down the aisle that he and I will both think of him holding her as a new baby, and I was there for that moment too, and captured it, and the emotion that he felt is just as strong to everyone that sees the photograph as it was to him in that moment.  How do you place a monetary value on that?

Every mother cherishes photos of their children, and every child I have been so fortunate to be a part of the beginning of their lives and to chronicle their development and capture their little personalities budding in the first year hold a very special place in my heart.  I know that some of my images have been the profile shot for their mom’s facebook until it is replaced by one from their next session… what matters more to us than our children?  That is why some photographers can charge $2000 for a portrait sitting, and $850 for an 16×20 print.  Is there any print lab in the world, or any camera that is that clear and precise to warrant that kind of price?  Absolutely not.  No piece of paper is worth that price…but the moment that’s on it is.  Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, offers a complimentary service to photograph terminal newborns for families.  The service is completely free, and offered by some of the most talented and successful photographers of our time.  Sandy Puc has grossed over $1,000,000 in a single year for her studio, and she is the founder of the organization.  Why would photographers used to making $750-2000 for a portrait session drive through 8am traffic for 3 hours to go stand in a NICU waiting room, pay for gas, and $30 in parking fees, return double the usual images for a portrait session, and package them in the same high end and high overhead that their best paying clients receive?  Because it matters.  Because it’s the only moments they’ll ever have to cherish and immortalize.  Because as photographers our passions are often intertwined with the artistry and also with the desire to create something that will outlast us, a testament for ourselves and our clients that we were here.

Still if we didnt do this, what would someone be willing to pay?  What are those photos worth to the parents?  I know that there are some people that would literally sell their homes to be able to pay 100s of 1000s of dollars to have a single photograph in their possession.  Not because the photo is worth that much, but because that moment that it captured, a single moment they got to hug and love their child…there’s no measure to that.  People can always make more money, they can replace possessions.  There are plenty of sob-to-success stories of people that lost absolutely everything, foreclosed on their homes, had all their belongings torn away from them, struggled financially for years, only to become millionaires a decade or 2 later.  A moment cant be replaced, but through a photograph, a letter, a video, an article of clothing, a locket, an heirloom, the moment and the emotion that existed in it can be relived as strongly as it was in the moment it happened.  It’s why nearly every bride that has come into the studio to see her photos has laughed and cried while there.

It seems like a pretty strong argument for the value of photography huh?  It’s never been about the photographs, it’s about what they represent.  And this is where everyone is expecting me to make an impassioned argument for the shoot and burns and low ends to see the error of their ways and start raising their prices and the value of our craft in this industry.  I dont think that is the case at all actually.  I don’t think any of us need to charge more because that is what we need to teach our colleagues and clients the value of photography should be.  I have no problem with $500 wedding photographers, I have met some that care as much about the day as I do, and give as much effort and care, and take photos as beautiful as mine for that price, hand over a disk of images and are done.  What I do have a problem with is the people that charge $500 because they consider it a good day’s pay and have no sanctity for what they have been invited to take part in and record, they shoot on auto, dont learn how to photograph, let the little green square think for them, and hand over snapshots no better than any of the photos from the guest’s cameras. When brides pay for those kinds of people even if they only spend $500 or $50 dollars they have wasted their money, and the photographers have done a disservice not only to the moments, but to the future generations that will cherish them.

You would think that all of this is fairly simple, and some of you are probably saying “uh duh Jessi”  Sure there are people that buy cameras, you can get a low end DSLR for a few hundred dollars nowadays, and take poorly exposed, out of focus photos that they ruin even more in photoshop with some free actions they found online… but why would any bride or mom ever consider them?!

Well for the same reason others will pay $10,000 for a single portrait session of their puppy, because it’s not about the photograph, it’s about the love they have for the subject and what the photograph means to them.

I have taken thousands of photographs of my own children, and anyone that knows them knows they are characters.  {As evident by this year’s christmas card}  And I have gotten infinitely better on the technical side of photography, understanding my lighting, composition, post processing and all that… but this photo below is still one of my favorites.  It’s horribly out of focus, if it was in focus you would be able to see it’s under exposed, the lighting it does have is completely flat, It’s cut in half by the bright red pillows and the lamp and curtains both are so bright that they compete with his face.  Pretty much as far as a photograph goes, it fails, on every level.  Epic-ly.  It will never be included in my professional portfolio, never be submitted for competition, never be on my website.  It absolutely is on my personal facebook page…it absolutely got tagged to my mom, it absolutely makes me smile every time I see it.  Because that single blurry, out of focus, under exposed, poorly composed photograph complete captures my son’s personality that first year, and it instantly fills my heart with love, and laughter, and nostalgia, and a realization of how much he has grown and how he is a whole little person now and not my baby anymore… that is why there will always be a market for $25 photo shoots, and $500 wedding photographers, and why we should always strive to be more for our clients.

Those moments will be cherished no matter what, because the moment captured invokes that emotional reaction; but it is our sacred duty as photographers to capture it beautifully, to not just freeze the moment but create an artistic masterpiece of it, to have our image be worthy of the moment and emotion it is trying to tell the story of.  These moments are our past, people create albums of vacations, and milestones, and just every day moments of the kids running through the yard in the sprinklers in summer because they are what mattered in our lives, and in the future they will mean different things to the next generations.  It will give us glimpses into the lives and personalities of who our grandparents were as young adults, as children themselves, it will follow family trees through 4 and 5 generations, it will inspire love and aching through weathered pages of a 60 year old wedding album that a widow pulls out after burying her husband of 50 years.  It will show a young child or young adult a brother or sister they never got to meet because of an unthinkable loss, and enable that child to feel the love their parents had for their sibling and inspire them to feel it too, even though they never met, or can’t remember.  {My son is named for my husband’s younger brother who passed away at 11 months old.  My daughter’s middle name for my good friend and maid of honor who passed away at 19, weeks before my wedding, and only days before I found out I was pregnant with her}  People they have never met, but will feel a connection to from the stories we tell and the emotions that we feel in remembering them.

I do not personally believe that we can do our best to capture preserve these things with the beauty and quality they deserve at those kinds of rates.  I know for me personally a lot of income I make every year goes into education to learn more from the mentors I think are masters of our craft, and investing in higher quality prints, albums, and keepsakes because I want their heirlooms to have a physical and financial value that compliments the emotional value to make an even more potent impact on those that view my imagery and cherish those moments.  I sincerely believe that there are 2 kinds of photographers at that level.  There are those that are beginning, and just waiting for someone to lead them to the next step so that they can truly tap into their potential and ability, and there are those who dont value the amazing gift we are given by are clients to be a part of these moments.  The first are simply waiting to bloom, the second will simply dissolve into the background, and their time in this industry will be short lived, you simply can not sustain a career in a craft such as ours without passion, and without respect for what a gift it is.

 

Failure is an interesting thing for me, while in the midst of it of course I feel despondent and defeated, and sometimes question why I bother trying; but thing of it is: Failure is a temporary condition; quitting is the only thing that makes it permanent.  One of my favorite stories, and I’m not even sure it’s factual, but once someone asked Thomas Edison, “you failed at making the light bulb a thousand times, didn’t you just want to give up?”  Thomas Edison replied “I didn’t fail a thousand times, I learned 1000 ways to not make a lightbulb.”  I think that’s an important mentality to have, at least if you have the ambition to accomplish anything great.  I know that it is easy to say, and easy to swallow when you aren’t in the midst of things crumbling, I have very slowly progressed to being able to change my perception of the circumstances and not succumbing to the woe-is-me persona… most of the time.  I’m very lucky to also be surrounded by good people, in particular Michael Lark and Martha Helt, who do a fantastic job at keeping me grounded, and helping me to remain calm when we’re weathering the storms; personally and professionally.

I think when your career is something you are deeply passionate about it is harder to separate your personal hardships from business and “leave your baggage at the door”  because emotion fills into our artistry; it’s kind of like my Grandmother always insisting that you don’t cook when you’re sad because you can taste it.

Aside from that the failures serve as milestones.  When the next good thing happens, or the next accomplishment is reached it tastes a little sweeter, and you’ll start to realize that what you thought was an epic fail at the time was actually just you stumbling a little on the climb up, I’d rather stumble on the stepping stones, dust myself off and keep going, then get stuck in it, and miss reaching the milestones.

I know too that for me starting out, a big frustration was not having someone to go to when I had questions about anything from marketing, to business, to photography and lighting.  It seemed that anyone on my level didn’t have the answers and anyone who did had no intention of sharing lest they train their competition.  Unless you were paying a good amount of money for a seminar or class, no one was offering any help.  Then I met Scott Bourne; who introduced me to Skip Cohen.  Another worth mentioning is Dane Sanders, I had purchased his book and he graciously had signed it for me, simply, and inspirationally: “Lead Us”  He said in his seminar the world has enough celebrities and rockstars, what we need is more Leaders… Skip and Scott are leaders.  Their wealth of knowledge is invaluable, and they are 2 of the most generous people I have ever come across, with their knowledge and time, and Scott, he must give away 100s of 1000s of dollars in equipment, software and other gifts.  The two of them founded GoingPro, you can get to their fb page from my fanpage favorites.  They now have created PWSPI in collaboration with other industry leaders such as Bambi Cantrell and Jerry Ghionis, Clay Blackmore, Tamara Lackey, and Kevin Kabota.  If you are looking for the best of the best their organization is it.

On another note, and in the humblest way I can offer it, I encourage you to contact me if you have questions or are struggling.  From wedding planning to photography, to starting a business, whatever information I have I am happy to share.  I am so lucky to see and know so many talented and promising people, and if anything I have learned or done in my three years of business can help accelerate your path to success I’d be sincerely happy and honored to help if I can, or at the very least to point you in the right direction to where the correct answers are.

Start now, you have Diem to Carpe.

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